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Category:    Home > Reviews > Fantasy > Adventure > Anthology > Amazing Stories - The Complete First Season

Amazing Stories (The Complete First Season)


Picture: B-     Sound: B-     Extras: C     Episodes: B-



For all the success he's had in feature films over the years, the two network television series produced by Steven Spielberg weren't major hits despite tons of hype (in both cases by NBC).  The first Spielberg-produced series to hit the air was Amazing Stories, which ran for two seasons (1985-1987).  SeaQuest DSV came along in 1993, and also lasted two seasons, but never caught on as "the underwater Star Trek" as initially hoped.


Overall, Amazing Stories is a hit or miss attempt to revive the type of TV anthology shows Spielberg grew up watching such as The Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone.  Coincidentally, it was on the pilot of a later anthology series, Night Gallery, where Spielberg landed his first professional directing gig.


Universal currently has the complete first season of Amazing Stories (24 episodes amounting to 10 hours and 21 minutes) available on DVD.  Two years prior to Amazing Stories, Spielberg had already co-produced the anthology feature film, Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983), a project forever tainted by the on-set deaths of actor Vic Morrow and two children during a segment directed by John Landis.  Twilight Zone: The Movie opened to disappointing business, but most of its segments were still quite enjoyable.  Ironically, though, it's Spielberg who is widely considered to have directed the weakest of the film's four segments, something starring Scatman Crothers and a bunch of senior citizens playing "Kick the Can."


What struck me about Amazing Stories was that for all the emphasis on it being a Spielberg production, the two episodes Spielberg himself directed in the first season didn't work.  The season opener called Ghost Train, about a little boy (Lukas Haas) and his family who move into a new house built on the exact site of a train crash accidentally caused decades ago by their live-in grandfather, is simply nothing special.  And the Spielberg helmed 60-minute episode called The Mission, which stars Kevin Costner and Kiefer Sutherland as members of an America bomber crew in World War II, starts out great, but the conclusion of the story is so ridiculous and out of left field that you walk away angry for letting yourself get so involved in the first 45 minutes.  If anything ever epitomized the irritating optimism of Spielbergian cinema, it's the absurd ending of The Mission.


Far more effective are Mr. Magic, directed by Donald Petrie and starring Sid Caesar as an over-the-hill magician who discovers a magical deck of cards; Guilt Trip, a whimsical segment directed by Burt Reynolds that stars Dom DeLuise as the incarnation of Guilt, who falls for the incarnation of Love, played by Reynolds' then-girlfriend and future-wife Loni Anderson; Vanessa in the Garden, directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Harvey Keitel as a painter from centuries ago who falls into a deep depression after the death of his lover (Sondra Locke, then still Eastwood's lover); and Mirror, Mirror, directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Sam Waterston as an egotistical horror writer who begins to unravel when he starts seeing ghouls in every mirror.


The best segment, however, is the one directed by the underrated Peter Hyams (Outland, End of Days) entitled The Amazing Falsworth.  In this suspenseful episode, Gregory Hines, co-star of Hyams' Running Scared (1986), plays a nightclub clairvoyant whose act consists of him blindfolding himself and reading audience members just by touching them.  But things turn hairy for Falsworth when he touches an audience member who's a serial killer.  The moody cinematography by Hyams in this segment is reminiscent of many of his feature films, and gives The Amazing Falsworth a more distinctive look than most of the other episodes.


John Williams' theme music for Amazing Stories is too much of the relentlessly upbeat type of score that he's done too many times for Spielberg throughout the years.


Season One of Amazing Stories is a 4-disc set that comes inside a nice, smooth cardboard box case.  All episodes, most of which run 30 minutes, are presented in their original 1.33:1 full-screen aspect ratio, and presented for the first time with English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound. Some of the episodes contain deleted scenes, most of which are brief.



-   Chuck O'Leary


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