Director Joseph Kosinski jumps from ‘Oblivion’ to ‘The Twilight Zone’

“The Twilight Zone” remains a potent title in terms of the immediate reaction it evokes from people, and while I’m glad the name hasn’t been worn down to irrelevance, it does amaze me that they haven’t done more with it in the last fifteen or twenty years. It seems like they should always be doing something with it, because more than anything else, it’s a suggestion of a certain type of storytelling, and done well, these are stories people really love.

Obviously, they have tried to make “The Twilight Zone” work as a movie before. The anthology film from the early ’80s might have successfully kicked off a series if not for the controversy around the real-life death of actor Vic Morrow during production. Even if the Landis and Spielberg stories didn’t quite connect, chances are enough people would have dug the Dante freakshow and the George Miller exercise in pure tension that they would have been able to get four different filmmakers to sign up for a sequel. I can only imagine what it would have been like if Warner had been able to make a new “Twilight Zone” movie every two or three years, working with four interesting filmmakers every time.

The other alternative is doing a long-form story that you brand with the “Twilight Zone” name, and that was definitely considered originally. If you’re familiar with the film “Miracle Mile” starring Anthony Edwards, that was actually set to be filmed as “Twilight Zone – The Movie” when they were still planning for one story. It was only after they switched to the anthology format that the filmmakers worked to set up “Miracle Mile” as a stand-alone indie film. It’s easy to see how “Miracle Mile” would have fit into that general “Twilight Zone” paradigm, since it’s a slightly fantastic story that focuses on human behavior and that is built around a major reveal. We see movies like that now, and it’s hard not to see how completely Rod Serling was absorbed by kids who grew up on the show.

Joseph Kosinski is a strong visual storyteller, I feel, who is completely dependent on the strength of the material on the page. I think “Tron Legacy” had a very thin screenplay, and while the film is gorgeous, shot to shot, I don’t think it works as a movie. This year’s “Oblivion” was a big step forward for Kosinski, and I find it encouraging that he was so involved in developing the story for that film. Yes, it’s derivative, but I think it has a strong emotional spine, and in the end, it’s not just an empty shoot-em-up in which good guys and bad guys fight over some glowing doodad on a rooftop. It may deal with an extinction level event for humanity, but “Oblivion” stays very very personal, right to the end of the film.

Kosinski is now reported to be stepping in to help re-develop a new take on a feature film version of “The Twilight Zone.” Last time we heard, Bryan Singer was going to be doing that, but Singer seems to be perfectly happy having returned to the “X-Men” series, and Kosinski will reportedly be involved in steering the direction of the film now. I hope he pulls it off. Leonardo Di Caprio’s Appian Way Productions have been involved with this thing forever, and they seem like tenacious producers to me, constantly working to solve a piece of material.

I would argue very few titles have the immediate recognition value of “The Twilight Zone,” much less the overall approval. People have very strong feelings for the brand, and I sincerely hope that whatever Kosinski does, it is worthy of the name the legacy of Rod Serling’s greatest creation.

No word on how this impacts Disney’s proposed “Tron” sequel, but I think that one really boils down to Disney needing to read a screenplay they like before they agree to go all in on “Tron” again.

“Oblivion” is available on Blu-ray and DVD now.