"Twilight Zone -- The Movie," a sometimes sappy but mostly super tribute to Rod Serling's other dimension, showcases the directorial talents of Steven Spielberg, John Landis, George Miller and Joe Dante. The four-part film recreates three of the original telestories and offers a new one written and directed by Landis, who also contributed the witty opening prologue.
In it, Dan Aykroyd, as relaxed as he's ever been, joins Albert Brooks in a drive along a dark country road. They play a guessing game -- name that TV-show theme song. And guess what comes up? Doo doo doo doo. Doo doodoo doo. Four little notes guaranteed to send involuntary chills up your spine and raise gooseflesh. Your next stop: The Zone.
You first cross into that dusky, in- between land with Landis, whose study of bigotry stars the late Vic Morrow, who was killed with two young costars while making the film. There's no happy ending here, although the original work was meant as a redemption parable. Now it's a tightly edited bludgeoning of the hateful hero, played with rugged skill by Morrow. The bigot, who hates Jews, blacks and Orientals, leaves a neighborhood bar to find himself first in Nazi Germany, then at a Klan hanging and finally in a Vietnam swamp. It's an ugly, if satisfying, story that misses its transitions and is haunted by ghosts of those who died for the film.
The second segment explores a cheerier corner of this nether world of swift judgments and sure morals. Steven Spielberg directs Scatman Crothers, a man who just smiles all over, in a fairy tale that is as good-natured as its star, a senior citizen's angel who changes nursing homes into playgrounds for the young at heart. It's suffused with sap and ripe with corn. But, aw shucks, it kind of brings a tear to your eye anyhow. The moral, of course, is you're only as young as you feel, golden agers.
Richard Matheson cowrote that screenplay with George Clayton Johnson and Josh Rogan as well as writing the screenplays for segments three and four.
The third, and by far the zaniest of the "Zone" quartet, is directed by Joe Dante, known for his horror film "The Howling" and little else. But this kooky little caper will change all that. It's a show-stopper about an omnipotent kid (Jeremy Licht) who creates and lives in a cartoon home, buttressed with TV sets in every room. His wishes become dishes loaded with junk food and served by a mommy who makes Petunia Pig seem savvy. She's Patricia Barry, part of a stupendous supporting cast that also has Kevin McCarthy, William Schallert and Nancy Cartwright. Even the dialogue is Mickey Mouse, with TV loony tunes woven into the human conversation.
Australian George Miller, who gave us "The Road Warrior" and "Mad Max," directs a final chiller -- best of the lot -- in which a wild-eyed John Lithgow explores the fear of flying with tragi-comic skill. Nobody believes a man with acrophobia when he spots an airborne, ice-blue imp ripping off engines one and two. That's when a man's got to overcome his worst fears to become a hero.
Donna ("Bosom Buddies") Dixon, a local beauty made good, also acts up a storm as a stewardess who tries to calm the crazed Lithgow. Her charge is carted off in the epilogue by Aykroyd, the man who would become Dixon's real-life husband. Just coincidence? Or did the wedding bells go doo doo doodoo? TWILIGHT ZONE -- THE MOVIE -- At area theaters.