Archive for Twilight Zone: The Movie

Beyond that which is known to man…

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 13, 2017 by dcairns

The Twilight Zone episode Nightmare at 20,000 Feet is one I felt I knew really well, except I don’t know that I’d ever watched it all — I’d seen clips and I’d seen George Miller’s reworking of it in TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE, but had I actually watched the whole thing?

Putting the two versions side by side is instructive — for once, two versions of the same story make radically different choices and both are successful. Or maybe that’s NOT instructive, maybe that sets up a false idea that you can do whatever you like in TV/movies, it’s all good. It clearly ISN’T all good, but these two episodes are.

Leaving aside the contrast in directorial technique between the hyperkinetic Miller and the more sober Richard Donner (plus whoever replaced him after he was fired for falling behind schedule), it’s fascinating how different the main character is in each story, even though Richard Matheson scripted both.

In both versions, a passenger on a plane sees a demonic figure on the wing of a plane, tampering with the engine, and can’t get anyone else to believe him.

In the original, the hero is fresh from a six-month stay in a sanatorium after a nervous breakdown that struck during a plane flight. Now his wife is taking him home.

In the Miller film version, the lead character an apparently stable and sober professor, but he’s travelling alone.

The first version benefits from the suspicion that our man may be losing his marbles all over again — how else to explain the fact that nobody else ever sees the “gremlin” (styled by make-up maestro William Tuttle very much along the lines of his DR LAO yeti)? I don’t know how many 1963 audiences thought that way, though — after all, WE see the creature. The hero’s past instability is probably more a device to make us sympathetic, and to account for his wife not believing him.

(One thing where the remake is measurably superior is the creature, created, if I read the credits aright, by Craig Reardon and Michael McCracken. By not being in a kind of furry romper suit, it’s allowed to look properly WET, which adds lustre and ick to its rubbery visage. Maybe the artist’s personality always comes through in monsters: Tuttle beasts always have a tragic look, whereas Reardon’s look… naughty?)

In the remake, the hero starts stable but rapidly and amusingly unravels, and the fact that he’s alone means he can only turn to strangers for support.

Man 1 is William Shatner, man 2 is John Lithgow. One thing that works is that both are sort of cast against type — Shatner being less associated with neurotic parts, Lithgow never being cast as ordinary Joes. A more obvious and less interesting approach would be to time-travel Lithgow back to ’63 and rejuvenate Shatner in ’83.

Shatner’s leading man attributes really work in his favour, since he LOOKS manly and self-reliant. Shatner really conveys his humiliation at having shown weakness. Of course, he gets his manhood back by firing a gun in the end, which seems quite 1963. The remake takes a more ironic view of everything, and though the gun is instrumental in stopping the gremlin, it takes the time to grab our hero’s face and wag a finger at him (while Jerry Goldsmith’s score riffs on Danse Macabre).

But though the Donner-Shatner episode may be less progressive, what bowled me over is its sheer effectiveness — right from the start I felt strong tension, the combination of my own slight fear of flying, the excitement of the building storm, Shatner’s nervy, sweaty perf. The casual sauntering gait of the ludicrous shaggy beast on the left wing of the jet is amusing but just right, somehow — the important quality is not a convincing mime of clinging on in spite of the impossible air currents, but a sense that the nameless thingy feels it has a perfect right to be there.

(The wing man is played by Burt Lancaster’s former wingman, in THE CRIMSON PIRATE and THE FLAME AND THE ARROW, diminutive acrobat Nick Cravat, who didn’t really need a full mask…)

Having creeped us out with the slow approach, the gremlin is then well-placed — after a prolonged, hammy but genuinely tense build-up by Shatner, steeling himself endlessly — to make a shock appearance in close-up, nose pressed against the glass. And he has the kind of nose that always looks as if it’s pressed against glass anyway.

The wrap-up is more satisfying (and benign) in the TV version, and really, after being put through the ringer like that, we deserve a happy ending, don’t we?

On a related note ~

 

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Zoning Out

Posted in FILM, Science, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 10, 2017 by dcairns

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Even though Joseph DR NO Wiseman’s lead character in the Twilight Zone episode One More Pallbearer is called Paul Radin, I could determine no reason why his building is called Radin Blog. (Note: I got it eventually.) I tweeted author Dean Radin, whose book The Conscious Universe is a good eye-opener, to say that it’s a shame he wasn’t writing a blog anymore as I had found the perfect banner for him.

I don’t think I ever want to run out of PG Wodehouse books to read, and in the same way I don’t want to run out of Twilight Zone episodes, although all the same i would hate to check out leaving any of them unenjoyed. This will need careful management.

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One More Pallbearer is Rod Serling in atomic mode (see also: Carol for Another Christmas), which is usually good value, and he has the ideal star. As Dr. No, Wiseman played a scientist with metal hands, having lost his original flesh ones in an atomic experiment. That always struck me as improbable and a bit funny. This one suffers a bit from having no sympathy, really, for any characters, but the double twist at the end is a zinger and a half. Not quite two zingers, but still pretty good.

Kick the Can was remade by Spielberg in TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE and Fiona suggested it might be illuminating to check out the original. It was — where Spielberg’s filmlet was cloying and annoying, the original is beautifully bleak. All the rough edges were smoothed off, and the result bathed in a honey-like amber glow. The old folks’ home where it’s set seems paradisical in the movie, and starkly deadening in the series installment. The ending, in which the inmates rejuvenate and run of into the night, leaving one bereft old skeptic, is stark and strange in the series: we don’t know how these kids will live, where they will go. Serling pops out of the bushes to say they’re in the Twilight Zone, which might as well mean they’re dead. It’s eerie, not reassuring.

In the Spielberg, having enjoyed their moment of second childhood, the oldsters return to their doddering, hip-replaced selves, because the status quo must, apparently be preserved.

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I like Scatman Crothers fine, though as a “magic negro” figure he Uncle Toms it a bit in the Spielberg, encouraged by his director. There’s no such character in the series episode, just an old duffer who HOPES, but does not KNOW, that playing children’s games might cancel out the aging process. I was wracking my brains to identify the actor while I was watching, then realized it was old Ernest Truex, best known as the saccharine would-be poet from HIS GIRL FRIDAY (maybe they hired him to script the Spielberg), and also memorable in Preston Sturges’ CHRISTMAS IN JULY. Turns out he had a huge career, starting in silents, and they even tried him in lead roles during the pre-code era when such things seemed worth attempting. WHISTLING IN THE DARK, which pairs him, improbably, with Una Merkel, is well worth a look.

 

Things That Podunk in the Night

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on October 1, 2010 by dcairns

Apologies for the title of this post, which makes no sense even to me, but it slipped into my head last night as I was falling asleep, and this morning I had failed to forget it. That’s often the way of it, Coleridge forgets the ending of Xanadu, I remember the nonsensical pun. In mitigation, we’d just seen Joe Dante’s “family horror film” THE HOLE, and I’d been reading interviews with the director where he described the film’s setting as a “podunk town”. We don’t really have that word in Scotland, perhaps because you could apply it to just about any town here, so I was charmed by the sound — pebble into bucket of water — and it must’ve lodged somewhere.

In this small town there is a house, and the new residents of said house are a single mom and her sons, one teenage and one younger (Chris Massoglia and Nathan Gamble, both potential future stars). Also in this house, in the basement, is a supernatural bottomless pit, its presence gratifyingly unexplained. And what Nietszche said about the abyss goes double for this one. Like inhabitants of a domestic SOLARIS or EVENT HORIZON, the two kids and their neighbour (Haley Bennett, likewise terrific) are soon being persecuted by their worst fears, a selection of creepiness carrying various echoes of other, more adult scary movies — THE SIXTH SENSE, STIR OF ECHOES, THE GRUDGE, POLTERGEIST, and the director’s own GREMLINS. The closest movie overall might be THE GATE. It was fun to think of these horror tropes being inflicted on a generation of kids who haven’t seen the originals and have no defenses. In fact, we were scared enough to jump several times, and feel the pleasing tingle of anxiety, especially at the jittery movements of the little dead girl with one shoe.

And it’s in 3D. Really good 3D. Annoying to think that this has been waiting for release a year, while faked-up post-production 3D hack jobs like CLASH OF THE TITANS and THE LAST AIRBENDER lobbed their digital scorpions and fireballs at an insulted world. The falling nail that drops straight towards the lens made Fiona flinch, the first time that effect has EVER worked on her, and the use of stereographic space in conjunction with lovely sound design to create a real feeling of deep, scary space, was beautifully judged. There’s also a spectacular tunnel shot in an abandoned glove factory (“Gloves By Orlac”) followed by a forest of light fittings amid which squats local recluse with scary insider knowledge Bruce Dern looking like Coppelius from THE TALES OF HOFFMAN (he even has clusters of plastic eyeballs on stalks — he just does). All absolutely thrilling in 3D.

There’s a strong sense of “welcome back” as Dante serves up cameos by Hollywood old-timers (only a couple, as the film was shot in Canada); amusing reading material (the heroine reads that other Dante’s Inferno); monster movies on TV (and I am just not sure what that dinosaur flick is! Most frustrating) and a chattering little attack creature, pint-sized malevolence in motley.

The kids are all great, with the youngest, Nathan Gamble, particularly impressive. Just because we’ve come to expect impressive kids in this kind of movie, since Haley Joel Osment, that shouldn’t stop us being amazed by him.

Approach with caution if you are particularly afraid of the following things: heights, depths, clowns, the dark, Bruce Dern, scary dead kids, giant abusive fathers. Approach with glee if you want to see what Dante does with a cartoon-expressionist city somewhat in the vein of the toon-house in TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE.

As the end credits rolled (and it’s worth staying through them…) a wee boy approached us tentatively and asked “Eh that was quite scary?” (In Scotland we put the “eh” at the front of the sentence so you know in advance it’s a question.) My guess is his friends were acting tough and denying they’d been frightened and he wanted to get some confirmation from responsible adults that he wasn’t silly to find the movie pretty frightening in places. We assured him: he wasn’t!