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V for Vendetta: Special Edition

In the world of comics and graphic novels, writer Alan Moore is something like unto a god. The crazy haired, wild-eyed Brit author was instrumental in bringing adult themes and sophisticated writing to the genre, with his stories that combined science fiction, horror, and references to such diverse literary figures as William Burroughs, Thomas Pynchon, and Shakespeare. His dystopian noir story "V for Vendetta," illustrated by David Lloyd, appeared in serialized form in the UK comics anthology magazine Warrior in the early 1980s and gained an avid following. Published during the harshest days of the über-conservative Thatcher era, Moore's dark allegory is set in an alternative future Britain, in which a totalitarian government is under command of a fascist political party called "Norsefire." The ruling party controls the populace through propaganda, strict food rationing, and government-controlled secret police known as "Fingermen," and concentration camps are in operation for minorities of both racial and sexual stripes. As heralded as "V for Vendetta" was, it wasn't enough to save Warrior, which folded in 1985 before Moore and Lloyd had finished the story. However, three years later, DC Comics purchased the rights to reprint the series, this time in color, and asked Moore and Lloyd to finish what they'd started. It turned out that Moore's densely detailed exploration of fascism and anarchy spoke to American readers, too. Appearing as it did during the same period that comic fans were boggling over Moore's brilliant "Watchmen" series, "V for Vendetta" cemented Moore as a wholly new kind of comic writer, and it helped usher in the 1990s renaissance of the graphic novel.

The film version, produced by the Wachowski Brothers (Larry and Andy) and directed by John McTeigue (who served as second-unit director on the Wachowskis' Matrix films), veers in some significant details from Moore's original work — his name won't be found anywhere in the credits — but it follows the overall storyline with remarkable faithfulness. V for Vendetta begins, as the comic did, on November 5th, Guy Fawkes' Day. A young woman named Evey Hammond (Natalie Portman), out after curfew — in the comic she was a prostitute, here she's on the way to visit her TV personality boss (Stephen Fry) — escapes rape at the hands of patrolling Fingermen thanks to a swashbuckling, cape-wearing man. Dressed head-to-toe in black and wearing a mask of Guy Fawkes, he calls himself "V" (Hugo Weaving). After taking her to a rooftop where he literally orchestrates the massive explosion of a beloved public building and, later, encountering her during an act of anarchy at the TV station where she works, V whisks Evey off to his secret lair, called the "Shadow Gallery," where he's assembled a vast collection of cultural treasures forbidden by the government — popular music, works of art, and antiques. By becoming entangled with V, Evey finds herself hunted by the government as a collaborator in his revolutionary activities and, while growing close to him, she questions his motivations and the ethics of his actions. On the other side of the fence, a police inspector named Finch (Stephen Rea) slowly unravels some horrible truths about V's past connection with a government-run detention facility. The more he discovers, the more Finch finds himself questioning the party, the government's Hitler-like Chancellor (a suitably pompous, spittle-producing John Hurt), and the "facts" disseminated by party mouthpiece Lewis Prothero (Roger Allam), who's become a celebrity by broadly promulgating the Chancellor's fear-inducing rhetoric.

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Advertised with the tagline, "People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people," V for Vendetta is an angry, politically pointed film only slightly disguised as a comic-book movie. Moore's anti-Thatcher epic translates beautifully two decades later, with a number of significant, well-placed changes that mark it as timely in the extreme. The ruling party in Moore's novel came into power following a nuclear disaster, but in the film, it follows a terrifying domestic epidemic and Britain's involvement in "America's war" — a civil war that's left the U.S. a shambles. The Chancellor, who hides in seclusion and communicates with his staff via giant video monitor, insists that control is the most important element of keeping the populace safe, including micromanagement of citizen's private lives by disappearing those who live "immoral" lifestyles off to reeducation facilities. The Chancellor was voted into office following a national crisis, while the nation was reeling in fear and shock — as one character wryly notes, "All he asked in return was your silent, obedient consent." It's not difficult to connect the dots, and it's not subtle. But then, it's not meant to be. Interestingly, Moore's name doesn't appear in the credits, reportedly because he hated the first version of the script submitted by the Wachowski Brothers, calling it "imbecilic." Apparently David Lloyd has said he likes the movie, though, and stated during a panel discussion at Comic-Con in 2005 that Moore would only have been happy with a total book-to-screen adaptation. It's too bad that Moore dislikes the picture so much, because it's the best, most faithful film adaptation of his work yet — it's dark, stylish, and slick, and it calls for people to sit up, take notice, and stop accepting the increasingly fascist governments which control them. It's also the Wachowski Brothers film that audiences have been hoping for since seeing the first Matrix installment. It's not quite as good as The Matrix, but it's miles better than the two flaccid sequels, and it may prove that the Wachowskis aren't just one-trick ponies after all.

Warner's two-disc DVD release of V for Vendetta offers an excellent anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) that beautifully presents the film's mostly dark, high-contrast palette, with cinematographer Adrian Biddle giving the government locations a deliberately gray, washed-out ambiance while pumping up the color in a few sun-washed flashback sequences — and all of it looks gorgeous here. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio (English or French, with optional English, French or Spanish subtitles) is very good, although loud Foley effects and music sometimes battle with dialogue. Disc One offers the film plus the "making-of" featurette "Freedom! Forever! Making V for Vendetta", a short but detail-intensive look at the conception and production of the movie (16 min.). Disc Two presents three featurettes — "Designing the Near Future" examines the locations (mostly in Berlin) used to create futuristic London (17 min.); "Remember, Remember: Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot", an invaluable historical overview for those unfamiliar with Fawkes (9 min.); and "England Prevails: V for Vendetta and the New Wave in Comics" looks at how Moore's work helped to bring about the current popularity of darker, smarter, more adult graphic literature (15 min.). Also on board is a music video for Cat Power's "I Found a Reason" and the theatrical trailer. Dual-DVD slimline keep-case with paperboard sleeve.
—Dawn Taylor

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