- Jul 6, 2003
The Outer Limits (New Series): Season One
Rated: Not Rated
Running Time: 16 Hours 18 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: Full Screen (1.33:1)
Subtitles: English and French
Audio: English – Dolby Surround
November 1st, 2005
“There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission.” – a portion of the original The Outer Limits series’ opening narration.
It is interesting that in updating the Outer Limits series for a new generation of television viewer, its creative team chose to employ the approach that made the “old” series so great – its non-linear anthology format. In addition to allowing the talented folks behind the new series to tackle interesting problems/issues facing modern day humans via science fiction, each episode also offered a blank canvas that encouraged them to stretch the boundaries of their creative abilities. In essence, not having to worry about character or storyline continuity gave the producers, writers, actors, and directors great freedom to go wherever imagination would take them!
Turning back the clock a few decades, one would see that although the construction of the original Outer Limits series was very similar, there were a couple of distinct differences in the environment in which it aired. Specifically, not only did the original series have much stricter guidelines to adhere to, in terms of content, but it also had formidable competition in the form of another extremely successful anthology program – Rod Serling’s incomparable The Twilight Zone, which actually preceded The Outer Limits by a few years!
Over the years, I have heard some folks argue that the mere fact that The Outer Limits came along after The Twilight Zone realized success, and that it employed a similar formula, prove it was a rip-off of Serling’s concept. Personally, I have never gotten bogged down in this argument, as I think the two shows exhibit enough differences to make each stand on its own, not to mention worth watching. For instance, as the new Outer Limits’ producers point out in the supplemental materials, the Twilight Zone dealt more with elements of fantasy, whereas The Outer Limits confined itself to the realm of science fiction.
Bottom line, as an individual who has enjoyed watching both shows since early childhood, I consider myself fortunate that they shared a similarity other than their anthology format – incredible ideas and storytelling! Indeed, if you catch a marathon of either show today (or if you host your own ) you will see that many of the episodes from these innovative programs are still immensely interesting and entertaining all these years later! To me, this is amazing, especially when considering how many shows half this old seem much more dated by comparison!
Since I have long been a fan (not quite hardcore, but still a regular viewer) of intriguing anthology programming, like The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, and Tales From the Darkside, I am painfully aware that this is not the first attempt to modernize one of these ground-breaking programs. In fact, I was tremendously excited a few years back, when those ill-fated attempts were made to bring the format back to the airwaves under the famous Twilight Zone moniker were announced. Unfortunately, the inferior writing and embarrassingly unrealistic visual effects ensured these efforts would fail to obtain a following, and they were quickly ushered off of the airwaves.
Luckily, while it is not without a few problems of its own, the creative team that took on the challenge of respectfully updating The Outer Limits put enough care and thought into their series to avoid suffering a similar fate. As a result, it enjoyed a very respectable 7-season run, first on Showtime and later on the Sci-Fi channel. And since its entire run was on cable, it should probably be noted that those behind the new Outer Limits enjoyed greater creative license in treating with some of the deeper and more challenging issues facing humanity, which probably would not have been approved for network television even now, in the year 2005. Of course, being on cable also allowed the producers to really cater to their demographic, by amping up the show’s sexuality, violence, and gore – all to serve the story, no doubt
To be sure, there was the occasional weak episode, but the overall level of storytelling in the “new” Outer Limits series was well above and beyond what we were given in the sorry attempts to revive The Twilight Zone, and it was usually as thought provoking as it was entertaining! For these reasons, the show and some of its performers were awarded with a multitude of Emmy®, Gemini, Saturn, and Leo awards over its run! True, awards alone are not always an indicator of greatness, but of the episodes I have seen, the New Outer Limits seldom left me disappointed.
As I alluded to, however, the show did have a few minor problems, and although the stories were usually strong enough to overcome them, the most notable issue is that the show’s special effects were bad enough to undermine the story on occasion. It goes without saying that visual effects technology has improved exponentially since this show first aired, and the supplemental materials make it abundantly clear that a lot of effort went into making the visual effects look as good as possible. That being the case, I really hate to judge the New Outer Limits too harshly in this respect, but the truth is that its effects don’t look very realistic in some cases, which even executive producer Mark Stern cops to in the supplemental material.
Not surprisingly, the poorer make-up and visual effects had the most negative impact on episodes that relied heavily on such effects to advance the story. In a handful of cases, they were even unrealistic and distracting enough to break the suspension of disbelief required to properly enjoy the show. Again, however, I hesitate to bash the show too heavily for this, because for one thing, it only had a certain amount of financial resources and time to devote to visual effects, and undoubtedly not enough of either one! Further, as someone fascinated with the eye-popping visual effects in films like Star Wars – The Phantom Menace, but bored to tears by its tedious pace and dull plot, I would rather have a strong story with weaker special effects any day. Thankfully, in that respect, most of the episodes from season one deliver in this respect!
Being the “season set” person that I am, I think this DVD release rectifies a problem I had with the previously released box set of themed discs, by providing fans with the complete first season of the series. On the other hand, the box set did contain many of the series’ best episodes, so I suppose it could work the other way as well, by bringing new fans on board. Personally, as I said in my review of the box set, I prefer to track a show’s evolution as it progresses, so I much prefer this set, and realize that your opinion may differ from mine. If so, keep in mind that the anthology format does not require the New Outer Limits series to be viewed chronologically.
Well, that is my take on the series, and I suppose that you might want to know what to expect from season one, so without further adieu, here is a brief rundown of the 21 episodes included in this set. If you are familiar with the content of the box set, you will notice a few episodes were pulled from the show’s debut season, many of which contain standout performances by well-known actors like Robert Patrick, Beau Bridges, and Alyssa Milano!
--- “Sandkings, Parts 1 & 2”
This two-part episode kicks the series off in grand style, by telling the story of a deranged scientist named Simon Kress (Beau Bridges), who is attempting to animate an unearthly life form. As the story unfolds, we see that Mr. Kress cannot bring himself to put a halt to the project, even when his efforts begin to have dire consequences for him.
--- “Valerie 23”
“Valerie 23” is a story of jealousy involving Rachel Rose (Nancy Allen), a physical therapist whose life is threatened when she comes between her paraplegic patient and his amorous robotic companion, whose programming includes instructions to eliminate anything that interferes with the relationship she has with her man!
--- “Blood Brothers”
In one of many new Outer Limits episodes dealing with man’s quest for immortality, a vaccine is invented that promises life eternal. As with most things that sound too good to be true, however, there are unforeseen consequences, and the vaccine’s development sends two brothers off onto very different paths, culminating in tragedy and violence.
--- “The Second Soul”
“The Second Soul” centers on a race of dying aliens, who come to Earth in an attempt to stave off their demise by reanimating human corpses. The beings’ grisly activities are later stumbled upon by a doctor (Mykelti Williamson), who is concerned that there may be more to their plan than mere survival!
--- “White Light Fever”
In this installment, a wealthy man and his physician are searching feverishly to discover the secret to immortality, but instead encounter what appears to be an entity warning them that doing so can have repercussions in the next life.
--- “The Choice”
“The Choice” is a tale of a child who has special needs. In trying to meet these needs, the child’s parents hire a strange nanny, and soon have their world turned upside down when a detective enters the picture and gives the parents some disturbing news – the way to truly help the youth may be to let her go!
--- “Virtual Future” – Air Date
In this episode, a brilliant grad student invents a device allowing him to travel into the future. Unfortunately, his extremely wealthy (but unscrupulous) benefactor has a keen interest in the invention – a very personal interest.
--- “Living Hell” – Air Date
Although the implant of a special computer chip gives a man a new lease on life, it comes with a steep price – he begins having visions of a woman being killed! As the visions persist, he attempts to resolve the situation by turning to a doctor for help in trying to discover the identity of the potential killer that keeps appearing in his mind’s eye.
--- “Corner of the Eye”
The third disc begins with an episode about a priest who is called on by demons that endow him with the secret to controlling life and death. Although the holy man uses this supernatural power for the good of humankind, the demons have a much more sinister purpose in mind, and when it is uncovered, the priest’s own life is put in serious jeopardy.
--- “Under the Bed”
In this episode, a psychotherapist (Timothy Busfield) is called in to question a young girl whose strange account of her brother’s disappearance has everyone puzzled. As the investigation continues, questions arise as to whether her story about a monster under the bed is a product of her active imagination, or if it is possible that there are some elements of truth in her dark tale?
--- “Dark Matters”
This Outer Limits installment is set in the vastness of space, where a small cargo ship exits hyperspace, and the crew finds themselves in a void bereft of stars. Interestingly, to find their way back home, the crew must resolve not only the problems of science but also problems of the mind.
--- “The Conversion”
In “The Conversion”, a cold-hearted man named Henry Marshall (Frank Whaley) finally learns to be compassionate, and assumes a new identity, in order to pass on the lessons of kindness that he has learned.
--- “The Quality of Mercy”
In this episode, Major Skokes (Robert Patrick) is captured by alien beings and placed in confinement on a distant planet. While being held against his will, he meets another captive, a woman slowly being transformed into a twisted, abhorrent creature by their captors! This startling discovery makes Major Skokes desperate to find a way out of his prison, before the same fate befalls him.
--- “Caught in the Act”
When a seemingly normal woman (the beautiful Alyssa Milano), is taken over by a sinister force, she develops an appetite for murder! Can her loving boyfriend find a way to end her murderous rampage and help her regain control over herself?
--- “The Voyage Home”
In the near future, a trio of astronauts makes the arduous journey to Mars, and end up unknowingly bringing a Martian life form back aboard the ship with them after their exploration. After the creature kills two of the brave explorers, the only remaining member of the expedition resolves to prevent the deadly alien from arriving on Earth and causing further death and destruction.
--- “The New Breed”
In “The New Breed”, a man with terminal cancer (Peter Outerbridge) asks his scientist friend (Richard Thomas) to use experimental microscopic robots to cure him. Initially the procedure seems successful, but the results may be too good when the robots try to make “improvements” on him!
--- “The Message”
After a surgical procedure restores her hearing, a previously hearing-impaired woman (Marlee Matlin) considers it to be a miracle. Unfortunately, however, the implant used in the operation also receives transmissions from extra-terrestrial beings, and she seeks help from a man (Larry Drake) who appears to be able to decode the messages she is receiving.
--- “I, Robot”
“I, Robot”, a remake of an episode from the “original” Outer Limits series, deals with a robot named Adam, who is accused of killing his own creator, and subsequently defended by a civil liberties attorney (Leonard Nimoy). As the investigation proceeds, an interesting query is posed: Is Adam capable of murder, or did the military alter the usually gentle servant’s programming, thus turning him into a remorseless killer?
--- “If These Walls Could Talk”
In this episode, a scientist who has serious doubts about the existence of supernatural forces investigates the home of a woman who believes her murdered son’s ghost haunts the house. Eventually, the scientist is forced to question his own beliefs as he delves deeper into the house’s dark secrets!
Many politicians are not as they appear to be in the public eye, and some have skeletons buried deep in their closet, always threatening to ruin their careers. In “birthright”, the alien identity of a high-ranking politician is discovered, which also leads to the discovery of a sinister plan to exterminate humankind.
--- “The Voice of Reason”
Season one of the new Outer Limits comes to an end with the story of a civilian fighting an uphill battle to convince military leaders that alien beings are threatening the existence of human beings. As expected, his warnings are met with resistance, and he gradually suspects that aliens may have infiltrated the military – so he decides that he must act on his own to foil their plans.
SO, HOW DOES IT LOOK?
As was the case with the “best of” DVD box set released earlier this year, MGM’s “full screen” (1.33:1) presentations of the new Outer Limits episodes are rather disappointing!
On the plus side, some aspects of the transfers are fine – for instance, colors are rendered richly, without any ugly smearing or chroma noise! The characters’ skin tones are also presented in an accurate manner, with subtle gradations in the actors’ skin borne out. Black levels generally remain solid as well, leading to fairly pleasing levels of shadow detail and image depth, which is an important element of the episodes that feature many sequences shot in dimly lit environments.
Unfortunately, the transfers also have some noticeable flaws/distractions, particularly in terms of detail, which is lacking in many instances. To put a finer point on it, although there is enough overall detail in the image for viewers to see that many of the make-up and visual effects look phony, fine detail is obscured to a great degree, which becomes a frustrating after a while. Even more troublingly, a significant amount of grain appears in the image at times, and compression artifacts and other digital signatures are frequently visible as well. The latter point is probably my biggest beef with this set!
Overall, the image quality is definitely not so bad that most viewers will not enjoy this collection of episodes, but there is not a doubt in my mind that they should look better, even when taking into account that this is television product.
WHAT IS THAT NOISE?
Sadly, the audio tracks for these New Outer Limits episodes are not much of an improvement over the image transfers! More specifically, although it never became a chore to make out exactly what the characters were saying in any of the episodes I viewed for this review, I still noticed the same distinct (and extremely distracting once you notice it) hiss that was present in the previously released box set when I dialed the volume past even a modest level!
Unfortunately, while dialogue is presented well overall, the soundstage is not particularly spacious either, frequency response is somewhat subdued in the lower registers, and overall fidelity is probably best characterized as decent. As a result, the audio information present during “action” sequences does not do a good enough job of fully immersing viewers in the experience, and I think the score does not have quite as much breathing room as it should.
I hate to be hyper critical, as these audio tracks are certainly not the worst reproductions I have ever heard, but I would be lying to you if I was to say that they met my expectations.
“Valerie 23” Documentary
This 5-minute documentary contains the comments of Pen Densham, Mark Stern, and other members of the creative team, all of whom discuss the “Valerie 23” episode and its place within the new Outer Limits series. Among the things you can expect to hear are:
--- A talk about the key difference between the subject matter treated with by The Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone.
--- The difficulty in “selling” the audience on the fact that the character in the story is a robot, and the use of some groundbreaking visual effects in achieving that result.
Origins if the Outer Limits
During this informative, cerebral 10-minute featurette, Pen Densham and Joe Stephano talk about building a new Outer Limits Series on the successful foundation established by the original series, and about how story ideas for each series were developed. They also talk about how wonderful the anthology format is for a show, in terms of breaking down boundaries and stimulating creativity.
The Outer Limits Story
In this 11 ½-miunte bonus feature, two of the new series’ creators (Pen Densham and Mark Stern), and one of the original series’ co-creators, Joe Stephano, give viewers a brief overview on how both series got off the ground, and the philosophies that were such an integral part of each series.
Making of “The Quality of Mercy”
This relatively brief (8 ½ -minutes) featurette begins with writer Brad Wright discussing how he came up with the story idea for the “Quality of Mercy” episode. Subsequently, the show’s executive producers, including Pen Densham, chat about how great the episode turned out, in spite of the fact that it was a “bottle show”, and the role Robert Patrick’s terrific performance played in achieving that result.
“Caught in the Act” Documentary
In this 5 ½-minute featurette, the usual suspects, including Mark Stern and Pen Densham discuss this particular episode of the new Outer Limits, and how the episode was used to explore the limits the team would have with Showtime. Mr. Densham also discusses his philosophy for the show, particularly how he attempted to create a “think tank” of ideas, and an environment of creativity and cooperation, instead of exercising creative control over the series himself.
There are trailers available for Stargate: SG-1, Stargate: Atlantis, Stephen King Presents Kingdom Hospital, The Amityville Horror, Mirrormask, Godzilla: Final Wars, Godzilla Millenium, Steamboy, and Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children.
(on a five-point scale)
Episodes: :star: :star: :star: :star:
Video: :star: :star:
Audio: :star: :star: :star:
Extras: :star: :star: :star:
Overall: :star: :star: :star:
THE LAST WORD
The new The Outer Limits series did a good job of respectfully bringing the original series up to date, and of keeping the series’ metaphorical tone intact without blatantly ripping off its predecessor. The winner of multiple Emmy®, Gemini, Saturn, and Leo awards for thought-provoking, thrilling episodes, this science-fiction anthology series is definitely worth a look for those who would like to explore the human race, and some our biggest fears and concerns, from a sci-fi perspective!
Sure there were cheesy episodes here and there, but any long-running series has those. Further, while the special effects are far from first-rate, most episodes overcome them with compelling stories about the nature of human beings, life after death, and the implications of extraterrestrial life that were thoughtfully developed by Pen Densham’s creative team.
Now while the previous box set was probably a better choice for casual fans, or those new to the series, hardcore fans of the New Outer Limits series will likely be celebrating the fact that a complete season of this show is finally available on DVD. That being said, this set still has some of the same troubles evident on the themed discs. To begin with, the image / audio transfers are sub-par by current standards, and all the bonus materials are recycled from the aforementioned box set.
The bottom line is that from a quality standpoint, things could have been improved. Even so, I am still quite confident that most of you taking the time to read this would still find value in a purchase, because it allows you to own every episode from the show’s first season…which just so happens to contain some really good episodes. I’ll say it again, if you missed out on this series, and enjoy anthology programming with science fiction themes, you could do worse than to give it a look!