Treasures Of The Twilight Zone

Treasures Of The Twilight Zone (1990)
Extras: Rod Serling interview, Rod Serling Sponsor Pitch Video, Season highlights and episode info, Cast info and series history

There’s an interesting moment in the interview with Rod Serling on this new disk from Panasonic. Mike Wallace is talking with Serling about his "upcoming" TV show, "The Twilight Zone". By this time, Serling was already established as one of the young turks of TV drama. His teleplays for Requiem for a Heavyweight, Patterns, and The Comedian had made him the first writer to earn three Emmys. If Twilight Zone had never happened, he would still be remembered as one of the seminal writers who showed the potential of TV drama. The interesting moment comes when Mike Wallace asks a question that essentially dismisses Zone as escapest entertainment. Up to this point Serling has acknowledged that Zone is intended to be populist and less "serious" than his dramas, but something in Wallace’s comment rubs him the wrong way. "I don’t think calling something ‘commercial’ tags with an odious suggestion that it stinks, that it’s something raunchy or to be ashamed of. If you say commercial means to be publicly acceptable, what’s wrong with that?"

Serling was rejecting the classic distinction between art and entertainment. He didn’t believe that popular entertainment couldn’t delve into serious issues as it entertained. That’s what Zone was at its best: it entertained, but it also provoked. Serling’s persistent themes of isolation, bigotry, and the double-edge of our choices combined with his keen sense of irony to produce a series that entertained and often startled, but also made viewers think. Serling himself wrote about a third of the episodes, and along with writers such as Richard Matheson, Charles Beaumont, George Clayton Johnson, and others often reached those ideal heights of fantasy that provoked. He would later acknowledge that one-third of the episodes were poor and one-third were mediocre, but it was that last third that makes the show a classic three decades later.

"Treasures of the Twilight Zone" and "More Treasures Of the Twilight Zone" present three episodes per disk that show just how good it could be. They are a good sampling of what made Zone special, and what could also make it controversial. Treasures includes the pilot episode "Where is Everybody," the rarely seen "The Encounter," and the "non-Zone" Zone episode "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" (more on this later). More Treasures includes "The Masks," "Eye of the Beholder," and "The Howling Man." All six would place in the top ranks of the best episodes in the series, and are well-deserving special DVD treatment.

As the episode that sold the series, "Where is Everybody" set the tone but also shows Serling pulling his punch. The story centers around actor Earl Holliman’s growing panic as he wanders about a town that seems just recently abandoned. A taught script, solid performance, and score by Bernard Herrmann make this a little gem of television. The only slight let-down is the ending. Where Serling’s trademark twist endings would often involve a supernatural or ambiguous explanation, he was obviously afraid that would be too much to sell the series. Instead, he offers a more conventional twist in the pilot that doesn’t quite do justice to the preceeding drama.

Once the series was sold, Serling stopped pulling his punches and began taking more serious chances, as the other two rarely seen episodes on this disk prove. The real gem is "The Encounter," which was deemed so controversial that it was never broadcast again and was left out of the syndication package. A tight, two-character, one-set drama, "The Encounter" casts Star Trek’s George Takei as a young Japanese man and veteran tough guy Neville Brand as a Pacific War veteran with a Samurai sword. The drama is so racially charged and disturbing that it’s clear why controversy-averse programmers of the 1960s decided not to show it again. The performances, particularly Takei’s, do justice to one of the best Zone scripts ever produced.
This is a real lost gem, and shows just how perfectly the series could blend entertainment and social commentary.

The final episode on the disk is the Academy Award winning French short film "An Occurrence on Owl Creek Bridge." Based on Ambrose Bierce’s classic story, this moody, strange, often surrealistic film had nothing to do with Twilight Zone except its kindred spirit. Serling loved it so much, he decided to air it as an episode – which as a side-effect also saved quite a bit of money as opposed to produce a new, individual episode. The entire film is largely "silent" with no dialog: only music and sound effects. It involves a man being hanged during the Civil War who escapes, culminating with one of the best-known twist endings in literature. Interestingly, "An Occurrence on Owl Creek Bridge" also later served as an inspiration for the supernatural film "Jacob’s Ladder".

The second disk has none of the rarities of the first, but does contain three more excellent and popular episodes. "The Masks" is about a dying man, who makes his greedy heirs wear masks that reflect their inner nature. "Eye of the Beholder" (often voted the most popular episode by fans) involves a woman undergoing plastic surgery to look "normal." Finally, there’s the Charles Beaumont-scripted "The Howling Man": a stylish episode in which a group of monks may or may not be holding the devil captive. While these three are frequently seen in syndication, they are still classics of the series, and are well-worth having for fans.

All six episodes on those two discs have been "digitally remastered," but they still betray their age and the limited technical quality of early television. The transfers and the prints are very clear black and white although, oddly, scratched and aged title sequences have been used for a couple. The sound has been cleaned up and there’s definitely less noise and a more full sound. Dynamic range is narrow, as expected, and syllables are oftne over-emphasized, but Panasonic has made the absolute best of the limited quality of the source material, and clearly improved it as much as could be expected. The extras piled onto both disks are the equal of the episode presentation in some respects. The menu system has its own music and some spiffy (although slightly sluggish) animation. Sadly the menu programming has been neglected somewhat, although the presentation itself looks nice. Many sequences used in the animated menus are cut off abruptly in mid-flight and mid-sound, and oftentimes even leave clearly visible ghost images on the screen for a few seconds.

The true highlights are in the "Rod Serling" extras. They include the aforementioned interview with Mike Wallace and a "pitch movie" made for sponsors. The interview is almost 25 minutes long, and though the quality of the source material is poor, the content is fascinating. The technical quality of the original pitch movie is equally poor, but again well-worth it for a fascinating insight into how a major personality like Serling had to shill his cutting edge new show for a bunch of product pitchsters. It lasts about ten minutes, as Serling walks us through several of the stories in the first season and promises advertisers a big audience. Episodes also have Serling "teasers" for the next week’s show.

The printed material is good, but there are some small problems in the implementation. There is a brief Serling bio, a short summary of each season, series overview, and cast, credits, and info on each episode.
The problem? The extra section has been repeated identically on both disks, right down to the episode-specific information. This means there are no credits or background info for the three episodes on the second disk, since the producers inadvertently simply copied the episode guide from the first. The text also scrolls automatically, just a bit too fast to read, without any way to pause or move backward through the text.

Panasonic has more Zone disks on the schedule, each with three more episodes. The production and transfer quality, as well as the fascinating extras, are strong enough to make these models for transferring TV shows to DVD.