V: The Fourth Reich

HUMANKIND’S LAST STAND.

vA major hit in several countries when first shown on TV, this miniseries frightened me to the degree that I could barely watch it. I was only nine or ten at the time and the horror effects were strong enough to keep my classmates talking for a long time. There was one special sequence that stuck in everyone’s mind, a pivotal scene where the aliens’ true nature was revealed. Today those effects seem very cheap indeed and hardly frightening. But V is still one of the most interesting TV experiences of the 1980s.

Looking exactly like humans
Kenneth Johnson cut his teeth writing episodes for The Bionic Woman and The Incredible Hulk and subsequently started working on a tale about a modern-day Nazi takeover of a country. That idea eventually evolved into V, adding an element of science fiction. The miniseries was primarily set in Los Angeles where one day a huge spaceship arrives, something that happens in every major city of the world. The aliens turn out to look exactly like humans (even though their voices have a metallic effect) and they claim to come in peace. They make friends with the media and powerful people throughout the societies of the world, but some folks have doubts. What do the aliens really want? And how do they intend to use the power they have quickly amassed?

We follow a group of people who are to form the resistance against the aliens. They include adventurous journalist Mike Donovan (Marc Singer) and scientist Julie Parrish (Faye Grant). Mike is one of the first to realize that the visitors are up to no good and Julie has the bad fortune to be in a line of work that the aliens hate. Scientists are dangerous to them and they begin to secretly kill as many of them as possible. As the resistance gains members, Mike comes closer to finding out the horrible details of why the visitors came to Earth and why they won’t leave until every human is dead.

Reminiscent of Nazi Germany
So, let’s sort things out. The scientists are the new Jews. The visitors wear uniforms and are very militaristic. Their flag has a symbol that looks like a swastika. On Earth they form a youth league to indoctrinate teenagers. Some humans choose to turn a blind eye to a budding dictatorship and others choose to fight oppression. And one of the alien leaders enjoys performing gruesome experiments on humans, in the style of Josef Mengele. Yes, almost everything about is reminiscent of Nazi Germany, to the degree that it becomes a little too obvious and heavy-handed. Johnson has even included a Holocaust survivor to spell it out in case some in the audience are deaf, dumb and blind.

Still, it’s compelling stuff. The special effects were very impressive when first seen and the idea of what kind of creatures hide behind the human-looking masks does tickle one’s imagination. The production design and the costumes are cleverly conceived for their purpose, and Joe Harnell’s music has its chilling and thrilling moments.

Jane Badler is such an ice queen as Diana, the visitors’ science officer, and it’s fun seeing Freddy Krueger himself, Robert Englund, as the comic relief of the story, but no other actors are truly memorable. However, as far as childhood memories go, you can do a lot worse than V.

V 1983-U.S. Made for TV. 200 min. Color. Produced by Chuck Bowman. Written and directed by Kenneth Johnson. Music: Joe Harnell. Cast: Marc Singer (Mike Donovan), Jane Badler (Diana), Faye Grant (Julie Parrish), Michael Durrell, Michael Wright, Neva Patterson… Robert Englund.

Trivia: Originally shown in two parts. Dominique Dunne was cast in a major part, but was murdered by her boyfriend shortly before filming began. Followed by another miniseries, V: The Final Battle (1984), as well as two regular TV series, V (1984-1985) and V (2009-2011).

Last word: “I was anxious to shake America and the world up a bit when I did ‘V’, because we had all suffered our own small traumas and tragedies in our own little lives, but we’d never had a sea-change such as World War II brought upon us…since then, really. Since December of 1941. And I thought it was a wonderful opportunity to make people think about how they would react to extraordinary circumstances, and to create a cast of characters that would give me a spectrum of people that all reacted differently, so that different people in the audience would focus on the character that they felt was probably the most like them.” (Johnson, Den of Geek)

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