Release Date(s)1983 (August 27, 2019)
Studio(s)Kenneth Johnson Productions/Warner Bros. Television/NBC (Warner Archive Collection)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: B-
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: C
It’s hard to appreciate now, but science fiction entertainment had a huge impact on pop culture entertainment in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Superman had changed the box office forever. Eager to capture a bit of that lightning in a bottle, the major TV networks launched sci-fi shows of their own—Battlestar Galactica on ABC, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century on NBC, and a slate of Saturday morning programming on CBS.
But perhaps the greatest force in network broadcasting during that period was the TV miniseries—think Rich Man, Poor Man, Roots, Centennial, The Winds of War, The Thorn Birds, Amerika, North and South, Lonesome Dove, The Winds of War, and of course Shōgun. So it was inevitable that someone was going to attempt to merge the two trends. The result was Kenneth Johnson’s V.
Johnson’s original plan was to write an epic about the rise of fascism and resistance in America inspired by Sinclair Lewis’ satirical novel It Can’t Happen Here (1935), but this script was rejected by NBC. So Johnson switched gears, drawing elements from Arthur C. Clarke’s novel Childhoods End (1953) to recast the story in a more appealing genre. The fascists became aliens, who arrive on Earth in a fleet of city-sized spacecraft promising Humanity friendship and all the gifts of their science and culture. Of course, they actually have far more sinister motives.
Essentially an ensemble piece, the story examines why some people collaborate with fascists and some resist. Marc Singer (The Beastmaster, Dallas) and Faye Grant (The Greatest American Hero, 7th Heaven) star as journalist/cameraman Mike Donovan and med student Juliet Parrish, who uncover the truth of these so-called Visitors and eventually lead the resistance to them. Jane Badler (The Doctors) is the Visitors’ evil leader, Diana. And horror fans will certainly recognize Robert Englund (Nightmare on Elm Street) in an early role as the bumbling but good natured alien Willie. For trivia fans, Kenneth Johnson also created TV’s The Bionic Woman, The Incredible Hulk, and Alien Nation. And producer Chuck Bowman not only had an accomplished forty year career in television outside of V, he’s the father of director Rob Bowman (The X-Files, Castle, Reign of Fire).
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment released V: The Original Miniseries on DVD back in 2001. It caused a bit of a sensation at the time; while the series was aired in 1.33:1 for broadcast TV, Johnson intentionally shot it for widescreen (but protected it for 1.33:1). Widescreen is how he prefers it, so V was one of the early TV DVD releases to take advantage of the format’s anamorphic widescreen capabilities in 1.78:1. The Warner Archive’s recent Blu-ray release features a new 1080p HD film scan that preserves the 1.78:1 framing. This does mean you’re losing a little image off the top and bottom, but the frame never feels crowded (though I do wish both 1.78 and 1.33 versions were included just for completion’s sake). The image quality is actually quite good given the material’s vintage. Contrast is solid, with strong blacks and modestly vibrant coloring. Detail and texturing are pleasing too, though a few shots are optically soft and visual effects exhibit the usual optical printing generation loss. Grain is moderate to strong but rarely distracting. It’s certainly a nice image upgrade over the DVD. Note that both of the miniseries’ two parts are presented with intact credits and back-to-back with chapter stops (the complete running time is 197 minutes).
Meanwhile, sound is included in 2.0 stereo in English DTS-HD Master Audio format, a new mix supervised by Johnson. This too is an upgrade over the audio on the DVD (and original broadcast), featuring slightly improved sound effects. The remastered track isn’t what one might call a revelation, but the dialogue and effects are more clear and clean than ever before. Optional English subtitles are available for those who may need them.
The Blu-ray carries over both of the special features that appeared on the original 2001 DVD release, including:
- Audio Commentary with writer/director Kenneth Johnson
- Behind-the-Scenes Documentary (SD – 24:42)
The commentary is as good as ever, full of anecdotes and trivia, production stories, and contextual information. Johnson keeps things lively and interesting for the whole time. The documentary includes behind-the-scenes footage taken during the filming of a number of different scenes, intercut with period interview footage of Singer, Grant, and Bowman. You see Johnson directing, blocking scenes, etc. The quality is low and SD, but it’s still interesting to see.
What’s perhaps most interesting about V today, given our divided global politics, is how relevant it remains. To put it simply, fascism has staged a bit of a comeback around the world in recent years, with authoritarians quick to throw journalists and scientists under the bus. So if its sci-fi elements seem dated, and its visual effects look low-rent by today’s standards, there’s still something compelling about V: The Original Miniseries beyond simple nostalgia value. And fans should find it a decent upgrade on Blu-ray, even with the aspect ratio controversy.
- Bill Hunt