should probably preface this review of Kenneth Johnson's
"V" by saying that "V" made me love science fiction. In
fact, while I had seen science fiction movies and TV before, I never really had
much interest in it. That is, until "V." The mini series first aired
so long ago (1983, to be precise) that it seems like another lifetime. I was a
little pup at the time, but even then I knew I was witnessing greatness. In
every respect, "V" was a seminal work, and (although I hate to use
this phrase) changed my life completely with its powerful storytelling, its
wonderful narrative, and its combination of human drama and thrilling action.
By now everyone knows the premise of "V" even if
they have never seen it. That's because the mini series' whole premise (a
technologically superior alien race arrives for a hostile takeover of Earth's
resources) was redone in the Hollywood blockbuster movie "Independence
Day." Unlike "Independence
Day" though, the aliens in "V" – called
"Visitors" – appears in human form and claims to be friendly. In
return for simple materials that Earth has in abundance, the Visitors will share
their own superior technology and medicine. It turns out the Visitors are not
the good Samaritans they claim to be – or even human-like in appearance, for
that matter. The aliens are actually lizard in appearance and are here to steal
Earth's water as well as using its human population as – gasp
– a food source!
The greatest asset of "V" is that it's all one
man's vision, and it's a masterfully rendered vision at that. Writer/director
Kenneth Johnson is in full control here, and give us a TV mini series that is a
present allegory to the rise of the Third Reich, Hitler, and the Nazi party in
Germany, only disguised as sci-fi. The mini series starts out with a bang and
never lets up. The aliens arrive quickly and ominously in their 3-mile wide
ships and hovers over the major cities of the world (again, think "Independence
Day"). Soon, humans and Visitors have bonded and the Visitors are
sending their people to Earth to "help" humans in their everyday life.
Or are they?
Marc Singer ("The Beastmaster") as Mike Donovan,
a cameraman who suspects that the Visitors might have an ulterior motive, leads
the mammoth cast. Like all mini series of epic scale, "V" has a wealth
of speaking characters, and the series, clocking in at over 196 minutes sans
commercials, has all the time it needs to develop each and every single
character, giving everyone a distinctive personality. There's Eleanor (Neva
Patterson), Donovan's ambitious and cold mother who becomes a collaborator with the
Visitors; Faye Grant as a med student who becomes the leader of the human
resistance despite all of her natural instincts to just run and hide; and Diana
(Jane Badler), the beautiful but very dangerous (not to mention sadistic and
cunning) leader of the Visitors.
Besides individual characters, "V" also focuses
on whole families. One, the Bernsteins, really focuses in on Kenneth's allegory
to the rise of Nazi Germany. The Bernsteins are a Jewish family, with a son who
wants to be a Visitor, a grandfather who remembers the concentration camps, and
the middle generation that struggles to survive the coming fire. While some
characterization seems forced and sometimes too stilted, when taken as a whole
with "V"'s grand scheme, they all work.
If there is one thing that will make "V" stand
out in a negative light (for those wishing to deride it, that is) it may be the
1983-era special effects. While the shuttlecraft scenes are obviously cgi and
bluescreen, and the motherships are all matte painting, Kenneth uses a lot of
creative camerawork to hide much of the film's (and the film industry's) still
burgeoning cgi technology. So don't expect George Lucas-like cgi here, because
even George Lucas didn't have "George Lucas-like cgi" back in 1983.
But where it lacks in breathtaking effects, "V" more than makes up
with a stunning story, excellent and multi-faceted characters, and an
intelligent screenplay that never takes the easy road out.
Even the Visitors aren't all bad. Some are actually very
nice and unaware of their leader's intent to rape Earth of her resources and use
her population as food. As the mini series progresses, there is a very real
sense of growth for all the characters, humans and aliens. Not an easy thing to
do considering just how many characters there is.
Even considered as a straight science fiction film,
"V" is a monumental achievement. Considered as a straight drama about
the facets of being human – from greed to ambition to paranoia to rising to
one's potential – "V" succeeds in spades. It's a supremely
intelligent story about aliens and flying motherships that nevertheless manages
to be very, very human.