DVD Review: Amazing Stories - The Complete First Season
Release Date: July 18, 2006
Distributor: Universal Studios
by Paul Schultz
Published: August 28, 2006
Amazing Stories premiered in the fall of 1985 with an unprecedented two-season commitment, before a single episode was seen. Such was the lengths NBC would go to entice filmmaker Steven Spielberg onto the small screen. Loosely based on a pulp science-fiction magazine of the same name from the '40s and '50s, this series marked Spielberg's desire to present ideas that weren't conducive to full-length theatrical treatments. That year also featured remakes of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" and "The Twilight Zone", and Spielberg's new show would join them in attempting to revive the anthology format.
With first-rated production and a memorable opening theme composed by John Williams, this series had much to attract an audience. Unfortunately, the content tended to be quite hit-or-miss, despite the veritable "who's who" of acting and directing talent that appeared. Still, when it originally ran, it was always exciting to see what new idea would be presented the next week. Would the high-concept be science-fiction, fantasy, or horror? Unlike the similarly-themed "Twilight Zone", this series often had humorous set-ups, and didn't mind being corny. It also seemed to be aimed at an audience somewhat younger than would watch the other two anthology series.
While the tales occasionally weren't all that "amazing", the show is worth the look just to spot the popular actors of the day, and others that were not so well known, but went on to later greatness. For aging stars, it was a treat to see Milton Berle play himself in the goofy "Fine Tuning," where aliens remake popular Earth shows, and arrive to take a real live celebrity back with them. Sid Caesar's performance as the titular "Mr. Magic" was a gift as he portrayed an aging magician coming to the end of the road.
Picking out bit parts by actors who went on to bigger popularity in other
roles was fun, too. Witness Bronson Pinchot of Perfect Strangers in the
hilarious horror jaunt "Mummy, Daddy". He plays the director of a costumed mummy who leaves the set in full make-up when his wife goes into labor,
scaring plenty of people on the way. Unbeknownst to him, the real mummy he's portraying has come back to life, and is none too happy with an imposter running around. A young Charlie Sheen (Two and a Half Men) is in the World War II drama "No Day at the Beach", Seth Green as "The Sitter" whose obnoxious work habits result in a major come-uppance, and Forest Whitaker in "Gather Ye Acorns" as a comic book collector.
For the mother of all cameos, there's "Remote Control Man" where a
new television allows more interaction with its programming than expected. This one trots out a host of TV stars of the day including Dirk Benedict of "The A-Team", Ed McMahon, Gary Coleman of "Diff'rent Strokes", Richard Simmons, Barbara Billingsly, and even Lou Ferrigno as the Incredible Hulk, for crying out loud. Even "Day of Our Lives" soap opera honeys Kristian Alfonso and Leann Hunley show up, and the lovely Shawn Weatherly ("Police Academy 3: Back in Training") puckers up for an expectant kiss throughout most of the story.
The episodes could be charming, as well. "Santa '85" featured the
always-welcome Pat Hingle as a disillusioned cop who's locked up Santa on
Christmas Eve. "The Doll", while a little eerie, was a charmer starring John Lithgow (3rd Rock From the Sun) as a fellow who develops a rather unhealthy obsession with a doll he buys for his niece. The latter was written by Richard Matheson and winner of a Hugo award that year.
Most of the stories were written by Spielberg himself. He directed a
few of them, but otherwise drew big talent to the director's chair. Among the
more prominent luminaries to helm an episode were Martin Scorsese ("Mirror, Mirror"), Peter Hyams ("The Amazing Falsworth"), Joe Dante ("Boo!"), Clint Eastwood ("Vanessa In The Garden"), and Burt Reynolds ("Guilt Trip"). A highlight of the season included the hour-long episode, "The Mission" starring Kevin Costner ("Open Range") and Kiefer Sutherland ("The Sentinel"). The story about a World War II bomber facing a life-and-death decision on its journey home had a brutality that foreshadowed Spielberg's action in "Saving Private Ryan".
Amazing Stories, despite its weaknesses, is a great nostalgia trip.
Twelve of the episodes have deleted scenes totaling about 20 minutes.
The longest excision comes from the season-ending "Grandpa's Ghost"
and clock in at over six minutes. All of them deserved to be cut, and
these snippets are little more than a curiosity. The four discs are packaged
like a book in that annoying fashion where one is overlaid on another, so that
you have to remove one to get to the other. Man, I hate that.
Amazing Stories - The Complete First Season
The Main Attraction
The Amazing Falsworth
Remote Control Man
Vanessa in the Garden
No Day at the Beach
One for the Road
Gather Ye Acorns
Dorothy and Ben
One for the Books