October 1st, 2009
02:43 PM ET
Doo-doo-doo-doo, doo-doo-doo-doo... "You're traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind; a journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. That's the signpost up ahead – your next stop, the Twilight Zone!"
I'll admit it, I'm in the "Zone" this week. Tomorrow marks the 50th anniversary of the airing of the first episode of the classic sci-fi show, and amid a 15-episode marathon on the SyFy Network and celebrations in Binghamton, New York — series creator Rod Serling's hometown, and where he taught at Ithaca College — comes a bit of casting news that reminds us Hollywood is still fascinated with the imaginative, larger than life stories Serling loved.
Yesterday I saw an item in "Variety" that Hugh Jackman is in talks to star in "Real Steel," set in a world where robots have replaced human boxers. Hmmm, I thought. That sounds suspicously like the "Twilight Zone" episode "Steel," set in the far- flung "future" of 1974 (hah!), where, you guessed it, robot boxers have replaced humans. The late great Lee Marvin plays a down-on-his-luck former boxer who's now "managing" an android pugilist. When the robot breaks down, Marvin puts on his mask, takes his place in the ring and fights the good fight. He loses, of course, but makes enough money to repair his robot.
My first thought was the film producers should call it "Real Steal," because they totally ripped that off! As Serling would say, "File this under P for plagiarism, or L for lawsuit." Then I saw the fine print in the article: "Real Steel" is based on the same Richard Matheson short story as the "Zone" episode.
For me, the best part of "Steel" was the closing narration by Serling: "Portrait of a losing side, proof positive that you can't outpunch machinery. Proof also of something else: that no matter what the future brings, man's capacity to rise to the occasion will remain unaltered. His potential for tenacity and optimism continues, as always, to outfight, outpoint and outlive any and all changes made by his society, for which three cheers and a unanimous decision... rendered from the Twlight Zone."
And that's one of the things I love about the show. Yes, the twist endings and the diversity of the settings (from the American Civil War to outer space) are superb. But I love those often poetic, fiercely brilliant last thoughts by Serling at the end of the episodes. He was good at celebrating humanity at its best, but even better when he took it to task for its bigotry, selfishness, and greed. Lord knows he'd have his hands full writing about the stupidity and superficiality that exists in our own time. What do YOU think? What would Serling have made of the world we find ourselves in?
But before I go, submitted for your approval, three top examples from the man who knew how to "close":
"The Monsters are Due on Maple Street": " The tools of conquest do not necessarily come with bombs and explosions and fallout. There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, prejudices. To be found only in the minds of men. For the record, prejudices can kill, and suspicion can destroy, and the frightened, thoughtless search for a scapegoat has a fallout all of its own: for the children, and the children yet unborn. And the pity of it is that these things can not be confined to the Twilight Zone."
"Deaths-Head Revisited": "All the Dachaus must remain standing. The Dachaus, the Belsens, the Buchenwalds, the Auschwitzes — all of them. They must remain standing because they are a monument to a moment in time when some men decided to turn the Earth into a graveyard. Into it they shoveled all of their reason, their logic, their knowledge, but worst of all, their conscience. And the moment we forget this, the moment we cease to be haunted by its remembrance, then we become the gravediggers. Something to dwell on and to remember, not only in the Twilight Zone but wherever men walk God's Earth. "
"Walking Distance": "Martin Sloan, age thirty-six, vice-president in charge of media. Successful in most things but not in the one effort that all men try at some time in their lives—trying to go home again. And also like all men perhaps there'll be an occasion, maybe a summer night sometime, when he'll look up from what he's doing and listen to the distant music of a calliope, and hear the voices and the laughter of the people and the places of his past. And perhaps across his mind there'll flit a little errant wish, that a man might not have to become old, never outgrow the parks and the merry-go-rounds of his youth. And he'll smile then too because he'll know it is just an errant wish, some wisp of memory not too important really, some laughing ghosts that cross a man's mind, that are a part of the Twilight Zone."
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