A lot of alliteration allows Judge Ryan Keefer to analyze and amuse all audiences of an action film whose allegories are accomplished and advanced.
V for Vendetta has made a lot of online fans happy, aside from its realization, but for the fact that people can do something else aside from burning things on Nov. 5 every year. The film was a lukewarm box office success, but received far more critical praise than your average popcorn action film. Warner Brothers has decided that V for Vendetta was another in several high-profile action films to be given the HD DVD treatment. What are the results?
Facts of the Case
Adapted for the silver screen by Matrix generalissimos Andy and Larry Wachowski and directed by Wachowski assistant director James McTeigue in his first feature-length project, the film is set in the not too distant future and follows Evey Hammond (Natalie Portman, Leon), who is working in London at a British television station. She seems to be the perfect candidate to be part of a revolution in the fascist-like government that England now seems to have in place, but she is working with a man named Gordon Dietrich (Stephen Fry, Gosford Park) who produces programs for the network, given the seal of approval by the government and its leader Adam Sutler (John Hurt, Alien).
One night, Evey tries to meet Gordon for dinner, but it's after curfew and she's intimidated by some lower profile British gendarme, and during this harassment, she is rescued by a masked man who simply goes by the letter V (Hugo Weaving, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King). It is through this friendship that Evey learns more about the government she has turned a blind eye to, and what they stand for now, even as police Chief Inspector Finch (Stephen Rea, Citizen X) tries to find the whereabouts of both of them, before V celebrates the anniversary of Guy Fawkes day (and the abandoned gunpowder plot of the 17th century with said figure) in the grandest way possible.
Let me just start by saying that I love, love, love how V for Vendetta stuck to its roots. This very easily could have been one of those productions where Americans would have come in and either moved everything out to Vancouver (diluting the source material in the process), or the major players would have been cast from America and spoke in patronizing British tones with British supporting actors, and it would have been equally less impressive. Portman is the only Yank in the film (and the accent is fine, all things considered), but everyone in the film is compelling in their own way, and it makes for a damn fine film.
What is equally refreshing, nay, pleasant, when watching V for Vendetta is that lo and behold, here is an action film that possesses a story that has something to say. It helps to tell everyone that advancing political agendas at the expense of stoking the fires of fear in the people is a dangerous business, one that should be answered by whatever means you see fit. In the case of V for Vendetta, it's by blowing up old government buildings to help ensure that the liberties of the people are restored and protected, and doing things "for the good of the people" is a catchphrase that people shouldn't take for granted. V blows up stuff and sets off fireworks, others may choose to employ a different means of disagreement that doesn't involve C4. Even with V's method of violence, it can be easily substituted by whatever you choose to put in its place. It's that challenge, and making the violence justifiably palatable to the viewer in the way I've mentioned that helps the story stand out from one of just another guy with a grudge and a grand plan.
I should touch on that again. The planned violence isn't really terrorism in my mind, because there wasn't any "collateral damage," to use a rapidly popular catchphrase. The planned violence is to blow up buildings, after hours when no one is around. When knives are used, it is in defense of and retaliation to be aggressed upon by people with guns. V's call to arms is more of a frantic wake-up than anything else, one of concern and disappointment with how things have transpired in the Wachowski and McTeigue interpretation of London in the next few years and how relevant it is to things today. In all the films I've seen that use the message of being important "now more than ever," V for Vendetta does more by saying less and leaving things to the viewer's interpretation.
Having not previously seen the film before, I can't really compare this new version to the old one, but the 2.4:1 anamorphic widescreen HD version of V for Vendetta looks as sharp as any film out there. It's still a little flat and doesn't show as much depth as I would have liked, but the blacks and other drab colors are consistent throughout, and what few chances for color in the film turn out OK with very little bleeding. The TrueHD audio track rocks the proverbial Kasbah action wise. Granted, there are a lot of speeches when you watch a two-hour plus action/sci-fi film, but the action scenes, particularly the fireworks scenes and V's fight at the end are pretty immersive and worth the firmware upgrade.
Supplement wise, the big thing of note is the HD-exclusive "Director's Notebook," formerly known as the Warner "In Movie Experience." In it, McTeigue, Portman and Weaving all share their thoughts on the story, and they appear in interview footage that looks new for the HD release. Some of the production and set designs are covered, and the supporting cast shares their thoughts on the characters they portray. It would have been nice to see or find out just how much of Weaving's performance remained in the final cut (he apparently replaced another actor during the production at some point), but it stays pretty busy throughout and is a fine, even intellectual complement to the film. The other extras remain the same from the standard definition release. "Designing the Near Future" covers the Production Design some more (but doesn't replicate much from the "Director's Notebook") and in a twist of irony, many of the film's interior (as well as some of the exterior) shots were done on a Berlin soundstage. The big production scene in Trafalgar Square is also discussed from a production standpoint. "Remember remember: Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot" provides an interesting historical face on the Nov. 5 events, how they unfolded, and what their place in present day London is. "Freedom! Forever! Making V for Vendetta" is just that, with more of a look at the story and the inferences in it. Among the noteworthy quotables in this 15-minute look is Hurt's equation of the film as "1984 meets Alien," and a couple of statements that, well, are just a little moronic to me. Weaving's "understanding why someone is a terrorist" rap makes me think because Elrond has been in two trilogies that he is an expert on international relations. Fry's "one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter" is stupid, beyond words. He might have been Lord Snot on The Young Ones, but still. Anyway, off of venting and back to the last large extra, as "England Prevails: V for Vendetta and the New Wave in Comics" is an interesting look at the book itself. The cast shares their thoughts on it, and industry peers discuss its place in comic lore. The historical overview of comics, British or otherwise are recalled before the book hit the world, and its British demise (and DC revival) are discussed too. For me, the interesting parts were of producer Joel Silver. It's like the man produced this with gritted teeth or something, because his "movie about a terrorist" and "abhorrent super hero" lines just sound weird. I know what he's trying to say, it just didn't sound right for whatever reason. However, all of the supplements are interesting within their own rights and worth the time watching. The little things, like some random music video, a Saturday Night Live short with Portman rapping, and a trailer round things out.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Like Judge James Stewart explained in his excellent review, for a movie that Silver praised in not taking a side and letting the film speak for itself, to see the opposing points of view in the end was a little bit excessive and tarnished the final product for me. And did I see a news clip of baby Jessica in the film? How is a baby girl who gets stuck in a drainpipe in the mid '80s related to the subject matter at hand?
I really had no urge or desire to watch V for Vendetta based on the impression that I had that it was another one of those "Bush is Evil" films that doesn't really come out and say it. However what it does quite cleverly is to show things in a relatively even-handed manner without preaching to one choir to another. The audio and video merits are top shelf (and worthy of upgrade, that and the "Director's Notebook" exclusive), so I went from not wanting to watch it to now keeping it in my library which, as any film collector will tell you, is a pretty good compliment.
Spare the black bag here, as V for Vendetta is equal parts thought-provoking and entertaining, and well worth the ride. Court is adjourned.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• In Movie Experience with Cast and Crew Members
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