V For Vendetta: Special Edition Review
On a rooftop over London, Evey (Natalie Portman) stares at the figure who had, moments before, saved her from being raped and murdered. Out of the darkness he had come but seconds after two of the government's undercover squad, better known as the Fingermen, had put their hands on her, holding her down whilst another unzipped his trousers. All that she'd seen was a wide-brimmed hat, a cloak and a white mask before the flash of steel and the cries of the Fingermen.
And now, as she sits, looking up at him with his back turned towards her, he talks of music, of an orchestra and, as the brass sounds out from the speakers in the street below, a coming crescendo. Waving his baton in the air, V (Hugo Weaving) mourns the long years that Madam Justice has been absent from our shores and as the music reaches a finale, the first of the bombs in the Old Bailey ignites. Thereafter, so too do dozens more before fireworks glisten in the sky. V disappears and Evey returns home, feeling as safe as he said she would. V, meanwhile, returns to his home, the Shadow Gallery, and awaits the reaction of the government.
The next day, the fascist government of Supreme Chancellor Adam Sutler (John Hurt) declares the event a planned demolition but he is secretly hurt, warning his cabinet that this terrorist must be caught. Leading the search for V are the boorish thug Creedy (Tim Pigott-Smith) and doubting cop Finch (Stephen Rea), with each one employing their particular methods. Where Creedy goes, the prison cells fill to bursting and blood flows in the gutters whilst Finch prefers a quieter, more methodical pace. But V is rarely anything less than one step ahead of them both and he leads them on a mystery tour of the darkest moments in their nation's recent history and on to a future that, if he goes unstopped, threatens to bring it down.
V For Vendetta is a very British book. Although it does proclaim its Britishness in its location, particularly with its use of the Palace of Westminster, abandoned Underground stations and a motorway road sign pointing towards The North, its a book that takes no small amount of pride in the place that the nightly news broadcast had in the evening television schedules. It almost praises one's willingness to stare into the news headlines and to take stock of the worst of humanity. David Lloyd says as much in his introduction to the 1990 compilation, "[V For Vendetta] is for people who don't switch off the news."
Again, it is also a very naive book. Alan Moore admits as much, saying that he and Lloyd believed that, when beginning their writing of the comic, the Conservatives were bound to lose the 1983 General Election to Michael Foot's Labour Party, who would, when in power, dismantle Britain's nuclear deterrent, leaving it free from attack in the nuclear war that would, in the years that followed, occur. A fascist state would follow thereafter. Moore as much as laughs at it now but that's only one, and not the only one, moment of political naivety. More pronounced is Moore and Lloyd's wish to use V as an agent of chaos, much more a belief that a moment of chaos is not an unwelcome one than a wish for V to be an agent for an incoming democracy. Freely associating Aleister Crowley with Enid Blyton - "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law!" is followed by mention of Blyton's The Land of Do-As-You-Please and The Land of Take-What-You-Want - Lloyd wrote to Moore in a letter that Fawkes ought not to be burned every 5th November but that for his attempt to blow up Parliament, he ought to be celebrated. As a Catholic and having moments of political naivety as much as does Moore and Lloyd, I don't find it at all difficult to sympathise with that particular view on Fawkes, leaving V For Vendetta a work with much resonance. It is, with hindsight, easy to look back at its predictions and laugh but suddenly a word or phrase appears and that laughter rings hollow. Was it Adam Susan who said, "The war put paid to freedom"? Or was it in the course of a recent pronouncement by our own Home Secretary?
As produced by Joel Silver, written by the Wachowski Brothers and directed by Matrix Second Unit Director, V For Vendetta, for all its use of London, it isn't very British. It is, however, politically naive but not in a manner that one might recognise from Moore and Lloyd's book. These being sensitive times, the Wachowski Brothers have excised anything that might permit V to be seen as a terrorist. Post-September 11th, his almost simultaneous blowing up of the Post Office and Jordan Towers have been removed - his actions deafened, blinded and muted the government and precipitated three days of anarchy - whilst his more random killings appear to have been lost between page and screen. Indeed, V, on the page a literal riot of malice and chaos, is now something of an agent of democracy, his bringing down of a government being the handing down of power to the people. On the page and on the screen, V advocates freedom but where the book had him pursuing it en route to anarchism, the film portrays him with democracy in mind, casting a grateful people taking to the streets in search of a voice. The parallels to the scenes in the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 or to the West's current adventures in the Middle East are not particularly hard to draw.
As played by Hugo Weaving, V has a gentle touch to his actions but is assisted by the technology to, in the manner of a post-Matrix world, topple fascist goons in the manner of dominoes. He is not, however, a character that suits the screen, his mask a clumsy intrusion that weakens Weaving's efforts to bring life to the Wachowski Brothers' dialogue. His opening verses, written to confuse Creedy's Fingermen as they stop to arrest Evey, sound muffled, leaving the viewer unsure as to whether they're particularly troubled by what V is saying or just straining to hear him. A perfect example of how something that works in print may not on screen. Thereafter, Weaving's dialogue never quite fits into a particular scene, as without the effect that his surroundings might have on his voice, he tends towards sounding more like a narrator than involved in the action. Ironic, given how one of the rules set by Alan Moore and David Lloyd for their book was the elimination of thought bubbles.
Elsewhere, the film is something of a mishmash of ideas, some good, largely those lifted from the book, and some awful. The arrest and interrogation of Evey is very close to how it's presented in the book and is one of the better sequences in the film, particularly her reading of the letters from Valerie that she finds hidden in the wall. Similarly, the flashback to the Larkhill camp is well done but lacks the detail of the book. Sinead Cusack, however, does a great job in bringing out the guilt in her character, accepting death as though it was her reward. Stephen Fry, on the other hand, has a truly rotten part and has been given a lumpen light entertainment show that's so shockingly awful even the current scheduling department at ITV might pass on it. Fry's character also has the greatest leap of logic, wherein his establishment figure turns on a tuppence to spear the Supreme Chancellor and to reveal a secret cellar full of such forbidden art and literature as homoerotic paintings and the Qur'an. Stephen Rea does what he can with Finch but is a completely different character from that of the book. In Moore and Lloyd's hands, Finch ingested LSD at the site of the old Larkhill camp to get inside V's mind whereas here he's a weary old cop who, as a character, is as much a cliche as the retiring cop who lands the case of his career as his carriage clock is already being wrapped.
Natalie Portman is impressive, however, despite her Evey not being as well-written a character as she was in the book. Never looking to be quite as damaged as she was originally written, Evey is almost a bystander in the action until her arrest and interrogation. Thereafter, she begins to take much more control of her life and the film becomes all the better for it. Her role in the ending of the film, complete with its Viking funeral, makes up for the first hour when she's less sure of V's intentions. Unfortunately, though, that's not quite enough, leaving V For Vendetta as something of a disappointment. Odd though it may be to only see David Lloyd's name on the credits, Alan Moore may well be right in refusing the makers of this film to list his as well. After From Hell, the less one expects of an adaptation of a Moore comic book, the better.
Looking to have sported a certain ordinariness to the picture, this is carried over to the DVD without any obvious faults in either the picture or on the English DD5.1 audio track. Shot largely in a studio in Berlin, V For Vendetta has a studio-bound appearance about it with it, for large parts, looking fake. The alleyways in London, the suburban living rooms and the smoky pubs all conform to what one might expect of the city but not quite enough attention has been paid to get them just right. The streets of London aren't quite filthy enough whilst the abundance of JVC LCD and plasma televisions are but one obvious peculiarity in the design of the film. I can imagine there may well be those who'd welcome a fascist dictatorship in this country if it meant a free 42" television.
The DVD does a decent job with all of this, never outstanding but certainly without problems. The blacks of the night sky are alright but reveal the effects of digital processing whilst the explosions that bookend the film, though impressive, do reveal the digital trickery that went on behind the scenes. The DD5.1 track is good, however, but despite the visual homage to The Matrix, there is nothing as stunning a moment in the sound stage as one's first hearing of the whoosh of passing gunfire in bullet time.
Freedom! Forever! Making V For Vendetta (15m56s): Short and without substance, this is hardly what one thinks of on mention of a making-of. Featuring interviews with the cast and crew and co-creator David Lloyd but not Alan Moore, who's asked for his name to be taken off the film's credits, this offers a summary of the film and of its source material but without ever divulging much of interest.
Designing The Near Future (17m15s): I expected to hear Alan Parker's adaptation of The Wall mentioned during this but apparently not in spite of the similarities between the two. There isn't even much mention of David Lloyd's work in the original comic book but it's clearly there, such as the Strength Through Purity / Purity Through Faith posters that decorate the walls of what passes for London. With talk of fascist London, on-location shooting in the capital, the design of the costumes and the explosive finale, this is quite a fulsome look at the design of the film but is also slight.
Remember Remember - Guy Fawkes And The Gunpowder Plot (10m17s): His effigy is burned every 5th November but how many actually know the history of Guy Fawkes and the gunpowder plot? This short feature mixes reconstruction and footage from a Fawkes Night celebration, this uses historians to explain the political background to the Gunpowder plot and keeps Stephen Fry on hand to explain its role in British society. Again, it's slight but serves as an interesting introduction to the Gunpowder plot, which should invite the viewer to go looking for a fuller explanation of the time and the conflict that was present between the Protestant ruling classes and the Catholic underclass.
England Prevails! (14m40s): With no involvement from Alan Moore but with David Lloyd, this places V For Vendetta in the context of how comics were evolving at the time before describing the impact that V For Vendetta had as well as how impressive a book it is. Lloyd describes the writing and drawing of the comic as well as the many years that it went unfinished between the collapse of Warrior magazine and the publishing of the compilation book in 1990 whilst some of the crew of the film pop up with their thoughts on the book.
There is also a Cat Power Montage (2m01s), which is a music video by any other name and features the singer performing To I Found A Reason over footage from the film as well as a Theatrical Trailer (2m24s) and a page of Soundtrack Information. Finally, there's an Easter Egg with a hard-cussin' Natalie Portman appearing on Saturday Night Live with a message to shut the fuck up and suck her dick! Oddly, that's probably the highlight of these special features with much more rewatch value than anything else in the set.
The second disc adds very little to this set with the best of the bonus material being the SNL Easter Egg and the look at the comic book. However, the cover art for this two-disc Special Edition is really a cut above that of the single-disc set and, unsurprisingly for a film adapted from a comic book, that does appear to matter a good deal. If only the film hadn't let it down so.
Last updated: 19/04/2018 04:31:27