Friday, 26 April 2013

V



I needed a break from Mrs T so I decided to watch a miniseries about cold blooded despots whom rule via regiments of helmeted police and view humans as commodities. In hindsight it wasn't quite the breath of fresh air I wanted.

If your not familiar with V I don't blame you, not only is the name quite nondescript and difficult to find. Also while it isn't a niche program being very successful on its first broadcast. It was quickly eclipsed so its now one of those shows thats popular with SF or "genre fans" as most like to be called.

It did get a remake in 2009 but it didn't really workout. V is broken up into three parts V the Miniseries, V the Final Battle (another mini series) and V the Series which takes place after the two miniseries. Of the three the series is unanimously considered the weakest but we'll get to that later.

V was originally going to be an adaptation of It Can't Happen Here about the rise of Fascism in America. Apparently spurred on by the writers criticism of the Reagan Administration. In fact for a show about battling space Lizards there is a surprisingly heavy criticism of Reagan's America. The first miniseries is dedicated "To the heroism of Resistance Fighters, Past, Present and Future" and opens with a scene of a rebel camp in El Salvador being attacked by a helicopter gunship. Later on the scene is repeated with a Visitor attack on a human resistance camp just to make it clear.

And the Final Battle (the second miniseries) contains pro South African Guerilla commentary, ironic given that the V miniseries was approved for viewing by Apartheid censors as it showed blacks and whites working together, with the white cast firmly in charge. Fortunately Black South Africans aren't as stupid as the Apartheid supporters hoped, they saw V for what it was, and according to anecdotes the V symbol graffiti started appearing throughout South Africa shortly after its broadcast.

The network executives weren't interested though, but they were interested in cashing in on Star Wars success. The year was 1983 just after Return of the Jedi and somehow they figured the script could be retooled to be an alien invasion and occupation story. Naturally right?

And surprisingly they were right V is a pretty effective Alien invasion story, and it still retains elements of the original idea. Though to be honest I think it works better as an Anti-Colonialism story then an Anti-Fascist one. The two aren't mutually exclusive of course Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany had colonies but aside from having a symbol that looks like a Swastika (if you squint) and a few resistance members using the F-word the Visitors (as they like to be called) don't do much that's explicitly Fascistic. At best its a generic military occupation.
As a depiction of colonialism though it goes into surprising detail of how an outside force can usurp and then replace a less advanced society. Essentially a group of "peaceful" and "friendly" technically advanced strangers or Visitors come to earth, even though the come in massive warships and are lead by an Admiral they assure us they come in peace. In exchange for some resources these benevolent Visitors offer to share their technological advancements (sound familiar to anyone?). And since they know all about the chemicals and refinement processes it seems only fair and natural for them to take an active and leading role in its procurement.

So they quickly take over many factories and refineries all over the globe using native labour to help them manufacture chemicals they claim they need to save their planet. They quickly ingratiate themselves with the Heads of State and Business community the world over whom are quick to make any concessions asked for to please the Visitors so they may benefit more from their technology and patronage. Very quickly the governments of the world are co-opted and its not long before joint police and Visitor patrols are seen on the streets.

The only group to offer any resistance (in the passive are they telling the truth? sense) is the scientific community so the Visitors move quickly to discredit earth scientists by forging a "International Scientific Conspiracy" to marginalise scientists and justify the arrest and disappearance of those few whom are uncovering the truth about them. As the name "International Scientific Conspiracy" hints this was part of the original script that received a hasty retooling, originally the target for repression was to be American Jews and most of dialogue makes this clear with talk of "Scientist children" and disgust at those who marry scientists. Though the change did give the miniseries one of its most interesting side characters the Bernstein's.

The Bernstein's are a Jewish family, the Grandfather survived the Holocaust and its through his words and view that the show regained some of the Fascistic imagery. His son and Daughter in law don't like what's happening but try to ride it out, there son Daniel on the other hand is an active collaborator, and rose through the ranks of the "Friends of the Visitors" which the show probably wanted to be a Hitler Youth style outfit (they wear brownish red uniforms) the fact that its open to humans the colonised population and that high ranked members are armed and allowed to take command of Visitor troops makes it more akin to what Empires do to try and forge strong links of loyalty among certain populations of colonies, like the Sikhs and Gurkha's of the British Empire, or the Algerian tribes for the French.

In fact they literally turn humanity into a resource for their consumption. The humans are their for basic labour, front line combat (they are at war with another powerful alien race) and food. With the exception of cannibalism that's a textbook example of the social position of a colonised people in the Imperial system.

That's quite a sophisticated plot for a show about space lizards whom stuff live mice down their throats. Fortunately the acting and production values don't let such a lofty concept down. Though the effects in the original Miniseries when they eat rodents is noticeably fake (it improved). Rather then be dominated by just one main lead the show was more of an ensemble piece with both the Resistance and the Visitors having several main characters have equivalent screen time and at least some importance to the plot. I personally liked how the Visitor Officers had distinct personalities and interests and it was interesting to see how both groups dealt with the pressure when things didn't go their way.

Trivia note, this show is popular with David Icke fans
I won't lie, I went into V purely to watch explosions and space ships and Lazer guns, and I got that, but I also got much more. For example the Visitors armour is resistant to bullets which means the first skirmishes are very one sided and a bit reminiscent of riflemen versus native spears and bow and arrows. This means they have to make do with explosives and a few stolen Lazer pistols. Eventually they devise special ammo that does penetrate armour. They also showed some Visitors to be noble and opposed to the invasion like the Fifth Column an internal resistance movement and Willie (played by Robert Englund) a technician.


Of course once they get the fancy new ammo (supplied by Ham Tyler, played by Michael Ironside) it quickly reverts to standard 80's action. Though thanks to the build up it comes across as exciting and heightens tension (because things of consequence are happening) instead of killing it. In fact I believe the key to V's charm is that while still being a very 80's show (most 80's cliche's and styles are present) it gave most of them a clever spin. Why are the aliens speaking English? they've been hidden for sometime and learned the languages of the people they were supposed to control to make the usurpation easier. Willy for example learned Arabic but was transferred at the last minute to L.A. which is why he struggled with the language. Why are they not dying from germs like in War of the Worlds? They knew it would be a problem and spent a long time developing inoculations to all earth bacteria that they know about. Etc.

Some scenes are very soap opera like, but since those scenes are to show the pressure building up and the characters are dealing with serious problems its kept from dominating the show or from bursting the suspension of disbelief.  I also liked how despite Ham Tyler being the most competent action hero type he isn't made to be perfect or always right. In fact due to his very abrasive manner and his past as a Black Ops soldier fighting dirty wars in Africa, South East Asia and Latin America, the rest of the resistance keep him at arms length since to them he's to extreme.


Magistrates the world over hated the show
Sadly the show seemed to be a victim of its own success. The two miniseries and the merchandising did so well the network commissioned a full series. Even though the ending of the Final Battle not only defeated the Visitors but did so in a way that explicitly stated they could never return. Though credit were its due the show did come up with an explanation for both another invasion and why they couldn't just do what they did the last time, that at least sounded plausible. You'll have to ask a microbiologist if it would actually work like that though.

Unfortunately V with its big space age sets was very expensive (about $1million per episode) so corners were cut and then cut again until the overall show started to suffer. For example since the Visitors look just like us (until you pinch them) a clever way to remind us that they were extra terrestrial was to make their voices reverberate a bit. That was dropped in the series, also the lazer effects must of cost a bit too because not only do we have the usual bad guys can't aim gimmick but in many cases the bad guys don't bother shooting at all even though our hero's are in the open. I'm not kidding in several scenes the Visitors just run at the good guys while waving around those plastic guns. They even did it in the pilot which didn't bode well for the shows development.

They also based the shows premise strongly around Casablanca, L.A. becomes an open city the resistance uses a cabaret etc. That could of been interesting but they didn't do much with it and I suspect were just looking for a way to justify saving money on location shoots. One part of the series I did like was a pre credits sequence that would be a short news bulletin from the "World Liberation Front" giving updates on the war outside of L.A. it was clearly a cheap way of evoking a global scale but for me it work. It also suffered from meddling by the executives, to cut costs they killed off some of the cast and just write out some others like Ham Tyler in a way that came out of nowhere and made little sense.

They also got really desperate towards the end. The original miniseries was quite notorious for its scenes of the Visitors eating live animals so the last few episodes had them chomping down on fuzzy little critters at every opportunity.I have more complaints but they won't make much sense if you haven't seen the show already.

If you get a chance I think you should check it out, the box set is very cheap. You can grab the whole thing with torrents, you can see the original miniseries on youtube (though it gets taken down often) and if you speak a language other then English you can probably see the whole thing on youtube as well.




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