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Warner Home Video presents
V for Vendetta HD-DVD (2005)

"People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people."
- V (Hugo Weaving)

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: January 26, 2007

Stars: Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving, Stephen Rea, Stephen Fry, John Hurt
Other Stars: Roger Allam, John Standing, Tim Pigott-Smith, Rupert Graves, Natasha Wightman
Director: James McTeigue

MPAA Rating: R for strong violence and some language
Run Time: 02h:12m:47s
Release Date: October 31, 2006
UPC: 012569810303
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ AA-A A-

DVD Review

One of the most startling developments in the comic book world was the emergence of Alan Moore in the 1980s, writing comics in a literary way that had never been seen before. Thick with allusion and dense in their complexity, Moore's writing is also effective and accessible, a contradiction that makes his work unique in the field. One of his most important works is the graphic novel V for Vendetta, illustrated by David Lloyd, a thoughtful consideration of terrorism and revolution, which was quite surprisingly brought to the screen by the Wachowski Brothers and director James McTiegue.

Set in a dismal future England (you can tell it's the future because everyone has widescreen televisions), the film traces the collision of the worlds of Evey Holland (Natalie Portman), a low-level functionary at the British Television Network, and the terrorist V (Hugo Weaving), a superhuman antihero with a theatrical flair who appears only in a smirking Guy Fawkes mask, blowing up buildings and promising to destroy the Houses of Parliament on the next Guy Fawkes Day. His activity is aimed at two objectives: bringing down the fascist government led by Chancellor Adam Sutler (John Hurt), and also taking a personal vendetta against those who did him wrong. Evey is initially terrified of V, but eventually comes to understand him and his motives.

The dystopic England is one that uses fear and religion, combined with readily available material goods, to keep the population totally cowed and unwilling or unable to dissent. Focusing hatred towards minorities and using homophobia as a weapon is in the ancient tradition of divide and conquer. The combination of all these tools, as many have learned through practice, is highly effective in crushing the human spirit. V presents an interesting ethical conflict, equal parts terrorist and freedom fighter. That's not inappropriate, since one man's liberty is another man's chaos; perspective is everything in such matters, and the picture, while certainly unsympathetic to the fascist government, is also willing to question V's motives for what he does. It's a thoughtful adaptation (even though Moore demanded that his name be taken off of it) that works well both as the original attack on Thatcherite England and as a criticism of any particular fascist state today you might consider, though it is probably unwarrantedly optimistic about the willingness of the public to object to their complict oppression.

The movie rockets along thanks to the enormous talents of the two leads. Weaving has the disadvantage of having to spend virtually the entire picture behind an immovable mask, and is thus forced to emphasize the theatrical aspects of the character, playing to the back rows with gestures and voice. That he's able to do so in such an effective manner is a tribute to his skills. Portman is allowed a more introspective characterization, and her ordeal is a moving and painful one; it's hard to watch her final scenes without being brought to tears. Hurt is an inspired piece of casting, echoing off his classic portrayal of Winston Smith in 1984, taking the adversarial role of Big Brother in this outing. The ironies are delicious and he plays the part in full Hitlerian mode, raging and frothing. Stephen Rea makes an impression as the chief inspector assigned to catch V, who begins to suspect that the government may have been behind a terrorist attack that allowed Sutler's administration to seize power through fear and coercion.

While it's a political thriller, it's also a ripping good yarn with plenty of action and dark humor; V is influenced by The Count of Monte Cristo in many ways, not least of which is his affinity for swordplay and complicated schemes of vengeance. There's hardly a dull moment, and the pacing is crackling. The mystery of V's origins and his goals are engaging, and there's a positive spirit of hope behind all the mayhem. And if nothing else, there are plenty of explosions to gratify that sector of the audience. Alan Moore shouldn't be annoyed by this adaptation, which does him much greater justice than did From Hell.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.40:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The 2.40:1 image looks quite good. Detail is crisp, with plenty of texture. There's a clear difference between the film and video sequences, and the film image is rock solid at all times. Color is excellent, as are the black levels. The vitally important reds in particular look excellent, as they cannot in standard definition. Only occasionally is there a bit of mosquito noise apparent. A first-rate transfer, marking an enormous improvement over the already quite good DVD.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
English, Frenchyes

Audio Transfer Review: While the 5.1 DD+ English and French tracks are very solid and quite acceptable, the TrueHD English track is incredibly rich, with plenty of depth to it. The score by Dario Marinelli in particular comes across with marvelously sweeping texture. The drumbeats during the standoff at the television station are like machine gun bursts. The explosions have all the LFE and depth as you would expect, but one source of remarkable LFE I wasn't expecting was the tramp of the feet of the March of the Vs in the finale. If you haven't updated your player's firmware to accept TrueHD, you owe it to yourself to do so for this disc.

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

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

Extra Extras:
  1. In-Movie Experience
  2. Music video
  3. Natalie Portman raps
Extras Review: The HD DVD expands upon the already generous offerings of the standard disc by including an In-Movie Experience that includes picture-in-picture commentary from the director and cast, as well as behind-the scenes footage. Unlike many such IMEs released thus far, the content here is nearly all unique and not culled from the documentaries. It's well worth examining.

The bonus materials from the standard disc are here too (alas, not in HD). Designing the Near Future (17m:15s) looks at the design of the picture, and reveals that most of the future London was actually shot in Berlin! Remember, Remember (10m:17s) is an examination of the historical Gunpowder Plot of 1605 and the real-life Guy Fawkes, a prototype terrorist who makes an exceptionally apt model for V. Freedom! Forever! (15m:57s) is a more standard making-of that discusses the adaptation process but doesn't resort to the usual froth and fawning. England Prevails (15m:57s) looks at the comic book scene of 1980s England and the genesis of the source material, with illustrator David Lloyd speaking on camera, accompanied by numerous panels that are obviously the models for shots in the movie. Many other notable comics creators, such as Bill Sientkiewicz, Geof Darrow and Paul Chadwick also talk about the influence of the work and Moore's writing, though the man himself is unsurprisingly absent. A short music video with a montage of scenes from the movie is accompanied by the hilarious rap by Portman on Saturday Night Live, in which she demolished her innocent image. The package is concluded by the trailer, which by comparison to the HD transfer of the feature looks downright dismal.

Extras Grade: A-


Final Comments

A thoughtful political thriller that also works as a crackling action movie, it gets a gorgeous transfer on HD, with plenty of worthwhile extras. A particularly fine release, which had it arrived on a more timely basis would have been high on my Top Ten of 2006 list.


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