Following the departure of Matt Reeves, Luke Owen ponders the future of The Twilight Zone movie…
Yesterday’s news about Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, Let Me In) leaving The Twilight Zone movie project after more than a year’s worth of work now raises just one question for Warner Bros. – what’s next for the 5th dimension? Is the project doomed to live in the same realm as the live action Akira movie? To be mentioned and planned but never followed through?
With The Twilight Zone being Leonardo DiCaprio’s favourite TV series (something we share in common), I can’t see the project dying anytime soon. So I guess the idea will be to bring in a new director. Before Reeves’ involvement, Dark Knight maestro Christopher Nolan was rumoured to step up to direct so perhaps they could go back to him. Rise of the Planet of the Apes director Rupert Wyatt is now out of a job and with Reeves being rumoured to take his spot on Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, we could also see a straight swap. Maybe there is another up and coming director who will be hungry to take on this task.
While getting a new director for this movie is imperative to keep it alive, for me to make The Twilight Zone Movie a success, Warner Bros. needs to go right back to the drawing board and get the idea right first.
One of my concerns about this new Twilight Zone movie was the announcement that the film would be a ‘big budget SFX-laden’ adaptation of one of the 92 Rod Serling-penned scripts that Warner Bros. owns. Aside from the absurd notion that The Twilight Zone needs a) a big budget and b) loads of SFX, the problem with this idea is that the majority (if not all) of Serling’s scripts were written and designed to fill a 22 minute run time – not a full length movie.
Take for example, Eye of the Beholder (also titled The Private World of Darkness) – a classic and extremely popular Twilight Zone episode from Season 2. The story is about Janet Tyler who is undergoing facial reconstruction surgery to look like everyone else because she is hideous to the rest of the world. This dark, moody and atmospheric episode keeps the majority of its cast in shadows to highlight Janet’s black and empty view as well as leading up to the big reveal perfectly within 22 minutes. When the new Twilight Zone movie was announced, this was one of the episodes talked about for the ‘big budget SFX’ film. But how? As much as I love this episode, there’s barely enough plot to fill the 22 minute runtime, let alone 90. It’s a one-man play with extras in shadows filling the time between the story’s set-up and twist reveal.
The list goes on. To Serve Man is an iconic episode, but is there enough there to fill 90 minutes? Furthermore, is the payoff good enough to satisfy a feature length movie audience? Time Enough At Last is the one episode of the Twilight Zone that everyone has seen, but I don’t think there is enough in there for us to watch a whole movie just to get a reveal that everyone already knows due to it being parodied so often.
This ‘feature-length’ episode idea was also going to be used for The Outer Limits movie that never saw the light of day – mostly down to the studio not being happy with a script. Unless the script is written from scratch (in which case you’re using The Twilight Zone name for marquee value alone), a better idea is to do what Spielberg and his team did for the 1983 effort – Twilight Zone: The Movie.
The film adapted three Twilight Zone episodes, had one original story and two scenes that bookended the movie. The idea was solid and could have made for an excellent homage and tribute to the series, but it was doomed for failure after a helicopter accident on the set of original story Time Out lead to the deaths of Vic Morrow and child actors Myca Dinh Le and Renee Shin-Yi Chen. Not only did it put a dark cloud over the film’s release, it altered the tone of the movie.
Originally, Steven Spielberg was going to direct an adaptation of Season 1 episode The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street which would have been really interesting given the subject matter and Spielberg’s genius in storytelling. A true character piece, The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street is a story of paranoia, trust and the awful feeling of not knowing who your neighbour really is. It came out at a pivotal point in America’s history and showed that the true horror of war is man itself and that words can be a more powerful weapon than hydrogen bombs. During the 1980s, America was going through similar worries with Russian sympathisers which would have made Spielberg’s adaptation all the more effective.
But with the accident looming over the film, Spielberg decided to make a light-hearted segment with the schmaltzy and whimsical Kick The Can – which wasn’t that great of an episode to begin with. Rather than focusing on the sci-fi elements that made the show such a success, Kick The Can is a feel good story about a group of retirees who are influenced by a new member of their home who convinces them to never grow old and remain forever young through a simple children’s game. While it sort of works as one of the more charming episodes of the Twilight Zone TV series, here it’s oddly placed after the fairly harrowing (if poorly written) Time Out and before Joe Dante’s acid-trip remake of It’s a Good Life. And with George Miller’s nerve scratching adaptation of Nightmare at 20,000 Feet capping off the movie, Spielberg’s Kick The Can just seemed all the more out of place. Because of this, the movie as a whole is a mess that never lets you get settled and ultimately leaves you unsatisfied.
But the idea was there. Getting four great directors on board with each one taking their own unique spin on a classic 50s sci-fi tale is a fascinating concept. While it’s incredibly flawed, Dante’s It’s a Good Life is a bizarre and trippy retelling of quite a simple story. He took the basics of the plot and ran with it down a visual route that just showed how a young boy might see the world if he had the power to control it. The same can be said for Miller’s Nightmare at 20,000 Feet. I adore the original season 5 episode (which features incredible hammy acting from William Shatner) but this movie version trumps it almost every way. John Lithgow’s descent into madness as he is tormented by a gremlin that no one else can see makes for a gripping experience and the segment overall leaves you with sweaty palms and a thumping heart.
It feels harsh to criticise a film that has such a terrible history, but Twilight Zone: The Movie was the best concept for a movie possible, but one that just didn’t work. Could they go this route again? Part of me hopes they will but with the failure of the 1983 effort hanging over the franchise like a wet fart, it seems unlikely.
But perhaps I’m wrong. After all, in the last few years we’ve had two feature length adaptations of Richard Matheson scripts (which were both used for Twilight Zone episodes) in the form of The Box and Real Steel. While the former wasn’t all that great, the latter was actually a lot better than the season 5 episode based off the same story. On top of that, while it was never turned into a Twilight Zone episode, I Am Legend (based off Matheson’s short story) was also a huge success and was a decent film albeit a very clunky one.
The difference there though is that Matheson wrote with a lot of scope and his stories could be adapted to 22 minutes whereas Serling’s were written for 22 minute spans. And with only Serling’s scripts to play with, it might be more beneficial for Warner Bros. to adapt several stories to make one good movie rather than put one egg into a giant basket.
So being a fanboy and a day dreamer, I thought I’d put together some episodes from the original Twilight Zone series that I’d like to see adapted. More on that to follow…
Luke Owen is a freelance copywriter working for Europe’s biggest golf holiday provider as their web content executive.