Welcome to the final installment of MOORE OR LESS, my three part look at the cinematic adaptations of one of my and many a comic readers favorite writers: ALAN MOORE.
Alan Moore is known for his meticulously researched, crafted, written, and mind-blowingly executed scripts by the comic reading public. He is almost as equally known by both comic and film fans alike for his being a cantankerous old queen when it comes to studios making films of his comics and how they are soulless they are and how they lack his vision or whatever his gripe might be.
Our final ALAN MOORE-rage inducer: 2006’s V FOR VENDETTA
“Voilà! In view, a humble vaudevillian veteran, cast vicariously as both victim and villain by the vicissitudes of fate. This visage – no mere veneer of vanity – is a vestige of the vox populi, now vacant, vanished. However, this valorous visitation of a bygone vexation stands vivified, and has vowed to vanquish these venal and virulent vermin vanguarding vice and vouchsafing the violently vicious and voracious violation of volition! The only verdict is vengeance; a vendetta held as a votive, not in vain, for the value and veracity of such shall one-day vindicate the vigilant and the virtuous. Verily, this vichyssoise of verbiage veers most verbose, so let me simply add that it’s my very good honor to meet you and you may call me V.”
Before we get into this review, I have two V FOR VENDETTA stories I’d like to share:
1) V FOR VENDETTA was my ‘birthday movie’. Do you have a Birthday Movie celebration? Basically, WAYNE GALE VARIETY HOUR co-host MATT RISNES and I both celebrate our Geburtstags by taking the Friday immediately before/on/after our day of birth off work and go see the most anticipated flick of that week’s releases. (Usually alone, sometimes if we can both wrangle that day off we’ll go together.) Luckily for Matt he was born in the shank of the Summer Movie Season, but I am a child of spring–aka “Fuck You, Birthday Boy. It’s Smarch!” Needless to say, actually ANTICIPATING anything for that day can be far and few between. Example: What was my film last year? JOHN CARTER. Oi. This year there was nothing. That’s how it goes sometimes.
Anyway, as I turned 31, I rang in the New Year with a film I was genuinely excited for, and had been for quite some time, since it was delayed several months from its original release date Friday, The 4th of November, 2005–the day before the 400th ‘Guy Fawkes Night’. Not only is V based on some of the most revered writing of Alan Moore’s early career, but it was written/produced by the Wachowskis, two of my favorite filmmakers. Much to my delight and surprise, V FOR VENDETTA stands as my favorite Bday movie ever. Why? Because this film is one of the greatest cathartic cinematic experiences to counterbalance the previous six 9/11/Iraq/Afghanistan/Bush years. I openly wept three times during the film, and to this day it continues to elicit tears from my Emotionally Scarred soul. (And I’ve seen it at least a dozen times at this point.) So, yeah, I’m actually going to be reviewing a film I not only like, but LOVED and put in my Top Something Films of All Times.
2) Flash-forward about three and a half years: I was at work wrapping up my day and entering data into the computer when I get an email/Facebook message from one DAVID LLOYD—artist and only credited creator on the V FOR VENDETTA film. (Moore, who had by this point demanded his name be taken off all his adaptations gave Lloyd his cut of the creator moola.) The message read simply: “Hey Danno. David Lloyd here. In Minneapolis on a 24-hour lay-over. Want to get together?”
“Surely this must be really smart Spam,” I thought, totally forgetting I had ‘friended’ Lloyd on Facebook a few months earlier. But I replied anyway letting this very specific and cunning Bot know that it was the first Thursday of the month and that I and several dozen other cartoonists would be getting together that night for our monthly INTERNATIONAL CARTOONIST CONSPIRACY jam comic meeting, if this Bot were so inclined. I also gave it my (then landline) phone number. Hours go by, I hear no reply. Spam confirmed.
Then about an hour and a half into the Conspiracy meeting, a middle-aged figure suddenly emerges. “Daaaa-VID?!” I asked in an ever-squeaking manner akin to Barton Fink running into W.P. Mayhew in the restroom. “You must be Danno,” he replied. Evidently en route to Mpls from the West Coast, (Mpls being his lay-over on his way to Reykjavik) David searched FB for Minneapolis ‘friends’ who were also listed as ‘cartoonists’ and mine was the first name to come up. So that’s how the V FOR VENDETTA artist ended up spending an evening with Mpls cartoonists, both professional and amateur, and then later taking us all out to get drunk off his sweet, sweet VENDETTA money. All around, a magically surprising night spent with a known and respected cartoonist who, as it turns out, is also a great guy. (And when I got home there was an answering machine message from him–remember those–which I kept and relistened to often until such time I joined the present and the landline was replaced by my portable cancer communicator.)
But enough about me, let us break down V FOR VENDETTA from a graphic novel to adapted Frames per Second, as the title implies, and see if, for a third time in a row, Moore was right to be angered by a film based on his work, since after reading the script for V FOR VENDETTA Moore refused to view the film and subsequently distanced himself from it.
V for Vendetta, the graphic novel, takes place in a dystopian 1980’s U.K. after a nuclear war, which has left much of the world destroyed, though most of the damage to the country is indirect, via floods and crop failures. In this future, a fascist party called Norsefire has exterminated its opponents (Political prisoners, homosexuals, foreigners and other undesirables) in concentration camps and now rules the country as a police state. V, an anarchist revolutionary dressed in a Guy Fawkes mask, begins an elaborate, violent, and intentionally theatrical campaign to murder his former captors, bring down the government, and convince the people to rule themselves.
Ok. So far, so good. The plot for both the comic and film are the same, except the film takes place in the 2020’s, because, you know, who is going to buy any of those kinds of tragedies having happened 20 years ago. In the world we live in now, knowing the facts about Peak Oil, perpetual war for perpetual peace, and how badly our environment is going to (and already has) backlashed on us for what we’ve done to it, imaging the film world of V FOR VENDETTA doesn’t seem that far off from potential reality.
It’s from this point on, the graphic novel and film (for the most part) diverge in philosophy, if not basic plot structure. In the graphic novel a financially desperate 16-year-old named Evey Hammond sexually solicits a group of secret police officers, called Fingermen. The Fingermen reveal their identities to Evey and then prepare to rape and kill her; however, they are suddenly dispatched by a cloaked man wearing a Guy Fawkes mask, who introduces himself to Evey as “V”. From a rooftop, V remotely detonates a bomb and fireworks at the Houses of Parliament and then takes Evey to his secret, contraband-filled underground lair, the “Shadow Gallery”.
Well, that’s KINDA how the film opens. Evey (Natalie Portman. Get it? Our main character is V. She is E-V-ey. E is the 5th letter in the alphabet. GET IT?! This is from the comic, and a head-clubbing foreshadowing of her fate and connection with V.) is not a destitute teen but rather an employee at the state-run British Television Network. The reason she is out after curfew and accosted (and like the comic nearly raped and then saved by V), is because she was planning to meet her TV chat show host boss Deitrich (Stephen Fry)—for what purpose? All the female employees of the station have had ‘a night’ with Deitrich, so Evey just goes along with, probably assuming her job is at risk of she doesn’t.
The FINGERS find Evey, do the above mentioned harassment, followed by their V-inflicted knife deaths, but instead of literally blowing their wad on the House of Parliament in the opening five minutes, V instead ker-splodes the OLD BAILEY, the Central Criminal Court of England and Wales. (This, FYI, was the first time I cried during the film. Stupid, soul-moving 1812 Overture. What can I say, at the time the film came out I just wanted to see our government burn for its crime against the world. Imagining what happened to the Old Bailey happening to downtown Washington, DC just made my heart burst with Bush-hating joy, resentment, and an over-all sense of the peoples revolution I so wished to see occur one day on our shores.)
Evey runs along home, freaked by her encounter, and returns to work the next day as though nothing happened. The government “covers up” the Old Bailey ker-spolsion by saying it was an emergency demolition. But the people, who were awakened to witness this explosion by the sounds of the 1812 Overture blaring across all town via the Governments own PA system, figure something more might be up. As it happens, only hours later, V invades the TV studio Evey works at, informs the country he is one responsible, and he will continue his battle against the corrupt, totalitarian state the people hate and fear for one year, hoping that when November the 5th of the following year rolls around they will all meet him outside the House of Parliament, which he promises to destroy.
Troops arrive to take out V but he manages to escape, and takes a knocked-out Evey with him to his ‘Shadow Gallery’, a secret, contraband filled palace V has built for himself in an abandoned part of the London Underground. He also tells her she has to stay with him for a year until Nov 5th. At first Evey enjoys her host and what he has to offer in this ‘Lost World’ of art and culture (also her parents were taken from her and executed by the government as a child, so she has no love for the Empire). What she doesn’t realize is that V has started targeting and killing specific government officials. It is only when V recruits her to help him play as a distraction in one of these killings that she flees, and turns to the only person she can think to hide her, Gordon Deitrich her comedian/TV chat show boss she was going to meet at the start of the film. Deitrich, happy to see her alive, and fascinated by her tale of being in the hands of the mysterious V has a few revelations of his own—not only is he a homosexual (he invites ladies like Evey over now and then just to ‘keep up appearances’), he also has a little “Shadow Gallery” of his own which includes a collection of prohibited materials such as subversive paintings, an antique Quran, and homoerotic photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe.
Bolstered by Evey’s appearance and an overwhelming desire to stick it to the government, the next night Deitrich does a sketch on his show utterly mocking the High Chancellor Adam Sutler. (John Hurt, who in the comic is named Adam SUSAN. But seriously, who is going to be terrified of a dude named Susan. An obscure Johnny Cash reference, merhaps?)
Deitrich mocks Sutler with a Benny Hill inspired sketch involving V. Deitrich finds this hilarious. Evey, not so much. High Chancellor Sutler not finding it funny at all sends in the Fingermen to abduct Deitrich (it doesn’t help they find his secret stash). Evey tries to flee when the coast is clear, but is captured outside the house by a Fingerman. Bag over head. Fade to black.
Evey now finds herself in a Concentration Camp cell. He head is shaved. She is incarcerated and tortured for days for information about V, with her only solace in the notes slipped to her thru a cell crack written by another prisoner, an actress named Valerie Page, who was arrested for being a lesbian. Valerie’s voice-over/flashback sequences are the second time my eyes couldn’t stop oozing tears. Besides any scene that’s ends with the speech would take a person with a black, cold heart not to get misty over:
“I shall die here. Every inch of me will perish. Every inch but one. An inch… It is small, and fragile, and it is the only thing in the world worth having. We must never lose it or give it away. We must never let them take it from us. I hope that whoever you are, you escape this place. I hope that the worlds turns, and that things get better. But what I hope most of all is that you understand what I mean when I tell you that, even though I do not know you, and even though I may never meet you, laugh with you, cry with you, or kiss you, I love you. With all my heart, I love you.”
This speech alone is what I wish we as a species would base our lives on. But I’m a wacko leftist, so what do I know?
Evey is told that she will be executed unless she reveals V’s location, but when she says she would rather die she is immediately released, at which point it is revealed that her imprisonment and torture were staged by V as an exercise to free her from her fears. The notes are real, having been passed by Valerie to V years earlier when he was similarly imprisoned. Although Evey initially hates V for what he did to her, she realizes she is a stronger person. She leaves him with a promise to return before November 5.
Meanwhile, Inspector Finch (Stephen Rea), Scotland Yard’s chief of police, searches for the true identity of V, eventually tracing him back to a bioweapons program (which somehow kills all other tests subjects, but makes the man behind door #V somehow nigh-invulnerable) at a detention center for “social deviants” and political dissidents in Larkhill. Finch eventually realizes that the program, directed by then-undersecretary Adam Sutler (and also everyone else V has been killing), resulted in the creation of the “St. Mary’s Virus” (no nuclear war in the film, just a bio-weapon attack) and its release in a false flag terrorist attack and the party is responsible for the the deaths of 80,000 citizens and the resulting fear allowed the Norsefire party to win the next election, thereafter silencing all opposition and turning the United Kingdom into a totalitarian state. Uh-oh. What’s a cop to do?
November 5th grows closer, and somehow V masks and cloaks start showing up on everyone’s doorsteps. As promised, Evey returns on the eve of the 5th, where V shows her a London Underground train laced with explosives and a course set for Parliament. V leaves it up to Evey to decide what the fate of this train will be on the 5th, as V has other business to attend to—like killing the Chancellor and the Creedy, Chief of the Fingermen, the last couple fellers on his TO-DO list.
Creedy has sold out the Chancellor to V, who Creedy executes personally, but then he turns on V and Creedy, his men, and V have a kind-of ridiculous and out-of-tone-with-the-rest-of-the-film Bullet Time fight to the death. Only V escapes, but barely. He is mortally wounded. V returns to Evey to thank her and admits he is in love with her before dying in her arms. (In the comic he was just training her to be his replacement to continue the Anarchy he started, which, to Moore, was the point of the book: Anarchy over Fascism. This more than anything is what pissed off Moore about the film. It didn’t focus on this subject matter, but rather it was about “the people taking the power back”. Why he thinks one idea is better than the other I don’t understand, especially Anarchy. What’s that going to achieve?)
As Evey places V’s body aboard the train, she is found by Finch. Having learned much about the corruption of the Norsefire regime, Finch allows Evey to send the train on its way. Thousands of unarmed of Londoners, all wearing the Guy Fawkes masks, march on Parliament to watch the event.
Since no one is left to give the fire order, the military stands down in the face of a civil rebellion. Accompanied by the 1812 Overture, Parliament and Big Ben are destroyed (now THAT’S HOW YOU BLOW YOUR WAD!) as Evey and Finch look on. Finch asks Evey for the identity of V, to which she replies, “He was all of us.” (Cue final round of tears.)
So, I’ve done with all these MOORE OR LESS reviews, I end by asking a few simple questions:
1) Does Moore have a right to be pissy about the film? In Moore’s own words, “(V FOR VENDETTA) has been turned into a Bush-era parable by people too timid to set a political satire in their own country…. It’s a thwarted and frustrated and largely impotent American liberal fantasy of someone with American liberal values standing up against a state run by neoconservatives.” Yes? AND?!?! The film reflects the times just as V FOR VENDETTA the comic did 20 years earlier. It’s not like they made V an opium-addicted psychic or anything. It seems like a small quibble from a very-self-important man, who happens to be a hell of an entertaining writer.
Artist David Llyod couldn’t disagree more saying, “It’s a terrific film… The “transformation” scene between Natalie Portman and Hugo Weaving is just great…If you enjoyed the original and can accept an adaptation that is different to its source material but equally as powerful, then you’ll be as impressed as I was with it.”
I’m totally on Lloyd’s side on this. While not a masterpiece, V FOR VENDETTA will certainly be remembered for its commentary on the times it was made in. And it’s not like the issues in V have evaporated since the film’s release. V FOR VENDETTA is as important today as it was in 2006 and will be again in the future. (In fact, the film inspired a short-lived youth revolt in Egypt before the full-on Egytian societal revolt of 2011.)
Oddly enough, Moore became a supporter and champion of the OCCUPY movement who adopted the films Guy Fawkes mask, not in the name of Anarchy, like he insists the book is about, but rather a people’s uprising against the Conservative-mindset (world) government(s) even dear old Barry Obama continues to endorse in his efforts to continue the ridiculous “War on Terror”.
Quote Moore: “I was also quite heartened the other day when watching the news to see that there were demonstrations… over here and that they suddenly flashed to a clip showing all these demonstrators wearing V for Vendetta Guy Fawkes masks. That pleased me. That gave me a warm little glow.” Yeah, so, grow up Alan.
Finally, has the “Moore Curse” continued with this film—the Moore Curse, as we’ve discovered, is the sudden death-spiral of a career for the film directors after making a Moore adaptation–as was the case with FROM HELL and LXG? Well, as this was director James McTeigue’s first film after spending many years as an Assistant Director on several films including the Matrix trilogy, he, like other Moore adaptation directors, have been bounced around Hollywood on empty promises. McTeigue was supposed to direct MAN OF STEEL until Warner Brothers gave it ZACK SNYDER. He did eventually direct Ninja Assassin (2009) and The Raven (2012), neither of which I’ve seen but neither of which I’ve read/heard good things about. So is he cursed? Perhaps. Does he deserve it? No way! V FOR VENDETTA is a beautiful, moving piece of cinema, and highly recommend you search it out if you’ve never seen it, and give it a rewatch if you haven’t seen it in a while.
*DANNO KLONOWSKI is a cartoonist, co-host of the WAYNE GALE VARIETY HOUR podcast, and host of the LUTEFISK SUSHI PODCAST. All of which you can see/find links to at his site*