If Ray Bradbury had written 'Planet of the Apes' . . .
The creator of ''The Incredible Hulk'' and ''The Bionic Woman'' is now introducing to American TV audiences a horde of reptilian ''Visitors'' from deep space.Skip to next paragraph
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V (NBC, Sunday, 9-11:15 p.m.; Monday, 9-11 p.m.) is the most expensive project ever made for television on a per-hour basis, claims its creator-writer-director Kenneth Johnson (also executive producer). He envisions ''V'' as more than a mere science-fiction miniseries but rather as a continuing sociopolitical action-adventure series.
I found ''V'' a bit of an Orwellian comic strip. It's as if Ray Bradbury had written ''Planet of the Apes'' - on one of his off days. But Orwell and Bradbury would both be worth watching even on their off days. So is ''V.''
This two-part pilot for a new series concerns the appearance on earth of 50 huge space vessels carrying thousands of smaller spaceships and seemingly humanlike Visitors who say they come in peace. They turn out to be lizardlike creatures who plan to destroy the earth after gaining control step by step, in the Nazi manner. Scientists become the persecuted Jews of this weird totalitarian regime, and resistance among earthlings grows until it becomes a widespread liberation movement.
In the midst of some rather simplistic plotting and too-obvious analogies, author Johnson manages to make some telling comments about life on earth. There is valid social commentary on our misuse of water, our dependence on mass communications, our commercialization of daily life. For example, a few weeks after the Visitors take over, there are Visitor dolls in all the toy stores.
There are scenes of shock and horror in ''V,'' but they are used to make the scenes of reality seem even more real. The dazzling special effects reflect big-screen production values. ''V'' harbors a great deal of relevant social commentary within the framework of its sometimes hackneyed science-fiction format. Perhaps comparing it to Orwell or even Bradbury may be reaching a bit . . . but it certainly is superior commercial-television fare.
Chat with author-director Johnson
I previewed the 4-hour-and-15-minute pilot miniseries the other day, then asked to speak to its creator. Next morning, with the sound track of the final print audible through the projection booth window, he called me from Warner Bros. TV, not far from the Malibu coastline and Santa Monica Mountains, where much of the spaceship action was filmed.
Johnson's seemingly artless and enthusiastic comments zoomed cross-continent like an unending flow of flashing laser beams. I felt a bit like the host of the Miss America competition calling out the topic, with the contestant (in this case Johnson) eagerly expanding on the category.
How did it all get started . . . ?
''About two years ago I began to be concerned about my own complacency and the complacency which many of us in America share. We have our own trials in our lives, but few of us think that our lives can ever be affected by something on a grand scale from the outside. That's a dangerous state of affairs, so I began researching what societies have been like as they began to be taken over by totalitarian regimes - the rise of the Third Reich, for instance. I was intrigued by the notion that people in America would probably polarize in the same way.
''I began looking for a way to tell the story, building off the roots of neofascism as I saw it in the country today. But NBC was not sure that we would be able to convince American TV audiences that a home-grown police state could come to exist, so I thought of an occupying army like the Russians or the Chinese. But I couldn't convince myself that they would have the power to sustain a prolonged occupation of the United States.
''Then it came to me that this alien occupation army should really be alien . . . from space. But I didn't want it to be typecast as just another science-fiction melodrama. The story I wanted to tell was not the story of space visitors, but rather about how people change and decay or grow into heroic proportions, based upon an extraordinary set of circumstances.
''The heart of the story deals with the human dilemma and the moral conflicts people get into when a strong external force comes into their lives. I am hoping my fellow Americans will begin to question their own complacency the same way I began to a couple of years ago.''