The Outer Limits

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For the album by Progressive Metal band Voivod see The Outer Limits (album).

The Outer Limits is an American television series. Similar in style to the earlier The Twilight Zone, with more science fiction than fantasy stories, The Outer Limits is an anthology of discrete story episodes, sometimes with a plot twist at the end. The original series was filmed in artistic black & white and ran for two seasons from 1963 to 1965. In 1995, the series was revived on the Showtime network and ran for seven seasons until 2002.


[edit] 1963–1965 (original series)

The Outer Limits (1963)
Opening titles – 1960s
Opening title screen
Format Science Fiction
Created by Leslie Stevens
Narrated by Vic Perrin (Control Voice)
Opening theme Dominic Frontiere
Country of origin  United States
No. of seasons 2
No. of episodes 49 (List of episodes)
Executive producer(s) Joseph Stefano
Cinematography Conrad Hall, John M. Nickolaus, Kenneth Peach
Running time 60 min.
Original channel ABC
Original run September 16, 1963 – January 16, 1965

[edit] Introduction

Each show would begin with a cold open, followed by narration by someone identifying himself as the Control Voice, which was played over visuals of an oscilloscope.

There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission. If we wish to make it louder, we will bring up the volume. If we wish to make it softer, we will tune it to a whisper. We will control the horizontal. We will control the vertical. We can roll the image, make it flutter. We can change the focus to a soft blur or sharpen it to crystal clarity. For the next hour, sit quietly and we will control all that you see and hear. We repeat, there is nothing wrong with your television set. You are about to participate in a great adventure. You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind to... The Outer Limits. — Opening narration – The Control Voice – 1960s

Many episodes used one of two shortened versions of this introduction.

[edit] Production information

The Outer Limits originally was broadcast from 1963 to 1965 on the U.S. television broadcasting network ABC; in total, 49 episodes. It was one of many series influenced by The Twilight Zone and Science Fiction Theatre, though it ultimately proved influential in its own right. In the un-aired pilot, the series was titled Please Stand By, but ABC rejected it. Series creator Leslie Stevens retitled it The Outer Limits. With a few changes, the pilot aired as the premiere episode, "The Galaxy Being".

Writers for The Outer Limits included creator Stevens and Joseph Stefano (screenwriter of Hitchcock's Psycho), who was the series' first-season producer and creative guiding force. Stefano wrote more episodes than any other writer for the show. Two especially notable second-season episodes "Demon With a Glass Hand" and "Soldier" were written by Harlan Ellison.

The first season combined science-fiction and horror, while the second season was more focused on "hard" science-fiction stories, dropping the recurring scary monster motif of the first season. Each show in the first season was to have a monster or creature as a critical part of the story line. First-season writer and producer Joseph Stefano believed that this element was necessary to provide fear, suspense, or at least a center for plot development. This kind of story element became known as "the bear". This device was, however, mostly dropped in the second season when Stefano left. (Three first-season episodes without a "bear" are Forms of Things Unknown, Controlled Experiment, and The Borderland all three of which were produced as pilots for other never-realized series and then re-edited as Outer Limits episodes. Another early episode with no 'bear' was The Hundred Days of the Dragon made before the "bear" convention was established. Second season episodes with a "bear" are Keeper of the Purple Twilight , The Duplicate Man, and The Probe. Bears appear near the conclusion of second season episodes Counterweight, The Invisible Enemy, and Cold Hands, Warm Heart.)

The show's first season had distinctive music by Dominic Frontiere, who doubled as Production Executive; the second season featured music by Harry Lubin with his Fear theme for One Step Beyond being heard over the end titles.

[edit] Comparison to The Twilight Zone

Like The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits had an opening and closing narration in almost every episode, by the "Control Voice" (Vic Perrin). Both shows were unusually philosophical for science-fiction anthology series, but differed in style. The Twilight Zone stories were often like parables or fables, employing whimsy (such as the Buster Keaton time-travel episode Once Upon a Time) or irony, or extraordinary problem-solving situations (such as the time-travel episode The Arrival). The Outer Limits was straight action and suspense which often had the human spirit in confrontation with dark existential forces within or without, such as in the alien abduction episode A Feasibility Study or the alien possession story The Invisibles.

[edit] Cinematography

The program sometimes made use of techniques (lighting, camerawork, even makeup) associated with film noir or German Expressionism (see for example, Corpus Earthling), and a number of episodes were noteworthy for their sheer eeriness. Credit for this is often given to cinematographer Conrad Hall, who would go on to win three Academy Awards (and many more nominations) for his work in film. However, it should be noted that Hall worked only on alternate episodes of the show during the first two-thirds of the first season; the show's other cinematographers included John M. Nickolaus and Kenneth Peach.

[edit] Special effects

The various monsters and creatures from the first season and most props were developed by a loose-knit group organized under the name Project Unlimited. Members of the group included Wah Chang, Gene Warren and Jim Danforth. Makeup was executed by Fred B. Phillips along with John Chambers.

[edit] Characters and Models

Many creatures that appeared on 1960s Outer Limits episodes have in the 1990s or 2000s been sold as models or action figures, a large variety in limited editions as model kits to be assembled and painted by the purchaser issued by Dimensional Designs, and a smaller set of out-of-the-box action figures sold in larger quantity by Sideshow Toys. The former produced a model kit of The Megazoid from The Duplicate Man[1], and both created a figure of Gwyllm as an evolved man from The Sixth Finger [2]

[edit] Influence on Star Trek

A few of the monsters reappeared in Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek series of the late 1960s. A feathered creature was modified to appear as a zoo animal in the background of the first pilot of Star Trek; a prop head from "Fun and Games" was used to make a Talosian appear as a vicious creature. The moving carpet beast in "The Probe" later was used as the "Horta", and operated by the same actor (Janos Prohaska). The process used to make pointed ears for David McCallum in "The Sixth Finger" was reused in Star Trek as well. Actors who would later appear in Star Trek included Leonard Nimoy who appeared in two episodes, "Production and Decay of Strange Particles" and "I, Robot" and William Shatner appeared in the episode "Cold Hands, Warm Heart" as an astronaut working on a Project Vulcan. Other actors who subsequently appeared in Star Trek were James Doohan in a supporting role as a policeman in "Expanding Human", and Grace Lee Whitney in the episode "Controlled Experiment".
Gene Roddenberry paid a lot of attention to what The Outer Limits team was doing at the time, and he was often present in their studios. He hired several Outer Limits alumni, among them Robert Justman and Wah Chang for the production of Star Trek.[3]

[edit] Lawsuit on behalf of Harlan Ellison

Harlan Ellison contended that inspiration for James Cameron's Terminator had come in part from Ellison's work on The Outer Limits. Cameron conceded the influence. There are differing accounts about whether this went to court. Ellison was awarded money and an end-credits mention in The Terminator (1984), stating the creators' wish to acknowledge the works of Harlan Ellison.

[edit] Reception

The series fared rather poorly in the Nielsen ratings at the time of initial broadcast (as reflected in its cancellation after only 1 and 1/2 seasons) in comparison to the more popular Twilight Zone series. However, the series was well-liked by those who did watch it. Many decades later, revered horror writer Stephen King called it "the best program of its type ever to run on network TV."

In a 2002 review of the original series, Mark Holcomb wrote that The Twilight Zone and Star Trek were more popular in part because they played things more safely than The Outer Limits, choosing to "never stray far from the rationalism that drives most American entertainment". Holcomb writes

Their [referring to The Twilight Zone and Star Trek] human characters are fallible, impulsive creatures uniquely adept at screwing up, but every emotion, relationship and deeply held conviction they display remains in place at the end of virtually every episode. However comforting this may have been, it tended to refute the everyday experience of the viewing audience.

"The Outer Limits" wouldn't, or couldn't, cater to such needs. Stevens and Stefano had something much less conciliatory in mind for their show, and thus set it squarely in a universe ruled by labyrinthine pressures and transient pleasures, where meaning and morality were in constant flux and human beings fought desperately – sometimes heroically – to keep pace. This starkly recognizable yet distinctly off-kilter milieu made "The Outer Limits" television's most unabashedly modernist work.[4]

[edit] 1995–2002 (modern series)

The Outer Limits (1995)
Opening titles – 2002
The Outer Limits intertitle
Format Science Fiction
Narrated by Kevin Conway (Control Voice)
Country of origin  United States
No. of seasons 7
No. of episodes 154 (List of episodes)
Running time approx. 41 minutes
Original channel Showtime
Sci-Fi Channel
Original run March 26, 1995 – January 18, 2002
There is nothing wrong with your television. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are now controlling the transmission. We control the horizontal, and the vertical. We can deluge you with a thousand channels or expand one single image to crystal clarity - and beyond. We can shape your vision to anything our imagination can conceive. For the next hour we will control all that you see and hear. You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the deepest inner mind to... The Outer Limits. Please stand by. — Opening narration – The Control Voice – 1990s

After an attempt to bring back The Outer Limits during the early eighties, it was finally relaunched in 1995. The success of television science fiction such as Star Trek sequels, The X Files, and anthology shows such as Tales from the Crypt convinced the rights-holders, MGM, to revive it. A deal was made with Trilogy Productions, the company behind such cinema hits as Backdraft and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, and the show would run on the pay-tv channel Showtime. The episodes appeared in syndication the following season (the same arrangement as MGM/Showtime series Stargate SG-1 and Poltergeist: The Legacy). It continued on Showtime until 2001, when the U.S. Sci Fi channel quietly took over production. It remained in production until 2002 before finally being canceled, after a total of 154 episodes — far more than the original incarnation of the show. In the revived show, the Control Voice was supplied by Kevin Conway. The new series distanced itself from the "monster of the week" mandate that had characterized the original series from its inception; while there were plenty of aliens and monsters, they dramatize a specific scientific concept and its effect on humanity. Some episodes illustrating this difference include "Dark Rain" (biochemical warfare causes worldwide sterility), "Final Exam" (discovery of practical cold fusion power), "A Stitch in Time" (a time traveler tinkers with history), as well as several episodes revolving around a human mutation known as Genetic Rejection Syndrome (humans mutating into violent creatures) as a result of a government experiment.

The series was filmed in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Stories by Harlan Ellison, A.E. van Vogt, Eando Binder, Larry Niven, Richard Matheson, George R.R. Martin, Stephen King, and James Patrick Kelly were adapted with varying degrees of success, and some of the original series' episodes were remade as well. The revived series on Showtime contained more violent and sexual content, including occasional female nudity (Alyssa Milano in episode 1,17) was not shown in most syndication markets, including the Sci-Fi Channel. The series contained an underlying story arc about mysterious or extraterrestrial forces, including open-ended storylines that were related to each other in the clip shows at the end of the season.

Most episodes in the modern series featured actors with name recognition from their previous film and TV work. Actors in notable roles included Tom Arnold, Beau Bridges, Josh Brolin, Nicole de Boer, Michael Dorn, Kirsten Dunst, Michelle Forbes, Melissa Gilbert, Mark Hamill, Neil Patrick Harris, Laurie Holden, Alyssa Milano, Pat Morita, Leonard Nimoy, Amanda Plummer, Ryan Reynolds, Molly Ringwald, William Sadler, Ally Sheedy, Brent Spiner, and Jessica Steen.[5][6]

Leslie Stevens was a program consultant for the first season while Joseph Stefano was an executive consultant. Stefano also remade his episode "A Feasibility Study" and retitled it "Feasibility Study" for the third season. He later served as a senior advisor on the episode "Down to Earth" during the sixth season. Mark Mancina and John Van Tongeren composed new music different from that of Dominic Frontiere and Harry Lubin. They also scored ten episodes for the first season. The musical theme for the modern Outer Limits series is credited to Mark Mancina and John VanTongeren. However, the same music is used in the Westwood Studios' video game Dune 2000.

In every season there is a clip show that intertwines the plots of several of the show's episodes (see "The Voice of Reason" for an example). At each commercial interval, the Control Voice can be heard saying "The Outer Limits...please stand by". The voice also repeats this phrase upon return from the television ads. The surreal images from the opening are mostly the work of Jerry Uelsmann.

[edit] DVD releases

[edit] Original series

MGM Home Entertainment has released both seasons of The Outer Limits on DVD in Region 1 for the very first time. In 2007, they re-released the series in 3 volume sets. In October, 2008, MGM released a 6-disc boxset featuring all 49 episodes of the series.

DVD name Episodes Release date
Season 1 32 September 3, 2002
Season 2 17 September 2, 2003
The Complete Series 49 October 21, 2008

The DVDs include a revised version of the original intro, heard over the episode menu:

There is nothing wrong with your DVD player. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling your DVD player. We already control the horizontal and the vertical. We now control the digital. We can change the focus from a soft blur to crystal clarity. Sit quietly and we will control all that you see and hear. You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind to... The Outer Limits.

[edit] Modern series

Several "grab bag" DVD anthologies have been released: Sex & Science Fiction, Aliens Among Us, Death and Beyond, Fantastic Androids and Robots, Mutation and Transformation, Time Travel and Infinity.

On November 1, 2005, MGM Home Entertainment released Season One of the New Outer Limits on DVD in America for the very first time; no further seasons have yet been released. The first four seasons are available in Canada.

DVD name Episodes Release date
Season One 22 November 1, 2005

[edit] See also

[edit] References

[edit] External links

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