The much anticipated remake of the classic sci-fi television miniseries “V” arrived at Comic-Con International in San Diego on Saturday. Ballroom 20 was packed 4700 strong for a special viewing of the pilot episode, followed by a short question and answer session with the cast and executives.
“Where were you when JFK was shot? Where were you on 9/11? Where were you this morning?” asks the voiceover kicking off the pilot, evoking a tone of impending, historic-level doom. Each one of the main characters is introduced through short vignettes, wherein their ordinary lives are interrupted by what seems to be a rather long earthquake.
Tyler Evans (played by Logan Huffman), a teenager, is seen getting in trouble with his mother, Erica Evans (played by Elizabeth Mitchell, from “Lost”), for staying out late at a party and getting in a fight.
A man, who we later learn is named Ryan Nichols (Morris Chestnut, of “Bones” and “The Cave”), is looking to buy an engagement ring.
Chad Decker (played by Scott Wolf, of “Everwood” and “The Nine”) is a network reporter trying to sleep his way up the corporate ladder.
Father Jack Landry (Joel Gretsch, of “4400”) is seen in his church, where he saves a man in a wheelchair from rubble caused by the apparent earthquake.
And then, we learn that the disturbance causing so much chaos is not an earthquake, but is instead the arrival of massive, city-sized alien spacecraft (which look much like the alien spacecraft from the original series, some 25 years ago, though with somewhat better detailing). The news reports in the background that they have arrived at 29 major cities.
Our first real shot of the aliens is followed quickly by a U.S. jet fighter approaching the craft, and smashing into its shield. The remains of the plane crash into the city streets with some fairly spectacular special effects as the unconscious pilot lands nearby in a parachute.
Scenes of panic and chaos ensue, with multiple shots of military evacuations and people running for their lives. That is, until calm is restored by the appearance of a beautiful woman (played by Morena Baccarin, of “FireFly”) projected on an incredibly large screen display below the ships. “Hello, my name is Anna, and I am the leader of my people…Don’t be frightened, we mean you no harm…this is a momentous day. Until now we thought we were the only intelligent life in the universe. We’re overjoyed to find we are not alone… we need your help, we are far from home…we need some things common on earth.and in exchange we will give you technology that will improve your lives…we will be meeting with your leaders in the time to come…we mean you peace, always.”
Father Landry is concerned about his ability to minister to his congregation. How does he reconcile God with aliens? His fellow priest initially tells him not to worry, as their congregation is composed of three people. That is, until they find their church now full to the brim as a result of the alien arrival.
Erica Evans, Tyler’s mom, turns out to be an FBI agent. She calls her partner Dale Maddox (Alan Tudyk, of “FireFly,” whose appearance on screen elicited quite the cheer from the audience) to discuss the “Visitors.”
[Much of the pilot, at this stage, rapidly switches scenes. It’s less choppy on screen than in text, but the the viewing experience was a bit uneven.]
Anna, the leader of the Visitors, comes to earth and engages in an impromptu quick interview with various reporters who swarm her entrance. She’s first asked what I would ask – hey, how come you look so human, what are the odds of that happening?
Before we get a good answer, reporter on the scene Ryan Nichols, clearly taken by the physical appearance of Anna, chides the other reporters for being rude. Asked by Anna if he has a question, he asks “Are all the visitors as attractive as you?” in a complimentary tone. “Thank you, you’re not so bad yourself,” Anna replies. Once in privacy among her own kind, Anna is seen telling her fellow Visitor “I want him,” in reference to Nichols.
We learn that the Visitors have rapidly opened healing centers in each of the 29 major cities with their ships. These centers can heal any of 65 ailments. It seems like they truly come in peace.
All is not perfect however. Protestors are in the streets, and it seems not all the population of earth is swayed by the lovely Visitors.
Erica Evans is next seen tracking a truck that contains traces of C4 explosives. The FBI previously tracked 20 such trucks, all of the leads having fallen through thus far. But this lead pays off; examining a satellite photo of the scene, Erica discovers a small shack is in place of where the truck should be. Entering the shack, she finds a hidden trap door leading to massive underground hallways containing drums of chemicals, C4 explosives, and a gagged and beaten man who appears to be dead. Unfortunately, there are no prints or other signs of had been there.
Meanwhile Ryan Nichols, our soon to be engaged gentleman, takes a mysterious call on his cell phone. The voice on the other end simply says “You’re needed,” to which Nichols replies “I’m not in that business anymore,” and hangs up. Is it the men with the C4, or someone else? We see later that Nichols continues to receive the mysterious phone calls, and tells his concerned fiancée-to-be is concerned “It’s nothing,” without further explanation.
In the interim, Tyler Evans and his pal have won tickets to tour a Visitor ship. The ride up again delivers some fairly good special effects at this stage.
The ship contains what appears to be a large city. Tyler is immediately entranced by the appearance of an attractive blonde woman who calls herself Lisa (played by Laura Vandervoort, of “Smallville”). The Visitors demonstrate anti-gravitational technology by floating some apples in the air, while the boys flirt with Lisa. Lisa introduces them to their new Peace Ambassador Program, where humans can interact with Visitors and then act as liaisons back in their communities.
Leaving behind the Visitor ship, we return to Father Landry’s church. He’s preaching to his congregation, and apparently less accepting of the Visitors than Tyler. “We are all so quick to jump on the bandwagon, but before we get on, let us at least make sure it is sound. Let us at least examine to make sure it is something we want to climb on board. I am not saying do not trust the visitors, I am just saying lets get to know more,” he tells them.
For this sermon, Father Landry is scolded by his elder priest at the church. The Visitors have brought people back to church and they are a godsend, argues the elder priest. Landry disagrees, arguing that the arrival of the Visitors at this moment when mankind is most in need of a savior is rather suspicious timing, and could result in people worshipping the Visitors. Their conversation is interrupted by the wheelchair-bound man that Landry had previously saved. The Visitors have miraculously healed him.
Cut to Tyler in trouble again. Erica Evans shows him a video of him spray painting a large red “V” on a wall, and accuses him of being obsessed with the Visitors. Tyler admits he got the idea from a YouTube video the Visitors spread, encouraging people to spread hope around the world with the letter “V.” Erica speculates that the boy is troubled due to his father leaving, which just angers Tyler further.
Erica is called away to continue her investigation of the C4. Along with partner Maddox, Erica goes to search a home owned by a lead of theirs, only to find its already been tossed by someone else. It appears the occupants knew the FBI was coming – someone tipped them off. But all is not lost, as they find a text message at the scene concerning a sleeper cell meeting at “4400 Blvd.,” in a not-so-subtle nod to Joel Gretsch old show.
We return now to Nichols and his mysterious phone callers. He’s met by a man named Georgie, who tries to convince Nichols to get involved in inserting himself into a sleeper cell, and to attend the cell meeting. Nichols remains adamantly against the notion.
Meanwhile Anna and Decker meet again. Anna asks Decker to handle the introductory video piece for them, and conduct an exclusive interview. But, there’s a catch – Decker cannot ask any questions that would paint the Visitors in a negative light. She wants him to stick to softball questions during the interview, and will cancel the interview if he refuses. He offers to be fair during the interview, to which Anna replies “I need you to be more than fair,” and entices him with the elevation of his career from the interview. Decker reluctantly agrees.
Cut back to Father Landry, where he’s met by the man formerly in the wheelchair. He “knows what the Visitors are really about…” and it seems he has been shot and is dying. “They are going to annihilate us all,” he warns, and gives a package to Landry with the address to a sleeper cell meeting, as he passes away in the church pew.
The remainder of our main characters finally intersect at the sleeper cell meeting, which includes about two dozen people, including Landry, Erica Evans, and Nichols. It seems it is a word of mouth club. Each attendee is to have antiseptic applied to them, and then a “V” shape is cut into the flesh behind one of their ears. A man explains he is making the cut to confirm they are not Visitors, and it’s necessary to see skull bone to make the confirmation.
The cell organizers explain that, in order to walk among us, the Visitors have disguised themselves with human flesh genetically grown over their reptilian skin. The visitors did not just arrive, we’re told, but have instead been among us for decades, preparing to annihilate everyone. The Visitors have infiltrated all aspects of our society, causing wars, drawing human religious faith towards extremism, instigating financial instability, and generally causing chaos on earth for years. The final stage of the Visitor plan began with them revealing themselves to humanity, but all they are doing is to positioning themselves as the savior of mankind in preparation for conquering us.
The cell leader asks the obvious question, “You think were crazy, right?” “Do you have any proof?” he’s asked? Landry does. It’s a bunch of photos from the package he received from the man in the wheelchair. Photos of Visitors living on earth. Erica notices one of the photos, and see’s it is the man the FBI is hunting. He is a visitor, part of a sleeper cell of Visitor terrorists.
While all this is occurring, Anna is being interviewed by Decker. Anna explains that the Visitors have “evolved to dispel all negative feelings,” and they believe that “tranquility is the key to happiness.” The Visitors want to set up additional healing centers in all major cities, and set up universal health care for all through the centers. At the conclusion of the interview, the Visitors tell Decker they are pleased with him compromising his principals to allay the fears of man, and Anna will call on him again in the future when she has something to say.
Returning to the resistance cell, they find their meeting cut short by a raid. Bullets fly, and people are thrown about as if they were toys. Landry and Nichols fight back, and Erica manages to bang on of the attackers in the head, knocking off part of it’s false skin to reveal part of the lizard-like head beneath – the attackers are Visitors. Landry and Erica flee in one direction as Nichols and Georgie leave in another.
“They are animals,” says Georgie. “Not all of them,” says Nichols, as he shockingly pulls back skin on his arm and reveals himself to be a Visitor. “There are others out there like me,” says Ryan, “traitors, deserters, and we want to help.”
Nichols leaves to return home to meet with his girlfriend, Val (Lourdes Benedicto). Val is crying. She thought Nichols was cheating on her, and searched the house for evidence. She instead found the engagement ring. “Do you still love me?” she asks. “More than you will ever know,” he answers.
Meanwhile, Erica and Landry discuss the situation: what next? “We help the resistance, we recruit, we bring more into the fold…we have to be careful,” she says. Landry agrees. But what weapon will they have to fight against the most? Devotion.
Cut to a final scene of young recruits aboard the Visitor ship, wearing military-like uniforms. We see Anna in the window, and as the camera pulls back from her face, we are left with her slightly diabolic look.
After much applause, the panel was introduced, including executive producers Jeffery Bell (“Alias”), Scott Peters (“4400”), Steven Pearlman (“Related”), Jace Hall (“Chadman”), and stars Elizabeth Mitchell, Morris Chestnut, Joel Gretsch, Morena Baccarin, and Scott Wolf.
The panel went immediately to Q&A.
When asked why they decided to do this remake now, the producers agreed that “V is 25 years old and still loved. It’s a post 9/11 world, we have economic distress, we’re talking universal health care, and it just seemed like the right time to say “What if 29 ships just showed up to solve all our problems?”
When asked if the actors were familiar with the original material, Baccarin answered “I was totally into it originally, creeped out with my brother.”
Mitchell agreed, “I did watch it, I have huge memories of the alien baby.and I enjoyed watching the space shuttle races,” she said.
A fan asked if Baccarin will have to eat rats, like the original series, she answered “I’m gonna rely on my wonderful producers to not make me put furry things in my mouth.” In response to some subsequent juvenile snickers from the crowd, she said “Leave it…leave it alone right there!” to resulting laughter from the audience.
Another fan asked if the producers had trouble writing a new show based on an old one, to which Peteres answered, “It’s a wonderful, terrific piece when it was originally created, but the world was a different place and different things resonated with people then, than now. So, we are finding our own voice and way of telling it.”
Regarding Jace Hall and his experience with online ventures carrying over to this show, Hall responded, “Rest assured, we are absolutely thinking about it, talking to Scott and Jeff and with the studios and everyone is supportive…so, yeah.”
Responding to a comparison to “Battlestar Galactica,” Bell answered “They are a military show, we are not. There is something special about showing people of all races and creeds coming together, and what do you do when you are presented with something amazing…and rather than running away, people face it. What does a business man or a mom do when faced with this? But we are very aware of Battlestar and the precedent it has set.”
You can look forward to seeing “V” as a midseason show, most likely premiering sometime in November on ABC.
At the panel: Jeffery Bell, Scott Peters, Elizabeth Mitchell, Morris Chestnut, Joel Gretsch, Morena Baccarin, Scott Wolf, Steven Pearlman, Jace Hall; Moderated by Craig Thomashoff