“We’ve swept this place and you got nothing, nothing but your bloody knives and your fancy Karate gimmicks.” – Creedy
Originally written for Sean Moreland's 'Comic Book Literature' class at University of Ottawa.
The most audacious thing about V for Vendetta (2006) is the comic book it decides to adapt. Capitalizing on the early superhero boom of the early 21st Century, the movie takes an anarchy preaching terrorist, and places him in opposition to a totalitarian government thereby molding him as a heroic freedom fighter ready to release its society from its shackles. Compared to the comic book, a much larger and sophisticated beast, the film is naturally condensed. Screenwriting team “The Wachowskis” had been writing the script since before The Matrix (1999) and worked with producer Joel Silver to reduce the scope of certain ideas to make the film more palatable. <1> Villain characters are reshuffled and dehumanized with their motivations simplified for rooting against and the heroes are given the opposing focus. In taking these steps the filmmakers controversially but understandably defang the source material to lift the burden off audiences, providing entertainment value where a stronger message might have been present.
Sutler, named Susan in the comic has his subplot excised for length but retains his thematically pathetic persona by having the only time he appears in person weakened and afraid. Throughout the film, he is projected on a large screen and seen as a menacing force however when he comes face to face with V we see his true nature. The film evokes 1984 and leans into that casting by having John Hurt the protagonist of that film antagonize in this role. Evey is also given more resistance and has a smaller journey. She is older and already employed at a television news station rather than broke which allows the movie to capably employ her with V twice, thereby moving up the timeline of him hijacking the television signal. Her escape later from him further confines her timeline scenario with him for more realistic measure and for the audience helping condense the plot.
Looking at the formal aspects of comics; the panels, transitions, gutters, dialogue boxes, two dimensions are all present in the comic book of course but that’s where many of the conventions stop. The comic book consistently subverts superhero tropes by not unmasking V or make him think too highly of civilians. The film by contrast has him more sympathetic and not blameful of people for getting comfortable in their shackles as he mentions in his speech. This was likely done as a way of not insulting the audience however it lessens the impact of the original speech. Adding to the film narrative a greater hero aspect, the political ambition of the original story still subverts convention, but rather than be an up-down tale of control versus anarchy it becomes a parable of left versus right politics.
An important question to ask is does V gain in adaptation? <2> What more does it say by what it leaves out? A fuller fledged Evey thanks to the Wachowski’s script with built in residual qualities; her older age and relatability diminishes her power transformation as a symbol of the growing strength of the people which Alan Moore intended, for a more inspirational angle. V also seeks audience sympathy with further humanization in his frustration of Evey leaving, he is less vengeful and his psychopathic tendencies downplayed. His influence is shown by his effect in the inspiration of London citizens in the film rather than within the Norsefire party like in the comic, dehumanizing the villains in the process. The lines in the film are drawn thicker with less grey colour and complication in order to make them easier to root against, their simplified nature far easier to digest further watering down the original independently published source material. <3> The changing results in a less damning critique that almost works as propaganda itself.
The movie further finds ways in casting to say much without saying anything at all. The casting of Natalie Portman brings attention to America as a target, jolting from a critique of Thatcher-era politics of the book to a modern Bush-Cheney administration war on terror. The main villain Creedy even looks like the then Vice President who puppets head honcho Sutler. Other exercises the film’s script realizes is the lack of necessity in having Evie lay with Gordon instead just reaffirming their shared values. To another effect is the casting of Stephen Fry as a satirical television host who is closeted for his orientation and beliefs. Fry coincidentally is also a satirical television host in real life as well though not closeted. In another Bush parallel the movie’s condensing act dials in on religious persecution of gays and the muslims with Dietrich beaten, bloodied with a black bag put over his head a la Guantonamo bay prisoners and is later killed when a Qu’ran in his posession is discovered. All of this is accomplished with a few lines of dialogue and visual rhymes.
As for adapting to the more conventional aspects of film the movie romanticizes its two leads instead where the source did not while incidentally inverting the climax of Batman Begins 9 months earlier wherein a masked vigilante sought to wipe out corruption with the same train bomb plot at the city epicenter.
What is the main difference between the two forms? The movie is a de-fanged version of the original. The protagonist is older with a smaller arc, the villains are less human and the hero more relatable, the fascist state is replaced with totalitarianism and anarchy is replaced with freedom. [tagline: Freedom Forever!] V cares more about the lives of the innocent and is less contempt. But what does the elimination of several characters and plot points do to the film beyond de-fanging? Efficiency, it lets the audience root for the good guys in a streamlined manner simplifying the message and stylizing for a wider audience. It is a good adaptation in that sense. However, as the author would point out, changing the essence of the message from what it originally stood for made for a bad adaptation. The violence also typical to Hollywood is more glorified.
Differences within scenes such as V not comforting Evey in the rain as nearly, demonstrates their altered relationship as less him rebuilding her and more her coming into her own, a more feminist take. His effect on her is still somewhat romantic to payoff the humanizing aspects. But other small steps like Evey wearing a burlap sack diminishes the impact because though she’s turning her initial vulnerability into a strength, she is also symbolizing rebirth and therefore should be naked in the rain like in the comic. The movie is far too respectful of the Evey character to do something as controversial and bold and this is the one area where it hurts the film’s focus. If she does carry with her a new identity, wearing what she was while she was in chains diminishes that.
60 fps camera captures quickness of movement. V’s Visual rhymes are apparent to The Matrix as the first assistant director on that film makes his full debut here.
“Here Comes the Crescendo!”
The musical aspect of the adaptation demonstrates the clearest instance of the film’s form over function philosophy marking it against its source material. One of the things that makes the comic so unconventional is its inclusion of a score written on staff at the end of the prelude section. <4> “This Vicious Cabaret” is an invaluable piece of world building that the movie doesn’t touch despite the song perfectly encapsulating the satirical themes that author Alan Moore was trying to provoke, but because the movie is so conventional of its time, it doesn’t quite work in a serious action drama. Safely evoking V’s classical tastes one might say the movie employs a very traditional film score by Dario Marianelli. <5> The film misses the action music cues of films shaping the genre at the time because they were not yet obvious enough. Batman Begins (2005) and The Bourne Identity (2002) carried a now standard motivic rhythm-based score rearranging parts in plugging them in in different places. V for Vendetta is assembled traditionally whole. Here the rhythms carry no underscoring with small actions in the film like the whoosh of a punch or V’s knives (i.e. things that would influence the environment) show any scoring implementation that this composer would later bring to Atonement. His track Evey Reborn – arguably the most lasting impact of the film legacy is even used to better effect in the trailer for Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar.
As a Commutation test comparing the two main tracks “Vicious Cabaret” and “Evey Reborn” it’s a case of playing straight versus satire. V’s character has classical tastes and loads of theatricality so either take fits, but not together. The harmonious building of Evey Reborn with a gradual andante crescendo in conjunction with Evey’s enlightening highlights a euphoric personal journey. A Vicious Cabaret by comparison is written in major and seen as underlying satirical goofy and less serious. The exclusion of the Motivic rhythm based score is odd in the sense in that it’s the one major stylistic influence that oddly does not carry over from The Matrix despite working wonders and sharing the same writers and first assistant director now director James McTeigue. <6> Perhaps true to V’s character the feelings are best classically stated in a more old-fashioned way. ‘A Vicious Cabaret’ is broadly satirical wheras Marianelli’s score is melodramatic. Epic in minor key with electric guitar stingers, it is also performed in strings with sharp accents. It is high-pitched and slow. The comic score that ends the prelude caters to the central themes whereas as the movie shares its main difference of focusing on a single character’s journey and has that inspire the themes for the audience to interpret. The comic works straight on thematically, composed with an idea to focus broadly on the state of society (The Land of Do-As-You-Please) <7> compared to the movie’s single minded tastes. The latter is methodical, building, scoring one character’s emotional journey, making up musically effectively the smaller arc with greater realization compared to the former’s sturdier world building character itself. The movie is no gimmick but the material’s cutting nature is left a tiny bit bloodless in its adaptation.
- Silver, Joel, Producer. Freedom! Forever!: Making V for Vendetta. 2006. , Warner Bros. Pictures, 2006. University of Ottawa Library. Apr. 2017.
- Brokenshire, Mark. “adaptation.” The Chicago School of Media Theory, The University of Chicago, https://lucian.uchicago.edu/blogs/mediatheory/keywords/adaptation/. Accessed 28 Mar. 2017.
- Gray, Maggie. “‘A fistful of dead roses…’. Comics as cultural resistance: Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s V for Vendetta.” Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics, vol. 1, no. 1, 10 June 2010, pp. 31-49. University of Ottawa Library Database. Accessed 28 Mar. 2017.
- Summers, Tim. “‘Sparks of Meaning’: Comics, Music and Alan Moore.” The Royal Musical Association, vol. 140, no. 1, pp. 121-62. Accessed 28 Mar. 2017.
- Marianelli, Dario. Evey Reborn. 2005. Los Angeles, Warner Bros. music records 2006 YouTube Accessed 28 Mar. 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BjgTFd6XAg8V For Vendetta (music from the motion picture).
- McTiegue, James, Director. V For Vendetta. 2006. Produced by Andrew Wachowski, Larry Wachowski, and Joel Silver, Warner Bros. Pictures, 2005. University of Ottawa Library. Warner Bros. Pictures. Mar. 2017.
- Moore, Alan, and David Lloyd. “V For Vendetta.” Cartoon. V For Vendetta. New York City, Vertigo Comics, 1988, 10 vols.