I meant to write about this much sooner, but there was a Vanity Fair retrospective on V this spring with a lot of great information.
We ate up V in the post-Star Wars years, with its modern VFX and irresistible high-concept of “good aliens” visiting Earth—but they’re actually evil lizards. (All of the best iconography was ripped off for Independence Day.)
I’m not kidding:
Unfortunately, the high-quality, original four-hour miniseries written and directed by Kenneth Johnson (The Bionic Woman, The Incredible Hulk) was followed by a six-hour V: The Final Battle—which was a bit goofy, but not altogether horrendous—and then an absolutely disastrous, 19-episode V: The Series.
Read the Vanity Fair piece for all the background as to what went wrong.
I remember, at the time, it was just one of the things we kids learned about the rare sci-fi or comic book project that got made, especially with a big budget:
1) It would probably suck.
2) If it was actually good—don’t worry, the sequels would suck.
I mean, Superman III, Conan the Destroyer, Poltergeist II...this was not a good time.
Long story short, the franchises would inevitably have their budgets cut and be turned over to hacks to generate “more of it,” and collapse into a heap of dreadful TV clichés.
V was so cool and so interesting, it was sad what happened to it. It had cool designs, a great mythology, memorable characters—particularly Michael Ironside as Ham Tyler. There was even a DC comic-book adaptation. I definitely remembering buying this issue:
I didn’t watch most of V: The Series, which aired Friday at 9PM (probably too late for an 11 year-old). It turned into some kind of idiotic, Las Vegas sci-fi alien Dynasty:
Ah, Diana vs. Lydia—Jane Badler and June Chadwick. That was a big deal, at the time.
Years later, I was a recent L.A. transplant where I met David Packer, who played the visitors’ human collaborator, Daniel Bernstein, in the two miniseries:
I had a great time hanging out with David. I haven’t seen him in over 15 years, and I don’t even know how to contact him. But I miss him and his friendship meant a lot to me. Not because he was an actor in V, which honestly I didn’t even notice because he was older and I hadn’t seen V in ages—but because he was a great guy and really good friend.
One time David and I were having lunch an Italian restaurant (long gone) called Rosti’s. We were sitting outside and a shirtless vagrant walked up—in a movie, he would have been played by young Bo Hopkins. This guy grabbed our table’s bottle of balsamic vinegar, reared back and chugged it, straight. David said, “Dude, that’s gross.” The guy just mumbled, “My whole life’s gross.”
During the making of V, David was in the middle of an infamous Hollywood tragedy involving the murder of actress Dominique Dunne. I won’t recount this—it’s in the Vanity Fair piece. David did talk about it—and I won’t share what he said, either. But I will say that he was very eloquent and thoughtful, and carried the weight of it very seriously.
One highlight of this period was when David took me to a V convention in downtown L.A., around 2000. I got to meet legendary sci-fi smokeshow Jane Badler, in person:
That’s me on the far left, a woman I don’t recall, David, Jane Badler, and June Chadwick.
I’m in a photo with Diana and Lydia!
I had such a crush on Jane Badler. I think we all did? Imagine my thrill when I later learned, she’s not just a lizard—she’s Jewish!
I also remember meeting Judson Scott at this event, who mentioned that he had starred on Broadway alongside Al Pacino in Shakespeare’s Richard III...and I got the sense that he mentioned this a lot. He was mostly known for his 1980s sci-fi appearances (Star Trek II, V, The Phoenix). But did you know he starred alongside Al Pacino on Broadway?
I asked Scott about the memorable moment (to me, anyway) in Star Trek II when his character can’t raise the shields and he pounds his fists on the Reliant console. He said something to the effect of, “Yeah, that console was made of such flimsy wood, I had to pull my punch, or I’d go right through it.” At 4:10 here:
Celebrities: don’t ever tell me anything. I’ll use it!
Years later, I was excited to check out a new V series on ABC...and boy did my heart sink. It limped along for two years with clumsy network plotting, like it was trying to be 24. I gave up.
Today, Kenny Johnson is endeavoring to make his own movie trilogy adaptation of V. He was so well-established in 1982 that he kept the feature film rights. (Again, it’s in the article.) I’d watch that!
One thing that’s sort of amusing, sort of sad in the article is that the familiar V insignia that’s all over their hats and ships? Here it is on a pillow you can apparently buy:
Well, it’s based on a Nazi swastika. I mean, kind of obvious?
So, congrats, idiots—you just got yourself a swastika pillow. Or tattoo. Or God knows what.
But here’s Jane Badler eating a guinea pig:
Greetings to our lizard overlords who may be reading this in deep space.