V (1983)

81eYs-R5f+L._SL1500_As we have seen before, oddball miniseries that aren’t history, romance or adventure (though I consider them the latter), can be a mixed bag for viewers. Wild Palms is an attempt to just be downright strange, From the Dead of Night is far too bland, The Martian Chronicles is in the top ten stupidest things ever to appear on television, though Stephen King’s It succeeds marvelously.  Even when American television was the greatest in the world, not everything had to be so stuffy or formal.  It could simply be fun, and that’s where science fiction comes in!

But, there is one science fiction miniseries that towers over all the others.  In fact, it’s one of the most famous.  It was followed by a sequel, then not one, but two series (both duds).  It bears the simple title, “V.”

The title sequence is heavy with a rousing soundtrack and then there’s a dedication: “To the heroism of the Resistance Fighters–past, present, and future [sic]–this work is respectfully dedicated.”  That’s not quite as loony as you might think.  With the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, there was a huge  official push to reclaim the nation’s honor (it had been a theme of the the Republican party in the 70s, a tough time to be a Republican).  The glorification of anything military was in vogue, especially World War II, the last war where Americans seemed to wholeheartedly agree on the heroes and villains.  Reagan and company were less over-the-top when it came to the Vietnam War, but they tried to glorify the armed services members, rather than discuss the politics.  Good old World War II was safe and easy, especially when flaying the villains.

Also, let’s remember that Reagan had denounced the Soviet Union as “the evil empire” and the clash between NATO and its allies and the Warsaw Pact gang was going at full steam, especially with a series of short-lived Soviet leaders grabbing power and dying quickly.  Patriotism, right versus wrong, clear enemies, simplification of war, all of these things were on the agenda in 1983.  Suddenly “V” seems like a veiled replay of the current political push, replacing Communists with aliens as the latter are a whole lot more fun.  So, yes, “Resistance Fighters” and this dedication take on a whole new meaning.

Keep this in mind as the miniseries unfolds.  I wouldn’t waste your time with a history lesson just to show off my noggin full of esoterica.  What makes “V” so special?  For one, it’s the exact right story at the exact right moment in history.  For another, it’s fun.  Think of the great miniseries, “fun” isn’t exactly a word that could be used to describe them.  The combination of these two ideas is the answer to my question there.  The sequel and series following clearly didn’t understand this lesson.  Mind you, “V” is not perfect.  In order to play to everyone from kids to seniors, it tends toward the goofy, with stilted puns and cheesy special effects.

The action starts in El Salvador where a civil war is taking place (the US was already fighting-by-proxy in Nicaragua at the time and that fact wouldn’t have been lost on anyone).  Journalist cameraman Marc Singer and Evan Kim are in the thick of it, watching helicopters destroy a rebel stronghold.  “It’s no worse than Cambodia,” Marc quips as a helicopter follows the two of them, though luckily those inside it have the worst aim and don’t come close.  “At least I could have passed for one of them,” is the retort from Evan.  Okay, so the dialogue is corny, but no one is watching for the dialogue.  Especially because by this point, Marc has managed to lose all the buttons on his shirt and heading toward as few clothes as possible, his usual stunt in this time period (yes, he’s “The Beastmaster”).  When Evan is hit the one bullet that manages to come close, he’s still a wise-ass.  “Can you run?” Marc asks.  “Do I have a choice?” he replies.  Eve Arden would have been proud.

Some cockamamie hero nonsense has Marc, camera still rolling, facing down the helicopter only feet away.  The chopper leaves, but then Marc sees a spaceship looming.

Brainy lab scientist Faye Grant is being praised for her work on mice when Richard Lawson comes barging in.  “Have you seen them?  The are everywhere,” he howls, turning on the TV to find out that these ships are hovering over major cities everywhere (except for the one in El Salvador–it must have made a wrong turn somewhere).  The mice know something is up.  Even a thief looking to steal a TV turns it on to hear about the UFOs.  In a jiffy, we meet dozens of people, especially lively teen David Packer, the only person excited about all of it.

There is a countdown in the native language of each country where the ships hover, and then a request comes for the Secretary General of the United Nations to meet them.  They obviously haven’t studied the earth’s politics too well if they think the Secretary General of the UN has any actual power.

With world attention focused on the Secretary General, the ship opens and out comes a craft.  It lands, everyone is perplexed, and the Secretary General is asked to come on board.  The world waits until he’s spotted emerging, beaming with joy and inviting the “Supreme Commander” to speak directly to the earth’s inhabitants.

Out comes Richard Her, a “middle aged man” who comforts the world audience by looking human, and even kids are unthreatened.  His voice sounds electronic, but he’s folksy and charming and puts everyone at ease.  Why have they come?  His planet is suffering from strong “environmental difficulties” and only compounds on Earth can help.  In exchange for “retooling” the world’s factories to get him what he needs, Richard says his gang will teach our world all it knows scientifically.  “Talk about an offer we can’t refuse,” says Faye’s boyfriend.  “I wonder what would happen if we did,” she replies.

The aliens invite the Secretary General and some members of the press into their ship.  Naturally, Marc Singer is there, as his son, watching at home is thrilled.  “I hope it means I get more alimony,” his mother Joanna Kerns says, about ex-husband Marc.  Even Marc’s parents are excited, if nervous.

“Good luck,” every character says, with Marc’s son, touching the TV and adding, “I love you, Dad.”

Reporter Jenny Sullivan is literally drunk with the power being “chosen” accorded her, though confession to one-time flame Marc that she “stacked the deck” so they would be allowed on the ship.  The footage Marc show does not seem particularly exciting.  However, rewatching the footage, drunk Jenny jokes that Jane Badler, a head alien honcho, gets more camera time than her from Marc.  “Why didn’t it work for us the first time?” Jenny asks, sending the two into a wild make-out session while we see mundane things that have been recorded, though Jane looks awfully sinister.

Marc’s mother, pushy socialite Neva Patterson, has urger her husband Hansford Rowe, to offer up his refinery to the aliens for a promotion.  She’s a cold woman, seemingly unimpressed by her son’s access to the aliens.  The aliens arrive at the refinery while a high school band plays (badly) the theme song from “Star Wars.”  Many of the women swoon to how handsome the guys look.  Factory worker Jason Bernard is upset because “first we had to fight you honkies for a job, then the Mexicans, now these creeps and they ain’t even from this planet!”

Everyone is thrilled with the aliens.  Teenage girls develop crushes and the only think that seems at all wrong is how animals react to the aliens, now called “visitors.”  When visitor Robert Englund is lost, not knowing English because he was supposed to be in the Middle East, snappy waitress Diane Cary tells him Los Angeles is nice, that “it sure beats Fresno!” Uh uh thanks Diane!

However, not all is perfect.  Jane seems rather sinister than telling Jenny she wants her to be the visitors’  “spokeswoman” and an archaeologist with a pipe (and therefore very smart), has figured something out about the visitors, but he disappears.

Jason is trapped in liquid nitrogen 300 degrees below zero, but Robert Englund saves him, must to the consternation of his alien boss.

Initially, it seems that the humans are an insufferably dull bunch.  Neva is a social climber, teen girls are moronic, Joanna Kerns cries because she is ordinary and can’t compete with Marc’s adventures to their son, there is a Holocaust survivor with a problematic family, and on and on and on.  All-in-all, it sounds like the cast of a 1970s disaster movie.  But bear with them for now.

The world at large doesn’t know when a coworker of Faye’s is zapped by a laser gun in her apartment for having collected a tissue sample from a visitor.  Especially not with some of the visitor trying to hard to appear demure and sweet (like the one romancing a teenager and Robert Englund, doing his best Jimmy Stewart for Diane).

However, the world does take note when an “international conspiracy” of scientists is revealed and governments now demand that all scientists and their families register their whereabouts.  This particularly scares Leonardo Cimino, the Holocaust survivor, to whom all of this sounds particularly familiar.  It’s his grandson David who is chummy with the visitors.  To further besmirch the world’s scientists, it’s revealed by a Senate investigation that many doctors have been holding back particular information that could be useful to the world.  It’s a huge way to discredit the only people who might figure out some sinister secrets.

On top of that, Evan notes that all the doctors interviewed on TV turning in their colleagues are left-handed, though they are supposed to be right-handed as per past footage.  He and Marc decide to sneak aboard a visitor ship, but Evan is unable to get on.  Marc is there alone.  He hears one visitor telling the others to dump all the chemicals they have gathered, a ruse they have designed.  But why?  What is their real agenda?  He and his trusty camera hear Jane and cohorts talking about “world domination,” an admission of scientific discrediting and of course watches them swallowing animals whole.  He’s caught watching one guy take out his human eyeballs and using a lizard-like tongue during their fight.  Marc peels off the guys face to reveal, for the first time, what the visitors truly look like, ugly reptilians.

Marc goes on TV to show his footage, but just as the broadcast starts, the plug is pulled and instead Richard does the broadcast, still blaming the scientists and showing video of plants blown up, “attacks” that have prompted the world’s governments to ask the visitors for protection, which “we’re more than happy to provide,” according to Richard.  They are taking the wounded to their ships to care for them and then Richard takes special time to vilify Marc Singer internationally.  Martial law is declared.  To help, a huge PR campaign is unraveled, with posters all over, Jenny’s broadcasts and the use of David and his pals, the youth groups, armed with guns.  Leonardo is aghast at the similarities to his past.

Hell, even migrant Mexican gardeners have been affected by the PR blitz.  Anyone who so much as talks to a scientist, let alone is one, is affected by it.  Plug in certain group names for “scientists” and you see the parallels.

Things get worse.  As David enjoys his place with the new regime, his parents note all of the bogus PR, not to mention other youth members who “inform” on humans.  And not just scientists, but also anyone who argues against the official word from the visitors.

“Totalitarianism suppression of the truth,” Richard Dawson says to a group of fellow scientists hiding out in a tiny ramshackle storefront (including Faye).  No, of course it’s not subtle, but I don’t think anyone expects it by now.  We are officially mimicking the past in order to tell a convincing story in the present.  Faye knows there are others “huddled in the dark like us,” and insists on finding them to build a cohesive resistance.  Is it wise to attempt to talk to Jenny, though?

When Marc calls Evan, the latter has to pretend he’s talking to his uncle because the phones are tapped. The line, “I know they would like to get their hands on your burrito” had to have caused as many giggles in 1983 as it does nearly three decades later.  “I’m sure they would,” replies The Beastmaster, with no sign of irony.  The tapped phone leads visitor fighters to go after him, but their aim is as bad as the El Salvadorians.  At the same time, fleeing scientists finds roads out of the city blocked.  But why keep them in the city?  “It’s easier to keep track of us.”  No one uses the word ghetto, of course, but that’s understood.

Richard Lawson goes to the only person he can now trust, his brother, Michael Wright, the thief from way back.  Because there is such bad blood between them, Michael refuses to help.  Blair Tefkin, the teen in love with a visitor, is also the daughter of a scientist and they try to flee, but a road block stops them.  Who can help them?  Leonardo, of course.  He puts them up on a squalid garage.  Anyone getting a big of Anne Frank deja vu is on the right track!  Leonardo’s son, George Morfogen, doesn’t want them there, especially since his son David is way too tight with the visitors.  However, Leonardo pulls out the story about smuggling George out of Germany at eight months old, revealing for the first time that his wife was killed in a gas chamber, not from a heart attack.  “Don’t you see…they have to stay, or else we haven’t learned a thing,” Leonardo says and there’s no way George can argue with that!

For some idiotic reason, Marc goes to Jenny’s, hoping for help, but naturally a zillion visitors have surrounded the building.  Also there is Faye, whose intention was to see if Jenny could be trusted.  I guess not.  Marc has to fight his way out, which Faye watching.  Luckily, Marc gets one of their guns.

Blair reveals to David that her family is in the pool house, which is news to David.  Blair only cares about her favorite alien, though David, drunk, tries to woo her as he’s always had a crush on her.  Her refusal to understand this doesn’t make David happy.  During a daring escape with scientific instruments, Richard Dawson is zapped (after about 45 shots with terrible aim) and so is Faye trying to help him.  “I’m not gonna make it,” Richard says, but Faye insists on dragging him into her VW and driving away while the visitors, close enough to be able to successfully zap a wasp, don’t even try.  Richard dies, followed by a ranting monologue by his brother.

Leonardo finds some kids defacing propaganda posters and stops them.  “If you are going to do it, do it properly,” he advises and paints a V on one.  “For victory,” he says nobly.  Ah, now he’s co-opting the V for Visitor.  Nice work!  “Go tell your friends,” he insists, as the music rushes to a crescendo and the first part of the miniseries ends.

Marc finds his son’s best friend, Tommy Petersen, amid some rubble where there was a huge night of carnage.  Not only is the area full of destruction, but Marc’s son and ex-wife were taken.  Everyone in the entire vicinity was taken, except Tommy, who hid in closet.  Apparently he was the only one to think of that.  The reason Marc had come looking for his son is because he had given his son a trinket from the spacecraft and only recently found out it was a key.  Tommy asks what it will open.  “The belly of the whale,” Marc notes, speaking in his preferred vein of riddle-like emotionless grunts, but Tommy seems okay with that.

With a bottle of champagne from his alien pals, David announces to his parents, George Morfogen and Bonnie Bartlett, as well as his grandfather, Leonardo Cimino, that it’s in celebration of his engagement to Blair.  Blair doesn’t know yet, but David says that if he can’t have her, “I’ll just have to turn her whole damn family in,” earning him a glass of the bubbly to his face from his incensed grandfather.

At the funeral for his son, Jason snaps when visitor Robert Englund tries to say a nice word to him.  “Get out of here!  I don’t want your kind here!  You people killed my son!” he wails.

David makes good on his threat to turn in his family, but when the troops get there, they are already gone.  He is promised amnesty for his whole family, but they soon disappear as well.  Gardener Rafael Campos is smuggling them to safety, but Neva figures it out and, toadying to the visitors as usual, alerts them to it.  A human police officer hears the family hidden, but lets them go because the last time he didn’t, he was ashamed by his behavior.  Unfortunately, on his way back, Rafael is stopped because Neva’s call had come in.  The family members are gone from his truck, but he faces a lot of gun pointed at him.

Meanwhile, Michael has decided to help the rebels since his brother’s death.  He brings Faye and company to a spot underground where the homeless typically live and then says he’ll get the gangs to assist, all of them.  “Do you think you can do that?” Faye asks.  “I’m the Henry Kissinger of East L.A.!” he says with a huge grin.

When the aliens are happy with humans, they give them diamond jewels.  Neva gets one and so does David.

Marc and Evan, the Abbott and Costello of human resistance crack wise over and over as they get to the refinery and see every character we’ve known to disappear and a whole lot of extra loaded onto an alien transport ship.  There is a gun battle and Marc loses his gun.  Evan gets sprayed in the face by something from an alien mouth and Marc gets knocked out.

Underground, quite the hideaway has been constructed, but everyone is looking to Faye to be the leader and she weeps to Camila Ashland that she can’t handle it.  “These are the times that try men’s souls,” Camila says out of comfort.  Well, okay, it’s not really comforting and they aren’t even her words, but since they were spoken in WWII, no one is bound to complain.  “Trust yourself as everybody else trusts you,” is better, but not totally winning over Faye.  “Fake it, we won’t know the difference.”  Bingo, Camila, that one gets her.

Alien Frank Ashmore goads Jane into letting Marc live with some good old-fashioned reverse psychology, which apparently, as smart as she is, completely works!  Why?  Because Frank is part of an alien sect that doesn’t believe what is happening is right and wants to help the humans.  Marc, finally naked, switches clothes with a blond alien who looks like a supermodel as a way to escape.  She tells him to shoot her, telling him she’ll live, which she does.  In a costume with glasses, Marc looks the part, but he doesn’t have the voice.  On his way to a ship that’s leaving for Los Angeles, he bumps into Blair, who was so desperate to see sunlight that she went outside, and of course got caught.  An alien figures out Marc’s secret when he refuses to speak, but by then, Marc has stolen a truck and escaped.

When Michael and the gang wants to steal an alien, they end up nabbing Marc, who now gets to meet the rebels.  “Where’d you get the uniform,” Faye asks.  “They had a sale,” Marc snaps.  A few dozen quips later, they decide to believe Marc and listen to all he knows.  What follows is a discussion of how the aliens are actually like the reptiles wiped off the planet by the meteor that killed the dinosaurs.  Then Faye suggests they make up a mission statement.  While everyone puts pieces together, Blair’s father realizes she’s gone and gets caught himself (by the first black alien we’ve seen yet).  The alien wants to know about the rebel stronghold, but Michael Durrell won’t tell them, until they use Blair as a threat.  They also agree not to raid the place until a specific time, giving Michael a chance to get his family to safety.  Unfortunately for Blair, Jane has decided to use her as part of a science experiment and sends in the alien Blair crushed on to romance her…or sex her up, to be more frank.

The underground gang has a plan, designed by Faye, that involves stealing ammo, sending Marc back to the ship and such, but the meeting isn’t over until Jason insists on a prayer (how very Reagan-Era-Moral-Majority of him).  Jason plants bombs all over the refinery, and Diane finds them, but it’s too late to stop them, though she does get Robert Englund to safety.  Even Camila gets into the act, an ace with Molotov cocktails.

There is a fierce battle at an armory with many casualties on both sides, not to mention mirrors and guns and such, and Michael finally decides to do the right thing and warn the camp.

Back on the spacecraft, Marc discovers huge vats of water and than finds Frank.  Frank reveals that the plan was to steal the planet’s water because the alien planet needs it, making Earth a desert, but that won’t harm humans because “there won’t be any humans left by then,” Frank tells him.  Frank shows Marc all of the humans who have disappeared, being kept in pods to make foot soldiers and, well, to be honest, food.  Marc wants to know how this mysterious “leader” Frank keeps referring to became the leader.  “Charisma,” he tells him, being able to whip people into the right frenzy at the right time.  “It happens on your planet, doesn’t it?”  Again, not subtle, but with only 30 or so minutes to go, anyone who hasn’t figured out the homage to the Allied cause in WWII might as well be given cue cards.

Frank takes Marc on a tour of horrors on the ship.  When they find Rafael, he says, “they tried to make me talk, but I wouldn’t.  My grandfather, he fought, fought with Zapata!  I tell them nothing, I spit in their faces.”  Zapata?  Frank wants to escape to Earth with Marc, who is taking Rafael and Blair back, but Marc thinks he’s more valuable on the mother ship.  Frank fears what will happen to him, but Marc says, “I’m proud to have you as a friend” and that’s apparently convincing enough.  “I hope we live to be old friends,” Frank replies.  Oh, and how does Marc know how to fly a vessel?  Because he’s been on enough planes to figure it out.  “They may not kill us, but my driving might,” he tells Blair as he tries to figure out all the controls, while being pursued.  The special effects are really laughable, but apparently George Lucas was using all the good ones for the same year’s “Return of the Jedi.”

Rafael has control of the ship’s guns and destroys one of the pursuing ships.  “Let ’em have it, Cisco,” Marc coos.  “Sancho!” he replies, in one of the kookiest and most overtly racist lines in this or any American miniseries.

Michael is on his way to the mountain camp to warn everyone to leave.  Remember, he was promised they wouldn’t attack until 4pm, but he’s not the brightest of the characters and leads them into a trap, which has them destroying the place at 3pm.

Back on Marc’s ship, he’s asked Rafael to please blast the other ship, and Rafael replies, “I will, but I need a little luck.”  So, Marc puts on an LA Dodgers hat.  I’m at a loss to explain why this is lucky, but we’ll go with it.  I guess the lucky, if ill-fitting, hat works, because Marc guides the ship through a mountain tunnel, so quickly that the pursuing ship hits the mountain and blows up.  The rebels and their ammo arrive at the camp under attack, managing to inflict some moral-boosting damage (though Faye seems upset at the loss of any life–hey, lady, this is war!–but watching the carnage in slow motion with a choir at full blast convinces her to fully participate).  Faye aims at Jane’s ship with a pistol, and misses, but then again, the aliens have such bad aim, that so do they.  No worries, Marc shows up in time and hits Jane’s ship.  She orders the aliens back to the main ship.  She looks all modest now, but when she runs for President based on her exploits, you can be she won’t be so fearful.

Michael finds his wife just in time to get the news that they are gone.  Then she expires in soft-focused. Michael picks up a gun and is now another committed convert, but then the girls show up.  They aren’t dead.  What the hell?  “We fought good, huh?” Rafael asks.  “We fought good,” Marc assures him as they are taking Rafael for medical care.

Faye’s new plan is to destroy as many of the main ships as possible, but Marc tells he she can’t, there are people on them.  “We may have to sacrifice thousands to save billions!” she rails, suddenly as confident as a seasoned general.  It’s actually a lengthier speech, but you get the point.

Oh, FYI, Blair has been getting morning sickness.

Where does Marc go for succor?  His mother.  Oh, Neva is so wrong for that!  “I’m a survivor, or else I would have never gotten out of that Louisiana hick town where I started and I would have never made it through your father’s drunkenness,” she bellows, in defense of her actions.  The conversation gets very heated, but Marc finally shames his mother with the following: “when I was a kid, there was a woman who taught me wrong from right–I wonder what became of her.”  Marc Singer has never been a great actor, but he’s okay here because Neva’s frostiness is so unbelievable and idiotic.

As for Michael, he returns to Bonnie and George to beg them to let their house be used constantly as a hideaway.  George has been tortured into silence and Bonnie reminds Michael that her son is “an informant.”  That’s exactly why Michael says, “it’s the best place.”  Eh?  Apparently, he thinks because it’s already been used as an Underground Railroad stop, no one will think to look at it again.  Interesting theory, I suppose.  However, a letter left by Leonardo insisting that everyone fight, “to become a blinding light to triumph over darkness.”  Reagan, the movie star, not the president, couldn’t have delivered a more impassioned plea, and of course it works.

Anticipating “Lost” by a few decades, Faye sends out a “mathematical code” SOS to the galaxy begging for help.  It may take years for any of them to get it and understand it, but in the meantime, they have to help themselves!  Michael then paints a giant V on their bunker door.

Categories: Adventure Miniseries

2 Comments to “V (1983)”

  1. Alina Adams 5 December 2014 at 5:47 pm #

    The LA Dodgers cap is lucky because it belonged to Marc’s now missing son. I may have watched “V” a few – hundred – times as a teen.

    • Bj Kirschner 6 December 2014 at 2:46 pm #

      I would say so! Not a bad thing, however 🙂