As we continue on through the masterful TV series created by storyteller extraordinaire Rod Serling, it's easy to see a few common themes coming up time after time. It's interesting and remarkable that Serling and his team of writers were able to consistently come up with new compelling stories that all circled around the idea of loneliness and solitude in some way or another. Forced loneliness is a theme that's carried throughout the previous three seasons and into the fourth. Whether it be a naval officer on an American destroyer who's lost in his own psychosis, an astronaut who finds himself stranded on a parallel earth where even his wife and daughter aren't the same, a reporter who finds himself stuck in an idyllic but strange country town, a young mute woman with telepathic abilities who's orphaned after her parents die in a fire. Many of Serling's stories deal with lonely or desperate people who have been cut off from their normal lives. Once someone has been cut off from normalcy, will they stay sane? What will they do? It's always a compelling question.
That's exactly what Serling did so well. He was able to take us into people's minds. We observed his characters as they struggled to find themselves. As they strived to become normal once again. Only, in 'The Twilight Zone' it always seemed that normal was just out of reach.
The fourth season of the 'Twilight Zone' moved to an hour-long episode format, which worked better for certain episodes than it did for others. An episode like "The Thirty-Fathom Grave" seemed like it had been stuffed full of filler scenes which seemed to repeat what we already knew. On the other hand "He's Alive" (one of my very favorite episodes of the season) takes the entire hour, carefully creating a complex character played by a fervent Dennis Hopper.
What was so amazing about it though, is that Rod Serling and his team seemed to seamlessly make the transition with the time change. There were a few lackluster episodes here and there, but for the most part the season stayed strong and true to the spirit of 'The Twilight Zone'.
There really are some amazingly classic episodes. I mentioned "He's Alive" before, but I just wanted to talk about how much I adore that episode. First, Dennis Hopper gives one of the greatest 'Twilight Zone' performances ever. Second, it's easy to see that Serling's writing and the way he portrayed the number of characters in that story directly related to his own Jewish heritage. His narration at the end about hate, bigotry, and racism is some of the best writing of the series. It really is an extremely moving episode.
There are plenty of other episodes in season four that make this set worth picking up. "Valley of the Shadow", "The Parallel", and "On Thursday We Leave for Home" are some of my other favorites. Season four also had a bevy of acting talent making guest appearances. We already mentioned Dennis Hopper, but other notable actors that stopped by this season were Robert Duvall, Anne Francis, Steve Forrest, and Burgess Meredith, among others.
It's true that the number of episodes was severely cut back for this season. Only 18 episodes in all, compared to the 37 half-hour episodes of season three. I can see people being wary of picking up this set, because you're definitely not getting as many original stories, but there are some classic episodes in here. After all, you've probably already picked up seasons one through three; why not continue on with this wonderful collection provided by Image Entertainment? 'The Twilight Zone' Blu-ray releases continue to be my favorite catalogue releases to date.
Blu-ray Vital Statistics
Like seasons one and three of 'The Twilight Zone' on Blu-ray, season four comes spread out across five 50GB Blu-ray Discs.The five discs come packaged in the same kind of keepcase we've come to expect from these releases. Discs one through four are held in their own hubs back-to-back on swinging inserts while the fifth disc is locked in its own hub in the back. The set, like the others, comes with a booklet that lets you know the title of each episode, what disc they are on, a synopsis of each episode, and what special features are provided for that episode. Finally, this season comes with a slipcover which matches all the other seasons so they look great lined up next to each other on the shelf.
Like the previous seasons, Image has done a tremendous job restoring the look and feel of Serling's masterpiece. The 1080p AVC-encoded transfer, which has been created from the 35mm negatives is simply gorgeous. Season three the experimented with using video tape to film the show, but that didn't work out so well. There's just no substituting the beauty that 35mm film can capture.
The black and white photography is absolutely marvelous in HD. Shadows are perfectly rendered, as shadows add depth and dimension to the picture. Faces are clearer than they've ever been. Pores, facial hair, and age lines are all visible. Even tiny beads of sweat that gather on Dennis Hopper's forehead are clear and precise. I was actually pretty surprised that the beads of sweat came out so clear, but they did.
Noise crops up every now and then, like it has in the previous seasons in the form of tiny scratches or blips on the film, but it's nothing to get overly worked up about. The richness of this picture will soon take you mind off of any minor imperfections that may hamper the overall image. I didn't detect any technical annoyances. Even tightly checkered tweed jackets only give off a very minimum amount of shimmer, which was nice. I remember suit jackets shimmering a lot more in season three.
Image has outdone themselves once again. Each episode has been treated with the utmost care. Fans of the series definitely have something to look forward to. They certainly haven't messed up yet in the video quality department.
Like the previous three seasons there are actually two audio options to choose from. You can either choose to listen to the original magnetic recordings or you can opt to listen to the digitally restored Linear PCM 2.0 mix that has been touched up for this release.
This audio presentation is right in line with the other season releases. The PCM 2.0 mix reproduces the dialogue clearly and intelligibly, but may put just a tad bit too much emphasis on voices. Sometimes they seem like they turned up the volume a little too much. The high-end range can also be limited at times, making high-pitched sound effects sound a little brash. However, these are very minor nitpicks. In the grand scheme of things these are near-perfect representations of the show and if you're a purist you can always listen to the original soundtracks provided.
Episode 103: "In His Image"
Episode 104: "The Thirty-Fathom Grave"
Episode 105: "Valley of the Shadow"
Episode 106: "He's Alive"
Episode 107: "Mute"
Episode 108: "Death Ship"
Episode 109: "Jess-Belle"
Episode 110: "Miniature"
Episode 111: "Printer's Devil"
Episode 112: "No Time Like the Past"
Episode 113: "The Parallel"
Episode 114: "I Dream of Genie"
Episode 115: "The New Exhibit"
Episode 116: "Of Late I think of Cliffordville"
Episode 117: "The Incredible World of Horace Ford"
Episode 118: "On Thursday We Leave for Home"
Episode 119: "Passage of Lady Anne"
Episode 120: "The Bard"
Kudos to Image! They continue to put out a stellar product for one of the best television series of all time. They've got this down to a science now, reproducing magnificent video and audio that compliment this fantastic series. As usual, the special features are overflowing to the point that you have no idea if you'll ever get to every single one of them, but it's good to know that they're all there in case you find the time. This is certainly a set that, like the others, is a must own.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.