V: The Complete First Season DVD review

The rebooted sci-fi series V arrives on DVD, but how does it measure up to the 80s original? Dave finds out…

Battlestar Galactica‘s incredibly successful re-imagining led to an inevitable slew of re-imagined series, none of which seemed to match the rollercoaster of emotion and drama that was Galactica, with its deeply textured and well acted storylines and above par special effects.

It suddenly became de rigueur to re-imagine any number of classic (and not so classic) television series from the last thirty years. So, from BSG, we were subjected to abysmal Bionic Woman and the dire Knight Rider (having already been rebooted a couple of times previously). This new incarnation of V has a lot to live up to, not only for fans of the original, but also from those expecting more depth from their dose of sci-fi.

V was one of those series of which I had fond memories. I can remember staying up way past my bedtime to watch the series when I should have been going to school the next day. I also recall being quite shaken by the sight of the aliens tearing off their human skin to reveal the lizard beneath, the eating of rodents and the birth of the star baby.

I also remember watching it a few years ago and being bewildered by the way that series went from the gripping and chilling V: The Mini Series to the over-the-top high campery of the ongoing TV series. 

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So, here we have the re-imagined V, following the story of the resistance that wants to fight against The Visitors, a race of aliens who approach Earth with messages of peace and love. Quickly, they befriend whole nations with offers of technology and support, allowing the humans to live amongst them aboard their spaceships and expanding our minds with their promises of a peaceful future.

As twenty-nine alien spaceships appear above Earth, we’re introduced to the key characters, Tyler (teenager with independence issues), Chad Decker (charismatic reporter extraordinaire), Father Jack Landry (doubting religious man), Erica (FBI agent and Tyler’s mother), Ryan Nichols (man with a past and a secret of his own). Each of them has their own agenda and they’re all forced to challenge their own beliefs as their paths cross.

Led by the lovely Anna (Morena Baccarin), the aliens call themselves the Visitors, or Vs for short, and claim to be offering technology in exchange for peaceful living on Earth for a while. After this, they’ll be on their merry way, leaving the Earth a better place and heralding a new era of world peace.

At first, it doesn’t seem like a bad idea. Anna and the aliens offer technology, healing, peace and harmony. Things are going swimmingly as the humans begin to accept what the aliens have to offer, despite the occasional protest. It quickly turns out that the Visitors have a remarkably dark agenda and Anna is intent on making sure that her master plan goes without a hitch.

The series wouldn’t last long if the aliens just conquered the Earth with no opposition. Thankfully, we’ve got Erica, teaming up with Landry and Ryan, who is rapidly drawn into the world of the resistance, having to make difficult choices about work and family. Slowly, she sees through the veil of the Visitors and risks losing her own son as he falls for Anna’s own daughter, Lisa.

Working with an FBI tasked with protecting the Visitors and with a resistance trying to overcome the alien threat, her loyalties are torn and tested on a weekly basis. Thankfully, she gradually grows more resilient and militant with each passing challenge, treading the fine line between right and wrong.

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With the arrival of Kyle Hobbes, British mercenary, the group gain a character that is dark, dangerous and at odds with our two heroes. He manages to breathe life into the group and charges forth with his military sensibilities and knowledge of weapons, whilst also offering more conflict between the otherwise agreeable Landry and Erica. He’s tactless and violent, but he knows what he’s doing and is well portrayed by the Charles Mesure.

Whilst his mother plays freedom fighter, Tyler has his own problems, falling in love with Lisa and discovering the truth about his mother and father. As his mother gets drawn into her own fights, Tyler finds himself part of Anna’s schemes as she tries to use his connection with Lisa to bring him aboard the mothership. It gives Logan Huffman plenty of time to be love struck and emotional, though he does seem to have very little else to do in the season.

As if manipulating Tyler weren’t enough, Anna begins to amass her own army of soldiers, manipulates Chad Decker on more than one level and works on her grand plan to conquer Earth. Whilst she convinces the world’s media that she is a peaceful ambassador from the stars, she is vicious and deadly aboard her own ship.

With her second in command, Marcus, she dispenses her own form of brutal justice and ensures that her dictatorial control is absolute. There’s often talk of flaying as the ultimate punishment (as the human skin is grafted onto the Visitors’ own), though we’re not shown the act or the result. Suffice to say, few aliens are willing to challenge their leader.

Trust, loyalty and respect are key concepts throughout the series, with the lines often blurred. When the Visitors arrive, people flock toward religion and wish to embrace the advances that the Visitors offer. Terrorism remains at the heart of the story throughout the season, though one man’s terrorism is another man’s fight for freedom.

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Erica, FBI agent to the core, goes from hunting terrorists to joining them as she sees her son slip away from her and the truth begins to be revealed. The humans aren’t alone in their fight as, gradually, it becomes apparent that some alien dissidents are fighting the invasion for their own purposes. Both the aliens and the humans are armed with, as Erica puts it, the most powerful weapon of all: devotion.

As the series progresses, we see more of Anna’s plans as she seeks to destroy the Fifth Column and anyone who opposes her. By the end of Season 1, Erica, Hobbes and Chad discover new truths that shake their worlds, Lisa begins her own plans for control that may or may not involve her own mother, and a resistance is truly born. Despite suffering losses of her own that leave her seething with rage and seeking vengeance, we’re left in no doubt that Anna may just have the upper hand.

Roll on season two!

Visually, the whole series looks pretty good, from its location filming to the special effects. There are, however, a couple of moments that seem to scream digital backlot with the characters blatantly superimposed onto the background. There are a number of scenes in the ‘observation lounge’ or other large spaces that stand out as examples of this odd phenomenon. If you do spot it, it becomes more and more obvious each time you see it and distracts from what is an otherwise attractive presentation. This aside, the majority of the CGI work is impressive and convincing.

Talking of good looking, this stretches to the cast too! Thankfully, none of the actors have been cast on looks alone and they all portray their characters effectively, especially Elizabeth Mitchell, fresh from her role in Lost. Aside from Mitchell, genre fans will also recognise The 4400‘s Joel Gretsch. As the two leads in the series, they are equally effective, with Mitchell bringing a sense of gung ho to her otherwise cool and calm demeanour, whilst Gretsch’s portrayal of Father Landry is that of a man caught between his pacifist nature and desire to protect mankind.

There are many opportunities for the actors to give wonderfully emotional performances, especially towards the second half of the season as storylines come together and worlds are torn apart (figuratively speaking.) Even Scott Wolf’s portrayal of Chad Decker offers a character that quickly goes from one dimensional to something deeper and more investigative, giving him the opportunity to play a reporter that balances his desire to be successful with his instincts for the truth.

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Baccarin, as Anna, is alluring and charismatic instead of the rather soap opera styling of the previous leader, Diana. Mitchell, as Erica, delivers a far more nuanced performance than Marc Singer (the 80s lead) could ever have delivered.

Each episode presents a multi-faceted story that allows the characters and storyline to develop at a decent pace. Admittedly, there’s a bit too much duplicity and conflict on the go all at once and, on occasions, it can feel a bit contrived. There are moments where you feel that the plot twists could have been better had they not been there. (Tyler’s problems are a major part of the storyline, but you do occasionally feel that there’s one issue too many for the poor lad.)

The alien underneath the human skin is only hinted at and first comes at an unexpected moment during the first episode. As the series moves on, we learn more about the presence of aliens upon Earth in a pre-invasion force and the various tensions that led to the creation of the resistance group, the Fifth Column started by John May, the first V to rebel against Anna. Sadly, the full extent of the alien look isn’t revealed by the end of Season One and I’m hoping that, at some point in the near future, we’ll see a full face, at the very least.

Of course, techno babble-filled science fiction isn’t enough these days, with textured and layered narrative being the marker of such series as Babylon 5 and, much later, the recent series Battlestar Galactica. Whilst the re-imagined Galactica had the idea that anyone could be a Cylon, V really ramps up the concept, bringing us the idea that anyone could be a Visitor, including our closest and most trusted friends and allies.

With the Visitors’ use of media manipulation and political machinations at all levels, you’d be forgiven that the series had some underlying political agenda. Add to this a hint at loss of privacy, as the V’s monitor those around them through their Peace Ambassador programme and track subjects through a seemingly routine inoculation. It’s not the first time that science-fiction has referenced the political opinion of its day. Star Trek did it far more crudely as it explored cultural divides, opposing political ideology and the wonder of being American.

V is mostly subtle about its political agenda, though it does occasionally smack you around the head with its point of view. (A whole episode is dedicated to ‘blue energy’ and there’s the ongoing offer of universal healthcare.)

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Season One has a short run compared to most modern series, only twelve episodes, with a second season of ten already ordered. But, in those twelve episodes, we get plenty of plot, ample character development and an absence of season stretching filler episodes. There are enough plot threads left open to continue the series into a second season, well before the final episode.

If you are on the lookout for originality, you’re going to be looking in the wrong place. It’s a reboot/reimagining of a classic series that, in itself, wasn’t an entirely original idea, so you’re not going to find heaps of originality in every passing moment. However, it does what it sets out to do incredibly well and crafts its own version of a tried and tested formula, bringing together aspects of the original series, freshening it all up and adding ample drama and emotion.

With plenty of story still playing out by the end of Season 1 and one massive cliffhanger, there’s opportunity for the series to develop into a long running, gripping, pseudo-political science fiction epic.

Extras

The Actor’s Journey From Human to V is a 17 minute featurette that offers a look at the cast and crew and their recollections of the original V, what drew them to the series and the themes of the first season. Interspersed with clips from the season, the cast and crew don’t really tell us anything that we don’t already know. However, they do speak intelligently about their roles and the series as a whole. Scott Peters talks about the casting of the principle players, whilst each of them gets the opportunity to express their opinions on their roles.

Selected episodes have deleted and alternate scenes, which could have been put back into the episodes without much fuss. It appears that up to four minutes were trimmed from the episodes and some character development and interaction opportunities were lost.

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There is one audio commentary that covers episode 10 of Season 1 and allows two Executive Producers, Steve Pearlman and Scott Rosenbaum, the chance to discuss the production of this pivotal episode, the themes that run through the series and various pieces of filming trivia. As commentaries go, it is quite interesting and fact-filled, with very few moments of silence.

Breaking Story: The World of V is a 17 minute featurette taking us inside the writers’ room and exploring how the series develops and characters interlink throughout the first season. It’s, by far, the most interesting of the features, as it goes some way to show how complicated it is to produce a series with an ongoing narrative and keep it accessible to a mass audience.

An Alien in Human Skin: The Makeup FX of V looks at the makeup and how they developed from the original series. Various members of the crew explain how the use of CGI and traditional special effects has created the glimpses of the alien and how CGI was used to enhance traditional prosthetics.

VFX: The Visual Effects of V explores the links between the original miniseries and the modern series of V, offering us a look at how the visuals of the original series were improved upon, how the virtual sets were created and the other uses of CGI within the series, from skin to weapons. Despite the variable results of the virtual sets, it is quite interesting to see the designers as they work on their creations and the actors discuss their experiences of working on green screen.

Overall, the Season One boxset offers just enough to hold interest. Admittedly, there are opportunities to increase the number of extras. Pre-visualisation footage, a deeper comparison between the concepts in this series and the original, more commentaries and longer features would have all made nice additions. Having said that, if you’re a fan of the original series or the genre itself, you’ll like this set.

Episodes:

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Rating:

4 out of 5