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Monday, May 08, 2023

The Visitors came forty years ago this month

I was reminded of something earlier today, and I can't believe that this somehow slipped past the radar screen...

Last week, May 1st, was the fortieth anniversary of the premiere of the NBC television miniseries V.

That doesn't seem possible.  It's like it was only yesterday that creator Kenneth Johnson unleashed his nightmarish vision of fascism on a global scale.  The Visitors came to major cities across the planet, in fifty ships each three miles in diameter.  They looked like us.  They came from a dying planet and they needed humanity's help.  They came in peace.

And it was all a damnable lie.  Their intent was to rape the Earth, seizing every precious natural resource.  And the fate of mankind?  Something truly horrifying.  Four decades later and the scene of all those humans in cold storage still sends a shiver up my spine.

It was a grand endeavor.  What if Nazism had conquered the planet?  V was about that.  Every aspect of true-life fascism was portrayed, magnified through the lens of science-fiction.  But it was also about hope, and taking a stand and fighting back.  More than it frightened us, V inspired us.  The film was dedicated to the resistance fighters, wherever they have been found, past present and future.

This franchise deserved better!  Johnson's original plan as he presented it to NBC was that after the original miniseries, there would be three or four television movies each season, depicting the Visitors' occupation of Earth in various places.  But the executives didn't want that.  They wanted a second miniseries and using that to launch a weekly series.  They got that, but the follow-ups lost a lot of the spirit of the original.  V wasn't something like Star Wars, it was about a much deeper notion.  And then around 2009 ABC tried to reboot the franchise, but it failed for various reasons (I thought it was quite an admirable effort though).

It was an awe-some television experience.  So many moments from it that no doubt still stick out in the minds of many.

But here is my favorite moment.  Not just of the miniseries, but one of my most favorite moments in television, ever.  The final scene of Part One of V, the original miniseries.  Abraham, the elderly Holocaust survivor and his friend Ruby, find a group of teenagers who are vandalizing Visitor propaganda posters.  He stops them.

No, I won't say anything else.  Let the scene speak for itself:



And from that moment, humanity has a symbol of resistance.

It's a little dated now, but what do you expect from a television miniseries forty years old?  Don't let that stop you from watching it.  And you'll probably be like the rest of us were at the time: wondering how the HECK did any major broadcast network get away with all the stuff that they showed in this movie?

You'll see what I mean when you watch it.


S Lake said...

OMG I was thinking of V one time last month. That brings back memories. Everyone at school was talking about it the next day. Agreed, NBC should have produced a few movies a year and expanded the scope of things. V The Final Battle was a disappointment, did anyone else think the starchild supepowers BS was too much? But thanks for this article. Thank you also for finding that clip of Abraham and the kids.

Chris Knight said...

I read an interview with Kenneth Johnson in the magazine Starlog many years ago. He had nothing to do with The Final Battle or the weekly series. When he finally saw some of The Final Battle it *really* outraged him, especially Elizabeth the "star child" hybrid of human and visitor. He said something about "metaphysical bullsh-t" or something to that effect.

NBC had a goose that laid golden eggs. They were shortsighted and ended up killing it. We could have had V movies set on the East Coast, in London, in the Mid-East... the entire planet (well except for Russia and the Iron Curtain and they could have probably done it with creative location scouting) was ripe for exploring the invasion and the people resisting it. This could have been a VERY rich mythology. Greed destroyed that.

I was really hoping YouTube would have that clip of Abraham and the teens. "You understand? For VICTORY!" Such a powerful moment. One of the best that the medium has ever witnessed.

SGotGDS said...

V was the stuff of nightmares. But it worked. It aroused people to think. Yes, it can happen here, to quote the title of the book V was inspired by.

Thomas Hall said...

IGN has a great article about V at 40.

40 Years After V

JD said...

V: The Final Battle had some terrific scenes in it. My personal favorite is when the resistance members infiltrated the hospital so they can expose the visitors on live TV. I don't know what was better: the priest pulling the Uzi out of the cake or the little old lady with the shotgun. Eighties television ruled!

Chris Knight said...

JD, oh wow that WAS a terrific scene! I think it was something like John, the Visitor leader, was making his speech and the priest screamed "NOW!", pulling the Uzi out of the cake. And I also remember Ruby having the shotgun and holding two or three Visitors at guntpoint. Did they know how to do movie/TV action in the Eighties or what?

Yeah, V: The Final Battle had its moments. Some very good ones even. I think it was part three that kinda ruined the rest of the miniseries. And yes, I'm referring especially to Elizabeth, the "star child". Whoever thought up the notion of giving her cosmic powers should have been run out of town on a rail, because it made NO sense. Again, NBC didn't know how good a franchise they had on their hands. They wanted it to be science fiction more than allegorical drama.

Max said...

"No! If you're going to do it, do it right. I'll show you."

Abraham takes hold of the boy's hand and guides him as together they spray paint a large red letter V on the poster

"You understand? For victory! Go tell your friends,"

That was a serious multi-generational bonding moment. You can practically see the connection being made, the kids absorbing what this elderly survivor of the Holocaust has taught them.

V was one of the best miniseries in history. Glad to see you remembered it Chris. Great site too!