Sunday, January 3, 2016

The Twilight Zone: A Hundred Yards Over the Rim

We tend to think of those who came before us as trailblazers and pioneers. However, most of these people weren't thinking about their place in history; they were just trying to make a better life for themselves and their families. But how nice would it be if they could be reminded how important they'd be to shaping the future?

Cliff Robertson is Christian Horn, the leader of a wagon train traveling through the Southwest Desert to California in 1847. They're lost, hungry, thirsty, and many in the group, including Horn's son, are sick. Horn decides to scout ahead, crossing over a high, sandy hill, but when he crosses over, he finds himself in the year 1961 on a modern highway.

If nothing else, "A Hundred Yards Over the Rim" demonstrates how drastically the country has changed. When Horn's party passes through the desert, it is a desolate, hostile, and barren landscape, and director Buzz Kulik (working off a Rod Serling teleplay) accentuates the harsh vastness of the desert. These tiny group of people looks so small and helpless against the indifference of nature.

When he gets to 1961, Horn finds roads, cafes, electrical power lines, and automobiles. Technology and innovation have enabled people to tame the desert or at least live in it comfortably. More importantly, Christian learns his son is destined to grow up and become a doctor who helps many people. With this knowledge, Horn returns to his own time, with a bottle of medicine, to lead his people on.

Robertson is terrific, running the gamut from despair and desperation to rugged determination, strength, and leadership. He's also funny when he encounters modern technology he doesn't understand, but it's not played as goofy, just a logical bafflement to things he's never seen before and has no concept of. Additionally, filming on location, in the desert and on real highways, gives the episode a strong sense of place.

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