Amazing Stories [tv]

Tagged: Film | TV

US tv series (1985-1987; vt Steven Spielberg's Amazing Stories). Amblin/Universal for NBC. Created by Steven Spielberg. Producers included Joshua Brand, John Falsey, David E Vogel. Writers included Spielberg, Frank Deese, Richard Christian Matheson, Mick Garris, Joseph Minion, Menno Meyjes, Michael McDowell, Paul Bartel. Directors included Spielberg, Robert Zemeckis, Peter Hyams, Burt Reynolds, Clint Eastwood, Joe Dante, Martin Scorsese, Paul Bartel, Irvin Kershner, Danny DeVito, Tom Holland, Tobe Hooper. Two seasons, each of 22 25-minute episodes.

An ambitious attempt to revive the 1950s-1960s anthology format – which came at the same time as actual revivals of The Twilight Zone (1985-1987) and Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1985-1986), and a few competitors like The Hitch Hiker (1983-1986) and Tales from the Darkside (1984-1987) – this was less an sf series than its pulp-derived title suggested, more often going for the blend of fantasy and sentiment found in the less scary episodes of the original Twilight Zone. Kept afloat for two years through NBC having committed themselves – astonishingly – to 44 episodes from the very beginning, Amazing Stories, despite its large budget and the unusually strong directing talent Spielberg was able to attract (Eastwood, Zemeckis, Scorsese, Bartel, etc.), was unsuccessful. Many disappointed viewers and critics felt that Spielberg had stretched himself too thin, as had Rod Serling with Twilight Zone, by generating the often fragile storylines for the bulk of the episodes (16 out of 22 in the first season); one such projected episode looked even more fragile when expanded into a feature, *batteries not included (1987). Too many of the stories, despite good special effects and performances, led nowhere.

Typical of Amazing Stories's uneven tone was the extended Spielberg-directed episode "The Mission" (1985), a 50-minute World War Two-bomber anecdote presciently cast (Kevin Costner, Kiefer Sutherland) and suspensefully directed, but sinking limply into a ludicrous and irritating fantasy finale. Amazing Stories did have surprises – the gritty cartoon episode "The Family Dog" (1987), designed by Tim Burton, being perhaps the overall highlight; this led to the brief spinoff series Family Dog (1993) – but mainly it expressed the diminishing-return whimsy that was beginning to affect even Spielberg's big-screen work. Three episodes – "The Mission", "Mummy Daddy" (1985) and "Go to the Head of the Class" (1986) – were released together as a feature film, Amazing Stories (1987), outside the USA, and many other episodes have been released in groups of three on videotape. Text versions of individual episodes are collected in Steven Spielberg's Amazing Stories (anth 1986) and Volume II of Steven Spielberg's Amazing Stories (anth 1986), both edited by Steven Bauer. [KN]

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