Shadowvision: “TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE”
Welcome to Shadowvision, a regular column in which Fangoria.com revisits modern horror films in black-and-white. The purpose is to analyze these films through a new lens, seeing if the classically informed viewing experience will give a new angle to familiar images. If you’d like to watch along at home, it’s simple: go into your TV settings and desaturate the picture completely, then adjust the contrast and brightness to fit either standard or high definition.
Is there a television show as influential as THE TWILIGHT ZONE? From innovative storytelling and brilliant writing from the likes of Ray Bradbury and Richard Matheson, Rod Serling’s horror/sci-fi anthology series has impacted artists throughout almost every medium in entertainment since its debut in 1959. Just look at the line-up of directors involved in the series’ one—and to date, only—film adaptation: John Landis, Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante and George Miller.
TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE is a film that many find difficult to objectively revisit, considering the tragic shadow that looms over its legacy. The movie is an impressive anthology film in its own right however, and considering the source material, perfect to revisit in black and white. As every segment effectively exhibits each director’s style while simultaneously reflecting Serling’s unique vision, matching the black-and-white visuals of the series to the film would make for an interesting experiment nonetheless.
Technically speaking, potential viewers won’t want to go too heavy on contrast adjustment with TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE. Due to the nature of many of the segments, the white levels are often bright enough to compensate for the shadowing. Therefore, grey levels aren’t nearly as prominent and the segments that are more reliant on their color schemes boast lighting effects conducive to the monochrome translation. Brightness also doesn’t need much adjustment, although those more nostalgic for the true TWILIGHT ZONE effect may brighten the image even further than necessary to replicate ’50s sci-fi TV production values.
Of course, the best way to review the film in black-and-white is to judge each segment individually, as there’s very little connective tissue aside from the wrap-around segments. Landis’ opening segment feels more tonally authentic in black-and-white, with the director’s stark aesthetic reminiscent of the series, while also unintentionally reflecting the message of the story. Spielberg’s segment feels the least tonally appropriate for black-and-white, due to slicker production value, although the actual “Kick the Can” episode itself is the most rooted in fantasy instead of terror. Dante’s segment becomes the highlight of the reexamination as the story is the most terrifying and psychotic, which bolsters the more experimental shots and angles. Lastly, George Miller’s segment also benefits greatly here, evoking the greatest amount of nostalgia, while presenting the brilliantly designed goblin quite literally in a new light.
Another interesting aspect is just how apparent each filmmaker’s influences are in their respective segments. Landis’ segments are the least sci-fi, reflecting Hitchcock in many respects while treading into Serling’s more cynical ZONE output, such as “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street.” Spielberg’s entry is indicative of Serling’s more biblical side, leaning towards the early moral lesson episodes such as “One for the Angels” and “Walking Distance.” Dante’s is definitely as much influenced by Serling as it is his years under Roger Corman, combining his frenetic, unyielding imagination to the strange words of Jerome Bixby. Miller however, gives his segment a new twist by tackling it straightforward as a monster movie, rather than Richard Matheson’s original take that left the goblin’s existence ambiguous.
One of the most remarkable aspects of revisiting TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE without color is how the performances also change, at least in the perception of the audience. Performances that are more naturalistic in color feel more old-fashioned here, especially that of Vic Morrow and Kathleen Quinn. The performances in “Kick the Can” feel more affecting, as if black-and-white added emotional weight in the absence of the segment’s odd color scheme. And while the crazier segments sport more genre-friendly turns regardless of color, the audience can focus on John Lithgow’s physically involved performance more intently without the dulled colors on the plane to draw attention.
TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE is a great experience for black-and-white enthusiasts and fans alike. Without color, the work of the directors, cast and crew changes in ways both large and small, which makes the experience all the more exciting. Thanks to the ideas of Serling, Matheson and Bixby through the lens of Landis, Spielberg, Dante and Miller, TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE carries a timeless nature about itself and the fears explored in the scarier sequences.
Recommended for black and white consumption?: Yes.