You Are About To Enter…The Twilight Zone: 60 Years Later

“There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call the Twilight Zone.

Opening narration by Rod Serling to The Twilight Zone in its first season

The Twilight Zone is celebrating its 60th anniversary and is still regarded as one of the most influential sci-fi and fantasy TV series of all time. Its combination of surreal sci-fi and fantasy storytelling and eerie plots has made its many classic episodes quite memorable for genre fans of all types. Hosted and created by the late Rod Serling, his matter-of-fact introductions led viewers to witness many memorable stories that ranged from a gremlin trying to sabotage a passenger jet seen only by one hapless man ( played brilliantly by William Shatner) in “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”, to a bookworm (Burgess Meredith) who shuns society and yearns for solitude, and gets his wish after a nuclear war only to meet a cruel fate in “Time Enough At Last”.

The pilot episode “Where is Everybody?” started things off 60 years ago this month with an Air Force pilot in a seemingly abandoned town, who slowly succumbs to paranoia, as things are not what they seem. The plot twist at the end of “Where Is Everybody?” would set the tone for the whole series. Countless episodes had twist endings and examples of being careful what you wish for, as well as bizarre otherworldly happenings. Notable examples include: a woman chased by her double during a solitary road trip in “Mirror Image”, “The Howling Man”, which has a man chasing the Devil across the world using the staff of truth to keep him locked up in, a woman going to the top floor of a department store with creepy mannequins in “After Hours” or even seemingly benign aliens giving humans solution to world problems until their true sinister agenda is revealed in “To Serve Man”. These are just the tip of the iceberg with The Twilight Zone.

All of these many great moments have cemented the status of The Twilight Zone and led to many other anthology shows in its wake. Serling himself had a follow-up series Night Gallery starting in 1969 that was horror focused and not as well remembered. There have been two revivals in the 1980s (a film co-directed by Steven Spielberg, John Landis, Joe Dante and George Miller, and a TV show on CBS), a TV film in the 1990s based on Serling’s unused stories, a 2002 revival on the defunct UPN network, and one streaming right now on CBS All Access. Even shows like Amazing Stories, which was more fantasy based, and Tales From The Crypt can all trace their origins back to The Twilight Zone, which had all kinds of genres in its pallet.

The fact that it debuted in 1959 is also quite interesting since there was nothing like it on TV at that time. Unlike today with sci-fi being a huge industry, the era in which it came about was pre-Star Wars and Star Trek. Nevertheless, the show captivated audiences and even today it still holds up with its timeless stories and issues that it tackled. “Eye of the Beholder” dealt with body image and conforming to society’s standards of beauty and “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” showed how fear of an outside force can destroy a town. The fact that The Twilight Zone was a genre-based show allowed it to talk about issues such as these in an allegorical setting whereas a more realistic show could not, especially in the the late 1950s and early 60’s. It was one of the reasons why Serling created the show. He wanted to avoid censorship issues when crafting his imaginative and thought-provoking stories. This again, paved the way for later shows like Star Trek to do the same thing with its many takes on issues like civil rights and racism masked in the sci-fi setting of starships and aliens.

The Twilight Zone still gets accolades and is always included in listings of the top TV series of all time. TV Guide ranked it at #5 in their list of 60 greatest shows of all time in 2013 and in 2016 Rolling Stone ranked it at #7 for 100 greatest shows of all time. The Twilight Zone’s impact on pop culture also expands to other areas as well with a theme park ride in Disney’s Hollywood Studios park and numerous spoofs on The Simpsons. All of this for a show that was on the air when there were only three networks on TV and decades before the proliferation of science fiction, horror and fantasy in movies and television.

The power of these stories is still going strong after more than half a century and should continue to excite fans who have seen them countless times and gain new fans who will no doubt be drawn in by the iconic theme music that is still creepy to listen to even today, as well as Rod Serling’s famous words “Submitted for your approval…”

C.S. Link

*The intro shown below for The Twilight Zone is based on its first season. It’s not as famous as the iconic theme we all know of, but IMO is much eerier and more effective.

All 23 MCU Films Ranked

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has been with us since Iron Man in 2008 and has been comprised of three phases. Twenty three films later, the MCU’s Infinity Saga is now complete with the release of Spider-Man: Far From Home, which heralded the conclusion of Phase Three of the MCU.

Now it’s time to rank all the MCU films to date. We’ve done this before back in 2015 when Phase Two ended but since then eleven more MCU films have been released which changed the previous ranks of films. Also, upon further viewings the older MCU films have either aged well and are actually higher ranked or are haven’t aged well and went down in ranking.

Looking back at the films, it is remarkable and necessary to note that there isn’t a terrible film in the lot, which is amazing considering there are 23 films. Even the lowest ranked films have their merits and are better than many other films of different franchises. Not all the films are classics, but almost all are solid and enjoyable superhero films that are among the best of the genre.

23. Thor: The Dark World (2013)

Coming in at the bottom of the list is the first sequel to Thor. Despite Chris Hemsworth’s star power and natural charisma as the God of Thunder, Thor: The Dark World is a very routine superhero film that is quite forgettable.

It has its moments such as Tom Hiddleston, who is always reliable as the mischievous Loki and the final fight. But the film was listless and wasted Christopher Eccleston’s talents as Malekith, an uninspired enemy with lazily thought-out motives and background.

22. Iron Man 2 (2010)

This sequel to Iron Man could have been good, even great. It featured many interesting subplots and with some tinkering the villains could have been among the MCU’s best. Instead, we got a mishmash of conflicting plots that don’t go anywhere.

Thanks to the film’s scattered tone, Tony Stark regressed in character and reverted back to being an unsympathetic, narcissistic jerk. Adding to the flaws was that it was obvious that the film was being over-managed by film executives who wanted to use it to lay the groundwork for the MCU instead of ensuring this was a good film in its own right.

21. Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)

This sequel to Ant-Man is not a poorly made film, it has many fine merits such as a winning cast and great effects. The problems with Ant-Man and the Wasp is that it doesn’t have the same energy as Ant-Man, often the humor comes off as forced, and feels more pedestrian than its predecessor. Not even the unusual sight gags are as funny or inventive as in the original.

Making matters worse is that the film featured some of the worst villains in the MCU. They make the much-criticized Yellowjacket in Ant-Man seem like Thanos, yes, they’re that uninteresting. Still, it’s not a bad film but should have been so much better.

20. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

The first sequel to The Avengers is sometimes frustrating to watch because it reeks of 1) wasted potential and 2) having too many cooks in the kitchen or rather execs in the editing room. Reportedly, director Joss Whedon was ordered to include scenes and subplots that had little to do with the main story and his frustration showed in the final product.

But worse than that, Avengers: Age of Ultron felt by the numbers and crammed with too many characters. It was unable to recreate the fun and energy of the first film. But, there are some terrific sequences, namely the battle between the Hulk and the Hulkbuster and the party scene where Steve Rogers nudges Thor’s immovable hammer, so there is that.

19. Captain Marvel (2019)

This is a fine, decent film that does a better than expected job of showing how the modern MCU was set up. More than that, Captain Marvel expands the cosmic side of the MCU while laying the groundwork for the future of the cinematic universe.

What holds this film from ranking higher is that it’s rather flat at times and feels like a formulaic superhero film. Captain Marvel is alright for what it is, but it doesn’t truly stand out like many MCU films. Making things worse is Brie Larson’s sometimes wooden performance as the title character.

18. Doctor Strange (2016)

The Sorcerer Supreme’s debut film might have ranked higher on the list if only it didn’t feel like we’ve seen this kind of film before. An arrogant tool learns some humility and becomes altruistically heroic in time for the end credits. This doesn’t mean that Doctor Strange is a bad film, not at all. It’s professionally put together with amazing special effects and imagery that has never been seen before. Plus, Benedict Cumberbatch is an inspired casting choice for the title character.

However, Doctor Strange sometimes feels formulaic and routine in between the hallucinogenic magic shows. Downgrading the film further is its main villain, a rather forgettable evil wizard with murky motivation and cliché dialogue. More screen time should have gone to Dormammu, the ultimate big bad revealed at the end. The confrontation between Doctor Strange and Dormammu was ingenious and its resolution was a welcome change from the typical fisticuffs.

17. Iron Man (2008)

As the very first MCU film, Iron Man holds a distinctive place in many people’s lists. No doubt, the success of the cinematic universe is due to this solid superhero film that defied the odds. Before it was released, many doubted that the burgeoning Marvel Studios could pull off a successful superhero film with a B-list character. Thankfully, they were proven wrong. Robert Downey Jr. shone in the role of his career as Tony Stark and was one of the main reasons why the MCU took off.

But looking at it objectively, the film has its faults. After a thrilling and engaging first half, it bogs down as we impatiently wait for Stark to build and use the iconic red-and-gold Iron Man armor. The villain didn’t help matters either. Jeff Bridges is OK as Obadiah Stane but didn’t have much presence and this lessened the final conflict between the two. However, the film’s post-credits scene was a true zinger and gave birth to the MCU.

16. The Incredible Hulk (2008)

The only solo Hulk film from Marvel Studios is its redheaded stepchild, which is a shame. There are so many admirable qualities to the film and it revamped the character after the ill-received film version from 2003. Besides, The Incredible Hulk was a favorite film of someone very dear to me, so it holds a special place. The film is often overlooked but it’s important to the MCU. As the first film after Iron Man it featured many references and Easter eggs that helped solidify the MCU. It also was the first MCU film to crossover characters as seen with Tony Stark’s appearance late in the film.

The film cleverly echoed the vibe from the successful TV series of the 70s and 80s by having its tortured hero Bruce Banner living life as a fugitive as he tried to cure his condition of turning into the Hulk. In his only appearance as Banner, Ed Norton, successfully captured the essence of his comic book counterpart in that Banner was a geeky, unassuming man who had a lot of pent-up rage. He actually was better at the role than Mark Ruffalo, but alas, studio politics and Norton’s actions during filming prevented him from reprising the role.

15. Black Panther (2018)

It may be heresy to admit it, but while Black Panther is a groundbreaking and captivating superhero film (and the first one to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar), it is overrated. Taking away its world building, merits and cultural impact, Black Panther has its flaws like some cheesy CGI and it takes a while for the film to take off during its first act. But when it does, wow, it soars off with great velocity. This happens when T’Challa directly faces the film’s villain Killmonger.

tchalla and killmonger

Michael B. Jordan is one of the film’s greatest assets as the savage Killmonger thanks to his compelling back story. His story intertwines finely with the film’s theme about the actions and sins of our fathers defining and shaping us. Once Killmonger enters the stage to claim the throne of Wakanda, the film grabs you much more than the eye-popping visuals of the advanced African country.

14. Iron Man 3 (2013)

Believe it or not, Iron Man 3 is a very well done film and unbelievably the best Iron Man solo film with exciting sequences. It created a lot of controversy when it was released due to the nature of the villains and certain plot twists. This turned off many fans, but the twists were genuine surprises that paid off.

What makes Iron Man 3 stand out is that it was basically a deconstruction of the title hero. We got to see Tony Stark at his most vulnerable as he grappled with PTSD from the events of The Avengers, and this made him more human. We saw there was more to this wounded man than his snarky jokes and false bravado. Then we saw how heroic and resourceful he was without his armor. This film certainly deserves another, more objective look.

black and red spidey

13. Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)

There are many plot holes in the second Spider-Man MCU film, but it’s a blast with so much heart and boasts some of the greatest MCU post-credits scenes. As with the previous Spider-Man film, this followup showcases the precarious balance that teenage superhero Peter Parker holds between his normal high school life and that of his web-swinging, heroic alter ego.

spidey and mysterio

There are many memorable sequences and laughs, though not all of them land. Overall, the film is fast-paced and engrossing with dazzling effects and fights. The main cast has perfected their performances in this sophomore effort. One of the highlights is Jake Gyllenhaal who plays the villainous Mysterio with obvious glee. The fight scenes between him and Spider-Man are some of the MCU’s best and at times emulate the trippy nature of the Spider-Man/Mysterio fights featured in the comics.

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Game Of Thrones: The Wheel Is Broken As The Series Concludes

Game of Thrones

It is hard to believe that George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy yarn has come to a conclusion, but it has. Of course, the book series, A Song of Ice and Fire, is still a couple of books away from being published, but the HBO series it inspired, Game of Thrones, aired its last episode in an appropriate way. Ever since Game of Thrones debuted back in 2011 it has been a source of controversy in terms of how its story arcs developed and this final season and episode weren’t any different.

Before going further, a fair warning must be stated that spoilers will follow. With that out of the way, the final episode of Game of Thrones, “The Iron Throne”, concluded long-running character arcs that already left many fans reeling or feeling satisfied. But that is typical with this fantasy show. Game of Thrones stood out from normal fantasy fare with its brutally graphic and grounded depiction of its world. The good guys more often than not did not win the day, honor and duty were burdens and life was not fair, just like reality. We’ve seen this time and time again with incidents like the death of lead character Ned Stark, the infamous Red Wedding or the rape of Sansa Stark.

The final season was eagerly awaited as it promised to conclude many story lines but many fans were disappointed, which is natural given all the hype and anticipation Game of Thrones has received. Careful and observant viewers should not have been surprised or dismayed too much by how the arcs and characters developed. For instance, a major source of contention is with how Daenerys Targaryen descended into savagery in her quest for the Iron Throne and her birthright. We’ve followed Daenerys’ story from the first season where she was a timid princess in exile who overcame her inhibitions and rose to power by becoming a savior of people in the lands of Essos. She and her followers liberated slaves and vanquished evil people throughout the show and we all were eager for her to take on the evil forces holding the Iron Throne in King’s Landing, Westeros, namely the Lannister family who killed her father during a rebellion. But as viewers cheered her journey, many overlooked the clear signs that Daenerys had a dark side that was kept in check by close advisers and friends. When she and her forces finally stormed King’s Landing and slaughtered its innocent citizens, Daenerys was largely alone. Most of her confidants were dead or driven away, sometimes by her doing. This applied to her Queen’s Hand, Tyrion Lannister, who was appalled by her behavior. Even though the forces defending King’s Landing surrendered, a blood lust overtook Daenerys and she laid waste to the city with her magnificent dragon, Drogon and her army. This was too much for many people who realized she was beyond redemption.

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Top 10 Twilight Zone Episodes From The 1980s

The Twilight Zone has been in the public eye lately with the new version streaming on CBS All Access and the fact that this year marks the 60th anniversary of the original TV show. As many focus on Rod Serling’s masterpiece or Jordan Peele’s new take on the sci-fi, fantasy, horror anthology series, the first Twilight Zone revival from the 1980s often gets overlooked. That is a shame because in its own right The Twilight Zone from the 1980s was high caliber.

Many episodes were well done and ranged in quality from solid to so outstanding that it would be easy to imagine Rod Serling himself approving of the episodes to be included with his version. Respected and revered talents such as Wes Craven, William Friedkin, Joe Dante, Harlan Ellison, George R.R. Martin and J. Michael Straczynski worked behind the scenes to bring forth thought provoking or imaginative episodes that challenged viewers.

What made this revival stand out is that the showrunners allowed the stories to run as long as they should. Several stories only lasted about ten minutes and were the better for it. The most important thing in this version, like the original, is that the story was the most important element with fascinating morality plays, twist endings and allegories.

While respecting the original by mostly adhering to its high standards in terms of storytelling, not every episode was memorable, especially in its third and final season. Nonetheless, The Twilight Zone from the 1980s deserves a close examination since so many episodes are worthy of the Twilight Zone name.

Submitted for your approval are the top 10 Twilight Zone episodes from the 1980s:

10. “The Cold Equations”

A space pilot (Terence Knox) delivering critical medical supplies in his small spaceship discovers a stowaway (Christianne Hirt) which upsets the ship’s fuel ratio and endangers the mission. This adaptation of Tom Godwin’s short story effectively conveys a message about human emotion vs the cold, hard physics of space travel.

9. “Many, Many Monkeys”

This episode was originally written for the original show back in 1964 but was never used. In it a blindness epidemic sweeps the world and a nurse (Karen Valentine) struggles to treat her suddenly blind patients. It doesn’t take long to find out that their condition is related to their callous and selfish demeanor.

8. “Shelter Skelter”

Joe Mantegna plays a paranoid survivalist whose nightmare comes true. An apparent nuclear attack strands him in his fallout shelter as he prepares to deal with the outside world that will never intrude his home. This was a great look into a paranoid mind of the survivalist as he descends into madness and the ending was a true and ironic twist.

7. “The Last Defender of Camelot”

George R.R. Martin wrote this imaginative episode that adapts Roger Zelazny’s short story about Sir Lancelot (Richard Kiley) who is still alive but elderly in modern times. He reunites with Merlin (Norman Lloyd) and Morgan Le Fay (Jenny Agutter). Lancelot is soon caught up in a power struggle between the two as Merlin reveals his plans to take over the world for the betterment of humankind and Lancelot has to stop him.

6. “Cold Reading”

Several radio actors in the 1930s perform a live radio play and quickly learn to their horror that their script actually comes to life when spoken. For instance, when someone mentions that it’s raining in the story, the studio is quenched in an indoor rainstorm. Quite humorous and inventive, it’s fun to watch the actors and writers hastily rewriting the script in order to prevent dangerous things from appearing. The episode’s ending is very cute.

5. “I of Newton”

Perhaps the funniest and coolest Twilight Zone episode is also one of its shortest. Sherman Hemsley is a frustrated math professor who offhandedly wishes to sell his soul to solve a math problem. Enter a demon (played with fiendish aplomb by Ron Glass), who shows up to collect. The professor then desperately tries to talk his way out of the unwanted bargain. The lines and their delivery, particularly from Glass, were sparkling and full of vigor. When watching “I of Newton” take time to check out the demon’s always-changing t-shirts (ex: “Hell is a city much like Newark”)!

4. “A Small Talent for War”

It can be said that this short episode is a worthy companion to the classic “To Serve Man” from the original Twilight Zone. Giant aliens arrive on Earth and announce that they seeded humanity eons ago. They also intend to wipe out the human race because of its “small talent for war”. The UN Security Council then frantically tries to negotiate world peace to demonstrate to the aliens that humanity is worth sparing. What happens next is one of the most ironic endings in Twilight Zone history.

3, “The Toys of Caliban”

A rather touching and wrenching story co-written by George R.R. Martin about a young mentally challenged man (David Greenlee) with unusual powers. He is capable of conjuring to life whatever he sees or imagines, which could be disastrous. This forces his parents (Richard Mulligan and Anne Haney) to keep him sheltered to avoid unfortunate incidents. This only works for so long as exposure to the outside world disrupts their lives and forces the father to take extreme steps to ensure the safety of the world.

2. “Profile in Silver”

The tired time travel trope of someone trying to change history is given a jolt with this unexpectedly inventive episode. Lane Smith is a professor from the 22nd century who time travels to Dallas in 1963 to witness the assassination of his ancestor John F. Kennedy (Andrew Robinson). He decides to stop the incident and unlike other time travel stories, he succeeds and the result is unsettling. Soon the world is on the brink of World War III and the professor has to find a way to undo his actions. The ending is not only genuinely surprising but very stirring and a statement about the nobility of humankind.

1. “To See the Invisible Man”

The Twilight Zone is famed for presenting allegorical yarns, morality plays and statements about our society. This episode is a perfect example. Like in the original Twilight Zone, this story takes place in an imaginary society where Mitchell Chaplin (Cotter Smith) is punished for his unfriendly behavior. He is sentenced to a year of invisibility and has a mark placed on his forehead. At that point, he is ignored by everyone around him, which he finds liberating. Over time, Chaplin comes to disdain his nonexistence and yearns for human interaction. “To See the Invisible Man” represents the very best of The Twilight Zone as it examines the morality of the punishment and an astute character study. It also is a damning look at a society that imposes certain behaviors which deny free will. With so much to offer this is the best episode of The Twilight Zone from the 1980s.

Honorable Mentions:

“Act Break”, “The Elevator”, “Examination Day”, “Gramma”,  “Her Pilgrim Soul”,  “A  Matter of Minutes”, “Need to Know”,  “Nightcrawlers”, “The Once and Future King”, “Paladin of the Lost Hour”, “The Star”, “Still Life”, “Wordplay”

Have any of you seen this version of The Twilight Zone? What are your thoughts on the show and the episodes on this list? Take a moment to leave your comments below.

José Soto

 

Aquaman Salvages The DCEU

It’s official, Aquaman is the biggest hit for the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) or the Worlds of DC. The newest superhero film released by Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment has proven so successful that it has joined the lucrative billion dollar club as of this weekend. Aquaman’s success could not have come at a better time for DC and Warner Bros. as the film studio desperately needed to have a genuine supehero hit film given all the headaches they’ve had with the DCEU lately.

The DCEU has always had an uneven existence with films that either polarized audiences or just left everyone unimpressed. For every Wonder Woman there was a Suicide Squad. The DCEU was supposed to be a viable competitor to the far more successful Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), but that did not turn out to be. For the most part, Warner Bros. was to blame with the way they micromanaged the DCEU films and their directors and never gave the people running the film universe the chance to organically develop it. In their rush to compete with the MCU, many of the DCEU films felt like rushed trailers for subsequent films. This all came to a head with Justice League last year. What was supposed to be DC’s answer to The Avengers was poorly received and flopped in theaters.

Adding to the woes were all the behind-the-scenes headaches that have been covered before such as the inability to create a proper sequel to Man of Steel, the drama of whether or not Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill would reprise their roles of Batman and Superman. Films were announced and shelved. Directors and writers came aboard for films only to depart soon afterwards.

After the failure of Justice League, not many had hope for Aquaman. After all, he was not a popular superhero and was often derided by many for being so underwhelming. His appearances in previous DCEU movies redefined the character into more of a fun-loving surfer dude type, but this did not inspire confidence that he could carry a film. Thankfully, many of us were proven wrong.

An Underwater Spectacle

Aquaman turned out to be a fun, exciting and spectacular film that just went for broke. It is outrageous with its imagery and the film created a stunning underwater world that is so richly detailed and colorful that it evokes films like Avatar or the Star War films. As with the latter films, Aquaman is one exhaustive film that constantly moves in terms of plot and action. Some parts of it, especially the scenes in Italy, recall the brisk pace of the Indiana Jones films. Much of this credit goes to director James Wan who injected needed levity and adventure to the DCEU and people reacted positively to Aquaman.

Of course, the film can be silly and goofy but it is never dull. On top of that the natural charms of the leads Jason Mamoa and Amber Heard helped sell the film to wide audiences. What also helped was the timing of its release. Unlike previous Holiday seasons, there was no Star Wars film to compete with. Audiences who are weary from all the sour news of the world want escapism and fun in their films. And Aquaman delivered that to them.

Finally, it seemed as if Warner Bros. left Wan and the other filmmakers alone and didn’t try to inject the greater DCEU to Aquaman. Aside from two references, this film could stand apart from the DCEU, and it helped since this allowed the characters to have the spotlight to themselves and for the film’s story to develop naturally. Does this mean this formula will work for future DCEU films? It’s possible, just think about it, Aquaman followed the same path of the early MCU films in that they were largely standalone affairs with lesser known characters that won over audiences. By the time the MCU expanded into team up films, people were invested in the characters. This does not mean this standalone formula will work with every film. But for now a loose affiliation with the DCEU may be the key…for now.

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