ABC's 'V' remake succeeds by recalling all the science fiction movies it inspired
When the alien visitors bring massive spaceships to float over the world's largest cities, you will think of Independence Day. As the visitors begin to win over the world's admiration with advance technology and unfailing politeness, you will think of Invasion of the Body Snatchers or early moments from The Day the Earth Stood Still.
And when it becomes obvious they have hidden, dark motives and have been manipulating Earth's culture for many, many years, you may even think about real-life events such as the 9/11 attacks, the occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan or the spread of McCarthyism.
Which is why ABC's version of V is so powerful. Because so much of the stuff that influenced it was sparked or encouraged by the original, 1983 version. (See ABC's site for the show here.)
Back when NBC offered its first ambitious miniseries about an alien race which sought to conquer Earth by tricking it into subservience, the ideas behind the work were so much stronger than the actual execution.
On the surface, the idea was simple: Alien ships appear across the world hovering over important cities, eventually announcing in messages tailored for each country's language that the aliens mean no harm and need select compounds from Earth to survive. But they eventually come to dominate the world's governments, convincing humans to demonize scientists while secretly implementing their real, super-horrific plans for our people.
Stuck with '80s-level TV special effects, the miniseries offered spaceships that looked like balsa wood models and laser blasts that seemed drawn onto the film like cartoons. Even the big reveal of the aliens' true nature left them looking more like rejects from an old Star Trek episode than anything truly horrifying.
Flash forward to 2009, where TV production values have advanced enough to compete with film effects, and ABC's new V features realistic-looking spacecraft, aliens with the demeanor of corporate raiders and a fighter plane crash in the first few minutes that quite literally blows away the screen.
Would a world wracked by war, economic instability, lack of health care and inexplicable conflicts welcome a benevolent-seeming alien race if they offered an answer?
And what if it turned out they were the source of all the problems in the first place?
The only bad sign for me: ABC has decided to air four episodes in November and then shelve the limited series until March, after the Olympics. That's an awfully long time to expect fans to wait; if ratings go well, expect some revision in those plans.
Producers of the modern V wisely ditched the old miniseries' ham-handed references to Nazism and totalitarianism -- from militaristic aliens to an old Jewish couple ready to voice the obvious Holocaust allusions -- for the more modern bogeymen of corporate greed, terrorism and colonialism.
After all, if an alien race was bent on dominating Earth, wouldn't it make more sense to convince us to subjugate ourselves?