Monday, October 02, 2006

This Review Came from Earth-K! V for Vendetta...the MOTION PICTURE

I finally saw V for Vendetta this weekend. I didn’t rush right out to see it in the theater or immediately rent it because the Wachowskis are, at best, hit and miss; and that’s taking into account that I’m the only person in the world, it seems, who thought the first Matrix was crap. The other reasons I didn’t see it were From Hell (the movie), LXG (and if the fact that this film was renamed LXG doesn’t tell you everything about the process of the book’s adaptation, then there is little hope for you) and the fact that Alan Moore didn’t want to have anything to do with it.

I don’t worship at Moore’s altar, but I do think he does good work most of the time. The first League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, a lot of his super-hero work, From Hell, Tom Strong (and the majority of the ABC line) are all really great reads that often have additional layers of either meaning or metafictional goodness, but they don’t mean he can do no wrong. Similarly, the fact that he’s done some stuff that is virtually unreadable (Promethea) and is now making forays into depicting child (and adult, to be fair) pornography as art doesn’t mean he has lost all ability and credibility. That being said, I do think it means something when an author says he doesn’t want to have anything to do with adaptations of his work. Be he prima donna who doesn’t like his vision to be futzed with or an indignant artist who feels his work is being manhandled, you make the call! Frankly, I think Moore is both…that’s how even-handed (fence-riding) I am.

The movie is watchable. I’m not willing to give it much more than that. Natalie Portman once again hands in a performance that makes me wonder what the hell she was doing when she was on screen in the Star Wars prequels. In other words, it was good to the point of amazing whereas she could have been replaced with CGI in Star Wars, and that C stand for cardboard. Hugo Welling does an AMAZING job of creating V through voice alone and left me wondering how he managed to make me think the Fawkes mask looked sad at times. The rest of the cast does their jobs well and the art direction/set design is very visually interesting.

The film wasn’t without problems, however. Moore’s book very starkly placed fascism and anarchy at two ends of the political spectrum, having the government decidedly fascist and V blatantly working towards anarchy. The movie has a totalitarian government with fascist overtones, but doesn’t really make them ideologically fascist. V, on the other hand, seems to be focused on freedom as opposed to anarchy, but the two aren’t remotely the same thing. This isn’t the only place that the movie diverges from the book, but it is by far the most problematic. I’m prepared for changes in narrative and characterization (like giving V a characterization, for one thing), but what we have here is a total transplant of ideas and concepts into a very similar story. America worships freedom as the ultimate end and the only thing we should be focused on, but that isn’t nearly the same thing as the anarchy that V espouses in the book. The ideological transplant ends up being something like a decent but noticable nose job. Each piece looks good on its own and they fit together reasonably well, but it isn’t a perfect match.

This leads to another chink in the armor. Alan Moore was a disenfranchised Englishman making political commentary about Thatcher-era England by setting his story in a dystopian UK. The Wachowskis are apparently disenfranchised Americans who don’t have the balls to do a political commentary on Bush-era America set in America, so they co-opt V for Vendetta and let the framework of the story and England do the heavy lifting. It makes the use of the phrase "Uncompromising Vision" on the above poster a little ironic and annoyed me the longer I watched. I desperately wanted them to tell me a story where America’s current situation was taken to a logical extreme and have it make an impact on AMERICA. The whole thing feels like a giant copout and I’m surprised I didn’t hear more about it when the movie first came out.

While the set dressing was very nice, there were a couple of serious disconnects for me. One was every time the Chancellor addresses his cabinet from a 70ft screen. It is a great visual, very Orwellian (a literal Big Brother), but not even remotely realistic. I mean, seriously, if I were elected President in ten years and started telling my cabinet and the Congress that I’d be addressing them only from some hidden location and instead of a serviceable big screen television, they’d have to look at a face 70ft tall, there is no way the press wouldn’t find out about it. Even a press controlled by the State wouldn’t be able to suppress fun facts like that and I would instantly be seen as a super-villain of some sort. Nobody besides world conquering megalomaniacs would relate to people this way!

My final analysis: watch the flick, but be prepared for a C movie with some A+ stuff that nets it up to C+ or B- if I’m feeling generous. The messages and themes get muddied up something fierce and nobody is really quite the same as they are in the book, but its still entertaining. In fact, if you are a lover of the graphic novel, I think you’ll probably be unhappy about the adaptation, so you should probably just save yourself the heartache. Instead, be happy that you can now buy a really nice Guy Fawkes mask from DC Direct.


Anna said...

We just watched this last week. Since I haven't read the novel (and didn't know it was based on anything), I didn't come into the movie with any expectations. I really enjoyed it. If I had known it's background though, I'm sure the differences would have frustrated me.

Anonymous said...

I loved the book. And the movie was enjoyable from an entertainment pov, less so if I'm comparing it to everything said in the book. But as I finally saw the movie last night, I wanted to get one of the masks. but stupid DC made the masks so limited. sigh :(