From the first moments in V, a reimagining of the mid-'80s science-fiction miniseries and television run, it's obvious that the tone's going to skew towards the bleak. Quick blocks of text remind viewers where they were and what they were doing during the JFK assassination and the attacks on 9/11, which then quickly refocuses on an earth-rattling rumble caused by other-worldly ships moving into place over major cities across the world. It then draws its line of sight to death, fear, and the massive semi-angelic face of Anna (Morena Baccarin, Firefly) preaching calming, nourishing words from a projection underneath one of the ships. With this in mind, V aims to do what many have done with other science-fiction productions of yore: create an exciting, suspenseful premise with figurative allegory coursing through its veins, taking sight on the world's current qualms. This it accomplishes through Anna's wistful guise, but not with the level of clarity -- or redeeming value -- it needs to offset some hard-faced mannerisms.
V intersects the lives of several New York citizens affected by the arrival of the twenty-nine (29) ships, front-and-center being FBI agent Erica Evans (Elizabeth Mitchell) and her wayward son Tyler (Logan Huffman). She's a counterterrorist agent who already spent little time with her son before the Visitors arrived, while Tyler searches for some outlet for his angst-riddled attitude. When he catches a glimpse of a cute diplomatic Visitor (Laura Vandervoort), he sees this outlet in his new-fangled fascination as a supporter to the visitation. Elsewhere, a priest named Jack struggles with holding onto his congregation -- and his own faith -- in the wake of the Visitors' health-promising arrival, while news anchor Chad Decker (Scott Wolf) attempts to throttle his waning, overlooked career by reporting on and interviewing their peace-preaching leader, Anna (Baccarin). As the Visitors' time on Earth extends and their graciousness with their technological advances continues, their motives become suspect enough to reignite an underground resistance movement: The Fifth Column, to whom Visitor Ryan (Morris Chestnut) once belonged.
The bedrock of V's energy gears around a question: why are these Visitors who claim to be "of peace" maliciously worming their way into Earth's infrastructure, instead of just annihilating the population in one fell swoop and claiming whatever resources they require? And it's an intriguing question, too, one that the team of writers deftly dances around. V mixes sharp state-of-the-art special effects and sterile, clean photography in crafting an environment that simmers with speculation over the Visitors' motives, bolstered by their restraint in expressing human emotion. Are they here to learn more about the emotional human language due to a deficiency, or do they repress their emotions to make them less penetrable to their foes? (And yes, that little bit is cleverly answered early on). The big solution lies in what exactly we offer; that's the muddy and undefined card that the series needs to hold onto to maintain its intrigue, because it both fuels speculation and pumps a clever amount of sinister clout into Anna's scheming presence. It works wonders for the first season's momentum.
The intelligent and timely ideas built around V's mystery set the series in motion, with an agenda pulsing at its core. See if any of this sounds familiar: as the Visitors' technology freely heals the human race's incurable diseases and foresees health complications before they occur, people begin to theologize their presence into a beacon of worship. Those who aren't convinced of -- or manipulated by -- their pure intentions form a band of "rebels", which mixes both Visitors and humans working together. And, on top of that, it also slips in the manipulation of news-reporting media, hallmarked by Anna's persuasive tactics on Decker to soften her appearance in the eyes of the masses. V's got the smarts at its core to aims a crosshair at current policies, namely health care, idealist conformity, and energy consumption, yet remains vague enough to not pull the trigger on specific targets; unfortunately, these ideas are telegraphed in ham-fisted, relentlessly dreary fashion, never coming up for breath from its own brood to make the figurative content sincere, or captivating. In that, the tonal stagnancy makes the series feel murky and motorized when it should be more probing.
It doesn't help that V builds only a moderate-to-serviceable bond between the characters, instead weaving the show's design around the maze of Anna's bendy manipulation without offering substantial, earthly entities to make us care whether they're manipulated or not. One exception is Erica's son Tyler, who becomes something of a pawn as his sexuality and independence are provoked directly by Lisa and vicariously by Anna. The rest of the human characters, though boldly played by the likes of LOST's Elizabeth Mitchell, Ladder 49's Morris Chestnut, and The 4400's Joel Gretsch, rarely tap into more than undemanding shifts between worrisome strain and strong-minded resolve, though their natural charismas carry these attributes further than the writing allows. While Marena Baccarin's slim frame, wide eyes and ominous smirk mold Anna into a sinister manipulator, along with Laura Vandervoort as one of her more vigorous yet keep-you-guessing underlings, it doesn't take flight because the bustling energy it generates feels so damn cold.
Though that bleak tone continues all the way through the first season of V, the momentum behind its mystery and Anna's manipulation slowly intensifies as the visitors' actions grow more menacing on both a physical and political level. But while the science-fiction angles begin to escalate, it begins to blur into familiar, passé sci-fi territory on more than one occasion. Already it uncompromisingly portrays a superior species as they engulf and, in turn, pull the strings that control governmental infrastructure, but when it delves into the machinations of emotionless beings starting to embrace their feelings and a hybrid visitor-human child, it really begins to mirror the likes of Battlestar Galactica in its mechanics. They're handled in a way that doesn't feel overtly borrowed, but V's core science-fiction audience will discover redundancy and unsurprising dramatic development in the twists and turns. Hell, even Battlestar's collection of supporting actors -- Michael Trucco (Anders), Rekha Sharma (Tory), and Ty Olsson (Capt. Kelly) -- hop into the fray, and the purposes they serve are of little surprise.
Yet, several other patches of science-fiction curio steer the series in fresh and, oftentimes, unsettling directions, such as the way that Anna goes about "creating" an army of minions and how she tests a "margin of error" within an emotion litmus test. These moments shape a core of suspense in V that easily thrusts our attention between episodes in a consistent stream of inquisitiveness, while the storytelling -- though very stern -- moves between each episode with an air of electricity that's palpable. And there's plenty to favor within its direct focus, gravitating around a twisty and eerie pondering over what might happen if other-worldly beings with an agenda descended from the expanses of space and attempted to permeate into our society. Ultimately, V has been renewed for a second season to answer the questions left dangling at the end of this premiere season, and that's a good thing; it'll give the writers a chance to continue this stream of manipulation and science-fiction complexity, which actually reaches a fine point with the last two episodes of the season. Here's hoping they cement its emotional bearings for the times to come, because that's the only real piece missing from this otherwise excellently-crafted show.
Similar things have been said about Fringe's first season, and look where that led.
Warner Brothers presents all twelve (12) episodes of V: The Complete First Season in a standard double-disc Blu-ray case, with disc artwork adorned with the bloody "V" logo as it appears in the show's title cards. A thick, shiny foil-looking slipcover adorns the outside of the case, similarly to that of WB's Fringe: The Complete Second Season set. A Chapter Listing / Episode Guide has been included, which features photos of the cast and a brief synopsis for each episode.
Video and Audio:
A few things should be considered for V's first season offering on Blu-ray. For one, all of the 1.78:1 1080p VC-1 encodes have been crammed onto two discs, meaning six episodes per disc, to make for a streamline experience. At 40 minutes an episode, that's right at four hours per disc -- not exactly a small amount. Secondly, the series has been shot on digital HD cameras, which render slick and streamlined visuals that can capture plenty of detail. The combination of the two makes for an interesting slate of high-definition episodes, overall impressive when taking its source and limits into consideration. Some textures get a little slick and waxy, both in facial elements and in backgrounds, but the majority of the interior shots and close-ups -- as well as the grand-scale digital effects -- deliver quite a punch in the amount of detail present. Skin tones are balanced but flush, while the stylishly color palette looks crisp and clean. Though not perfect, V overall looks impressive when bearing the compact package in mind.
Unfortunately, and this shouldn't come as a surprise to those who've experience Warner's TV-on-BD sets, V comes only with standard Dolby Digital 5.1 audio tracks -- and they've got a handful of issues. Some vocal delivery sporadically sounds thin and compressed, occurring in more spots than expected and constraining pretty tightly at a few points. Aside from that, the music and sound effects deliver much in the way they properly should, with a handful of explosions across the season booming against the lower-frequency channel and a few gunshots cracking crisply against the sound design. The ragtag motion through tension-riddled scrambles through buildings, apartments, and other interiors rattles and echoes with proper balance. It's not a bad Dolby Digital track, but it doesn't make one forget about the lack of a high-definition track like that of Fringe's high-definition releases (Season One, Season Two).
The Actor's Journey from Human to V (16:22, HD VC-1):
This is a pretty standard interview-heavy stream where the actors and creators discuss characters and their experiences with the original TV series, as well as diving into some dissection of the themes and motifs present in the series. Some talk about Elizabeth Mitchell's departure from LOST fits in the mix, as well as some talk about the tightly-knit family of the cast and whether the paths that the show's taking will stay consistent. It's a bit cheery and self-congratulatory, but that comes with the territory.
Commentary on Fruition with Scott Rosembaum and Steve Pearlman:
Considered Rosenbaum's "favorite" episode, this commentary discusses the collision of Erica and Anna at this pivotal point in the series, also considered the "fruition" point for the series' tone and flow. This track almost serves as a melting pot of the pair's opinions on the importance of the episode, where they place fine emphasis on Erica's discovery of Lisa being Anna's daughter. It's a very good track that outlines how they shaped these developments -- which Rosenbaum intended to happen earlier in the season -- into this episode, giving some added depth into Erica's character and discussing how the episode opens the development between all the characters. They also talk some construction elements, like revamping an apartment set into a completely different location, as well as the entire "Candyman" mentality present in Anna's tactics during the episode and the repurposing of some of the footage of Anna shot earlier in the season.
Breaking Story: The World of V (16:37, HD VC-1):
Here, the creators discuss the actual construction of the V infrastructure as a narrative, from executive producer Steve Pearlman's participation in every non-writing element of the show to the number of special effects shots used in each installment. They also discuss the thematic context present in the series, first honing in on the religious elements and then addressing the implications that audiences labeled on the show as being a critique specifically on the Obama administration (which is debunked by mentioning that the pilot was written with Bush's administration in mind). They talk about keeping morality in mind more instead of explicit policies, as well as how centrally important it is that the two conflicting characters are women.
An Alien in Human Skin: The Makeup FX of V (11:52, HD VC-1):
When they start talking about how they achieve some of the make-up effects for the reptilian aliens underneath the human skin, then the material gets really good in the supplements. The artists responsible take us through their appreciation for the creative-at-the-time work done on the original V, while flipping on that and talking about the ways they could spruce it up for the modern era. They reveal some extremely cohesive prosthetic and computer-generated effects to achieve the more gruesome alien sequences, diving into individual props and constructional efforts to insightful degrees.
The Visual FX of V (15:08, HD VC-1):
While the previous feature reveals a few CG tactics implemented in the Visitors, this portion aggressively tackles the grand scale of the whole visual effects conceptualization -- especially reflecting on the human-scale focus on the alien ships. A lot of discussion falls on "digital prosthetic" textures, as well as the construction of the blue energy coursing through the Visitors' ship's engine room.
Both discs also come equipped with a series of Deleted Scenes (5:39, 11:45; HD VC-1) for several of the episodes.
At its core, V offers a well-crafted, eerie, and ultimately suspenseful modernization of the classic '80s miniseries, which tracks through allegorical political and moral themes amid its story of alien societal takeover. A strong cast comes together to give it dramatic clout, while impressive visual effects give it an awareness of space and texture that makes it feel authentic. However, the craftsmanship of the concept-driven series neglects to fully flesh out the deeper recesses of its characters, while leading them through an aggressively austere manner as it clicks the mystery's pieces together. There's a lot of potential bubbling at V's core, something that its creators and writers can build upon with the successes of this premiere season; like this, though, it's lacking the truly involving, emotional center that'd take it towards becoming a great, multifaceted series. Still, though science-fiction hounds won't find much in the way of innovation, the things that it does nail down earn this interesting vaulting-point for the series a warm Recommendation.
Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site