Diary of an old cheeser

Hi there! Like other blogs, this is my chance to wax lyrical (some might say talk utter cr*p) about a) what's happening in my life b) all of my pet obsessions in particular music, tv, movies, books and other generally connected things, quite often of the retro, old and "cheesy" variety. Hence the title of my blog. Feel free to leave a comment if the mood takes you. There's nothing like a good chinwag about one's favourite topics and besides I love to meet new people! Cheers, Simon

Thursday, July 12, 2007

V is for Victory

The other night I introduced my husband to “V” via DVD. Well, telly hasn’t been that gripping of late and there has to be something worth watching other than a constant round of “Big Brother”. I ordered the DVDs off Amazon – bit of a bargain and a treat to myself for finishing my recent spate of work!

If you’re about the same age as me – okay, maybe even a bit younger – you’ll probably remember “V”. It was a US science fiction series produced in the early-mid 1980s, about a race of aliens known as the Visitors, who come to Earth supposedly in the name of peace. Apparently benevolent and physically very similar to homo sapiens, the Visitors claim to be seeking Earth’s assistance as their own planet is lacking in vital resources, in return for which they will offer mankind the fruits of their knowledge. But then scientists start mysteriously disappearing, followed by literally thousands of other humans. The Visitors’ true, hostile intentions soon come to light, when it turns out they’ve been stealing our water as their own planet doesn’t have any and – worse – they are carnivores who have been stashing away us humans for food! And as if that wasn’t bad enough, it also transpires that the Visitors are actually a race of lizards and their human appearance is a mere disguise! A state of martial law is soon announced and before Earth knows it, the Visitors have gained ultimate power. However a group of humans form a resistance unit and the dramatic crux of the show stems from their fight against the Visitors to win back the Earth.

I loved “V” when it first came out. Although made nearly 25 years ago and possessing some now admittedly dated and dodgy elements, it still holds up pretty well. I clearly remember its UK showing in 1984 on ITV – it was billed as a blockbuster type mini-series and was ITV's attempt to steal away ratings from the BBC, who were showing the Olympic Games at the same time. Well, the ruse worked for me. (But then, I’ve always totally loathed most sport, so it didn’t take much persuasion).

The original version of “V” actually comprised two mini series shown several months apart in the US but broadcast all together in the UK – “V” and “V: The Final Battle”.

"V” was set mainly in modern day California and Los Angeles, although at the start we see a series of montage scenes clearly showing the arrival of the Visitors’ vast mothership spacecraft all over the world. These opening bits work really well in building up a feeling of nervousness and anticipation, especially the scene when mankind makes “first contact” with the aliens. Like the people we see sat in front of their TVs, waiting for the first glimpse of alien life, we’re on the edge of our seats too – what will these “Visitors” look like? Will they be like us? What are their motives for coming to Earth?

One reason for the show’s success is its great cross-section of human characters, representing different walks of life from LA and the various ways in which mankind reacts to the Visitors’ arrival (although there aren’t any gay characters – shocking! – then again this was the early 80s...) There’s hunky cameraman Mike Donovan, the central protagonist of the show, as well as all-purpose action hero (played by Marc Singer of “The Beastmaster” fame. Dr Juliet (Julie) Parrish, a beautiful and intelligent scientist who forms the human resistance movement and secures them a secret hideaway. Ham Tyler, a grizzled and cynical resistance fighter who joins up with Julie’s gang later on. Robert Maxwell, another scientist who is forced to flee his home with his family. Robert’s teenage daughter Robin, who becomes infatuated with a handsome young visitor, Brian, to disastrous effect. Elias Wright, a crook and thief, who witnesses the death of his brother at the hands of the Visitors and changes his ways to join the resistance. Eleanor, Mike’s horribly snobbish mother, who sees the Visitors’ arrival as an opportunity to enhance her prestige and social status. Christine Walsh, a TV journalist and sometime lover of Mike, who ends up as the Visitors’ chief spokesperson and ditches her principles in the process. Stanley and Lynn Bernstein, and Stanley’s father Abraham, who all suffer at the hands of the visitors mainly due to Stanley and Lynn’s slimy son Daniel, who falls under the influence of the Visitors. It’s a shame that Stanley and Lynn only appear in the first part of the mini series as they were pretty good characters and we never see them after that, apart from a very brief cameo later on. Poor old Abraham disappears altogether…All of these characters are believable and well acted.

What about the Visitors themselves? A nasty bunch and no mistake! The public face of the Visitors is their Supreme Commander John, who could give any US President (not to mention certain UK Prime Ministers!) a run for their money with his smooth patter and mannerisms. He’s a real fake (in more ways than one, especially when the resistance publicly unmask him at a medical conference revealing his real scaly features!) Stephen is the smarmy head of Visitor security who romances Mike’s mother, Eleanor. There’s Brian, the young visitor who seduces poor unsuspecting Robin under orders and gets her pregnant – with the first ever human/Visitor hybrid child!! – but he gets his just deserts later on.

But best of the baddies is Diana, chief scientist of the Visitors and all-round scheming, evil bitch who will stop at nothing to see the human race vanquished, not to mention the realisation of her own ambitions to rise in the Visitor ranks. Being a scientist she’s very keen on experimentation and it’s her idea to get Brian to impregnate Robin. She’s also rather attractive in the looks department (although she does sport a variety of rather bizarre hairstyles in the earlier episodes) and a definite piece of alien hot totty. Diana survived to become the chief villainess in the follow up series of “V” and achieved iconic status in the process. And actress Jane Badler who played her is still a fan favourite (apparently she now lives in Australia and has done some jazz singing – a far cry from Diana!) Diana also has some great dialogue and bitchy lines. For example a scene in which Julie is captured by the treacherous Daniel:

(To Daniel) Congratulations... I wish we had more like you.

Julie: Oh yes, congratulations on selling out your people to a bunch of nightcrawlers!

Diana: (Slaps Julie in the face) You need an attitude adjustment, my dear. And it will be my pleasure to give it to you.

Viva Diana!

Oh and we also get a nice cameo in "V: The Final Battle" from sci-fi/fantasy actress Sarah Douglas (remember her as Ursa in the Superman movies?) as Supreme Commander Pamela and Diana's arch rival. There's some great bitching scenes between them, adding to the entertainment.

So were all of the Visitors bad? No! As luck would have it (well, fortuitous in terms of plot) there’s a secret “Fifth column” of Visitors in existence who don’t agree with their leader’s plans and side with the human resistance. One of the chief rebels is Martin who is a nice but rather serious, cautious fella (and with a hairstyle reminiscent of Princess Diana). Nicest of all is the unfortunately named Willy (played by Robert Englund who would later go on to achieve massive notoriety as Freddie Kruger in the “Nightmare on Elm Street” series), who also serves as the comic relief in the show, getting his words all mixed up (he isn’t very good with the English language), Mrs Malaprop style.

As for the plot, it moves along at a fair old pace and there’s lots to hold the attention. As I said, the different plotlines derive from the different reactions of the humans to the Visitors and this is an effective style of storytelling. However there are still some unbelievable bits and instances of not-so-good plotting, for example, some very convenient exposition when Mike Donovan manages to get onboard one of Visitor motherships! Firstly, he hears the Visitors admitting that they are taking Earth’s chemicals for nothing, followed by a very loud conversation between Diana and Stephen, where they reveal the Visitors’ true evil intentions. I was groaning when I watched these bits. Finally Donovan happens upon a Visitor who in his private room, and “takes out” his human “eyes” to reveal they are reptilian “slits” – he then gets into a fight with the Visitor and ends up ripping his face to see his real reptile skin! However the latter scene is a great exercise in horror and for anyone not knowing the Visitors’ true nature, comes as a genuine shock.

“V” is also quite heavily allegorical – in particular its parallels with World War II, which whilst not particularly subtle, work quite well. At the start, old Jewish grandfather Abraham Bernstein is the main focus for this – having lived through the horror of WWII and the extermination of the Jews he experiences an unsettling feeling of déjà vu when the Visitors arrive and gradually seize control. There’s lots of other similarities to Nazi Germany too – the Visitor stormtroopers with their visor helmets and guns on every street, the Visitor Youth movement recruiting the youngsters to become mini-Visitor-fascists (including that nasty little sh*t Daniel, who starts throwing his weight around and even shops his parents and grandfather to the Visitors). And look at the insignia on the Visitors’ uniforms and spacecraft – remind you of anything??

And the special effects? Well, this was the 1980s so CGI didn’t exist. But the shots of the Visitor shuttlecraft zooming over the landscape look pretty good, if a little bit CSO at times. And there's some nice vistas of the motherships, hovering in the sky, dwarfing everyone and everything beneath (although I think some of the matte paintings look better than the "model spaceship superimposed over photo of landscape" shots used later on which are very obviously fake. And I almost neglected to mention some of the most gruesome effects of all - the Visitors like to snack on some of our smaller species like rats and mice!! (Kind of like a starter before the "human" main course I suppose). In one scene we get to see Diana eating an entire guinea pig! No lie. This is quite cleverly done (when the actors had to swallow the little varmits they were given a sweetie version) and is horrid! (Although the novelty value did get overplayed later on with Visitors scoffing budgies, mice etc in virtually every episode). And a final special mention has to go to Robin's alien baby. Oh dear. Not one of the high points of the series. The pregnant Robin gives birth not only to a human-looking child (which turns out to have lizard skin) but a real baby lizard! Which looks...very silly indeed and seriously reduces the credibility of the scene. I considered uploading a picture here but then decided against it. You might all laugh too much.

As mentioned, “V” went on to return, in a series of one hour episodes, which is where (I think at any rate) the downward slide began. The later series had a lower budget, there was a constant re-use of special effects shots from the original mini-series and a general sense of cheapness which didn’t help matters. Rather than using the overarching plotline of mankind trying to defeat the Visitors that had formed the crux of the mini-series, each episode has its own self-contained story. It often felt like the rebels were never getting any closer to getting properly shot of the nasty reptiles. The dark and serious qualities of the original series were also supplanted by more soap-opera-ish and camper aspects such as Diana’s scenes with fellow Visitor Lydia, with the two continually trying to outdo and outbitch one another. “Dynasty” in space, no less. But paradoxically all of this was what made the show such great fun to watch. I will always have a soft spot for “V” and I wholeheartedly recommend it. As Abraham Bernstein said: "Go tell your friends"...!!

(Mmm. I had rather a lot to say there didn't I? Just for a change...)

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  • At 2:11 am , Blogger matty said...

    wow. how is it possible i don't remember this?!?!?

    oh, yeah. right.

    the 80s.

    it's all a blur.

    i just sent away for Alice @ The Palace -- Meryl Streep in some odd video theatrical experimental performance of Alice in Wonderland done in the 70's. ...i'm all curious.

    I also got Mata Hari --- in which Greta Garbo is rumor'd to do a furrie.


  • At 7:08 am , Blogger Steve said...

    I have very fond memories of V. I was about 12 at the time and, like you, loathed sport so jumped into V with gusto. I remember the mice eating scene and also recall that I had a huge crush on Juliet Parrish. Being a saddo even at that age I always fell for the leading lady. I even remember buying the paperback from WHSmith and reading it cover to cover - a rare thing for me in those days.

  • At 2:59 am , Blogger TimeWarden said...

    I watched "V", at the time, but can't say I was as enamoured with it as you guys seem to be! It struck me that this was what would happen if aliens invaded the "Fame" academy.

    I remember quite liking the Jewish guy but it all looked a bit cheap, though that never put me off "Doctor Who"! I'm not very keen on American telly, to be honest, though there are one or two exceptions and I might give "Heroes" a go in a couple of weeks time, on BBC2.

  • At 12:19 pm , Blogger Old Cheeser said...

    Matty - You need to watch it NOW!!

    Meryl Streep in a weird version of "Alice in Wonderland" is about as far away from "V" as you can get!!

    And what's a furrie?! Dare I ask?

    Steve - Yes, I can see Julie's appeal - an attractive lady! Don't know what happened to Faye Grant who played her, I think she disappeared into TV movie hell for a while . Bit of a waste of a talented actress.

    The book adaptation of "V" is actually pretty good and is a lot more expansive than the TV version (as novelisations can often be). I had a copy years ago but lost it. Might have to hunt for a cheap copy on the net!

    Tim - I think you're a bit harsh! For an American drama I think it was pretty good, remember it was nearly 25 years ago. Admittedly it did get silly by the time it became a regular series - the quality of the writing and characterisation really slid and it was just like any other US show. But being the cheeser/trash queen that I am, I found it all highly entertaining!

  • At 12:47 am , Blogger Salty Sailor said...

    Normally I woulda just skimmed through such a long post, but the subject is one I love... so I read it.

    Your comparison with the Visitors and the Third Reich was fascinating. I'd never realised that the Visitor Youth Movement had historical connotations, but you're totally correct. And Eleanors blind love of John could be compared to the appeasement of the European world leaders at the time.

    As for the little green alien baby. I'm glad you didn't show a picture, as it was a little tacky... far too strange a colour of green I think.

    I'd love to see this show re-made and updated a la Battlestar Galactica.

    Very interesting. I'm going to have to watch the whole thing again!

  • At 12:51 pm , Blogger Old Cheeser said...

    Thanks for your comments Alan, and for wading through my marathon post! Yep, when it's on a subject one likes it kind of makes it nicer to read even if it is long...I don't know what it is with me though, I'm incapable of writing anything short, much as I try...!

    You know, the Nazi/"V" comparison isn't a new one - the use of the allegory in the show was very deliberate and a lot of reviewers picked up on it first time round. In fact lots of people thought it was totally unsubtle and akin to hitting viewers over the head with a sledgehammer e.g. the old Jewish guy's comments: "I have seen this all before in 1939" etc etc. I think that's a bit harsh. It's still an interesting idea.

    And yep the lizard baby was well silly!!

    Funny you should talk about a remake...did you know it's in the pipeline? Kenneth Johnson, who created the original "V", has written a new novel: "V: The Second Generation" and it's out in October. There are rumours that it will then be made into a movie/mini series and Jane Badler (Diana) is amongst the returning cast! Yay! Let's hope so, anyway.

    Yep, go order the DVDs, they're very cheap!

  • At 11:34 pm , Blogger nickcgardner said...

    But what intrigues me is that when I trawled the web for a pic of the iconic rodent swallowing shot there were none to be found - a bit like '80s boiler suit shots.

  • At 4:27 am , Blogger Tamie said...

    Now now, V means "visitors" according to the ABC version.


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