It can be argued that without the likes of Frank Miller and Alan Moore with their 1986 Dark Knight Returns and 1988 The Killing Joke respectively that the modern imagining of the Batman franchise which started so successfully with Tim Burton would never have happened. Moore himself is responsible for some of the most daring comic works of the 1980's with probably The Watchmen being his notable height. One of my all time favourites of his though was The Ballad of Halo Jones, a vision of an overcrowded, bleak future, which in reality was a mirror for the high unemployment the Thatcherite 80s had to suffer. He continued his attack upon this right wing government at the time with his now legendary V for Vendetta, a series originally published in Warrior. Unfortunately though Warrior was cancelled before this story competed it's arc however a number of years later DC Comics stepped in to reunite the pairing of writer Alan Moore and artist David Lloyd and the project was finally completed.
Made into a motion picture by the Wachowski Brothers, Moore himself insisted his name be removed from all promotional material and not to be credited on the film itself. He was angry that he had no input into the screenplay and the final version of the film which hit our screens. Moore has always been against the authorities in one way or another throughout his career, artistic differences with a number of publishers means he's fallen out of favour with more than one. To continue this when his works were moving from page to celluloid seemed like par for the course, and on earlier projects like The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen or From Hell he perhaps had just cause; however V for Vendetta is not a bad film in itself and a good re-working of the original themes as written by Moore, so in some ways it's sad to not see this great man's name credited on this movie.
We start with Evey Hammond (Natalie Portman) preparing to venture out to entertain one of the studio executives where she works; she's a middle ranking office assistant of sorts working for a national broadcaster. Her trip though is late at night, after curfew, and it's not long before Finger Men (local bruisers employed to enforce the governments rule in any way they see fit) detain her and are about to subject her to a catalogue of depravity only their power ridden minds could fathom. She's rescued though by a vaudevillian figure in a cloak and Guy Fawkes mask, V (Hugo Weaving). V's eloquent, well spoken and above all has an inbuilt sense of justice.
Evey accompanies V whilst he blows up the Old Bailey to the tune of The 1812 Overture and at this point in time Evey does indeed wonder if, in her own words, V is just a crazy person. Thinking no more of it though she continues with her life until their paths cross again as V tries to demolish the broadcasting station where she works; the place of media control and propaganda for the governing body. Evey and V's lives are now entwined; V is naturally regarded as a terrorist and Evey his assistant, willing or otherwise. V's commitment to the people to overthrow the government strikes fear into the powers that be whilst raising hope for others who have long regarded the current administration as nothing more than a fascist state controlling its own people through intimidation and fear.
The themes raised in the original book are taken and in my own opinion expanded upon here; updated for the new post 9/11 generation and the somewhat oppressive regulations which followed. In the original book the superpowers have been in a shooting war which has left parts of Africa burned under nuclear holocaust and the UK in the grip of horrendous weather and radiological problems. It is this which enables the ruling party to take and maintain control. In this adaptation it is suspected that the government actually manufactured then released a virus onto its own population to start the regime of fear and to allow the government to apply stringent measures on its own population to keep them in their place. This is a wonderful extension of the themes in the graphic novel and some which no doubt have been amalgamated to the ideas pulled in from George Orwell's iconic 1984.
There are other differences between the book and film; in the film Prothero whilst still being same character, is not dispatched in the same fashion; merely sent insane but the end results are the same. The background to V at the Larkhall internment camp is obviously fleshed out a little better in the book, detailing how the centre came to be in ruins and this really is only where I felt the film lacked somewhat. It's not important to know who V is, the book doesn't divulge this information and neither should the film; but the film should have had more history of V's time there and his eventual uprising.
In the book Evey is younger and more dependant upon V and whilst her parents are still activists they never fell foul of the authorities but in the film they are black bagged and bundled bundled away; this screen version is all the better for it. It adds extra depth and detail to the story as a whole, providing Evey with reasons for the fear that she continually feels. It is this undercurrent of fear which permeates the film and this is why I feel it is a responsible adaptation and as relevant now as it was some 20 years ago. The media continually bombarding the people of the UK with headlines indicating some disaster or another and usually these were caused by subversive elements within their own society or terrorists coming in from abroad. Even jingoistic television programmes revert back to the days where Muslims are shown as sabre wielding evildoers corrupting the virginal Aryan, sweet members of our society. It is this fear which Evey, and most of the UK population, feel every day of their lives. The fear to step out of one's house, the fear of the unknown, the fear of society being attacked and most importantly the fear to speak out. It is this fear which V releases her from, to see that she can fight and shows that fighting an oppressive government is an obligation that one cannot sidestep.
Again the ending in the book is somewhat different than the film; the essential plot elements are the same but the chancellor certainly gets a more fitting scene here than the somewhat disappointing version in the comic strip. So in all I would have to say that this is an erstwhile adaptation, a re-imaging to some degree incorporating ideas from earlier works of fiction exploring totalitarian regimes. It's an almost timeless film which could be watched at any point and at that point you would be able to relate to some Country or another employing the techniques mentioned to subjugate their people into some form of submission.
Other characters from the film are ported over well enough. John Hurt is the all powerful chancellor leading his nation from self induced crises to self induced crises yet always informing the people that they will prevail against the perpetrators heinous acts. Again in a merging of the earlier 1984 Hurt almost represents the Big Brother of that society. Stephen Rae tones down his broad Irish accent for a while to play the London cop on the trail of the terrorist V and he's a good match from the character portrayed in the graphic novel. Not always taking the party line and seeking out the answers no matter who it might implicate. Stephen Fry, for once, comes across well in his role as the entertainment broadcaster who like everyone else has a secret to hide. His crimes though are being homosexual and, God forbid, owning a copy of the Qur'an. Both of these, especially the latter in a society hell bent on eliminating all who are not the same or do not conform, are cause enough to be interned, interrogated and ultimately disposed of.
Direction is acceptable by James McTeigue keeping the film at a steady pace, it neither becomes too slow nor shoots off like a rocket not explaining the reasons behind our characters' actions. Costume and production on the whole is well thought out producing an almost timeless feeling to the piece; it could have been set years ago or a few years from now, it's ambiguous and that adds weight the main theme of oppression the film is trying to portray. It could happen anytime, to anyone. Sundry themes of revenge with comparisons to The Count of Monte Cristo are in there for all to see yet they pale into insignificance beside the main message which this action adventure political thriller tries, and succeeds, to get across.
It's a worthwhile addition to any collection and one certainly to re-watch time and again so I don't have any hesitation in recommending this as a must buy. I feel it's just a pity that Moore himself doesn't swallow some of his pride and accept that this is not just a good adaptation of his work, but one which actually fleshes out some of the themes contained in his novel.
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