Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Less Meaning, More Action When V Comes Around For The Final Battle

The Good: Interesting characters, Good acting, Tension, Plots
The Bad: Lack of social messages from V, Very hokey conclusion
The Basics: With Earth under siege by aliens who want to harvest humanity, a small resistance works to liberate the planet.

When V aired in 1983, Kenneth Johnson had created an amazing epic with long reaching social messages. It was the biggest mini-series to air up until that point and it remains as one of the triumphs of television movie making. Given where V (click here for that review!) left off, at an ambiguous point where Earth is under siege by the extraterrestrial Nazis known as the Visitors and the Resistance is looking to the skies for any help that might arrive, a sequel was almost inevitable. Instead of a four hour mini-series, this time, it's six and it is somewhat inappropriately (given that there was a television series that followed this) titled V: The Final Battle.

Mike Donovan wakens from a dream where he tries desperately to rescue his son from the Visitor's mothership to the real nightmare, a botched raid on a human processing plant that fails due to the lack of sophisticated weaponry. The Resistance, as Julie notes, needs a victory and a big one at that. As Robin's pregnancy begins to show - especially in the form of a strange scaly ring around her neck - Julie and Donovan conceive a plan; they are going to hit the Visitors on prime time television. During the airing of an important medical announcement, the Resistance infiltrates the assembly and tears John's face off and the transmission is not stopped!

The price of their stunt is losing Julie, who is captured by Diana, the scientific leader of the Visitor expedition. She is determined to convert Julie, using her mind control chamber of horrors only briefly seen in V. While she is captured, Donovan plans a rescue mission and the Resistance takes on an arm's dealer and technical expert, Ham Tyler. Tyler adds tension to the group and when Julie is rescued, the three do their best to work together to save Earth. Robin gives birth to twins and in them there is the potential for the Resistance to claim Victory!

Gone are the social messages of Kenneth Johnson's V, replaced instead with more characters who are attempting to solve the big problem. Gone too are characters like the ones played by George Morfogen and Bonnie Bartlett, which makes sense because they played cerebral characters who were part of the social messages of V. Perhaps the new writing team that conceived V The Final Battle decided the "persecute the scientist" plot of V was all done and buried and that is why they did not mention it in the sequel. Either way, V The Final Battle ultimately is a story that tries to bring some resolution to the many many problems posed and left in V.

That is not to say that V The Final Battle does not do it well; it does. Well, it does everything right up until the very end, when the piece takes an absurdly abrupt turn toward the metaphysical and spiritual. It's a difficult ending to accept after five and a half hours of gritty reality wherein people live and die in very real ways.

Here, the main characters of V have even more to do and there is a sense that they grow and change, which is ideal. Mike Donovan begins this installment with an obsession about finding and rescuing his son. As a result, he puts Visitor Spokeswoman Christine Walsh in a compromised position and he's forced to make a hostage trade for his son. But after all of the effort, all of the hope Donovan had in rescuing Sean, he is forced to deal with the possibility that his son has been converted and that eats him up.

Julie continues to grow as a leader, which opens V The Final Battle quite well. Her experience in the conversion chamber leaves her deeply shaken and troubled. She has a pretty legitimate fear that she has actually been converted and she does everything she can to attempt to prove her suspicions wrong and distance herself from the Resistance. Hers is an almost tragic tale of how much she has lost of her security in the war against the Visitors.

Robin becomes an even more important character this time around as she gives birth the the first human/alien hybrid and the results are reasonably terrifying. Fortunately, actress Blair Tefkin is a professional. She has incredible range of facial expressions and emotes wonderfully through her body language and eyes in a way that is easily convincing to the viewer that everything Robin experiences is real. When Robin becomes empowered, the results are terrific and Tefkin delivers astounding quality then.

Similarly, David Packer once more brings the treacherous Daniel Bernstein to life as a realistic youth obsessed with power. Packer keeps Daniel edgy and creepy and there is an air of unpredictability around the performance that makes the character seem truly dangerous in every scene he is in. Bernstein reminds us that even when the villains are obvious, individuals will act in what they feel is their own best interest; Packer reminds the viewer how fun such a character can be to watch.

There are other notable actors and performances in V The Final Battle: Jane Badler gets a whole lot more screentime in this outing and uses it quite well as the menacing Diana, Neva Patterson plays Donovan's nefarious mother with horrifying coldness and Jason Bernard brings Caleb to life with irritability and inner strength. Indeed, this is one of the best ensemble casts, though much of the series comes down to the performances of Marc Singer and Faye Grant who play Donovan and Julie.

The wonderful thing about Grant and Singer is that they each have a wealth of charisma that they infuse in their characters. There's never a moment the audience fails to believe in either one as a viable individual. And even better, Grant and Singer have wonderful on-screen chemistry that only serves to enhance their blooming relationship as characters.

So, will V: The Final Battle be remembered in the same vein as the socially important, expertly executed V? Not likely. But it is certainly a worthy follow-up and entertaining. And for those who watched V, there is a need for some resolution. V The Final Battle, at the very least does that. At best, it tells a decent story with style.

For other invasion or invasion-like stories, please check out my reviews of:
Robert A. Heinlein's The Puppet Masters


For other television and movie reviews, please check out my index page.

© 2010, 2003 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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