Available November 19, 2013, Image Entertainment is releasing perhaps the simplest way to get all 156 episodes in one place with The Twilight Zone: The Complete Series DVD boxed set. This 25-disc, five-season collection presents “episodes only,” meaning you don’t get the special features included on the Complete Definition Collection set (which Image is placing a moratorium on beginning December 1, 2013). If you don’t require the 1080p resolution offered by Blu-ray (and perhaps don’t want to spring for the higher price tag), this set just might be your best option.
As for the content, it hardly needs any justification. The enduring popularity of the series, which began its run on October 2, 1959 and concluded June 19, 1964, speaks for itself. From series creator Rod Serling’s onscreen introductions, to Marius Constant’s main theme, to the haunting, mind-bending plots, everything about The Twilight Zone is iconic. Each of these episodes is at least 49 years old, yet their overall impact remains undiminished. The black-and-white cinematography, mostly courtesy of George T. Clemens (who lensed 117 episodes), is cinematic, with only the handful of episodes produced on videotaped showing their age. It has been revived, adapted for the big screen, and imitated countless times to varying degrees of success, yet nothing has supplanted the consistent genius of the original.
Everyone has their own favorite episodes and casual fans may find there are many lesser-known gems to discover via The Twilight Zone: The Complete Series. The first three seasons are on-point pretty much in their entirety. Who can forget the season one highlight, “The Lonely,” starring Jack Warden as an astronaut suffering through solitary confinement on a distant asteroid, accompanied by a female robot companion? In an age of increasing dependency on electronics as our means of expression, this is one of many episodes that have grown more poignant over the years. It’s not much of a stretch to suggest that “The Hitch-Hiker” served as inspiration for everyone from M. Night Shyamalan to the short-lived cult favorite Dead Like Me.
Perhaps my personal favorite of the entire series comes from the third season, “It’s a Good Life.” This is the celebrated episode, remade to far lesser effect as part of 1983’s Twilight Zone: The Movie, in which little Anthony Fremont (Bill Mumy) wishes people he dislikes into the cornfield. Like all of the best of Twilight Zone, this one works on multiple levels. Anthony is symbolic of both the irrational, impetuousness of youth and the dangers of parents who spoil their children rotten. Of course, the series was also known for featuring appearances by a wide variety of well-known actors, with four acclaimed appearances by Burgess Meredith, two each from the likes of William Shatner, Lee Marvin, Martin Landau, Claude Akins, Martin Balsam, and many more.
The switch to an hour-long format for season four resulted in fewer episodes (18 versus 29-37 in the other seasons) and a perceptible drop in quality. “Miniature” is a strong fourth season episode, buoyed mainly by a likeable lead performance by Robert Duvall as a man in love with a museum doll. One of the season’s most ambitious episodes is “He’s Alive,” an anti-racism tale starring Dennis Hopper that puts forth a powerful indictment of those who keep the spirits of people like Adolf Hitler (played here by Curt Conway) alive and well through their hate.
The fifth and final season returned Zone to its far stronger half-hour format. While its 36 episodes continued to show some signs of diminished inspiration, many of the 16 fifth season episodes penned by Serling are undeniable highlights. Richard Donner directed Serling’s “The Brain Center at Whipple’s,” which explores a common Zone theme, the relative value of man versus machine. Donner directed six season five episodes, the most famous of which being the William Shatner-starring “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.” That one was also remade as part of the big screen Twilight Zone, with John Lithgow filling in admirably for Shatner, though nothing replaces the fear-of-flying terror of the original.
It’s all here on The Twilight Zone: The Complete Series. While each season contains five discs, each of the five cases is conveniently the size of a standard DVD case. The cases are stored in a no-frills cardboard box. Again, with the extras-laden Definition Collection going on moratorium and the Blu-ray set costing considerably more, Image Entertainment’s “episodes only” DVD collection is a great choice.