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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » V: The Original Miniseries: SE
V: The Original Miniseries: SE
Warner Bros.
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Review by G. Noel Gross | posted August 2, 2001 | E-mail the Author
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Highly Recommended
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Our unleashing of the horrific power of the atomic bomb, joined with our collective jitters that the Commies were around every corner had dang near everything to do with the crush of alien invader flicks that zapped across screens during the 1950s. Immortal ray-gun classics like The Day the Earth Stood Still, Earth vs. the Flying Saucers and The War of the Worlds. They were stories torn from pulp novels and comics, but overtly steeped in the fears of the times. Decades later, Gene Roddenberry would take social commentary to the heavens in "Star Trek." George Lucas pit good against evil and told of a "force" that can harmoniously bind all people together in Star Wars. So, it shouldn't come as a surprise that V: The Original Miniseries (1983, 196 minutes), written and directed by Kenneth Johnson, is actually an allegory for the unspeakable tyranny of the Nazi regime and the corrupting influence of power. Well, as much as it could be in a May Sweeps miniseries on NBC.

The movie: Down from the clouds lumber a horde of value-sized flying saucers that creep eerily across the skies before parking over the population centers of the world. Earthlings cower below, their puny fighter jets utterly unable to approach even one of the craft, when finally, a message emanates from the invaders: "How y'all doin'?" Turns out they're visitors from somewhere near Sirius, who just stopped by for a few billion cups of some mineral we've got that'd save their dieing planet. In exchange, they won't kill us, er, they'll give us technology. Weird thing is these rather ordinary looking folks don't seem much like space aliens except that when they talk they sound like they're on crummy cell phones and they insist on wearing cheesy Blue Blocker shades. Things are great until a nosey reporter by the name of Mike Donovan (Marc Singer) stows aboard the ship hovering over Los Angeles and comes face to scales with the truth -- SOYLENT GREEN IS PEOPLE! Wait, that's almost right. Actually, the visitors are GIANT LIZARDS masquerading as Earth apes, and they are none too pleased when Mike tries to out them live on NBC. But it's Fugitive City for TV boy when his transmission is blocked, and the Visitor propaganda machine somehow twists the incident around as part of their sinister scheme to brand the world's scientific minds as conspirators and terrorists. Families of doctors, nurses, or anyone who ever got an "A" in biology become social pariahs. Sound familiar? Someone's got to prove that resistance is no where near futile and whup some over-grown horny toad hiney, and thank A.C. Nielsen, that somebody might as well be Killer Blonde, M.D. (Faye Grant).

CineSchlockers will remember mousy lizard Robert Englund from his franchise role as Freddy Krueger, of course, but one of his first big screen roles was in Eaten Alive where the great Tobe Hooper had him play a slimeball who tries his darnedest to coax every woman he runs across into some "unconventional" lovemaking. While Marc Singer worked with yet another genre heavyweight, Don Coscarelli, in the first of three Beastmaster movies. V was followed by V: The Final Battle, a six-hour miniseries that would explore, among other things, the icky results of Visitor/Earthling l'amour. Before the sequel went into production, Johnson chose to bow out fearing his vision would exceed what he considered an insufficient budget. Still, it was another mondo hit, and even spawned a weekly series that carried the supreme iguaness (Jane Badler) and her feisty resisters through one harrowing season. Both miniseries and all 19 episodes of the TV show have previously been released on VHS and laserdisc.

Notables: No breasts. 25 corpses. Rodent gobbling. Venom spitting. Rioting hoodlums. Firesuit stunt. Implied lesbianism. Deep-frozen arm smashed to bits. Face ripping. Voyeurism. Molotov cocktail flinging. Interplanetary diddling.

Quotables: Kid expresses disappointment at his first sight of the alien leader, "He's no E.T.! he doesn't even look like Spock!" An African-American, Caleb doesn't look forward to competing with yet another race in the work force, "Look at all those guys! First we had to fight you honkies for a job, then there was the Mexicans, now these creeps and they ain't even from this planet!" Mrs. Walsh emotes, "Damn SCIENTISTS!!!" Daniel won't take no for an answer when rejected by Robin, "I want her just like I wanted this champagne. And I will get her, won't I!? Otherwise, I'll just have to turn her whole damn family in." Tony distracts a guard, "I'm on the way to Korea, and my shrimp boat got a flat tire."

Time codes: One mother of a mother ship descends to Earth (A 5:25). Marching band plays neutered Star Wars theme (A 30:00). Visitor plays "Space Invaders" video game (A 1:00:45). Mouse and guinea pig become iguana chow (1:07:05). Visitor upchucks venom in Tony's face (B 23:10). Lady V strips for liberty (B 31:35). Donovan engages in a dog fight for his life at the helm of a stolen space craft (B 1:08:00).

Audio/Video: For the first time EVER, the series can be seen in the original widescreen (1.85:1) aspect ratio in which it was filmed. The print is amazingly clean and without obvious blemishes. Some softness or tint to scenes are intentional and were achieved with camera lenses at the time of filming. Devoted fans have murmured ever so slightly that some of the sound effects were "enhanced" for the brand new Dolby Digital Surround 2.0 track. Specifically, the whir of Visitor landing crafts used to have more of an other-worldly pulsating sound, and now more closely resembles the whine of a very terrestrial jet engine. But it should be noted that Johnson oversaw the creation of the robust new audio master.

Extras: Be reminded that V was first broadcast over two nights -- in TWO distinct parts -- so it only follows that the disc would also be divided in the same fashion. Part One is on Side A, while Part Two and the bonus material are on Side B. No whining! Writer/director Kenneth Johnson somehow manages to avoid repeating himself, or losing his voice, during nearly three and a half hours of commentary. Even after almost two decades, Johnson has amazing recall of every aspect of the project -- down to noting the fact every optical effect for the laser blasts cost $1,000 a zap. (Which is extra pricey considering what LOUSY shots the lizards are.) Also being the writer of the film, Johnson explains in great detail his influences and how his conception of the story evolved. The informative and personable track is no small effort on his part, and will truly be appreciated by even those with only a casual interest in the flick. Some fans will undoubtedly accept Johnson's generous invitation to email him with their questions, but they'll be hard-pressed to find a topic he doesn't cover in his commentary. Also included is a 25-minute documentary featuring on-set footage and interviews with stars Marc Singer and Faye Grant. There is NO gag reel as was originally planned, because some of the actors reportedly wanted royalties Warner was unwilling to pay. Static menus without audio.

Final thought: Despite some deliciously cringe-worthy FX, this alien invasion epic is every bit as powerful today as when it first aired nearly 20 years ago -- and it's certainly never looked or sounded better. Highly Recommended.

Check out CineSchlock-O-Rama
for additional reviews and bonus features.

G. Noel Gross is a Dallas graphic designer and avowed Drive-In Mutant who specializes in scribbling B-movie reviews. Noel is inspired by Joe Bob Briggs and his gospel of blood, breasts and beasts.
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