Media V is for viable adaptation

The Wachowski brothers deliver Moore’s masterpiece (mostly) unscathed

Comic book auteur Alan Moore, one of the two or three most-respected writers in the medium’s recent history, has not been treated very well by the movies. At best (the grim Jack the Ripper tale From Hell, by the Hughes Brothers), adaptations of his work have stripped it of subtlety; at worst (the execrable League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, directed by Stephen Norrington), they have eliminated Moore’s intelligence entirely.

Natalie Portman is V's young disciple, Evey, in the screen adaptation of Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta.

So no wonder that Moore wanted nothing to do with the film version of V for Vendetta. One envisions Moore watching the second and third Matrix films (the Wachowski brothers wrote V’s script and were a major force in getting the film made; some gossip has it that they did much of credited director James McTeigue’s work as well) and thinking, These people will make a mess of my masterpiece.

As fellow comics author Neil Gaiman relates in London’s Guardian newspaper:

“Alan Moore himself is resigned, amused, and wryly bitter about the process of turning comics into film. ‘Comics are one step in the digestive process of Hollywood eating itself,’ he told me. ‘Are there any films made from the comics that are better than the original comics? Hollywood needs material to make into films as part of an economic process. It could be a Broadway play or a book, or a French film, or a good TV series from the 1960s that people want to see on the big screen, or a bad TV series from the 1960s that nobody cares about but still has a name, or a computer game, or a theme-park ride. I expect that the next subject of films will be breakfast-cereal mascots — a film that chronicles how Snap, Crackle, and Pop met and explores their relationship. Or the Tony the Tiger movie.’”

Hugo Weaving portrays the mysterious political vigilante V

“‘Films are no friend to comics,’ he concluded. “I think they actually impoverish the comic landscape. Turning it into a sort of pumpkin patch for movie studios to come picking.’”

It’s an understandable position for one who takes comics, especially those he writes, very seriously. But for those of us who accept that everything, everywhere, is movie fodder, and who are not bound by parental bonds to this comic in particular, does V the film desecrate V the graphic novel?

With the caveat that big chunks of any novel’s plot must be sliced to fit a feature film’s constraints, the Wachowskis’ film is certainly made in good faith. It updates, tweaks, and rearranges, but the story’s spirit and some of its best inventions remain.

One substantial departure, one that few critics are likely to mention, is the film’s look. Though not as stylized and flashy as other comic adaptations, V is a visually rich film, full of warm colors and lush production design. On the page, though, artist David Lloyd created a more workaday vision, deliberately unglamorous. V began life in black and white, although later issues of the series (and eventually the entire story) were washed in subdued color.

Of necessity, characters are eliminated or modified. Even the story’s fulcrum, a young woman called Evey, is changed: She begins in the comic as a novice prostitute, rescued by the masked vigilante called V. She’s a more sophisticated character in the film, perhaps because (since the plot’s events play out in a single year, not the comic’s two-plus) her emotional growth by film’s end would be tougher to buy otherwise.

V for Vendetta

Dir. James McTeigue; writ. Andy Wachowski, Larry Wachowski; feat. Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving, Stephen Rea, Stephen Fry, John Hart, Tim Pigott-Smith, Rupert Graves (R)

V’s battle plan differs substantially in the film, though its purpose is unchanged. He begins the film by bombing a relatively minor target to get London’s attention, and soon announces that he’ll return a year later to destroy the Houses of Parliament. In the novel, Parliament’s the first thing to go, and V’s interaction with the public is more active as the months pass.

In both versions, however, V’s agenda is the same: He has a personal grudge against a few individuals, but his terrorist acts are directed at shaking this near-future London out of its complacency. A secretive, spying government has manipulated the public’s fears in order to grab excessive power and jettison private liberties. V chides the citizenry for having let this happen, and issues a challenge: Rise up against those who oppress you.

Some fantasies never get old, whether they’re told by Brits, French intellectuals, or Americans.

By John DeFore


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