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V (Mini-Series)

Written and Directed by Kenneth Johnson (1983)

By Tom BakerPublished about a month ago 8 min read
Actress Jane Badler ("Diana") goes toe-to-claw with Faye Grant ("Juliet") in V (1983).

I remember sitting in grandma's living room in 1983, watching the premier of V, which was a two-night mega sci-fi "special event." I was probably all of seven, so the film had an extra special appeal to me. The special effects, state of the art for the era, were awesome, ominous, and frightening. But it was the characterizations of both humans and aliens in V, and the eternal questioning of what is good, noble, human, and true, that underscored the allegory at the heart of the entertainment.

V's most notorious images: reptilian aliens, guinea pig swallowing, and massive motherships (an image that would be utilized a decade later for the blockbuster film Independence Day) are the icing on the cake. V is the story (continued in the mini-series sequel V: The Final Battle that next year) of the personal journey of Dr. Juliet Parrish (Faye Grant), a research scientist turned guerrilla leader; of Mike Donovan (Marc Singer), a rogueish, high-octane TV reporter turned resistance fighter; of two families, one of them Jewish, one of them the family of a scientist, scientists being the scapegoats whom the alien-controlled government peg as 'terrorists" worthy of rounding up and shipping away. Sound familiar?

The subtext of the film, its dedication, is to the intrepid "resistance fighters" of whatever era, those rugged, journeying souls that gave their lives for the struggle against oppression and tyranny, to oust the forces of fascism, Nazism, and like philosophies. They were not "soldiers" in any army; they were (and are) not "mercenaries." They are people who have found themselves tasked, by whatever great force oversees the affairs of men, to go forth, and even to die, to push forward the eternal wheels of truth and justice, and grease the gears with their blood. But that is maybe too poetic.


The film begins with Donovan and partner Tony (Evan C. Kim in an engaging role) in El Salvador, covering a guerrilla insurgency. During a pitched gun battle between government forces and the rebels, a massive alien mothership comes hovering out of the clouds. Suddenly, the world news is inundated with similar images as more motherships wait silently and menacingly for the new alien visitors to reveal themselves.

They do so in short order and seem to look completely human. The entire world is stunned at their overtures of friendly peace and "special aid" to the badly flagging, self-destructive human species (it was still the Cold War era of apocalyptic, nuclear war nightmares). In exchange, all they want is the creation of a "special chemical" to fuel their vast, hovering fleet. But this is, of course, a cover story.

Tony and Donovan begin to notice some cracks in the Visitors' veneer of "reality" in their news footage; Donovan's wealthy society dame mother Eleanor (Neva Patterson) gets up close and personal with a handsome Visitor, Steven (Andrew Lewis Prine), and Donovan's lover, Kristine Walsh (Jenny Sullivan) becomes their media spokesperson. They arrive in massive, red-costumed numbers, with a pseudo-fascistic look, jackboots, and a digitized swastika symbol on their uniforms. They wear dark shades, and have strange, reverberating voices, but seem friendly enough. One of them, Willie, played by Freddy Krueger actor Robert Englund, is uncharacteristically timid, soft-spoken, and endearing.

A convenient "terrorist plot" is uncovered by the Visitors, and scientists are made the scapegoats in an alleged "worldwide conspiracy." Two families who are close in their affluent L.A. suburb are zeroed in on as the pot unfolds. One is the family of a scientist, Robert Maxwell, (Michael Durrell), with a teenage daughter, Robin, (Blair Tefkin, who replaced actress Dominque Dunne of Poltergeist fame, who was murdered by boyfriend John Sweeney the year before) who is rebellious and becomes infatuated with a Visitor, Brian (Peter Nelson).

The other family, a Jewish family with a grandfather, Abraham, (Leonard Cimino) who survived the Holocaust, but whose wife did not, has a young, feckless son, Daniel (David Packer), who enthusiastically joins the "Friends of Visitors" Hitler Youth-style organization (they have propaganda posters all over the place). He quickly degenerates into a bullying, self-serving, cowardly spy, all the while, the family of the scientist they are friends with is being hidden in their pool house. The grandfather slowly begins to realize history is repeating itself, this time with extraterrestrial invaders instead of German brownshirts.

The common people begin to have uprisings. The Visitors destroy a small California town. Dr. Julie Parrish organizes a resistance cell (it is implied there are many such cells), and Donovan sneaks aboard the mothership and films shocking scenes that prove the Visitors are far, far from what they seem. (The final horror of their secret mission is revealed in a scene reminiscent of sci-fi tropes of television past: from the Kanamits of "Twilight Zone," to the scene of the cryogenically suspended woman in the downed UFO in Hangar 18.)

Parrish organizes her resistance cell at a downtown mission, now a rough-looking, limping woman on a cane, and Donovan, as well as the family of Tefkin and the other characters of the various subplots all converge here. It is here they become the military wing of the worldwide resistance against Visitor oppression. This struggle is carried on in the mini-series sequel V: The Final Battle. That film will introduce us to the "Star Child," as well as mercenary Ham Tyler, played by grim-faced veteran cult movie heavy Michael Ironside (whose role in the V franchise for all time solidified his iconic status in my mind as one of the great, great actors of the 1980s).

V, the original mini-series introduces us to other compelling characters, such as Sancho (Rafael Campos), the Mexican gardener who helps smuggle the family of scientist Maxwell across a police checkpoint, and Elias (Michael Wright), the jive-talking young black man whose performance, at the death of his resistance fighter brother Ben (Richard Lawson), a doctor, is one of the most moving performances I have ever seen. Along the way, Parrish and Donovan begin to evolve as fully-formed beings, taking on the life roles that fate has cut out for them, casting aside their previous lives and becoming part of an epic, cosmic struggle for the future of humankind.

Equally compelling, and should be noted here, is the icy cool lizard-bitch performance of actress Jane Badler, as Diana, a cross between a fairy tale "Wicked Queen" and Ilse Koch, and also, Richard Herd, as the Visitor turncoat Martin. Of course, we've already mentioned Robert Englund, whose versatility (on one hand, he can play the gentle, awkward alien Willie, on the other, the razor-tipped glove-wearing, dream-slasher Freddy) is remarkable.

"...Or else we won't have learned a thing."

V is what Roger Ebert might have called, "a perfect and complete entertainment"; it is a film, seemingly, without any flaws. (At least, THIS author can't think of any.) It is arguably one of the most moving and compelling pieces of science fiction cinema ever lensed. It's an allegory of the process of oppression, and the human and noble and spiritual journey one goes through in the conscious decision to self-sacrifice, in the face of that oppression. Forty years on, the cynic in me, the misanthrope, melts away when I watch this film. There is NOTHING more moving to me, on some strange emotional level, than the rebel fighter who gives his own life for the cause of his comrades.

One of the great scenes of the film is when the grandfather, the Holocaust survivor, comes across a group of kids spraypainting one of the Visitors' Friends posters. He quickly grabs the can from the boy and tells him, "No. If you're going to do it. Do it right." He then spraypaints a "V" over the poster. " (Some readers will remember the spraypainted V is also a central image of Alan Moore's classic dystopian graphic novel V for Vendetta.)

When Robin's father comes to his family and asks if they can use their pool house to hide (his grandson, Daniel, remember, is one of the Visitors' actual spies), the old Jewish man's son, Stanley (George Morfogen) at first refuses. The grandfather convinces him otherwise. In the end, Stanley also evolves, and speaks the words his late father said to him: "...or else we won't have learned a thing."


(Or as the old balladeer put it, "...this is the flower of the Partisan, who died for freedom.")

The spraypainted image of the V sign closes the film, along with singing that sounds like a choir. The viewer realizes if they are wise, that something more than a mere comic book sci-fi thriller has just unfolded here. The film is about the journey to become something better than what you are, the most noble role that God, however you define Him, has in store for you. The "victory" here is as much about the victory over self as it is the victory over fictional extraterrestrial invaders.

And, I would argue, that message, as well as this film, is even more relevant in 2024 than in 1983.

Bella ciao.

V-The Mini-series Trailer

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About the Creator

Tom Baker

Author of Haunted Indianapolis, Indiana Ghost Folklore, Midwest Maniacs, Midwest UFOs and Beyond, Scary Urban Legends, 50 Famous Fables and Folk Tales, and Notorious Crimes of the Upper Midwest.: http://tombakerbooks.weebly.com

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Comments (2)

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  • Randy Wayne Jellison-Knockabout a month ago

    Another blast from the past I continue to see advertised everywhere I look. I remember being disappointed in the mini-series when I watched it back in '83 as I was finishing my tour of duty traveling with three of my brothers singing gospel music & preparing to enter seminary. I remember thinking, "That's it? But it's not over." Of course I was incredibly naive, unsophisticated, & idiotically fundamentalist at the time. I may have to revisit it.

  • Lamar Wigginsabout a month ago

    I also remember watching the premier of V. Although I had completely forgotten about the plot and characters, I can never forget the reptilian images. Based on your recap, I would totally watch it again.

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