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Review: Original “V” Miniseries (1983)

November 2nd, 2009

As mentioned below, Sunday was the SyFy marathon of the original “V” miniseries and the follow-on “V: The Final Battle.” Juggling football, baseball and a family dinner, I managed to finish them up late at night. It was refreshingly awesome and set a very high bar for ABC to hit on Tuesday. [Ed Note: I apparently somehow only taped part 1 of V: The Final Battle… guess that’s getting added to the Netflix queue now]

The general plot line of the series, which was created as a screenplay, involves the arrival of about 50 mother ships from outer space. Their appearance is pretty much totally ripped off by Independence Day, if you want a frame of reference. The aliens, who ask to be called “Visitors”, appear human and promise to cure humankind’s ails. But, of course, there is a sinister motivation to their arrival and a resistance quickly forms, led by TV journalist Mike Donovan (Marc Singer), MD Juliet Parrish (Faye Grant), and a cast that is suitably multicultural (in TV executive minds) to make the series seem to represent all of humankind.

Before going into great detail, it has to be remembered that this was shot in 1983 and the special effects, and even language used (e.g., “Selling reefer”) seems antiquated at this time. But this miniseries still rocks out. The mannequin used to show Visitor No. 2 Diana (Jane Badler) eating a gerbil is, quite frankly, so bad it is awesome. Making a mannequin look realistic wasn’t easy in ‘83, but they didn’t even remotely have the same skin tone. The Visitor ships also look only marginally better than Ed Wood’s saucers on a string.

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There are also certain other elements of the show which jump the shark without really getting the over the top backlash from the audience. Nowhere is this more apparent than with Abraham Bernstein (played by Leonardo Cimino) telling his story of escaping the Holocaust and the corollary need to hide their neighbors in the resistance. The story itself is quite serious and a genuine attempt to add a reflective element to the series, but the producers literally have a violin playing in the background while Bernstein talks. Way over the top.

The hiding of neighbors becomes necessary because the Visitors and most humans are joined in the oppression of scientists and doctors, who are accused of conspiring against the Visitors. This is another laughable aspect of the storyline. Although the Cultural Revolution didn’t exactly embrace academics, it’s hard to imagine people being persecuted for being doctors or anthropologists.

Of course, we’re talking Sci Fi, so you have to suspend disbelief. And it’s not that hard because they pull it off quite well. I mean, they have Singer, the Beastmaster himself, in the lead role. You can’t get more early 80s legit than that.

There aren’t really any great cheesy moments like when Bill Pullman‘s President rallies the troops before the final attack in Independence Day, but you still get very much so into the resistance’s struggle. Especially with so many central characters falling deep into the cooperator category. But what really gets you into the fight is the somewhat ridiculous dedication and opening segment of the series. It begins with a dedication to all freedom fighters everywhere (I believe Red Dawn actually had a similar dedication to partisans).

And then it opens with an over-the-top mock up of an El Salvador rebel camp with Donovan reporting. The rebel leader, seeing his people being slaughtered by a military helicopter, walks out into the open, draws his 9mm pistol and slowly aims at the oncoming helicopter. His four gunshots bring it down (in true Bruce Willis fashion). The scene is later repeated with Parish preparing to fire, but not actually firing, a revolver at an oncoming Visitor shuttle during an attack on the resistance.

All in all, “V” was everything I remembered. The great, ridiculous characters. The over-the-top acting. And, most importantly, the entertaining storyline and concept. Now if only it didn’t promote my biggest pet-peeve, spray painting.

On the one to ten mile scale, this one is good enough to keep you on the treadmill for a solid 8. Just don’t expect any high art.

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