Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The New V: Mirroring the Original

In the run up to the premier of the new V on ABC, the Syfy Channel has been airing the original mini-series from 1983.  The mini-series made quite an impression on me as a child, so I was curious to see how it compared with the reboot.  After watching the original, followed by the re-imagined pilot, my verdict of the latter is mixed.  It's an obvious improvement in some ways, but suffers by comparison in others.  In fact, the remake's strengths and weaknesses are basically mirror opposites of the original's.

The mini-series suffered from stilted dialogue, hammy acting, and cheesy special effects.  No storyline better exemplifies these flaws than that of young Robin Maxwell, an awkward teen who develops a crush on one of the Visitors, who eventually impregnates her.  Both the writing and her delivery are cringe worthy (e.g., "Oh my gawd!  He's looking at me!") and the birth of lizard-baby twins during the second mini-series was an unintended laugh-out-loud moment for many viewers.

The remake is far from perfect, but the acting and effects are both improved.  The teen protagonist is now Tyler Evans (Logan Huffman) a composite of Robin and Daniel, the alienated teen who collaborates with the aliens in the mini-series.  Tyler is seduced by the Visitors' hot women and cool technology.  I was a little put off by his rapid conversion, which would be more plausible if he were a meek nobody, rather than a moody rebel.  But Tyler's tour of the mother ship is one of the livelier scenes in the pilot, and I'm curious to see how the character develops.  Judging from the previews, his budding alien affair will be pivotal to the retelling.

Tyler's mother Erica is played by Elizabeth Mitchell, who credibly radiates maternal concern.  It helps that Mitchell reminds me of another '80s icon, hot hippy mom Elyse Keaton from Family Ties.  But does television really need another FBI agent as a lead?  Between Olivia Dunham on Fringe and Mark Benford on FlashForward, the field seems pretty crowded.  I would have preferred that Erica be a scientist like the blond and brainy Dr. Juliet Parrish from the mini-series, who set my pre-teen heart aflutter.

And that brings me to my main complaint with the remake -- the weak political commentary.  The mini-series was a thinly veiled allegory for the rise of German fascism.  The Visitors were Nazis, from their uniforms and Swastika-like emblem, to their use of propaganda and brainwashing.  Instead of rounding up Jews, the Visitors targeted human scientists like Dr. Parrish for persecution.  Just in case you missed the parallels, there was an elderly holocaust survivor who pointed them out and even hid a family of scientists Ann Anne Frank style in his pool house.  It was all a little heavy handed, but coherent and moving nonetheless.

The remake, by contrast, seems to be a mild allegory for 9/11.  The opening sequence explicitly references that tragedy among others, a touch I found unnecessary.  I was struck by the sight of New Yorkers gazing lamely up at the hovering space ships, which reminded me of walking up Broadway after the Towers fell and seeing people stare dumbly up at the Empire State building like they expected it to go next.  That's also the implication of the alien sleeper cells, who are literally terrorist cells as well.  Presumably, their investigation by the FBI will provide a procedural aspect to the show. 

Unfortunately, much of this thematic ground has been covered recently by FlashForward and the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica.  The latter is a particularly tough act to follow.  Much of the expository dialogue in BSG  was delivered by the super sexy Six, which helped the medicine go down.  And with due respect to Morris Chestnut, Grace Park will always be the sleeper agent of my dreams.  I think V did the right thing by giving the Visitors a backstory on Earth that predated the arrival of their ships.  But that rushed scene in the warehouse was the worst of all possible worlds -- long exposition punctuated by chaotic action.

Ultimately, the remade V is slick but is kind of soulless at its core.  Think of the exchange between reporter Chad Decker (Scott Wolf) who asks whether all the Visitors are as attractive as their leader, Anna (Morena Baccarin).  To which Anna replies, "you're not so bad yourself."  The actors look great, and the dialogue is snappy, but the end product is somehow less than the sum of its parts.  Compare that with one of my favorite scenes from the mini-series, where a high school band welcomes a local Visitor delegation with a cheesy rendition of Star Wars.  The band begins to play about 1m 15s into the clip below. 

It's painfully bad, but also earnest and real, kind of like the mini-series itself.  And there, in a nutshell, is the difference between the remake and original.  Given the choice, I think I prefer cheesy and earnest to slick and soulless.


Thunderstorm said...

I agree with nearly every word, even the remark about Elyse Keaton from Family Ties. :)

I was also put a little off with the opening, with the overlay "where were you on 9/11?" (to that effect).

Look, I am a big South Park fan, I am not highly sensitive to being offended by such things, it just seemed...more than ridiculous in contrast. This is a show about Lizard people for God's sake.

The warehouse scene you summed up quite well. I would agree. Seemed quite forced (rushed) and thus, hamfisted exposition followed by an 'all-too' cliched (read: bad) action sequence.

I also think the look of the Lizard folk is already laugh-inducing. What little we've seen of it. I watched the original (both series) when I was 8 and 9 (born in '75) and I saw the same scene on SyFy last week, the birth of the Lizars baby.

My recollection was that it was creepy (hey, I was a kid). But seeing it at 34 y.o., I laughed out loud. The freaky tongue wasn't so bad but the plastic green lizard with it's Halloween mask teeth and face, made me howl.

You'd think that the Lizards in this remake would look damn cool. Or...as would be my preference, hidden for as long as possible.

I didn't watch all of the rebroadcast on SyFy, but my recollection was that the Lizard aspect was held onto for quite some time. Of course back then, I'm sure an hour was a long time to me.

This pilot, as well with FF, I think share some problems in terms of cramming (forcing) lots of stuff in. Setting the table too early. Feels like they don't trust their audience and reminds me why I mostly quit watching TV when I was in my early 20's. Especially network TV.

But I suppose the recent run of a few really good sci fi shows has opened my mind to exploring all the rest of these shows. Flash Forward, Fringe, I am almost forcing myself to try and like. It shouldn't have to be this hard.

Like I said, I agreed with pretty much everything you said BM, from not wanting another 'FBI lead' right down to that exchange between Scott Wolf and Anna McHotLizard.

Anonymous said...

'Ann Frank' should be 'Anne Frank'.

See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ann_Frank

3D said...

Thunderstorm: I think they pretty much had to dispense with any notion of keeping the lizard idea a secret too far into the show, unless they were planning to change the 'big secret'. Everyone knows they're lizards.

Also, Bigmouth, I agree with most of your post, although I can't bring myself to call it "SyFy". It's too ridiculous. It's like a guy named Sy Feinstein trying to give himself a Hollywood nickname like J-Lo.

Wayne Allen Sallee said...

I've mentioned before that a time stamp would have helped, seeing as they did attempt it twice early in the show. Even with a time stamp showing days or weeks passing, there was still too much crammed into the episode. I do like that there are sleeper cells, and does it really matter that we already know they are lizards? Its like they are trying desperately to say, wait, don't cancel us yet. And that quasi-Michael J. Fox looking TV reporter is a complete dick, and I kept thinking of MARS ATTACKS (not because of Fox) during the interview.

Big, I know you were there and yes, Chicago was in panic mode with me two blocks from the Sears Tower, but, and this goes to Thunderstorm, too, I'd like to see people not be so quick with the 9/11 comparisons. I mean with the 'look up in the sky' aspect. Again, no offense regarding the "where were you?" aspect, hell, I even wrote a story about it. But I wrote it in 2001 (italics) and the opening of V was really not much different than INDEPENDENCE DAY. I remember after CLOVERFIELD came out, some critics saying that it was a slap in the face to everyone who survived 9/11. Maybe its just because I'm older, when the first V aired, I had already written articles for my journalism class on the suicide bombings in Lebanon at the US Embassy and the Marine barracks, which was the first time anyone here thought terrorism was far-removed from the US. September of 1982 and over 300 servicemen killed in two attacks.

Getting away from the terrorist thing but going back to sleep cells, has anyone ever seen STRANGE INVADERS? It came out in the early 80s and the tagline was something like "Aliens landed in the 50s. They're still here." Their beachhead was the middle of Illinois. Not a great film at all, just a neat little idea.

Thunderstorm said...

Wayne, I remember "Invaders from Mars" which was a movie from the 80's. Where Louise Fletcher (the nurse from Cuckoo's Nest) was seen eating a whole frog. There was even juice coming out of her mouth.

It scarred me for life.

Of course, I'd like to see it again, to see if I had a similar reaction to the lizard baby from 'V'. Maybe I'd laugh out loud.

Wayne Allen Sallee said...

INVADERS FROM MARS was a remake of a 50s film, the original being creepy for its atmosphere, which I think works much better than lizard-effects. SA had a reptilian-like alien, but the gist of the film was that these 50s kids were duplicated by the aliens and Diana Scarwid, living in Manhattan, is called back to Illinois, Paul LeMat follows her because they were dating, and Nancy Allen runs a Weekly World News kind of paper.

I'm not trying to be harsh re: 9/11, but I had a doctor who was from Bosnia who talked matter-of-factly that quite a few other countries have specific dates as memories, and that he hoped people wouldn't stay freaked out over it. Hollywood propagates it by having scenes like this play out over NYC. Did anyone really think of 9/11 when the helicopter hit the building and skidded down the side in FLASHFORWARD? No, because it was LA.

I'd like to see V succeed, though. The callowness of the TV reporter is a perfect example of how any news program today would be seen, compared with even the 80s, when the first V aired. If they could show more of this, our vanity at thinking we are superior, the remake might work. Not certain its gonna happen, though.

Greg Tramel said...

guess i'm in the minority but i think FF is a better show than V

Greg Tramel said...

i didn't see the V original (or at least don't remember watching it) so i thought they gave away too much the 1st ep & the 2nd ep was sorta ho hum, i'll be watching it the rest of this month but i might not come back in March

like Capcom said, another remake, The Prisoner starts Sunday, i think it will be a much better show than V but i still enjoy FF so what do i know

Bigmouth said...

Does anyone else feel like they're really ripping off BSG with the whole resurrection angle?

Capcom said...

Good post, I agree with everything. Except maybe the Elyse Keaton thing -- ever since Meridith Baxter(-Bernie) went feminazi-ballistic against all men after her divorce, she gives me the creeps. :-P

While I don't care for it, I think that a 9/11 reference is unfortunately to be expected as many shows, including Lost according to some viewers, are making references to it ever since. I keep reading "the show is reflecting our fears and reactions to 9/11, the first time our lives in the US changed forever".....what, doesn't anyone remember Pearl Harbor anymore? I agree, it's almost redundant to work it into a show it at this point, IMHO. And according to some reactions to Fringe's side-handed reference, it still bothers the victims to see it in their entertainment at this point.

I really disliked the warehouse scene as well. As it was happening, it felt very clunky and forced. Hamfisted was a good word to use, Thunderstorm.

You have a good point Wayne about a "look to the sky" aspect. Beginning in the 1950s (or really as far back as Roswell in the 40s) we have been collectively looking to the skies expecting all sorts of oddball things. Not so much now though, so interpretation of that might be more open-ended in a story at this point, especially since many viewers are very young and as yet oblivious to what has happened before their time.

Ditto your opinion on the Talking Hair reporter. It will be interesting if he comes to reveal any redeeming qualities as the show progresses.

Great post and comments as always! Yes, this Sunday Greg! :-D

Bigmouth said...

Regarding 9/11, haven't the writers of FlashForward and V specifically referenced that event as part of their inspiration?

Science fiction seems to be a good lens to examine such tragedies that are still a little raw in our minds. For example, I've long maintained that War of the Worlds was the first great post-9/11 film. When people ask me what it felt like to be in NYC during the attacks, I often direct them to that film.

Bigmouth said...

PS: LOL at the Sy Feinstein channel! My friend has nicknamed Lamar Odom and Khloe Kardashian "Lamardashian"...

Greg Tramel said...

The Prisoner influenced other TV shows

Bigmouth said...

IFC is running episodes of the original Prisoner in advance of the remake. I'll be really curious how they compare -- the original is so iconic and holds up really well. BTW, is the remake going to be a mini- or regular series?

Capcom said...

The original Prisoner dialogue often makes no sense at all. In the finale especially. It's often very surreal and avante-garde-ish in nature. I'm interesting in seeing how off-beat the new show is in comparison, but I'm sure that they won't take as many artistic risks as the original did.

Capcom said...

But...I see they still use the giant security balloon, how great is that.


Thunderstorm said...

Carnivale, a show I adored, was similar to the Prisoner and Twin Peaks in that light, Cap. Strange as hell at times, seemingly for the sake of being strange. But hey, I dig all three of those shows immensely.

I'll be watching Jesus in The Prisoner, hopefully it will give it's own spin.

Looking forward to Caprica in January on the Sy Fynstein channel.

Greg Tramel said...

YES!!, Carnivale was VERY interesting

i'm also looking forward to Caprica

guess i like FF more than V because it is a more unique premise as compared to yet another David Icke reptilian/alien takeover

maybe Fiennes will get killed by April 29 so we don't have to watch his stilted one dimensional acting, i'm fine with the other actors acting

here's a bit more on QED variations


Greg Tramel said...

yeash, Capcom, it's interesting that TPTB say the smoke monster is their version of Rover (giant roving security balloon)

i wonder if the Lost Sonar Fence could keep Rover out

oh, i got it! The Prisoner takes place inside the Temple wherein nobody can escape until Jacob utters they're coming

Greg Tramel said...

The White House Reacts to V

lostmio said...

I'm enjoying the discussion.
It's telling imo how quickly it changed from the current V to the original V and then to other faves and remakes of them.

Confirms my own reaction to V: nothing there to discuss. The characters are largely unforgettable, I don't really care who lives or dies.

I can't help but contrast it with Flashforward. Not network tv's best by a long shot, but I truly care for many of the characters in that show. And it makes me think - especially about things like self-fulfilling prophecy. It's on my dvr schedule.

V just doesn't lend itself to speculation of any sort. I deleted it from the dvr schedule. I'll hold my nose and watch a few more episodes before giving up.