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Warner Home Video presents
V For Vendetta: SE (2005)

"Violence can be used for good."
- V (Hugo Weaving)

Review By: Rich Rosell  
Published: July 31, 2006

Stars: Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving
Other Stars: John Hurt, Stephen Rea, Stephen Fry, Roger Allam, Tim Pigott-Smith, Rupert Graves, Clive Ashborn, Emma Field-Rayner, Sinéad Cusack, Natasha Wrightman, John Standing
Director: James McTeigue

MPAA Rating: R for strong violence and some language
Run Time: 02h:12m:23s
Release Date: August 01, 2006
UPC: 012569823792
Genre: action


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A A-A-A- B+

DVD Review

V For Vendetta is yet another big-screen adaptation from the comics/graphic novel realm, coming under the sometimes over gaudy hands of producer Joel Silver, a screenplay from Matrix brainchildren, the Wachowski brothers, and the first big directing gig for James McTeigue. A rookie director, slapping the Wachowski's name across this one, combined with trailers that made this out to be something it wasn't (ie, a big comic action film), caused a fair amount of nervous bristling amongst those who read and savored the finer points of the Alan Moore/David Lloyd book about a rogue vigilante with a penchant for a certain historical Catholic revolutionary from the 1600s, in a story set in a post-apocalyptic near-future fascist-run England.

Hollywood often has a way of bastardizing the most volatile and beautiful of works into a something-for-everyone nothingness, so fanboy concern ("Hello, my name is Rich...") over this one seemed well justified. While artist David Lloyd still backed the adaptation of the graphic novel, the always crusty but cool Alan Moore has gone to great lengths to set himself apart from the production, concerned that filmmakers had tried to Americanize his attack on the British government. When elements of the production such as actress Natalie Portman getting her head shaved for the role seemed to overshadow whether or not the film was going to remain faithful popped up like tiny red flags.

It turns out much of the concern was for nothing, because the final product, even with some questionable moments, carries a steady dose of "anarchy can be good" throughout. The screenplay seemed the biggest hurdle, taking all the sometimes verbose talking points about violently rising up against an oppressive government, but to also properly paints the antihero who adopts the moniker V and who wears an eerily grinning Guy Fawkes mask. V—played in the film by a constantly masked Hugo Weaving—wants to mirror Fawkes' ill-fated 1605 plan— known as the Gunpowder Plot—to blow up the House of Parliament as a way of striking back at a government gone horribly wrong.

The Wachowskis, for all their trimming, restructuring and character tweaking, still managed to keep this as a story about the power of ideas—well, ideas backed with lots of knives and explosives—as the iron-fisted Chancellor Sutler (John Hurt) puts a powerful fascist squeeze on the English populace (picture The Wall meets a Nazi rally meets 1984), only to catch the ire of Weaving's V, operating from his chock-full-of-forbidden-literature-and-music underground homebase known as the Shadow Gallery. Sutler appears via massive Big Brother-ish television screens, scowling orders to his underlings as V publicly announces his plan to take down the government on the 5th of November anniversary of Fawkes foiled overthrow. Portman, British-accent and all, plays Evey Hammond, the orphaned daughter of somewhat radical-thinking parents who accidentally falls in with V, and has to determine whether he's nuttier than a fruitcake or doing what really needs to be done.

A film like this falls into a weird niche, because even though it comes from the comic world, it's not a colorful EFX flick, nor is it an big, noisy action film as the trailers might have indicated. There are just a few Wachowski spins here, most notably a Matrix-like knife battle in the third act, but surprisingly the film almost downplays set-piece action in favor of proposing, as V says, that "ideas are bulletproof" and the power of change is in the hands of the people. In light of things like the Oklahoma City bombing or 9/11, it's difficult to champion a character who thinks blowing up buildings is the right thing to do, but Weaving gives V a floppy sense of right, even as it seems that perhaps he is more than a little touched in the head. Or is he?

Even though this is based on a graphic novel from the early 1980s, it is kind of funny to see the very broad anti-Bush parallels in play here—that being one of the things Alan Moore felt took away from his original intent as a slam against England—and in a weird way a film like this could do more to get deadbeats out to vote than anything. There's a telling block of dialogue, spoken by V and reworked and maybe a little dumbed down for the film, that reiterates the point:

"Cruelty and injustice, intolerance, and depression. And where once you had the freedom to object, think, and speak as you saw fit, you now have censors and systems of surveillance coercing your conformity and soliciting your submission. How did this happen? Who's to blame? Well certainly there are those more responsible than others, and they will be held accountable. But again, truth be told, if you're looking for the guilty, you need only look into a mirror. I know why you did it. I know you were afraid. Who wouldn't be? War, terror, disease. There were a myriad of problems which conspired to corrupt your reason and rob you of your common sense. Fear got the best of you..."

Vive la révolution!

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio2.40:01 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: The 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is well above par, and given that the majority of scenes are in the dark or in dimly lit environments, the level of clarity and detail is that much more noteworthy. The general color palette tends to tip towards deep blacks and greens, making the elements of brighter colorization more dramatic, and the transfer handles this range admirably. Fleshtones almost appear a bit too warm at times, but they do retain a fairly consistent level throughout. The source print is very clean, and while some modest grain is evident—though that appears to have been purposeful—no significant edge enhancement was visible.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
5.1
English, Frenchyes


Audio Transfer Review: Unlike a lot of action-y films, the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix (presented in both English and a French/Quebec dub) isn't a constant sensory assault from all directions, and instead saves itself for the occasional moment when a deep bass rumble or rear channel set of cues can help sell a moment. That's not to say this is a modest mix—there are plenty of active, aggressive sequences where all channels are in play, but it doesn't need to overpower when the narrative doesn't demand it. Dialogue is mixed well, and has a wonderfully full-bodied richness, especially when delivered by actors who put great dramatic presence into their voice, such as Hugo Weaving or John Hurt.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-

 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 33 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish, French with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Documentaries
3 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Gladiator style 2-pack
Picture Disc
2 Discs
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: This two-disc special edition comes packaged in one of those swinging-hinge cases, inside of a slightly embossed slipcover that has the same artwork as the case itself. Disc 1 carries the feature, cut into 33 chapters with optional English, French or Spanish subtitles.

Also included on the first disc is Freedom Forever: Making V For Vendetta (15m:56s) a fairly quick overview of the production, with interviews from the likes of director James McTeigue—who speaks delicately of having to condense Alan Moore and David Lloyd's original work to "make it more film-y"—to producer Joel Silver who not so eloquently refers to the graphic novel as "a mess." David Lloyd offers some kind words about the production, giving the blessing Alan Moore does not, and the entire segment is intercut with shots of various panels from graphic novel, as well as behind-the-scenes and final footage.

The remaining extras are found on Disc 2, beginning with Designing the Near Future (17m:15s), focusing primarily on the work of production designer Owen Patterson and supervising art director Kevin Phipps in creating the shadowy look of the film's not-too-far-in-the-future England (actually shot in and around Berlin). Remember Remember: Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot (10m:17s) is a history lesson most viewers probably need, though it is covered in very basic terms in the film. Here it's ten minutes of cast (including Stephen Fry, Roger Allam, and Natalie Portman), a few Fawkes-related authors (Paul Hammer, Mark Nichols, David Smith) and David Herber, who is listed as the president of the Gunpowder Plot Society (?), all going into a bit more detail about the real-life history of what happened in 1605 England. England Prevails: V For Vendetta and The New Wave in Comics (14m:40s) gives Joel Silver a chance to not sound so hamhandedly Hollywood (see the "mess" comment on above), and here he actually refers to Moore and Lloyd's work as art. Lloyd is on hand once again, as is Vertigo comics editor Karen Berger and respected comics artist Bill Sienkiewicz, all discussing the place V For Vendetta took in the early 1980s birth of the word graphic novel.

Things wrap with a theatrical trailer for the feature, and something entitled Cat Power Montage (2m:01s), which more accurately could have been called a music video. It's for the Chan Marshall (aka Cat Power) song I Found a Reason played against clips from the film, and much like its somewhat surprising appearance in the film, is incredibly moving in its simplicity.

As a bonus, easter egg hunters shouldn't have to look too hard to find the notorious Saturday Night Live Natalie Portman rap short (02m:35s), though presented in its original censored format. If I can find it, anyone can.

Extras Grade: B+

 

Final Comments

While perhaps not the most faithful graphic novel adaptation ever made, V For Vendetta does manage to pull most of the key dramatic elements out and sally forth with the message of revolution against oppression through explosive violence, all for the good of the people.

Marketed poorly as something it clearly wasn't, this is a thinking person's action film, less about elaborate set pieces and more about a message, which in the antihero V's own words is "People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people."

Solid video and audio transfers, though extras on this two-disc set are not particularly mindblowing, but the piece on recent comic history and the Cat Power music video are certainly well worth your time.

Highly recommended.

 


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