Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Comparing the New V to the Original

I tuned in to the new ABC science fiction series V last night and I enjoyed it enough to keep watching.  It's a remake of the classic V mini-series from the 1980s which I previously wrote about, and in my opinion it still has a far way to go to capture the fun and originality of the original. 

The pilot episode seemed rushed, the pacing seemed off.  It was as if they took a two hour episode and chopped it down to sixty minutes.  As a fan of the original, there were no real surprises that made the original so entertaining -- we already know the aliens are reptilian, we already know they want more from us than just an exchange of advanced technology for Earth's minerals. 

The new cast is great (Scott Wolf, Elizabeth Mitchell, Joel Gretsch, Morena Baccarin, Laura Vandervoort, Morris Chestnut)  and the special effects are excellent (particularly the jet plane crash in the city streets when the mother ship shows up.)   The cheesy camp-factor of the original is gone for the most part, and that's a good thing.  There were some nice in-jokes, like a reference to Independence Day which many have claimed ripped off a lot of V ideas. 

But the new show, based on the first episode at least, isn't really offering anything fresh yet.  Maybe because the best moments (Alien Leader Anna's jumbo-sized message in multiple languages from the spaceships hovering over major cities throughout the world and the tension with reporter Chad Decker right before her first televised sit-down interview) were already shown in advance video clips prior to the first episode's airing, I didn't get the sense that I was watching anything new or that they added anything to the premise.

The current show has replaced the original's World War II metaphor, in which the aliens were analogous to German Nazis, and added some contemporary references, which, in my humble opinion, are weaker and less inspired.  The aliens apparently have been on Earth, working in secret sleeper cells long before the mother ships revealed their presence.  The new show has a lot of "war on terror" references, which don't necessarily work well, at least in Episode One, and the slightly better political barbs about a society eager to blindly accept leaders based on image alone, although the otherworldy visitors actually back up their talk with results: curing illnesses, offering near miraculous technology, and even setting in motion a global universal healthcare system (one of the funniest moments in the show)! 

But the loss of the Nazi metaphor is major.  Yes, the original hit us over the head with that, and those who argue that it was overdone might have a point, but the total absence of it from the new version is a big mistake.  In the original, the aliens conducted medical experiments and hunted down scientists and others whom they considered a threat, and it was the scientists and journalists who discovered their secrets.  In the new version, it's the conspiracy theorists, a rogue priest, and a rogue federal agent who raise the red flag. 

Most annoying in the new version is the use of "V" to refer solely to the Visitors.  Aliens encourage graffiti-loving kids to tag walls with the letter as a sign of support for the newcomers (even though such vandalism would seem to be counter to the clean perfection and utopian ideal that the aliens are striving to convey).  In the original, "V" is a powerful symbol of the rebellion, "V for Victory," another World War II reference to the resistance in the lands occupied by the Axis powers.  That powerful imagery is completely lost now.  Maybe it will come back in future episodes?

My friend Robert sent me a list of his Pros and Cons that nicely summarizes the strengths and flaws of the new V:


Entertaining (good guys v. bad guys)
Cool idea
Interesting quid pro quo (Earth's minerals for alien advanced technologies)


No depth
No subtleties
More focus on look than on content
No sense of suspense or mystery
No plot or character buildup
Assumption that viewers are familiar with the mini-series. Those who didn't watch it will be lost.


The suspense and buildup of the original miniseries is vacant from this version. If you're looking for an intellectual sci-fi thriller, you will be sorely disappointed. However, if you want to check your mind at the door, this will keep you entertained.

The first episode generated very high ratings which is great news, so there are a lot of fans out there, and probably a lot of new viewers who may not have ever seen the original.  I hope ABC commits to the show and makes it even stronger, building on all the postitive things that made the original such a phenomenon and fan favorite.


Rassles said...

I watched it. It was decent. I hope they stray from things in the original. Not because the original was bad, but because then they're giving away the goddamn ending.

The biggest problem with these shows is they start trying to focus on plot twists instead of character development. I don't think the creators realize that the key to a good, successful ensemble show is creating a buttload of characters that people like, that they emulate or want to hang out with.

We need to want to be friends with these people if we're going to have the emotional investment to stay interested. So far the only likable characters are the priests, the perfect blend of curiosity and innocent rationalism...everyone else is killable. And I ain't Catholic.

Anonymous said...

First, was the priest on the old V? Second, I didn't watch it all, but it seemed like the same general plot as the original, so I kind of got bored. Also, I don't know if I missed some grand conclusion, but all I remember is that Elizabeth, the alien-human-hybrid-starchild-savior, snuck aboard the ship to bring peace to the universe, leaving behind her true love, Kyle. I don't want to get too invested in this if I can't be guaranteed that we'll get a happy ending. :)


Nick said...

E, there was a priest in V: The Final Battle. (Wicked Diana laser blasted his bible, remember?)

The original V actually had two cliffhangers that were never resolved. (1) Elizabeth the Starchild flying off to her homeworld at the end of V: The Series and (2) The resistance fighters sending a distress signal to the Visitors' enemies, hoping for help from another alien speices, at the end of original mini-series (the recent book V: The Next Phase) continued that storyline as if The Final Battle never happened.

I know all this because I am a geek.

Peter said...

Well, you guys have the privilege of watching the new V over there whilst down here, we have to wait till the local syndicates decide it's cheap enough to run it here. I loved V! Looking forward for the new one. Man! DVDs for me soon!