Reboots of cherished films and television shows from the past have a mixed record. Sometimes the new iteration breathes fresh life into a stale or flagging icon, cf J.J. Abrams' recent Star Trek effort. At other times, the magic is gone. The reimagining of V looks like it will fall strongly in the first column. It is quite different from the original, but still manages to be tense, well crafted and fun.
The basic story will be familiar to any fan of the original V series. The Visitors are seemingly beneficent aliens, who have arrived on earth and pledge to be our friends. They look like humans, but underneath the skin are bipedal lizards, and their plans may be more sinister than they would like humanity to believe. The Vs are led by the beautiful Anna (Morena Baccarin), with the assistance of her right hand man (or lizard) Marcus (Christopher Shyer) and her daughter Lisa (Laura Vandervoort).
The resistance movement, still in its infancy, is led by Erica Evans (Elizabeth Mitchell), an FBI anti-terrorist expert, whose son Tyler (Logan Huffman) has fallen in love with the Vs generally, and Anna's daughter Lisa in particular. Along for the ride are mentally unstable fanatic Georgie (David Richmond-Peck), turncoat Visitor Ryan (Morris Chestnut), international mercenary Hobbes (Charles Mesure) and Father Jack (Joel Gretsch) a Catholic priest. A motley assemblage, and small potatoes compared to their alien enemies.
The show is greatly aided by the built in storyline of resistance. This provides a natural story arc for the twelve episode season. Each episode has its own contained plot, but everything is tied together by the greater story of the planned Visitor conquest of earth and the human resistors. This leaves a lot of leeway for character development and intricately woven plots. V ends up as part police procedural, part spy thriller and part science fiction. The performances are all strong, though three stand out particularly. Morris Chestnut is phenomenal as the Visitor who has turned against his people, and fallen in love with a human woman. He doesn't hit a single false note, and a late season shift in his character is as devastating as it is believable. Morena Baccarin also shines. She oozes malevolence and guile, glorying in her intricate plans to dominate humanity. She is more than matched by the third standout, Elizabeth Mitchell as the determined FBI agent and anti-V terrorist. On rare occasion, the dialogue tends to be a little too melodramatic, but even then it's delivered admirably.
The episodes are punchy, tightly plotted, and hang together quite well over the season, though around episode nine things really start to click, and the last third of the season is very effective. Characters are allowed to change and develop or, as in the case of opportunistic journalist Chad Decker (Scott Wolf) just get slimier and more weasely. But even in his case, there is a glimmer of hope that he might not be a total moral loss by the end of things. Characters are constantly changing sides or hiding their true motivations. Half the fun of the show is guessing which human characters are Vs, and which Vs might be in the Fifth Column, which is what everyone calls the resistance movement. There are surprises on all fronts, and the intrigue and plotting and counter plotting are clever and complex enough to be very entertaining.
The effects are generally good, particularly the interior of the V spaceship, which is almost entirely CG, and the reptile features of the Visitors, which are revealed only in flashes so far. There are a few shots in which the CG effects are apparent, and even a bit cheesy, but this is probably unavoidable due to the quick turnaround time and lower budgets of episodic television. But this is still an impressive science fiction effort, grounded in reality, but still getting high marks on the cool factor.
Below is a listing of episodes, with their descriptions as provided in the DVD materials:
"We mean no harm." But FBI Agent Evans and others in a nascent resistance have reason to doubt Earth's alien visitors, the Vs.
2: There Is No Normal Anymore
Among the first: Erica and Father Jack realize they're in this struggle together. Among the doomed: any subject of a V interrogation!
3: A Bright New Day
Sleeping with the enemy: Tyler is smitten with alien recruiter Lisa. Alien-turned-Earth-ally Ryan seeks first-wave icon John May.
4: It's Only the Beginning
Revelations. The truth about a dangerous V injection is hidden in plain sight. Tyler receives Bliss... and a glimpse at what's out there.
5: Welcome to the War
Got a yen for rodent? Val's pregnancy leaves her with odd appetites. The V op who stabbed Jack messes with the wrong human.
6: Pound of Flesh
Anna's address to Earth will send a secret message to rebels if Ryan's mothership mission succeeds. What's Erica hiding from Tyler ?
7: John May
Revealed: a story of the first V rebel. Unrevealed: resistance names, despite the torture of Georgie. Also: Anna delivers her army.
8: We Can't Win
She must be on Earth's side: Anna amazes everyone with a gift of clean, sustainable Blue Energy. Erica tracks a V sniper.
Vs hunt Val and Ryan, intending to kill their unborn inter-species child. Lisa seeks to keep Tyler out of the Live Aboard Program.
10: Hearts and Minds
Anna finds a way to turn opinion against the Fifth Column. The FBI assigns a lead officer in its investigation of the resistance: Erica.
Victim or ploy? Lisa, battered and with a "V" carved on her face, is found in an alley. Fugitive scientists formulate an anti-V weapon.
12: Red Sky
Two women, one mothership. Anna, as Val gives birth, has an agenda. Erica comes aboard, and she has an agenda, too. And it could devastate Anna.
The current incarnation of V is a different animal than the original, but it is respectful to its predecessor, and provides plenty of joy as an only semi-guilty pleasure. Very much recommended.
The video is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen, and looks great. The image is bright and clean, and the colors are rich. Aside from very occasional and very mild posterization, and some faint aliasing on the odd CG shot, there is little to fault.
The sound is available in Dolby digital 5.1 channel in English, and 2 channel Portuguese. There is nice separation around the channels, really placing the viewer in the center of the action, and the dialogue is always crisp and clear. Subtitles are available in English, Chinese, French, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish and Thai.
Deleted scenes are included for a number of episodes, as well as a few more substantial extras. Those are:
The Actor's Journey from Human to V
This featurette, coming in at just under seventeen minutes, has interviews with most of the main cast as well as several of the producers. They discuss the motivations of the characters, themes and the casting process. Interesting.
Breaking Story: The World of V
Another meditation on the themes of the show, featuring interviews with producers and writers, but this focuses more on the process of production, from design to special effects.
An Alien in Human Skin: The Makeup FX of V
About twelve minutes long, this is a closer look at how the makeup for the show works, especially the alien V skin. They utilize both practical effects, plus CG.
VFX: The Visual FX of V
This fifteen minute feature looks at the extensive visual effects in the show. Many virtual sets are used, especially for the interior of the V ship. They discuss the challenges of producing good quality effects with low budgets and short turnaround times, along with other topics.
Fruition Commentary with Steve Pearlman and Scott Rosenbaum
This is the most substantial extra, and sadly the only commentary included, on the episode Fruition. This is one of the best episodes of the season, when a lot of threads come together, and the two executive producers discuss it all. They share more talk about the themes of the show (particularly the mother vs. mother angle mentioned elsewhere), technical talk about editing, and even a few hints to what is in store for the next season. Very engaging.
The producers of the V reboot series took material beloved by geeks everywhere, gave it a modern sensibility, good performances, intricate plots, and a lot of fun. The show is a joy to watch, and manages to suck the viewer into the elaborate machinations of the Visitors and their human opponents, making us always want to know what will happen next. This one is highly recommended.