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V for Vendetta: Two-Disc Special Edition DVD Review

V for Vendetta: Two-Disc Special Edition

August 1, 2006

Director: James McTeigue,
Starring: Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving, Stephen Rea, John Hurt, Stephen Fry, Ben Miles, Sinead Cusack, Tim Pigott-Smith, Rupert Graves, Roger Allam,

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DVD Review

Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s graphic novel V for Vendetta was a product of its time. Moore was disgusted with Margaret Thatcher’s ultra-conservative regime and scared at how close the world was coming to nuclear war. His book was a reaction to what was going on in England at the time. He presented a near-future world ravaged by nuclear war with England somehow escaping the brunt of it (a credit to Moore’s naiveté in regards to the after effects, like nuclear winter) but was nevertheless plunged into chaos.

A fascistic new order rose from the ashes and ruled through force and intimidation. A mysterious figure known only as V, disguised as the living embodiment of Guy Fawkes (a dissident who tried to blow up the Parliament buildings), who wages a one-man war on the government, providing an anarchistic alternative. Moore had crafted a thought-provoking critique of the Cold War and flipped the notion of costumed vigilantes (popular at the time) on its ear.

The Wachowski brothers have always been comic book fans and for years wanted to adapt V for Vendetta into a movie. The success of The Matrix trilogy finally gave them enough clout to get a major studio to bankroll a film with a terrorist as its protagonist. Early trailers and poster art suggested that maybe the Wachowskis had created a movie that actually dared to bite the corporate hand that fed it a la Fight Club (1999). Sadly, they have pretty much gutted Moore’s book, for example, Matrix-izing the action sequences when a much more straight-forward approach would have been so much more effective. In the comic book, the violence is depicted in a horrifically mundane way. The point was that all the glamour and coolness normally associated with fight scenes in comic books was drained from it and that made it all the more chilling.

The film begins pretty much as the comic book does. V (Weaving) rescues a young woman named Evey (Portman) who works in some capacity at a television station during the day and apparently moonlights as a prostitute at night. She is accosted by a group of plainclothes police men who V dispatches with ruthless ease. He then proceeds to educate her in his ways and she ends up helping him systematically take down all of the vital figures in the country’s tyrannical government.

The Wachowskis spend little time setting up this world or its oppressive nature. Instead, we get some half-assed Orwellian society that is brightly lit like a mainstream costumed superhero comic book when it should look more like the dark, oppressive atmosphere of their Matrix films. David Lloyd, who illustrated the graphic novel, adopted a rich, black and white look reminiscent of the film noir genre.

Amazingly, the film reduces V to a buffoonish character prone to prattling off lengthy alliterations like something out of a Dr. Seuss book. In the graphic novels, he had a snarky sense of humour that was verbal in nature. Instead, the Wachowskis decide to parade V around in an apron (?!) and have him fencing with an inanimate suit of armour like some kind of classic cinema fanboy. The film even has the audacity to insert a Benny Hill-style comedy routine complete with the goofy music. This is intended to be satirical in nature but comes as silly and an adolescent.

There is no passion in any of the delivery of the dialogue. The words are just rattled off as if everyone is on autopilot. It’s too bad because you can tell that the screenplay is trying to say something but the message is lost in the bland delivery and the way-too brisk pacing. For a thriller, there is no tension, no build-up to the big set pieces and so, on this level, V for Vendetta also fails to deliver. One of the only things that the film gets semi-right is V’s backstory and the motivation for why he’s doing all of these things. It’s also no surprise that the ten minutes that the filmmakers spent telling us Valerie’s story (a part of V’s past) made us care more about her story than any of the other characters combined. It is no coincidence that it is also the most faithful to the source material.

Structurally, the movie is a narrative mess. It’s all over the place with character motivations that are poorly constructed and explained unless you have read the graphic novel. You don’t feel any empathy or emotional attachment to any of the characters and you end up wondering why someone like Stephen Fry is in this movie. The character he plays is radically different from the comic book version. As a result, he just does not fit in this movie. He is merely a device, someone sympathetic for Evey to play off of because V his not a sympathetic character. Alas, as wonderful an actor as Fry is, it feels like he just walked off the set of Peter’s Friends (1992) and into this movie.

Actually, V for Vendetta has already been semi-adapted onto the big screen with Terry Gilliam’s Brazil (1985) which was much more effective in presenting a fascist England challenged by an anarchistic terrorist who also educates a meek innocent. Gilliam’s film takes way more chances than the Wachowskis who spend too much time trying to comment on our current political situation without demonstrating that they have any understanding of what the graphic novel was about or what Moore and Lloyd was trying to say. V for Vendetta is a major disappointment on all levels.

Special Features:

The first disc features “Freedom! Forever! Making V for Vendetta” which briefly traces the development of the movie from the Wachowskis’ early drafts in the 1990s, which producer Joel Silver claims was very faithful to the graphic novel (“a mess,” he calls it, cinematically speaking), to the current version which he says in is not as faithful in so many words. Artist David Lloyd gives the film his seal of approval unlike Moore who has disowned it. Director James McTeigue and Silver demonstrate little to no understanding of the source material in this extra.

The second disc begins with “Designing the Near Future,” which takes a look at the production and set design aspects of the movie. The filmmakers had a very short pre-production time and so they couldn’t shoot on location in London. They picked Berlin instead because it fit their criteria. Not surprisingly, the filmmakers wanted to create a stylized version of London reminiscent of the source material.

“Remember Remember: Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot” examines the historical figure of Guy Fawkes, a Catholic terrorist who tried to blow up the British Parliament on November 5, 1605. This extra provides the historical backstory to Fawkes and the times he lived in.

“England Prevails: V for Vendetta and the New Wave in Comics” explores the source material with established comic book creators like Bill Sienkiewicz, Paul Chadwick and Geof Darrow talking about the history of the medium and touch upon the British scene in the 1980s with Lloyd talking about the genesis of V.

“Cat Power Montage” is a series of clips scored to the Cat Power cover of Lou Reed’s “I Found a Reason” featured in the movie.

Finally, there is a theatrical trailer.

J.D. is a freelance writer who is currently doing research for a book on the films of Michael Mann. He likes reading anything written by Jack Kerouac, James Ellroy, J.D. Salinger, Harlan Ellison or Thomas Pynchon. J.D. is currently addicted to the T.V. series 24 and enjoys drinking a lot of Sprite. This is not a blatant plug for the beverage but if they ever decided to give him a lifetime supply he certainly wouldn’t turn them down.
view all DVD reviews by JD Lafrance

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