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  Directed by
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  Specs
  • Widescreen 1.85:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  • Dual Sided
  Languages
  • English: Dolby Digital Stereo
  • French: Dolby Digital Stereo
  Subtitles
    English, French, Spanish
  Extras
  • Audio commentary
  • Cast/crew biographies
  • Behind the scenes footage

V - The Original Miniseries

Warner Bros./Warner Bros. . R4 . COLOR . 196 mins . PG . NTSC

  Feature
Contract

"V" was a shock when it was broadcast in the early 1980's. It came after a slew of science fiction films that portrayed a friendly universe where homesick aliens wanted to 'phone home' and even if they looked strange, had the same core values as humans. There was a fundamental goodness to the universe and 'first contact' situations.

That was to be shattered with a well publicised and confronting mini-series from NBC. Aliens were like us, good and bad but if they took the trouble to travel lightyears to visit us, could they not also travel lightyears to conquer us?

"V" is violent, gory and it paints its philosophical leanings like the broad brushstrokes of director Paul Verhoeven. I am reminded of how confronting and uncompromising and 'unsubtle' Verhoeven is while watching this. It's very clear that the portrayal of the alien 'visitors' is supposed to be an allegory for the Nazi Third Reich. The aliens like Hitler, needed breathing room. A good comparison might be 'Starship Troopers'.

However as obvious as this is, I was surprised with how subtly this series showed the political machinations of a dominant occupying force. One minute it's all mutual cooperation and scientific sharing and next its curfews and a stormtrooper on every corner (in the interests of public safety). Clearly the writers have learnt from Vietnam about media manipulation and the power of martial law. It's is fascinating to watch how different people accept the erosion of fundamental freedoms, privacy and the acceptance of military rule as a consequence of supposed terrorist activities. It is the story of how the resistance forces meet their fascist oppressors and how it affects the civilian populace. Sound like more earthly conflicts doesn't it?

That's a bit more important than the fact that the visitors are in fact, reptilian.

  Video
Contract

The top right corner of the box is enough to alert most peoples' attention. 'NTSC region 4'. NTSC on a region 4 title? What? I'll come back to this later...

This looks like a decent Warners region 1 transfer. It's anamorphic 1.85 that fills the entire frame. For a 1983 print, it's gorgeous. Bright, colourful, saturated, high contrast with a good rendition of skin tones. So good in fact that it highlights just how bad some of the special effects really are. I am reminded about the first time I saw 'Star Wars' on laserdisc, yes the sound and picture were better than anything I've seen before but never were the special effects so laid bare. What looks like edge enhancement is actually some poor matte work.

I would note that the colours and especially skin tones can seem a little inconsistent - a good example is the bright red of the Visitors' uniforms. In some scenes they look like a brightly oversaturated fire engine red, in others they look burnt orange. Sometimes shadow detail is a little poor during the many night sequences. There are also isolated incidents of frame damage; blotches, cracks, rings and the like.

This is a dual sided, single layer disc so there's no layer change.

  Audio
Contract

There are two tracks - English and French Dolby 2.0 tracks at 192k/s. The box says there's a 5.1 track but that's an error.

Ok, I'll get the good bits out of the way. There's good vocals and reasonable fidelity from the sparse score. There's also decent mid bass from the many explosions and the deep 'hummm' from the big motherships. There's also reasonable rear ambience cues from the many action scenes.

But this is 1983 and the mix hasn't been altered all that much. There's breakup in some isolated instances. There's also a fair bit of 'hollowness' to the soundtrack in general and there is a general incongruity to the makeup of the track in that the sound editing seems a bit patchy.

For a front-centric track there's mediocre front steering and soundstaging. Obvious effects like laser shots from left to right ring left to right on your speakers. The last time I saw this was in the mid 80's with a monophonic television and even now, I am reminded of that even though it's now spread across full range fronts and subs.

Anyway it's still a good quality track that is sure to sound good on the vast majority of setups.

"Hmmm... those rodents sure look appetising..."

  Extras
Contract

There's a limited number of quality extras given the fact that this is a dual sided, single layer disc of quite high running time (196 mins).

There's a 24 minute 'behind the scenes' video that is of curiousity value - a mixture of talking heads and a vignette into the shooting on set. Video and sound is of what you'd expect from 1983. Messy.

There's a full length commentary that is of excellent value - an enthusiastic and highly imformative review by the director which is surprisingly detailed given the extended time between final wrapup and the commentary itself. Like many directors, he emphasises economy of shooting and how to multiply limited resources into an illusion of a big budget.

While the director makes it clear that he borrows many influences from a variety of science fiction and war films, you'll also notice that looking back of two decades that many contemporary films borrowed heavily from this series.

To round it out, there's a cast list but not any biographical data. The cast is largely unknown however you can play 'spot the stars' like the late Jason Bernard and the 'assume-to-be-late' Robert Englund. He's nothing like Freddy Krueger here.

  Overall  
Contract

Ok. I can't overlook this NTSC on region 4 stuff. On a practical level, I doubt it will truly affect many people - most of you own multistandard televisions and have substantial region 1 collections. I'd imagine that there are considerable numbers of older PAL only sets and some TV's with poor NTSC conversion.

However this is a PAL country so why force NTSC region 4 as some sort of standard? It isn't a good precendent. It's also dual coded region 1 and 4. I don't feel it's such a big deal practically as I have mostly NTSC material but it is fundamentally wrong.

Here's a petition if you are so inclined:

http://www.petitiononline.com/NTSC/petition.html

With that over, I would note this is only the first chapter of the V series. I think all fans await the 'Final Battle' series which aired in 1984 which is perhaps even a more spectacular production than the original series - bigger budget and more action orientated.

It seems a bit odd to not release 'V - The Mini Series' and 'V - The Final Battle' as a dual disc box because the first series ends on a cliffhanger with multiple threads hanging. This disc is a good introduction however we've yet to see the climax and resolution. All the most memorable moments are yet to see the silver side of a DVD. I await the second disc with anticipation. And I hope it's PAL...

It's not out in the US yet so a good guide might be to watch its release in NTSC region 1 first.


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      And I quote...
    "A surprising series both technically and philosophically..."
    - Tony Lai
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