Friday, March 17, 2006

V For Vendetta (The Film)

Tonight I saw the V For Vendetta film. I've been in the process of rereading the book, and got through two thirds of it before I saw the movie, so I was pretty immersed in Alan Moore's world going in. Unlike Alan himself however, I wasn't going in expecting to see the book on screen. I used to always think that just filming the comic would make a fantastic movie, then I saw Sin City, a film that was basically the comic on screen. The film is fascinating for its utter lack of purpose. It's a good film, but is there any real reason for it to exist? It just takes the book and puts it on film, rather than making a film out of a book.

Now, I'd rather have a Sin City, that's good but pointless, than a League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, a film that's just awful. So, after seeing Sin City, I decided to try to divorce the adaptation from the original work and just enjoy it or dislike it on its own terms. V the book is a masterpiece, one of the greatest books ever written. V the film is a really strong movie, though one that doesn't quite make it to greatness.

I'll start with what works. Not to be shallow, but the explosion sequences that open and close the film are incredibly satisfying. The combination of visual and music is exhilirating. This is a case where the film does something that a book cannot. I saw this on a huge IMAX screen, and was literally rocked by the sound of the explosions.

The best sequence in the film was the torture sequence with Evey. This sequence worked on a number of levels. My favorite part was the Valerie story, which was wonderfully drawn right from Moore's text. It's a heartbreaking story, and the moment when V shows Evey the "Salt Flats" poster is the emotional peak of the movie. The contrast of the beauty of Valerie's life and the horror of what Evey was going through was very powerful.

In the first few scenes, V seemed goofy, the speaking out of the mask seemed weird and the ridiculous speech of a thousand V words didn't help much. However, as things progressed, you got used to him, and even goofy stuff like V in the apron worked pretty well. The fight scenes, even if they were a bit gratuitous, were very cool and had a unique impact. You could feel the hits the characters took, and the scenes of V cutting up the soldiers effectively showed the attractiveness and brutality of violence.

The acting was quite strong throughout. Natalie Portman went through a big transformation and pulled it off well. Hugo Weaving made V more than just a mask, you could sense the person underneath. My favorite supporting performance was Stephen Fry as Gordon, making a real relationship with Evey in a minimum of screentime.

Comparing it to the book, the biggest improvement was the stuff with Gordon. It never made much sense that Evey is lucky enough to run into the one guy who would take her in and treat her kindly. Having a previous connection makes it less random.

The issue I have with Gordon's transformation is that it takes away the complexity surrounding Evey's father figures. This gets to the core of the problem with the film. By making Evey older, and making her a successful young woman instead of a prostitute, there's less of the sense of getting caught up in the romance of anarchy and then being brought down to Earth upon seeing V's violence.

In the book, Evey sees V as an all purpose father figure, and at one point even asks if he is her father, something that isn't completely out of the realm of possibility. So, in dealing with V, Evey is dealing with the issues surrounding the loss of her father. Then, the episode with Gordon becomes about another father figure, and the issues surrounding getting into a sexual relationship with her father figure.

What the film does that dulls the complexity surrounding V is that V saves Evey from the police when he takes her into his fake prison. In the book, Evey is seeking revenge for Gordon's death, she's not in any danger, but V hauls her back into his world. This makes their relationship more complex, something that's summed up in the scene where she asks him what's wrong with just being happy, and he says that happiness is a prison. It's a much more radical agenda, one that presents a more radical opposition, between fascism and anarchy, rather than between oppression and freedom.

Something that I think didn't work that well in the film was the stuff with Finch and Dominic. It felt like too obvious exposition, and you didn't get the sense of Finch as being a character rather than a plot device. I think part of that is because we've seen detective figures like him in so many films before, it's just not that fresh anymore.

I think the reason that it doesn't work is because so many of the other subplots are cut out. In the book, Finch is designed to show some of the humanity within the system, a contrast to people like Almond and Helen Heyer, who buy into the system. When you've got four or five character arcs layered in the story, the fact that Finch exists primarily for exposition seems less obvious. When he's the only major character in the film outside of V and Evey, it becomes clear that he's there to service the main story rather than to exist on his own.

The thing I miss most from the book is the Rosemary Almond arc, which is powerful enough to be a film in and of itself. Her story showed the effect of this regime on ordinary people more powerfully than just random people watching TV. In the film, you don't get the sense of this society as a whole world, we only see the people as pawns in a political duel between V and the leader.

And the biggest problem with the film is that the relationship with Evey and V is framed as a romantic one, something that doesn't make much sense, since V is meant to be an idea more than an actual man, something that's made explicit in the finale with everyone wearing the masks. So, in the closing voiceover when she says "I remember the man," it seems to completely undermine the point of the film, which is that V is an idea of freedom, who inspires her to reinvent herself, the man himself is irrelevant, it's the mask that matters.

So, after starting this review by saying I was just going to view the film as a film, I've spent most of my time going on about how it differs from the book. That's the basic problem of adaptation, and why I generally don't think it's worth bothering to adapt a book or graphic novel. With a few exceptions, you're not going to match the original because the original is a purer expression of the idea. It's like a second generation video copy. That's why I think when adapting something, it's better to fully embrace what film can do and create an immersive visual experience rather than worrying about the narrative, make something uniquely cinematic. At its best moments, this film does that, but not enough to be a great movie. It's a decidedly good film, one you enjoy, but one that also lacks the complexity of the book.

However, the book is still there, and the film is like a cover of a song. The original might be better, but there's a few spots in the cover where they do something that improves on the original, and that makes it worth hearing at least once.


Anonymous said...

u suck

Anonymous said...

you rock

Unknown said...

Darling, if you were a woman, you'd know why Evey fell for V...the voice, the ultimate alpha male...the idea that he never would have tortured her had he known he would live. ...did I mention the voice?