Real Steel, which opens this Friday, is based on a Twilight Zone episode called “Steel” (which in turn was based on a Richard Matheson short story). The TV episode and the Hugh Jackman movie are both set in a future when boxing is a sport for robots; both also center around a down-on-his-luck fighter turned robo trainer. But the similarities end there: The 1963 episode had the struggling Steel Kelly (Lee Marvin) donning a robot costume and getting in the ring after his old, obsolete ‘bot breaks down before a fight. He is pummeled mercilessly and only gets half the payday, leaving the viewer with the pessimistic feeling that indefatigability be damned, humans will never defeat machines. The new film will not brook such pessimism: In Real Steel, Jackman’s deadbeat dad trains a broken-down robot to be a champion in order to impress his young son. Let’s see a machine do that! Yay, humans; boo, cynicism! With the recent news that Warner Bros. is looking at big-name directors to do a Twilight Zone movie based on one story (as opposed to the 1983 anthology version), we wonder if they’ll be taking a Real Steel approach to the classic series, wringing out all the pesky irony from the series in order to come up with a feel-good four-quadrant hit. Sorry, Rod Serling, your downer twists have no place in today’s multiplexes! As a service to the studios, here are pitches for five classic Twilight Zone episodes that can be updated the Jackman way.
Original episode: “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”
Plot: William Shatner plays Bob Wilson, an aviophobic salesman recovering from a nervous breakdown. During a flight, he sees and attempts to shoot a monster on the plane’s wing that the other passengers can’t see. Bob is eventually carried off in a straitjacket by an airline crew that hasn’t yet noticed the giant bite marks on the aircraft.
Hollywood treatment: Sky Terror
The pitch: Ryan Reynolds plays Sergeant Bob Wilson, an Air Force pilot who’s been discharged for PTSD after a mysterious plane crash. On the flight home, he spies a monster on the wing of the plane — the same monster who took down his aircraft in Afghanistan! Realizing that the monsters must be Al Qaeda–bred mutants, Wilson must rally the other passengers to fight for their lives … even though no one believes him but Abby (Emma Stone), the pretty girl on the aisle seat. In the end, American freedom is preserved, and celebrated with an impromptu wedding (officiated by William Shatner as the Airline Pilot).
Original episode: “Eye of the Beholder”
Plot: Janet Tyler, we’re told, has a hideously ugly face and is undergoing an operation to make her look like everyone else. When the bandages are removed, she wails at the sight of herself in a mirror, realizing the operation didn’t work: But it turns out that Janet Tyler is beautiful by our standards, while the rest of the people in her world appear hideously deformed. Because of her troubling looks, Janet is sent into exile with the rest of “her kind.”
Hollywood treatment: Inner Beauty
The pitch: Janet Tyler (Anne Hathaway, in glasses and a prosthetic nose) has never been pretty. She’s always felt awkward and unloved, except by her best friend, the equally nerdy Eddie (Chris Pine, also in glasses). When Eddie gets a job on an extreme makeover show, Janet sees her chance to finally become beautiful — especially when the show’s handsome plastic surgeon, Mark (Eric Bana), takes a special interest in her. Will rhinoplasty and a new wardrobe make all of Janet’s dreams come true? Or will she discover the beauty that’s been inside of her — and the love that’s been right next to her — all along? (Spoiler alert: The film ends with Janet and Eddie moving into a condo stocked with geeks, who all gather for a giant party where everyone dances to Styx’s “Mr. Roboto,” making it the new “Don’t Stop Believing.”)
Original episode: “It’s a Good Life”
Plot: Six-year-old Anthony Fremont is a normal-looking little boy who possesses terrifying godlike powers. He has isolated his town of Peaksville, Ohio, from the rest of the world, can turn people into objects at will, and banishes anyone who displeases him by wishing them away into “the cornfield.” At the end of the episode, he makes snow to kill off the town’s crops while the adults watch helplessly.
Hollywood treatment: Life Is Sweet!
The pitch: Siblings Jesse and Jasmine (Jaden and Willow Smith) have been sent by their big-city parents to stay with their aunt and uncle in the small town of Peaksville, Ohio. When they arrive, they’re shocked to find that the buildings are made of candy, there’s no school, and people ride dinosaurs instead of cars — thanks to their 12-year-old neighbor Antonia (Chloe Moretz) and her mysterious magical powers. At first, Jesse and Jasmine are delighted to share in Antonia’s adventures. But when their new friend threatens to make all the grown-ups disappear, they have to think fast — and maybe discover some magic powers of their own!
Original episode: “Time Enough at Last”
Plot: Henry Bemis (Burgess Meredith) loves to read — but nobody, including his wife and his boss at the bank, will allow him the time to do so. When a nuclear bomb hits, the world is destroyed — only Bemis (who was in a bank vault at the time) survives, and he realizes that he is now free to read every book in the public library undisturbed. As he celebrates all the time he now has to himself, his glasses fall to the ground and shatter.
Hollywood version: Game Over
The pitch: Unemployed twentysomething Henry Bemis (Shia LaBeouf) is obsessed with online role-playing games, much to the dismay of his girlfriend (Jessica Alba), who wants him to get a real job. During one of their fights in Henry’s basement gaming room, they feel an earthquake — and go upstairs to find that everything above ground has been destroyed by a nuclear bomb, and the dead are rising from the ashes. A zombie hits Henry so hard that his contact lenses fly out of his eyes, rendering him virtually blind. But with his eyesight gone, his other senses are enhanced. Now he must use his gaming reflexes to save the real world from a zombie apocalypse — before his time runs out.
Original episode: “The Invaders”
Plot: In this silent episode, an old woman (Agnes Moorehead) is besieged by tiny spacemen who show up in her home. She manages to destroy the men and their ship before collapsing. In the final shot, we see that the astronauts were sent by the U.S. Air Force.
Hollywood version: A Giant Pain in the Butt
The pitch: Jason Sudeikis and Ed Helms play Joe and Steve, two best friends who are camping during a meteor shower when something falls from space into a nearby lake. As it turns out, it’s a beautiful, twenty-foot-tall alien woman (Blake Lively). Hilarity ensues as Joe and Steve try to school their enormous new friend in the ways of the world — all while hiding her from the government, the media, and especially their wives!