J is for Judge Gordon Sullivan.
Warner Bros. nails it on this third home video release of V for Vendetta, providing all the extras of the previous editions with improved picture and sound.
Facts of the Case
In the near future, Britain has become a totalitarian state after the rise of now-Chancellor Adam Sutler (John Hurt, The Proposition). The state controls everything from curfew to media, allowing only the most bland and inoffensive material to be disseminated, ostensibly for the good of the people, who live in fear. We are introduced to this world through the eyes of Evey (Natalie Portman, Garden State), who is accosted by secret police (Fingermen as they are called). She is rescued by a man in a Guy Fawkes mask (Hugo Weaving, The Interview), who takes her to a rooftop to witness his first salvo against Sutler's government, the demolition of the Old Bailey. The next day, Evey returns to her job as part of the state television network, but Sutler's men are onto her. The masked man, V, takes control of the station and broadcasts his political message of freedom, which forces Sutler to crack down on the populace. What follows is a cat-and-mouse game between V and Sutler, with Evey caught in the middle. Will V win the hearts and minds of the people, or will Sutler's tactics of fear keep them enslaved?
In general, comics are not known for their intellectual rigor and groundbreaking techniques. Instead, we see film after film that treats comics as an adolescent pastime (almost exclusively male) that eventually gets supplanted by the allure of post-adolescent activities like driving and girls. Most movies adapted from comics do little to dispel this notion, giving us exciting but intellectually empty stories meant to take up an afternoon, not change your life. However, if you look beyond the mainstream superhero titles, you'll see an alternate tradition of comics stretching back decades, including things like the underground "comix" of R. Crumb. V for Vendetta belongs to that tradition, coming at a time in the 1980s when many thought comics were at their most vacuous. Alan Moore seemed like a savior, breathing life into titles like Swamp Thing, while giving us masterpieces like Watchmen and V for Vendetta. Considering the success of the more traditional comics adaptations (Spiderman, X-Men), it seems an odd choice to bring V to the screen, especially as a big-budget summer blockbuster.
Despite its odd pedigree, V for Vendetta succeeds admirably as a summer blockbuster. It has the requisite mix of action, romance, and narrative propulsion, all delivered in a slick package with wonderful looking special effects. From hand-to-hand combat to massive explosions and gunfights, V delivers the goods on the action front. This is no surprise coming from the same team who produced The Matrix films with their beloved fight scenes. The romance is there with the delightful Natalie Portman as Evey attracted to the mysterious and masked V. As for narrative movement, the film starts a little slow, giving the audience some background on Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot. However, once we meet Evey and V, the film doesn't let up, offering the aforementioned action and romance, as well as number of twists and turns in the story of our characters.
For a summer blockbuster, this film also has exceptional acting. Every single major part is staffed by an actor of the highest caliber. Hugo Weaving brings an awesome presence to both his voice and physical body as V, while Natalie Portman gets to be both strong and vulnerable in contrast to the masked hero. Stephen Fry has long been a favorite of mine, and his turn as the TV host is impeccable, showing both his comedic and dramatic sides. Stephen Rea (who I last saw in The Crying Game) plays the put-upon Inspector Finch with gravitas. Despite the fact that the audience knows he's working for the government, he still keeps our sympathy. All the rest of the cast is brilliant, but the standout to me is John Hurt as Sutler. He brings the authority of his age, but with a wide-eyed (perhaps amphetamine induced) energy to the role that is simply scary. However, he's never so scary that I couldn't see the charm that could allow him to win people over in a crisis. It's a masterful performance, and between this film and his turn in The Proposition, I'm amazed he didn't win more awards in 2005.
As far as presentation goes, this Blu-ray disc is the best V has looked on home video yet. It's an obvious improvement over the previous DVD, with strong details and color reproduction. Compared side-by-side with the HD-DVD, this Blu-ray disc looked a little brighter and sharper. I noticed most of the improvements in textures, like V's costume, where smaller details could be made out more easily. The sound also shines, with a nice bottom end that supported the explosions (as well as V's musical tastes) well.
The supplements appear to be a direct port of the previous HD-DVD, down to the In-Movie Experience. There's ample participation from all the principles (with the notable exception of Alan Moore), including director James McTeigue and stars Portman and Weaving. Most aspects of the production are covered, from the comic to the release. Although there are lots of features on this disc, somehow they felt kind of light. Perhaps it was the air of self-congratulation, like the entire group thought they were making a classic instead of (ultimately) a popcorn film.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The above reviews the film from the perspective of a summer blockbuster. As an adaptation of Moore's work, the film is a spectacular failure. Where his writing (and David Lloyd's illustrations) are challenging, the film provides us with the same comforting images we've seen before (things like bullet-time shots borrowed from the Matrix trilogy). I found the comic to be a thought-provoking piece of literature, which carefully set up V's conflicted nature (he's a product of the old system, and therefore can't exist once he's ushered in a new one). Instead, the film gives us a convenient martyr. Also, I doubt the film changed anyone's mind. Those who came in hating totalitarianism (or the Bush administration, if you want to make that reading) left cheering. Those who came in feeling threatened by that interpretation probably left the same way. Again, it works as a comforting popcorn movie, but compared to the challenging graphic novel, it falls short.
V for Vendetta is a worthy action film that doesn't quite live up to the lofty intellectual goals it sets for itself. Those looking for a fast-paced narrative and lots of explosions won't be disappointed. Those who want a faithful adaptation of Moore's work will be very unhappy. However, if you're going to watch V for Vendetta, this Blu-ray disc is the way to do it.
Despite his crimes, V is found not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
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