In 1960 writer Rod Serling birthed an anthology television show that changed the world. That sounds hyperbolic, but The Twilight Zone has influenced film and television and has inspired us to question everything. Often imitated but never duplicated, there’s never a bad time to celebrate The Twilight Zone. That being said, Fathom Events and CBS Television decided to honor the 60th anniversary of the series’ premiere with a special presentation of six fan-favorite episodes and the new documentary “Remembering Rod Serling.”
In the era of television episodes being remastered and released for television cuts, it’s rare to get the opportunity to watch these small-screen shows in a theater. I’ve done it twice this year, between this and a screening of several episodes of Laverne & Shirley. There’s something about watching television shows on a movie screen that’s otherworldly, as if you’re seeing something in a completely new way (which, you are). On a technical level, the transfers from CBS were sparkling and you truly see the detail or lack thereof. Watching Burgess Meredith wander around an apocalyptic landscape in “Time Enough at Last” shows off the painted backgrounds that stood in for the wasteland, while you can better see how skillful the makeup effects are in “Eye of the Beholder.”
The six episodes screened are a fantastic introduction for newcomers as well as perfect encapsulations of the fan-favorite term. “Walking Distance” isn’t necessarily my favorite of Serling’s “you can’t go home again” spate of episodes (that honor goes to “Ring-a-Ding Girl”) but it beautifully illustrates Serling’s own love for his hometown of Binghamton and his desire to return to it. Gig Young plays a workaholic who ends up visiting his old hometown, appropriately called Homewood, only to realize he’s gone back in time. There’s a fantastic sequence between Young and the man who plays his father which, after watching “Remembering Rod Serling” takes on added prominence when you know Serling never said goodbye to his father.
The other surprise to see here was “The Invaders,” a near-silent episode starring Agnes Moorehead as a woman fighting off tiny aliens. It’s funny to watch on a big screen as you truly get the scale of the small little robots poking at Moorehead. But, at the same time, you get to witness her phenomenal acting as she sells the anguish she feels. The rest of the episodes are old-reliables. “Time Enough at Last” and “Eye of the Beholder” are wonderful morality tales. The latter is one of my favorite episodes and those makeup effects don’t lose an ounce of horror blown up. “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” remains timely today while “To Serve Man” is pure sci-fun horror!
The episodes were followed up with the short documentary, “Remembering Rod Serling.” For the Serling die-hard, this probably won’t hold anything new but as someone who is just diving into the waters of Serling, the man, it was highly intriguing. Yes, it is a marketing ploy for CBS Television and their reboot of the series (which you can stream at CBS All Access), filled with interviews of those who worked on that series and have tangential connections. But it’s also filled with beautiful remembrances from Serling’s daughter, Julie, and the students he taught at Ithaca College. Hearing someone say that Serling’s biggest fear was that he wouldn’t be remembered broke my heart. Couple that with several darling pictures of Julie Serling and her dad, who she says was always there for you, and you have a highly emotional doc. Also, shoutout to 1970s Rod Serling who never lost an ounce of smolder!
Anytime Fathom does a Twilight Zone remembrance it’s worth it. I’m so happy I got the opportunity to watch the episodes and the documentary, not only to remind myself of my love for The Twilight Zone but to, in a way, honor a man who thought he’d be forgotten.
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A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.