Remake full of vitality

Some story lines just never get old - star-crossed lovers, mistaken identity, lizard men from outer space.

It's impossible to tiptoe around the main plot device of V - those aliens may be smart and purty but are up to no good - because it is, of course, a remake of the 1983 miniseries.

And even if it weren't, writer Scott Peters has infused the pilot with plenty of sly sci-fi references and computer-generated special effects.

Although fans of the first V may find themselves longing for Richard Herd's Supreme Commander in his jaunty jumpsuit and funky glasses, this V is not only sleeker, faster and more visually gripping but promises to be thematically more compelling.

Its opening sequence is a masterpiece of back-story compression.

What appears to be a tremor startles a series of characters: Erica Evans (Elizabeth Mitchell from Lost) is an anti-terrorism agent with the FBI and divorced mother of Tyler (Logan Huffman), a basically decent but rebellious teenager.

Chad Decker (Scott Wolf from Party of Five) is a newscaster who aspires to do more than "read the news"; Father Jack Landry (Joel Gretsch of The 4400) is a young priest working among the homeless, and Ryan Nichols (Morris Chestnut) has just purchased the engagement ring he hopes to offer Valerie (Lourdes Benedicto).

All of their plans are put on hold, however, when the earthquake turns out to be the arrival of an enormous spaceship, one of a matched set now hovering over all the major cities of the world.

But even as the throngs prepare for the requisite scream-flee-and-die scene of mass hysteria, the underbelly of the craft becomes a screen and the lovely Anna (Morena Baccarin) assures everyone that "the visitors" are here to offer technology in exchange for a few undisclosed but very renewable resources.

Undone by relief, Anna's Audrey Hepburn haircut and the promise that the Visitors can cure 65 of our diseases, humans, or at least New Yorkers, neglect to consider that they are a renewable resource themselves.

Fortunately, not everyone is convinced.

Father Jack preaches caution only to be assured by his pastor that the Pope is on board with the Vs.

Erica worries that "terrorist chatter," though down among many groups, shows one major spike - one cell seems to be arming itself pretty heavily, planning an attack, she assumes, when everyone is distracted by the aliens.

The original V drew obvious connections between the Visitors and the Nazis, and much has been made over the possible anti-Obama sentiment of this V.

The instant adoration, the attractiveness and rhetorical skills of Anna, the idea that the Visitors will woo us with universal health care and then destroy us all seem a right-wingish take on the US President's ascendancy.

Perhaps that is the creators' intent, but most successful science fiction contains an element of, if not outright humour, then the absurd.

That the human race will be enslaved not through brainwashing or firepower but adequate health care is pretty hilarious in a dark and almost possible way.

And Anna and her crew seem to embody more of a Wall Street deregulated/Bernie Madoff mentality - big returns for minimum investment.

And we all know how that turns out.

But just because something's a chestnut doesn't mean it isn't worth watching.

• V premieres tomorrow at 8.30pm on TV2.

 

- Mary McNamara of the Los Angeles Times.

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