Every Day Is Just Like Sunday… (and lots of Vendetta thoughts…)

One of the reasons I haven’t been blogging much recently is that things are still a little tough at the moment, and I don’t want this to turn into a non-stop moan. That kind of thing might (you never know) get kinda tiresome.

Something that brightened me up was rediscovering the Angry Alien website, and finding that there are even more examples of 30 Second Bunnies Theatre. Go look at it- it’s quite, quite wonderful.

I’ve spent most of the day doing reviews, and listening to the latest Doctor Who audio drama produced by Big Finish productions, which was much better than I expected. I’m trying to get another chunk of work out of the way- tomorrow, I’ve got a screening, and I’m working on plot outlines and character breakdowns. Same for Tuesday. Then, from Wednesday, I’m back in novel-writing mode. Financially speaking, we’re very rocky at the moment- and I’d rather go all out for the next few weeks and get this bastard done, then have to worry about money. We’ve got enough to tread water for a while, and a load of money came in over the last few days. It’s rather hard at the moment, and I need something to smile about, so it’s writing until my fingers fall off. I’ll try and blog, even if it’s just a few incoherent sentences. I’m also trying to rearrange and redesign my website to make putting things up easier. There’s a whole load of Hotdog stuff that needs to go online, simply because I’d like it to go to some use now that I’m not going to get paid for it.

Sunday night is- as we’ve said before- movie night. Two weeks ago, we had The Station Agent, which is a lovely, charming little Indie film- a bit self-consciously ‘indie’ at times, but a great turn from Peter Dinklage. Last week, we went LOTR crazy, and did the Fellowship of the Ring extended edition across Saturday and Sunday night- and then did The Two Towers during the week. Tonight is the first half of Return of the King- and it’s quite fascinating watching them this close together and realising that, yes, these are absolute, stone-cold cinematic classics that people will still be watching in thirty or forty years time. They have their ridiculous, camp moments (there’s a scene between Merry and Pippin in Two Towers which I cannot take seriously, simply because it’s shot exactly like the traditional “romantic scene leading up to a kiss”, and Peter Jackson’s style does have some holes) and yet, they manage to sustain over 9 hours of movie in a genuinely amazing way.

V for Vendetta opened this week- and I wanted to get my thoughts and annoyances down on paper. Most of the American press seems to have liked it- and large proportions of the UK press has gone “Oooh! Controversial! Pretty!”, with only a few people acknowledging it’s got serious problems as a film. There are serious, serious spoilers in the following, because I wanted to talk about the core changes to the story (I’m a big fan of the graphic novel) and how they’ve effectively blunted one of the most interesting aspects of the story.

Anyhow. Here you go. Spoilers abound- you have been warned…

V FOR VENDETTA
(OR, HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND DISLIKE THE WACHOWSKIS)

Politics and action movies make strange bedfellows. As a huge fan of the original comic, the idea of a decent film ever being made out of V FOR VENDETTA seemed fairly unlikely- but the idea of it being made in the current political climate was even unlikelier. The fact that, among politically astute films like SYRIANA and GOOD NIGHT AND GOOD LUCK that we’ve got a film- from Joel Silver, no less- that pushes the limits of what you can get away with in a studio film as far as V FOR VENDETTA does is a remarkable, amazing thing. It’s a brave, provocative, and often highly adventurous movie, and as someone who lives in London, it did often feel like a charged, strange and almost dangerous experience.

Doesn’t mean I liked it, though.

As a hardcore Alan Moore fan, of course, I’m going to fall into the “difficult to please” category- and at the preview screening I was at, two late forties blokes who had “comics geeks” written all over them suddenly got up and left after only thirty five minutes. Of course, I don’t know if they were making a stand against the butchering of their favourite comic or if they’d just remembered that they’d left the gas on, but anyone who loves the comic is going to find the movie a mix of the smooth and the very rough. Out of all the Moore creations to make it to the screen, V does get closest to the original text, and whatever it faults, this is a long, long way from the shrieking disaster that was LXG. There are a number of sequences which are, note for note, almost exact- and even where bending has taken place, it’s still surprising how faithful they have tried to be. A lot of the mistakes I was worried they might make turned out to not be there.

Unfortunately, it’s still ended up feeling very similar to FROM HELL, where material that is very weird, very subtle and very English in origin is being handled by Americans who don’t have a clue what it’s like to actually live here. For anyone who watches LOST, it’s rather like the episodes which focus on Charlie’s past- and which, for anyone who lives in the U.K., always seem to consist of creaky accents, clichés and “Lord, luv a duck!” cockernees. Like FROM HELL, any subtleties in the bad guys have been sanded away- the minute you see Tim Piggot Smith as Creedy, he’s wearing the panto villain sneer he’ll wear for the entire movie, and virtually everyone else in the Government seems to be a fat, corpulent grotesque who’s just wandered out Polanski’s version of OLIVER TWIST. They’re villains from the same mould as the Merovingian in the Matrix sequels, as if having someone as a preening, sneering Eurotrash is enough. The fake newscasts that pepper the film are flatly unconvincing (looking more like crappy cable channels than national broadcasters), there’s an entire sequence that proves the Wachowskis are major Benny Hill fans (and no, that’s not a good thing…), and the fact is that having a villain exclaim “Bollocks!” at regular intervals is only going to get you laughed at in the UK.

Spoilers follow, as I’ll try and go into detail about what worked and what didn’t in the changes made from comic to screen- but to wrap up the non-spoiler section, V FOR VENDETTA is both hugely challenging and hugely flawed. The bits that work are fantastic- but, for the most part, they’re where you’ve got Alan Moore to thank rather than the Wachowskis. And however talented they may be, they’re still the men who wrote the Architect speech in MATRIX RELOADED. Consider yourself warned…

MAJOR SPOILERS FOLLOW:-

Okay, as far as the structural changes go- most of them, I can understand why they were made. V is a very weirdly structured comic, partly due to being completed over a number of years and there being a major gap before the story was completed. It’s also worth stating at this point that the original comic is not perfect in itself- it means a hell of a lot to me, but I’m not approaching this from a “How dare they ruin a MASTERPIECE!!!” The original V is flawed in a number of ways- but it also has much more intelligence, ambiguity and subtlety than the film was able to actually extract.

Subtlety is certainly in short supply in the first sequence, where Evey gets attacked by a gang of operatives from the “Finger”- the heavy mob of the Fascist Government- who seem to be even more Dickensian than the people they work for. In the comic it’s pretty clear that Evey is going to be raped before V rescues her (even more disturbing considering Evey in the comic is much younger) but here, it’s cue for a couple of really dire gags- the kind of “I shall taunt you, little girl!” nonsense that turned up in FROM HELL several times, and doesn’t bear any resemblance to reality. It’s like the Wachowskis went through a few Hammer films, a few Guy Ritchie films, copied out the words that sounded convincing, and just threw them in at random.

Then you’ve got a certain amount of Wachowski action- and what will tentatively be referred to as the “V” speech, the point where the film gets in serious danger of losing its entire audience. Apparently not convinced that the audience might already believe that V is a flamboyant, dangerous and insane individual, they give him one of the worst monologues I’ve heard in a very long time. Inspired by the chapter titles in the original comic, where every title begins in the letter V, it’s a nonsensical spew of drivel that just goes on, and on, and on, and on…. And then just when you think it’s going to stop, it goes on again. At that point, I was seriously depressed- and then, they blew up the Old Bailey, and suddenly the film started to brighten up. A little.

There are a lot of major structural changes- and the biggest change of the lot is the relationship between Evey and V. Both characters have an “arc”, and there’s much more that goes on between them- some of it is interesting, some of it I don’t like, but I know that it’s one of those examples where I’d only have been completely happy if they’d stuck word for word to the comic- and even then, I’d have probably found something to grumble about. Trouble is, it’s less interesting than the comic, and somewhat haphazzard, mainly thanks to the fact that the script has humanised V. He’s much more fey, much quicker to anger, less enigmatic, gets upset ridiculously easily, wears an apron, and- very different from the comic- is actually apologetic about the fact that he puts Evey through days of torture.

I understand why they did it, but it blunts V’s character. The thing that’s fascinating about him in the comic is that he’s utterly mad and quite dangerous to be around- he tortures Evey almost to the point of insanity, and is totally unapologetic about it. His sinister sense of humour, his love of vaudeville, and- most notably- his blackly comic modes of execution for the people who “made” him are almost totally absent from the movie. (There’s also an utterly bizarre reference to him having “no eyes” and having been mutated by the medical experiments done to him- which turns him into a convenient superman, rather than, as in the comic, just someone whose mind has broken in very distinctive and terrifying way). There’s not quite the sense of fairy tale weirdness about V- he’s just a looney in a mask for too much of the time, and it’s a shame to see him done that way. Hugo Weaving does an excellent job with the voice, but it’s in the quietest moments (such as the scene where he appears in the bedroom of Delia Surridge- one of the best in the movie, and very close to the comic) that he really nails it. There’s too much bombast from V, too much snickering, and not enough exploration of the fact that a bloke in a mask can be a very, very scary thing when done right.

Natalie Portman as Evey has her own fair share of problems- the main one being a seriously creaky English accent that leaves her sounding stoned at various intervals. She’s an incredibly variable actress- sometimes she’s brilliant, and sometimes she’s stilted as hell, and this performance rides between these two extremes. She has some extremely good moments, but it’s far from being her strongest work, and the relationship between her and V gets a little too soapy at times to be entirely believable.

Okay- I could go into more detail, about how the sequences involving Prothero and Bishop Lilliman are overplayed and lacking the sheer level of creepiness that the comic managed, or how casting John Hurt as the Big Brother-style leader might be a nice nod to the 1984 movie, but just results in a one-note performance of deafening shoutiness. But what I really want to talk about is the serious changes to the backstory of the original comic, and the way the film has thrown out much of the ambiguity.

Basically, a large section of the film is driven by a conspiracy connected to V’s background, and the medical emperiments that made him what he is. In the comic, the place where this happens- Larkhill Resettlment Camp- is just one of many “concentration camps” set up to dispose of undesirables. They’re the dirty little secret that everybody knows about, but nobody wants to actually admit to. In the movie, Larkhill is actually the top secret front for experimentation into bioweapons and viruses which are then used to set off a national disaster, and destabilise the country so that the Fascist organisation “Norsefire” can seize control. Now, this is an interesting idea, and it does give the whole story a “mystery thriller” aspect which, admittedly, works an awful lot better than the hackneyed whodunit that was welded onto FROM HELL.

The trouble is, it blurs and confuses one of the comic’s main themes- the idea that Fascism as an idea can “just happen”, and that the people who are being ruled by the Norsefire government are just as to blame for the situation. In the comic, V is spurring them into action, getting them to take control of their own destiny- but even he admits that the choice is up to them, whether they form the new state of leaderless Anarchy that he dreams of, or if they just go for replacements for Norsefire.

The idea of manufacturing chaos via a fake terrorist attack is very relevant- but it doesn’t need a group of evil supergeniuses manufacturing a disaster for fascism to exist. Suddenly, the “ordinary people” in the movie, the 90% of the population who voted Norsefire into power are absolved of any blame. They’re not sheep, blindly following the pack- they’re poor unfortunate common folk (mainly depicted as cliches that wore out their welcome in the Seventies- I was amazed to not see any flat caps or whippets) who have been lied to and manipulated by shamelessly evil men who don’t have a decent bone in their body.

We’re supposed to give out rousing cheers when chief bad guys Sutler and Creedy are killed- but what happens when the flames from Parliament have died down? The movie V is very keen to tear down the old order, but doesn’t seem to have a clue as to what should replace it- no surprise that the comic version’s joyful worship of Anarchy didn’t make the grade in a studio picture, but the fact that he’s not offering the people anything other than a funky fireworks show takes the heart and soul out of the original story. We’ve ended up with a version of V that has lots of parallels with today’s political situation, but which has been shorn of a lot of the more ambiguous ideas that made the original so interesting, and so universal. It’s a movie that’s too busy telling you what to think to let you actually draw your own conclusions.

Finally, on a few technical notes, while the rumours that the Wachowskis directed several sequences may be unconfirmed, it’s very easy to believe. The sequences where the film comes stylistically alive are often, unfortunately, shamelessly Matrix-esque- even down to an exact replica of the “Neo walks out of the revolving door” shot from the original MATRIX. There’s a raindrop p-o-v shot that’s shamelessly over the top, and some seriously overdone stuff at the climax involving flashing blades and tumbling knives that really should have been left out. It’s weird, because away from these sequences, and the admittedly hugely powerful section where Evey is tortured, it’s a flat, colourless film that smacks of a 1st AD making his debut and not having anything resembling a vision for the film. So many of the dialogue sequences are shot in a dreary, unimaginative manner, lacking any kind of energy and style, and the score from Dario Marianeli is appalling, frequently out of place and slathered over almost every single second of the movie. I ended up praying for the orchestral dirge to end, and as a result the moments when we got major explosions accompanied by the 1812 overture were doubly welcome.

If you’ve never read V FOR VENDETTA- then you will probably enjoy the film. Some of the above may bug you, but it possibly won’t. Trouble is, if you haven’t read V FOR VENDETTA you really should, as there’s very little the movie does that the comic doesn’t do much, much better. It’s a fascinating and truly strange addition to the world of comic book movies- but it was a cinematic experience that I largely found rather frustrating and depressing, and one that I’m not going to be in a rush to repeat anytime soon.

**********

Ah. Feel a bit better having gotten that off my chest…

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