l missed V in its real life iteration, when, apparently, millions of Americans sat transfixed before their television screens watching the science fiction miniseries. However, over the years, sci-fi loving friends have pestered me to watch V, saying writer and director Kenneth Johnson‘s epic, which debuted in 1983, is a must see. I finally gave in this week, two decades after the series aired. Instead of searching for the unopened DVD that is around here somewhere, I screened the video version. What is my verdict on V? Mixed, but mainly favorable.
The storyline is a precursor for the ’90s blockbuster, Independence Day. Large, saucer-shaped dreadnoughts appear above major cities worldwide. Human munitions, as deadly as they are, seem puny when compared to the technical achievements of the aliens. Like the extraterrestrials in ID, these are reptilian. But, they mask their real, threatening identity, claiming to have come in peace. Most people, in keeping with their tendency to be happy to have authority figures tell them what to think, say and do, quickly succumb to the not at all subtle manipulations of their friends from Sirius. The aliens are particularly successful in turning members of the scientific community into bete noires among the citizenry through a campaign of disinformation and disappearances. However, a few Americans begin to notice oddities in the visitors and inquire into their origins and plans.
Foremost among the questioners are a television reporter and a medical student. After sneaking aboard the mothership, Mike Donovan (Marc Singer) discovers the aliens are iguana-like reptiles who snack on live rodents and intend to exploit Earth for their own purposes. Meanwhile, Julie Parrish (Faye Grant), a biochemist doing her residency at a Los Angeles hospital, finds herself ostracized along with other scientists and medical professionals who might expose the visitors if not discredited. Rather than wait to be arrested and brainwashed or murdered, she goes underground and sets out to solve the mystery of who the aliens are and what they want. The two eventually meet, and along with other heroic humans, form the core of the resistance movement. They commandeer weapons from the enemy, carry out guerilla raids and penetrate the security of the alien cadre.
However, the antagonists are equally, if not more, intriguing. Diana (Jane Badler), the striking scientific officer of the invasion force, has masterminded a mind control mechanism to use on humans, a form of cryogenic storage so that people can be transported to Sirius, and, is working on other nefarious schemes. Completely ruthless, she will stop at nothing that might be useful in achieving her goals. The human villains are weak, but also dangerous. Motivated by ambition and greed, both Donovan’s lover and mother willingly become pawns of the enemy. A young Jew discovers the sense of power he covets as a member of the visitors’ paramilitary youth organization.
By the end of the movie, the invaders are on the way to achieving their objectives of depriving Earth of its water and harvesting a human crop. However, the resistance is well on its way too, as distrust of the visitors spreads. In an exciting ground to air battle, the resisters hold their own against an attack by aliens in high tech aircraft.
The movie shows its age in some ways. Donovan’s video camera is huge in comparison to today’s gear. (It alone seems enough to tip off the aliens when he is covertly filming them.) And, believe it or not, the only photographs of the aliens are stored on a single tape. The extraterrestrials, though grotesque, will have been upstaged by the creatures in the Alien series and other later movies in your mind. The special effects are also less than enthralling. The dialogue is sometimes laughably hackneyed and the nonwhite characters are embarrassingly stereotypical. However, the shortcomings don’t mar the movie enough to ruin it. A strong plot and vigorous cast make V compelling viewing, despite it being the sci-fi movie equivalent of middle-aged.