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V: The Original Miniseries

A little bit of nostalgia can be a dangerous thing. The passage of time often has a way of sweetening the past, making events that seemed mediocre at the time blossom in our minds into life-altering experiences of almost mythic proportions. But when we finally get the chance to relive that cherished childhood activity as an adult (by revisiting a certain place, rereading a certain book, or rewatching a beloved film from our youth), we're often disappointed by what we find. The experience is often not as satisfying as we remember. But Kenneth Johnson's much-loved 1983 sci-fi miniseries, V, stands up remarkably well against the ravages of age. Long out-of-print, this film (which proved so popular with viewers that it spawned both a V television series and a second miniseries, V: The Final Battle) has been reissued in an impressive DVD edition that's sure to thrill all members of the Junior Visitors Guard. The story, with over 60 speaking characters, is epic enough to make a brief summary difficult. Suffice it to say that humanity discovers once and for all that it's not alone in the Universe after a fleet of flying saucers appears in the sky over 50 of Earth's major cities. For two days the ships hover, making not a sound, giving nary an indication of who they are or what they want. The world at large holds its collective breath, waiting for a sign. Eventually the Visitors reveal themselves, with the most remarkable thing about them being... well, how utterly unremarkable they are. Indistinguishable from humans in every way, the Visitors have even gone so far as to adopt human names to help the population at large feel more comfortable around them. The fleet's Supreme Commander, John (Richard Herd) and his assistant Diana (Jane Badler) bring every assurance that their intentions are peaceful. They claim that their own planet is dying, with their only hope for survival being a rare chemical that can be distilled from Earth's ocean waters — and if humanity will help them mine and process it, they promise to share their limitless scientific knowledge. But not everyone trusts the aliens' benevolent exterior, and with good reason; their plans involve much more than the simple mining of our planet's seas. Imposing a state of martial law shortly after their arrival, the Visitors are soon in unofficial control of every aspect of human life. Their tyrannical rule gradually pushes mankind to the brink of interstellar war, but the Visitors, who have the strength of numbers on their side, appear unperturbed by the escalating hostilities, even maintaining their friendly facade while preparing for the mass genocide of Earth. Although the plot of V works as a straightforward narrative, it also serves as an effective commentary on racial prejudice. The obvious analogy equates the Visitors to Hitler's Nazis; both groups skillfully employ mass propaganda and paranoia techniques to persecute a minority (scientists, in the case of V) to the brink of extinction. This is pretty chilling stuff, and the skillful handing of this material by writer/director Johnson adds a degree of terror to the proceedings in a way that, say, Independence Day could never match. Some nice performances also help elevate V from a heavy-handed sci-fi/Nazi allegory into first-rate entertainment. Marc Singer, the poor man's Kevin Bacon, positively shines in his role as a journalist searching for the truth, while Richard Herd's alien commander, John, is a charismatic diplomat and consummate showman — part Henry Kissinger, part P.T. Barnum. And despite the many years that have passed since the miniseries first premiered, the mesmerizing beauty of certain shots can still bring a trickle of wonder to jaded eyes, proving once again that moments of beauty can often be found even in the midst of crisis. Warner Home Video's DVD edition of V: The Original Miniseries has a total running time of 197 minutes, spread across both sides of the disc. The movie's audio and video elements have been painstakingly remastered for this re-release, and we're pleased to report that V looks and sounds great, apart from a handful of effect shots which haven't aged particularly well. It's presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen rather than the common 1.33:1 television ratio. Optional English, French and Spanish subtitles are included, along with a "making-of" featurette. Also on board is a full-length audio commentary track from Kenneth Johnson, which brings a lot of insight to the making of the most expensive miniseries (up to that point) in television history. It's a package no sci-fi fan will want to miss. Snap-case.
—Joe Barlow

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