Standing at the Edge
V for Vendetta
By Christopher Brosnahan
20 March 2006 — If you've been to see V for Vendetta, you may have noticed that the name "Alan Moore" was conspicuously absent from the credits. Of course, it's also entirely possible that you went to see V purely because of the Wachowski Brothers. Or because of the nicely done advertising campaign, in which case you may be wondering just who the hell I'm on about. As such, an introduction is in order.
Born in 1952 in Northampton, Alan Moore is both the most critically acclaimed comics writer in the world, and also the single most underrated writer walking the earth. Inspired by a copy of a script excerpt in the old UK Marvel reprints (which we received over here in the seventies), Moore began working for anthology series' in the UK, such as 2000AD (the birthplace of Judge Dredd, where he wrote — amongst other things — a series called Skizz, which was begun before ET, but is scarily similar) and Warrior — which is where V for Vendetta was originally printed in the early 80s. It saw the light of day in the Unites States via DC in 1988 / 89 — although the film release claims it as a Vertigo imprint, the American series predates the imprint by about five years or so. When it was collected, three issues worth of the UK print were collected into a single issue for the US market. Moore then worked with DC for some time, and wrote some great stories on Batman, Superman and had a run on Swamp Thing. This was all before writing what many people see as his masterpiece, Watchmen.
Watchmen thrust Moore into the mainstream... or at least as close as comic books generally get to the mainstream. Which basically means a couple of reviews in broadsheets, and "BAM, POW! COMIC BOOKS AREN'T JUST FOR KIDS ANYMORE!" style articles. It was about this time that he fell out with DC, primarily over arguments about creators' rights. He has never returned to mainstream comics since — not totally, anyway. His next major project was From Hell, which is a staggeringly dense piece of work about Jack the Ripper, which he produced with Eddie Campbell. A couple of years later, he created America's Best Comics, which was published via WildStorm Comics — a sub-branch of DC, but a creator-owned sub-branch. This comprised titles like League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (the first super-group, borne out of Victorian stories), Promethea (Wonder Woman done by somebody who really knows mythology), Top Ten (about cops in a city where everybody has superpowers) and others (look, I didn't get into Tom Strong, I don't know why).
Recently, he's fallen out with DC again — and also with Hollywood. At the same time, no less, which is even more impressive. This was partially over issues to do with the ABC line, but also due to what happened in the preproduction for V. Basically, because of the lousy jobs that Hollywood has done on his previous adaptations (Swamp Thing with Heather Locklear; From Hell, which was actually pretty good as a Jack the Ripper film, but not great as an adaptation; and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which I would have loved at the age of eight, but totally missed out on the potential the books had), Moore has decided not to be involved any more. No credits, no input, no nothing (his pay would be split up between his art teams), and he decided this very publicly. Unfortunately, Joel Silver, one of the producers of V quoted Moore as saying that he was "very excited" about the movie and "very enthusiastic" about the script. Being as how Moore had, if anything, voiced the opposite opinion, this was pretty much the last straw for Moore (yes, at this point, I'm realizing just how many words the man's surname rhymes with). And he publicly criticized the project's integrity, and has been quite visibly doing so in the British media in the last few weeks.
Part of the reason for Moore deciding to stay out of Hollywood is also that it avoids him being opened up to lawsuits (like happened with League of Extraordinary Gentlemen). It has been suggested as well that his writings are something that are very, very personal to Moore, and so he cannot bear to see them be changed by somebody else — even if those changes are purely to make it more useful to another medium. Being as how he has likened his writings to working magic before now, this is something that is entirely possible. But, for whichever reasons, Moore got his way. His name does not appear on the advertising or the credits for V for Vendetta.
It's a real shame. Because V for Vendetta is the first adaptation of one of Moore's works that actually seems to understand the spirit in which it was written. For the first time, Alan Moore is about to achieve some element of mainstream attention that actually focuses on his writing, rather than either the basic idea, or the fact that he writes comic books at all.
Yes, there are changes. Changes are inevitable when something is being adapted for the big screen, and are downright necessary when the work in question is two decades old. Veiled references to Thatcher's Britain really wouldn't make a huge amount of sense to today's moviegoers. However, it doesn't take a huge amount of work to modernize those references in order to make them more topical — and make them into veiled references to Bush's America. We say goodbye to economic jibes, and welcome in religious ones instead. However, at the same time, it isn't just a thinly veiled satire on Bush. Far more than that, it's about fascism and dictatorship. The Leader isn't so much Bush as he is Big Brother (which is particularly strange casting, since John Hurt once played the lead in 1984), especially visually.
There are changes to the dialogue as well — V, particularly, is slightly less monologue-heavy than he is in the book, although he is still as verbose as he should be. But then, if you were to make it a direct transfer, you'd have a six-hour long film, most of it talking. There are changes to characters. Evey is no longer quite as down on her luck as she was in the book. She may live in a small bedsit, but she's not been forced to go on the game to make ends meet — she works for the main television station. But again, this is about transferring the work to the cinema. With less time, some things have to be sacrificed, and having Evey work at the television station allows for the film to achieve the same goal (Evey ends up living at V's) in only one scene. Other characters are written out completely, but in order to have taken the time to flesh out the characters enough to warrant them being in, it would have taken far too long. In screenwriting, economy is everything, and economy is never something that Alan Moore has been noted for.
What is more of a change though, is a slight alteration of focus. In the original graphic novel, V is something of an anarchist who works single-handedly, and creates chaos in order that freedom should not be shackled. In the film, he's out to create a revolution. And it's almost a revolution that seems strange — while in the book minorities of all kinds are hounded, in the film, it's only really gay people that we see persecuted. It is said that religious differences are heavily frowned upon as well (to the point of death), but we don't see people being hunted down because of their skin colour, which is something that we do see in the novel. It is a little bit of impact loss, sadly — although not necessarily denied. It's a very, very white cast; it's just not specifically said.
The revolution is strange for another reason. Similarly to Starship Troopers, if you're loyal to the government, this doesn't actually seem too bad a place to live. The message becomes that people desire freedom more than they desire comfort — or even happiness. However, in the book things are actually pretty shitty for the majority. But then, 24 years ago, things weren't great in Britain. Not necessarily depression, but they were far from rosy. The pits had closed down, Unions were being destroyed, and benefits were being cut. Now, however, things just aren't that bad. Unemployment is down, and benefits are up. It's another thing that is a product of when the book was written that needed to be changed because of when the film was released. For an adaptation of something like V for Vendetta, this is hardly a bad thing. It was written as a relevant piece of work — the changes that have been done have partially been in order to make it into a relevant piece of work for today's audience.
And that is the films biggest triumph. It is relevant. It's not quite a satire of today's world, but the problems that are prevalent in the film are problems that could happen 20 years down the line (for anybody who disagrees about what could happen, I need only point at Germany in the 1940s. Anything can happen — anywhere. You may as well say 1984 isn't relevant), and the idea is that those problems would be borne out of today's problems. However, it's not a film that I could see dating particularly — at least, no more than the original work or something like 1984 or Brazil. It's a challenging piece of work. It's one that makes you think about big ideas, about government, about responsibility, about accountability, about freedom and about control. It may even make you talk about these things — certainly; it's something my friends and I were discussing in our post-cinema autopsy down at the pub.
And isn't that exactly what a blockbuster should do? What cinema should do? What entertainment should do? What art should do? It should challenge, absolutely, because that is one of the things that art has always been able to do so well. V for Vendetta isn't just a thriller, it isn't just a blockbuster and it isn't just a comic book movie; it is arguably the most important comic book movie to have been made thus far, because of the fact that it is a truly challenging piece of work.
If there were any concerns that the film would be / has been dumbed down, you can relax. It is, obviously, going to be less literary than its source material, but the spirit of the book remains unharmed. There are plot holes, yes, but again — these are almost unavoidable. There are some great, great scenes left out or altered (the lack of the acid trip, the context of V's television speech as firing an employee), but this is purely for economy. Because it isn't a comic book. It's a film. And if you're that concerned about the changes and how it may have destroyed the work, I need only quote Raymond Chandler who told an interviewer that Hollywood hadn't destroyed his books, they were all right up there on the shelf.
As I said, it's a real shame that Alan Moore's name has been removed from this, because it actually does real justice to his work as an adaptation. Yes, there have been changes, but they've kept all the important stuff. The additions they make work because it's a film, and if they get more people in to see it, I'll be happy. This isn't Swamp Thing. This isn't League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. This is good. This is something that Alan Moore could, in my opinion, be proud of.