Following the success of Star Wars in 1977, movie/television producers and studios went through an explosion of sci-fi related movies and shows. There was Battlestar Galactica, Battle Beyong the Stars and even Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Most of these were poorly received.
So, when Kenneth Johnson, who had worked on The Bionic Woman and The Incredible Hulk series, submitted a scripted titled Storm Warnings, an adaptation of Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here, it was initially rejected by NBC. So, Johnson decided to replace the American fascists as man-eating giant lizards from outer space and the rest is history.
It does seem like an odd premise but Johnson makes it work for both the young kids who are still playing with their Star Wars figurines and the adults who can interpret the allusions to World War II and the Holocaust as well as the rise of fascism in Europe during this era. The Visitors, the name given to the aliens, even have a symbol meant to by the Nazi swatiska. There’s also characters who survived the Holocaust.
The two-part miniseries, which premiered over two night May 1-2, 1983 begins with a videojournalist, Mike Donovan (Marc Singer) and his co-worker, Tony Wah Chong Leonetti (Evan C. Kim) covering freedom fighters in Central America when all Hell breaks loose. Donovan is saved when a saucer-shaped mothership arrives in the sky causing the other armies to run away. All over the world, about 50 motherships hover over major cities with the one carrying a huge leader, John (Richard Herd) hovers over Los Angeles.
Initially, officials with the United Nations agree to meet with the Visitors on a transport ship to which the world sees John who appears human, yet he wears sunglasses and has a distinct tone to his voice. Most people consider the aliens to be peaceful. Donovan and his colleague and sometimes girlfriend, Kristine Walsh (Jenny Sullivan), are allowed to go up to the mothership with other officials to film the interiors.
Yet, some people soon suspect the Visitors are not what they seem. Abraham Bernstein (Leonardo Cimino), a Holocaust survivor, is skeptical. One of his neighbors, Robert Maxwell (Michael Durrell), a scientist and anthropologist, and his family soon become the subject of ridicule, as the Visitors claim certain people in the scientific community have been hostile to them. And public opinion against scientists and even medical doctors changes. Sound familiar?
One of those affected is a young medical student, Julie Parrish (Faye Grant) and her fellow physician, Ben Taylor (Richard Lawson), as they become suspicious as some of their other colleagues turn up missing or are falsely accused of crimes. More suspicions arise when Ben’s father, Caleb (Jason Bernard) is injured at a refinery and exposed to liguid nitrogren, but saved by a Visitor named Willie (Robert Englund) who seems unaffected. Caleb and Willie hadn’t been on the right terms because Willie’s shy ignorance doesn’t sit well.
The Visitors are working at the refinery station as part of a program to produce materials the Visitors claim they need. It’s owned by Arthur Depres (Hansford Rowe) who’s married to Eleanor (Neva Patterson), Donovan’s estranged mother, a southern California socialite who eventually becomes a collaborator with the Visitors. Also collaborating is Abraham’s troublesome grandson, Daniel (David Packer) who works with young Visitor officer, Brian (Peter Nelson), to establish a Youth Visitor outreach program. Incidentally, Daniel’s brown uniform is supposed to resemble the Brownshirts in Nazi Germany. Eventually, Daniel becomes willing to turn against people to get in good with the Visitors.
When Donovan and Tony become suspicious of changes in people who have come in contact with the Visitors, they try to sneak on board a mothership but Tony is unable to get on a transport shuttle before the doors close. Donovan hides in crawlspaces and air ducts only to see that the Visitors are not doing what they intended. He witnesses a leader, Diana (Jane Badler), and another high ranking officer, Steven (Andrew Pine), snacking on mice and guinea pigs as they consume the animals whole. He later witnesses and films another Visitor taking off contacts but when the Visitor spots him, they get into a fight when Donovan pulling off the fake skin and revealing the Visitors are reptillian.
Donovan manages to sneak away on a transport with his camera. But when he returns to the news station, the Visitors jam the program signals and announce that many of the Visitiors have been injured as the result of riots and attacks on them. Donovan is also accused of being part of the terrorist organizations so he goes in hiding as the Visitors work with law enforcement and military to round up suspected people.
Things also get worse as Julie and Ben try to organize a resistance group including a police officer, Brad (William Russ), who has been critiqued for his resistance. They eventually have to get Ben’s brother, Elias (Michael Wright), who has a criminal history to help them.
Donovan and Tony are eventually captured by the Visitors where Donovan learns through a Vistor officer, Martin (Frank Ashmore) that the Visitors are planning on draining the Earth of its fresh water. They are also kidnapping people for food. One of those kidnapped is Donovan’s son, Sean (Eric Johnston) and his ex-wife, Marjorie (Joanna Kerns.) Martin is part of a group of resistant Visitors known as the Fifth Column who are opposed to what John and Diana want to do on Earth.
Eventually, friends become enemies and enemies learn they have to get along to battle the Visitors. While the first miniseries is only approximately three hours long, it ends on a cliff-hanger as the resistant fighters have won their first battle but suffered casualties.
In 1984, a three-part miniseries titled The Final Battle was released May 6-8. However, Johnson reportedly got into a disagreement with Warner Brothers television division during pre-production. He’s listed in credits under Lillian Weezer. Even though the second miniseries was supposed to end it, NBC commissioned a TV series to take place following the events that was include more visitors who were hiding out stationed on the dark side of the moon.
However, the series lacked the creativity and appeal of the two miniseries. Each episode cost approximately $1 million, very high at the time, but they instead reused visual effects whenever they could from the first miniseries. They also did away with the Visitors’ distinct resonance. Instead the series introduced new characters and got rid of characters we had come to know. This ended up hurting the franchise as critics said the series seemed resemble the primetime soap operas at the time, such as Dynasty and Knots Landing.
Donovan and Julie eventually seem to have a romantic relationship at the end of The Final Battle but this is quickly disposed of in the series. Donovan, himself, would become like a goofy character always wearing the same work gloves and leather jacket in almost each scene. Also, many of the Visitors were shown without their human skin, which destroyed the creepiness when it’s first shown. As Bill Murray said in Ghostbuster II, they’re “some big lizard.”
Johnson would go on to create the TV series Alien Nation based on the movie, which like V had some similarities with humanoid characters. An attempt by ABC to revive the series in 2009 lasted for two series with Badler and Singer making cameos. But the series was heavily criticized for being an allegory for the Obama Administration as the first episode aired on the one-year anniversy of Barack Obama’s presidential election.
But the influence has been shown in other medium. In the 1996 blockbuster Independence Day, Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin, who wrote the movie, were said to have been influenced by the scenes of the motherships hovering over New York City, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. District 9 would also have an alien mothership hovering over Johannesburg, South Africa.
In the real world, you can see parallels over the last 10 years. Politicians and elected officials have questioned the media and even irrefutable taped evidence. Then, you have a growing distrust for those in the medical/science community. Following Covid-19 pandemic, people questioned Dr. Anthony Fauci and the Centers for Disease Control. Even though they live-streamed their actions during the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection coup attempt, people have denied even being there. And as more and more people are convicted, the right is still trying to make the public believe it was Antifa or left-wing militant groups.
Both Lewis in the 1930s and Johnson in the 1980s knew wheat they were doing. You can clearly see the romance of Ronald Reagan in the 1980s and how law enforcement became more militarized in V. It Can’t Happen Here was published in 1935 right after Adolf Hitler came to power but the story is universal.
The moral of that book and V is that people will allow authoritarian fascist groups to come into power because they’re more afraid of being seen as opposed to them, which is reflected through Eleanor Dupres who enjoys working with the Visitors eventually becoming their PR person. Eleanor reminds me of Crystal Minton of Florida who was affected by the government shutdown in 2019. She said she support Trump but “he’s not hurting the people he needs to be hurting” which sums in a nutshell why fascist regimes happen even if they’re reptillian aliens.
What do you think? Please comment.