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V: The Original Mini-Series - Blu-ray Review

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V: The Original Miniseries

In the late 70s and early 80s, the short form ‘mini-series’ was a chance for networks to stretch their muscles with event storytelling. Long before HBO and Netflix and Amazon showed that feature film budgets and top shelf talent could not only match the quality of storytelling in cinema, but best it, the networks of old would unveil these multi evening epics to great anticipation and acclaim.

"can whole-heartedly recommend this once successful story to a new generation"


Kenneth Johnson was well established in the early 80s, having already given the world The Bionic Woman and adapted The Incredible Hulk in regular series successfully. Not wanting to miss the mini-series boat, he had written an adaption of the anti-fascist novel It Can’t Happen Here and named it Storm Warnings. It was quickly rejected by the network and labeled too cerebral.

Star Wars had changed the landscape of film and television the decade before, and into the 80s, spawning an ever growing roster of cheap and nasty knock offs that disappeared as quickly as they arrived. But Johnson found a way to blend his tale of planetary woe into a science fiction epic, where the totalitarian forces the heroes faced would be extraterrestrials. It was heady but it worked.

That pitch sealed the deal and V debuted around the world in 1983 at a budget of 13 million dollars to universal praise.

Set in (at the time) contemporary earth, the varied characters are going about their different lives when a fleet of massive UFOs descent into orbit and ominously take up position right around the globe. Mike Donovan (Marc Singer), a maverick news cameraman, is one of the first to sneak up to their ship when, low and behold, the ‘Visitors’ communicate that they’re here for friendship and to trade in peace. Of course, it doesn’t take long for Donovan long to discover something is awry in the Visitors’ story, and while he tries valiantly to get this out to the right people, the highly organized and powerful aliens quickly take over the entire planet.

What follows is an allegorical meshing of Nazi Germany and Orwellian dystopia where sycophants and traitors tell the masses ‘everything’s gravy’ on TV and the people on the street learn the hard way it’s not. Freedom of choice, of free speech, of life itself, is quickly curtailed under the might of these space-Nazi lizards, concealed in latex masks.

Characters from all walks of life begin to go underground and form a common ground and mission to resist the ‘Visitors’ and reveal to the entire world what they’re really about before it’s too late. The human resistance is all that stands between life as it once was and complete annihilation.

V, as a brand, has been watered down with inferior sequels and remakes and failed attempts at reboots for years, so it easy to dismiss this as something that ran its’ course. Don’t. This first mini-series is highly intelligent and poignant look at how easily the masses can fall prey to oppression. It shows the benefits of comfortable lives blinding folk in dangerous, almost suicidal ways. It explores the poison of turning family or friend into foe. And it shows the transformation of the desperate into the willing and the frightened into fighters. Through the eyes of many characters from all ethnic and generational spectrums, true humanity, both uplifting and repellant are depicted to great effect.V: The Original Miniseries

The catalyst and constant threat to these wonderful characters are the ‘Visitors’. Through the likes of the reptilian Jane Badler as the sinister Diana, the SS like uniforms and symbolism, and the remarkable (for the time) creature effects, no finer adversary could have been created. What’s cleverest is trying to weigh which of their caustic acts is more successful: the propaganda or literally the man-eating aspect of these invaders. Both are extremely successful in their efficacy.

This is a story that takes its time, unraveling the master plan slowly and allowing the audience to spend time with the characters before throwing them through the ringer. The only disconnect with a 21st century from the atrocities that befall this 1980s world is the 1980s censoring and sensibilities. Some of the characterizations, especially in younger characters such as Robin, are outdated and weaken the immersive nature of most of this tale. I imagine, should this be redone some day, it will work again, if those who tackle it are wise enough to keep the clever writing’s pace and add the benefit of contemporary effects and characterizations. This is what real science fiction can offer if done right.

Having lived through this time as a boy, however, this reviewer will always have a soft spot for Johnson’s original version. As an adult, and a writer, I have enormous respect for what was accomplished in V, and can whole-heartedly recommend this once successful story to a new generation.

4/5 beers

V: The Original Miniseries

Blu-ray

Blu-ray Details:

Home Video Distributor: Warner Bros. (Warner Archive Collection)
Available on Blu-ray
- August 27, 2019
Screen Formats: 1.33:1
Subtitles
: English SDH
Audio:
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
Discs: Blu-ray Disc; single disc
Region Encoding: Region-free

VIDEO:

For purists who decree this as a cropped widescreen presentation not indicative of what we saw in the 80s, a word from Kenneth Johnson, courtesy of Blu-ray.com forum member verydeepocean: 'The way that V was presented on the DVD is the way I intended it to be seen. Although we protected for the 4 x 3 Aspect ratio that was current in television at the time, we framed ideally for the 1:1.85 theatrical aspect ratio because I anticipated the originals would be seen in Europe on theater screens and I wanted it to look its best. Fortunately Warner Bros. never released it properly until the DVD which was the first time it was seen properly. Also the original soundtrack was only dubbed in mono because Warner Bros. did not want to spend the money in 1983 for me to dub it in stereo, since the networks were not yet broadcasting and stereo – although I knew everyone would be… And they were… Within the next few years.’ –Kenneth Johnson.

Now to the actual restoration: it’s inconsistent. V was afforded a massive budget back in the day, so, as the Blu-ray shows, there are some stunning looking scenes in this presentation. But they are interspersed with some heavily grained and muddied ones, usually night or indoor scenes. This tells me that the quality material is there, but that Warners have not given the budget needed to bring it to a level of a proper restoration and re-mastering. When you watch this on a modern TV (and nearly all TVs now are 4K) those limitations, and the effects techniques of the time, will stick out like a sore thumb. Matte lines, compositing obstructions and dirt, all are in your face.

Enough whining, there’s a significant upgrade from the DVD with colour richness and contrast. Blacks are weak but the reds of the visitors’ uniforms and their lizard eyes really pop. Skin tones on the actors are natural and strong: you can see the flush in flustered character’s or the sweat of the oppressed. There is a depth in the picture unseen until now. Watching V this way for a kid who saw it when it first aired (and revisited it often on VHS, DVD, and now Blu-ray), I can say it’s like experiencing it anew. Johnson’s cinematic aspirations shine through a little better in this new package.

AUDIO

Johnson mentioned in his forum rebuttal that he’d overseen a 5.1 mix for the DVD which would be given to the Blu-ray also. It isn’t. What we do get is a very robust DTS-HD 2.0 mix. It’s a busy, powerful and impressive front channel mix. Dialogue is crisp and clean, effects are elevated to almost overblown proportions, and the base has been tweaked to the advantage of the alien voices of the visitors and explosions benefit. The directionality of the 5.1 mix is sacrificed, but from memory that mix was left wanting in the rear channels anyway. Pretty good, but again, Warner’s are being a little restrained (*cough FRUGAL) on this alleged REMASTER. If you want us to spend our pennies, give it all you’ve got. You didn’t.

RATING 3/5

Supplements:

Commentary:

  • None

Special Features:

There’s a production featurette that runs almost half an hour that was probably aired just before the miniseries, and a rehashed audio commentary from Johnson that is from the DVD. Pretty LAME, Warners!

Blu-ray Rating:

  Movie 4/5 stars
  Video  4/5 stars
  Audio 4/5 stars
  Extras 2/5 stars

Overall Blu-ray Experience

4/5 stars

V: The Original Mini Series

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