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The Odyssey of Flight 33 - Rod Serling

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Author: Rod Serling / 72 pages / Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC / Released: 2 Feb 2009

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      23.08.2012 19:24
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      "You're riding on a jet airliner en route from London to New York. You're at 35,000 feet atop an overcast sky and roughly fifty-five minutes from Idlewild Airport. But what you've seen occur inside the cockpit of this plane is no reflection on the aircraft or the crew. It's a safe, well-engineered, perfectly designed machine, and the men you've just met are a trained, cool, highly efficient team. The problem is simply that the plane is going too fast and there is nothing within the realm of knowledge or at least logic to explain it. Unbeknownst to passenger and crew, this airplane is heading into an unchartered region well off the beaten track of commercial travelers. It's moving into the Twilight Zone. What you're about to see we call The Odyssey of Flight 33." The Odyssey of Flight 33 is a 2008 graphic novel by Mark Kneece (writer) and Robert Grabe (art) that adapts the classic 1961 Twilight Zone episode of the same name written by Rod Serling. The year is 1973 (I'm not quite sure to be honest why this is set in 1973 when they could have placed the story in the early sixties like the television version or merely had it in the present day) and Trans-Ocean Flight 33 leaves London bound for New York. But this normally routine flight is destined to turn into a very strange journey that none of the crew or passengers will ever forget. Somewhere over the Atlantic the unfortunate Flight 33 is buffeted by an unexplained tailwind and reaches an incredible speed that defies belief. When everything is calm again the crew are perplexed to discover that they can't seem to make contact with anyone on the radio and have no idea where they are anymore. They fly down and approach an island (that they presume might be the Bahamas) but are going to be in for a very big shock. Somehow, the incredible acceleration that Flight 33 experienced has catapulted them back in time to the prehistoric era of dinosaurs! Will they ever get back to 1973?

      This is not bad at all although I still think The After Hours is the best of The Twilight Zone graphic novel adaptations I've read so far and none of the others have quite had the same sense of style that that one generated with its crisp and atmospheric art. The television episode is one of the most famous and fondly remembered in the series and was set entirely in the cockpit of the plane as the crew tried to make sense of this most uncanny mystery. That was obviously for budgetary reasons as much as anything although it was very effective and one didn't feel unduly bothered about the story never opening up. As you don't have budgetary concerns in a comic and are limited only by what your imagination can conjure this graphic novel is very different at times and has a number of characters and scenarios that did not feature in the television incarnation. Fair enough because I'm sure the producers of The Twilight Zone in 1961 would have done some of this had money and technology allowed but some of these changes are a trifle annoying. The most obvious change here is that some of the passengers are now characters in the drama (we didn't see them in the television version at all) and so we get panels of the whole of the plane rather than just the cockpit - plus of course the obligatory harassed but calm on the surface stewardess going around telling everyone not to worry. We've gone back in time and are running out of fuel above a world chock full of dinosaurs. Have a packet of crisps and another mint tea. One passenger (who we learn has just been discharged from the Air Force) in particular is used as a sort of McGuffin to throw some conflict and drama into the story and also allow the artist to have some fun with the prehistoric era.

      He begins the story in sedate fashion, requesting cashew nuts, but then goes increasingly doolally as the premise unfolds. Those cashew nuts obviously didn't agree with him because he's soon charging the cockpit and jumping out of the plane with a parachute because he fears arrest in New York. So we get a Jurassic Park style panel of him being chased on the island by Triceratops and a Tyrannosaurs-Rex. In the television version you got one shot of a stop-motion Brontosaurus or something so the dinosaur ante is certainly upped and exploited here. I do think though that the television version of this (and the radio adaptation too) was far more atmospheric and tense and something has been lost in this latest translation. You also get more time jumps and other new characters like an annoying woman who never stops talking and a performance artist. I would definitely have been tempted to throw the performance artist to the dinosaurs. One flaw I feel is the art by Robert Grabe which is perfectly serviceable but just seems to lack a certain something. It's too clean and artificial looking and sometimes looks like it's computer generated rather than traditional illustrations and colouring. The big blue skies here are too minimal and bland looking for my tastes and you wish a bit more grit and reality could have graced some of the panels. The dinosaur panels are nothing to write home about either although I liked the use of shadow at times in the plane. Light from the window infiltrating the blacks and blues of the cargo hold when the nutty passenger decides he's had enough of cashew nuts and herbal tea and is going to make a jump for it. The actual characters are drawn in a rather nondescript way and lack personality at times as a consequence.

      The core of the premise remains though and even diluted and changed around the edges it remains good fun in any format. The different reactions of the people onboard allows for some Lost style character conflict and Captain Farver is still our stoic hero. The cockpit panels are very good and probably the comic at its best. I like too the way these adaptations insert Rod Serling into the beginning and end of the story to present his opening and closing monologues just as he did with the television series (it's a pretty good likeness of Serling too and he always has his retro sixties suit on as if he's in some sort of suspended time capsule). Serling consulted his aviation engineer brother when he was writing the original and so the technical jargon always sounds pretty good and they make decent use of that here. "I never heard of a tailwind like that! 980 now. 1120. 1500. God in heaven, I can't even keep up with it!" The drama comes from the crew desperately running out of time and throwing their last reserves of fuel into a desperate attempt to pick up enough speed to maybe get back to their own time. It's just a fun mystery for the characters to solve and although it was much spookier and compelling on television this is a decent enough adaptation and different enough to make it mildly interesting even if you are very familiar with the original. I think children would probably like this one maybe and enjoy the new influx of dinosaur capers. The Odyssey of Flight 33 is a fun book but lost a star for me with the somewhat sterile art. It's certainly colourful though if you like that type of thing. This runs to 72 pages and at the time of writing is available to buy for under a fiver.

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