Thursday, July 29, 2010

'V' (1983)

Starring Marc Singer, Michael Durrell and Faye Grant
Written and directed by Kenneth Johnson

I've been aware of "V" for quite some time.  I've heard my father talk about it occasionally, and seen it on the shelves of video stores for years.  I knew vaguely what it was about - aliens who pretend to be our friends arrive one day, but a select few people learn the truth and eventually begin to resist.  But I'd never seen it until I noticed it available for streaming on Netflix.  I added both "V" and it's sequel, "V: The Final Battle" and have begun watching them finally.

"V" is a pretty interesting alien invasion story.  It begins on a day like any other, when suddenly a number of alien motherships appear in the skies over Earth's major cities.  Panic and fear grip the world, as, for an entire day, these ships do nothing but hover silently over the world.  When the aliens do finally reveal themselves, the people of Earth are shocked to see that they look just like humans; the only difference being a strange vocal distortion.  These 'Visitors' ask for humanity's help manufacturing a chemical needed to repair the atmosphere of their world, and in return offer to share their incredible advanced technologies with humanity.

At first, this seems like a dream come true for the people of Earth.  But things soon begin to appear too good to be true.  Journalist Michael Donovan (Marc Singer), eager for a big story, discovers that the Visitors human appearance is a facade - underneath, they are hideous reptiles that eat live creatures.  The Visitors soon usurp control of the world, under the guise of security, saying it's in humanity's best interests.  Many go along with this farce, but some do not - specifically, the scientific community, who have now been targeted by the Visitors.  While the scientists feel the Visitors must think them a threat for a reason, others believe the scientists of Earth are just evil and trying to ruin it for everyone.

"V" is a pretty intriguing miniseries.  It's rather obviously a parallel to the events leading up to World War II, with scientists and their families in the place of the European Jews.  There are plenty of scenes where scientists are trying to hide or smuggle themselves out of Los Angeles.  The underground resistance that forms is very much like those of yore, small, scared, unprepared groups who sneak out under curfew.  The visitors themselves are very Nazi-like, and their symbol looks much like a swastika.  The wide cast of characters encompasses a number of different character types, from sympathizers, resistance fighters, and those who aren't courageous enough to do anything but sit back and hope not to get noticed. 

I was worried that this sort of obvious, ham-fisted approach might ruin "V", but it doesn't.  There is an elderly Jewish character who helps to remind other characters of what is happening, and forms an emotional thread for the audience to follow along.  "If we don't help," he says, "then we haven't learned a thing."  That pretty much ties all the themes of "V" together in one nice little bow.

The acting in "V" is fairly typical of TV miniseries; no one here is really knocking it out of the park, but the performances are perfectly solid and capable.  Sometimes the script is at fault; a few conversations go on a little too long, obviously trying to pad out the running time to fill two nights of material.  Characters will sometimes make their point two or three times in a scene, and occasionally will do things I can only describe as incredibly stupid, in order to lengthen the movie.

The visual effects, for the most part, are kind of cheesy but serviceable.  I'm sure in 1983 they looked pretty good, but in 2010, the most I can do is give it that much credit.  There's nothing here that looks atrociously bad, but it's definitely dated, both in design and execution.  The final dogfight at the end is probably the worst, but that's mostly because it's the most ambitious effects sequence in the entire film. 

I enjoyed "V," though with some reservations.  It's a little too obvious in its parallels to World War II, and occasionally has problems with pacing and characters doing stupid things, but overall it's a lot of fun.  I look forward to finishing it with "The Final Battle".