Alan Moore is widely known outside of comic book circles as 'the British guy who wrote V For Vendetta and Watchmen' simply because those two properties were made into successful films and were therefore able to reach a larger audience than the comics that they were based on. That said, there's way more to Moore than just the source material for a couple of movies. The man has been writing some of the most interesting comics ever published for a few decades now and Dez DeZ Vylenz's documentary, The Mindscape Of Alan Moore attempts to probe the brain behind those pages and pages of comics.
While Moore's best known work is that material he wrote for DC Comics - that being his incredibly influential run on Swamp Thing, and the aforementioned Watchmen and V For Vendetta (which was originally serialized in the U.K's Warrior magazine) - as his star rose he became a bit more esoteric in his lifestyle and output. Rather than embrace the 'rockstar' status he'd been awarded, he decided to push the mainstream away and concentrate on more personal projects such as From Hell (also made into a feature film) and Lost Girls. He took his projects from the major publishers to the independent ones, in turn allowing himself to work on what he wanted and to do so at his own pace. At the same time, he also created his own niche world of super hero comics which wound up becoming part of D.C.'s stable of titles when they bought Wildstorm. This puts Moore in a strange position, having bounced around from indy to mainstream publishers and back again.
His publisher issues aside, Moore's managed to garner a huge following and has consistently proven himself to be one of the finest minds working in comic books today and while he tends to shy away from the media, he did sit down with DeZ Vylenz and his crew and allow them to make a documentary on his life's work and on his rather unique philosophies. Moore, you see, considers himself to be a magician not in the 'watch me pull a rabbit out of a hat' sense but in the spiritual and theological sense. While the documentary does touch on many of his more popular works and allow the writer to discuss what influenced this material and what he was hoping to accomplish by writing them, there's even more emphasis put on his way of thinking. This is as much a documentary about one man's quest for spiritual fulfillment as it is about a guy with a crazy beard who writes bad ass comics books.
Throughout the documentary Moore waxes nostalgic about some of the more taboo aspects of his work, the way he deals with issues of a sexual nature, about violence and its place, about superheroes and about religion and spiritual issues and how they all co-relate to one another. As insane as much of it sounds on paper, the man has a way of explaining himself that can be far more convincing than you'd probably expect it to be, particularly when you factor in the fact that he looks like an insane druid. This mixture of comic book history and off the wall philosophy and theological ramblings makes for a strange stew indeed but one that's endlessly interesting. You don't have to like Moore's comics or even be familiar with them to have this character study to hold your attention simply because Alan Moore is an interesting guy. He's a strange man with an obviously very sharp intellect that he isn't afraid to flex now and then and there are times where you'll get the feeling he thinks he's smarted than everyone else but that's probably because in certain ways he is.
As Moore goes on about his various theories on magic and writing, the film follows suit visually, providing some interesting re-enactments from his works that pre-date their big budget versions (the sequences here from V For Vendetta in particular are pretty impressive). This makes the documentary more than just a camera pointing at a weird looking guy who talks a lot, rather, it makes it, as the packaging suggests 'a psychedelic journey into one of the world's most powerful minds.' That might be a rather pretentious way of describing The Mindscape Of Alan Moore but after you sit through the piece, you realize it's a pretty apt one.
The Mindscape Of Alan Moore arrives on DVD in a nice 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. While the picture is interlaced, it looks pretty good for the most part. A fair bit of grain is evident but this is never a problem. Print damage is held firmly in check and there are no noticeable problems with mpeg compression artifacts or edge enhancement issues to note. Color reproduction looks lifelike and natural and the scenes that use still images from the comic books are nice and crisp.
The sole audio option on this release is an English language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track. Considering that so much of this feature is basically interview footage, the two channel mix gets the job done quite nicely. The score sounds good, the scenes that do use sound effects offer up some nice channel separation, and generally things sound very good here. Dialogue stays clean, there are no problems with any audible hiss or distortion and the levels are properly balanced. Optional English subtitles are included.
The extras for this release are actually spread across two DVDs as follows:
Extras for the first disc start off with a commentary track from director DeZ Vylenz that is available for the following scenes: V For Vendetta, Watchmen, The Job Of The Artist, Act III, The Morphogenetic Field, and Finale. He starts his talk by explaining how he doesn't like commentaries but then goes on to deliver one anyway, by basically elaborating on questions that were asked of him during screenings. He talks about some of the recreations that we see in the film and the basically gives a fairly technical talk about what went into making various parts of the picture, explaining who did what, and how it was done.
Also included on the first disc are a few featurettes, this first of which is The Making Of A Mindscape (11:50). This is a collection of behind the scenes footage that shows the crew out on the streets of London going about setting up interviews and trying to get various shots. We see them shooting on rooftops, shooting aerial shots from a helicopter above the city, and shooting Moore himself. There isn't really any narration here to give it much context, it's just simply some random footage set to instrumental music. We also get a quick look at some of the effects shots and prop shots used in the final finished version of the movie.
Up next is a Director Interview (15:46) in which DeZ Vylenz talks about why he decided he wanted to make a documentary about Alan Moore and how difficult it was to condense the essence of his massive body of work into an eighty minute feature. From there he talks about the comics that he read as he was going up, a mix of European material and American material and how one of his favorites was Blueberry. From there he talks about how he found Alan Moore's work and how V For Vendetta really appealed to him and caused him to search out more of his writing. He talks about the importance of Moore's work to him and what he likes about it and then discusses what it was like working with Moore, his thoughts on the 'magical' aspect of his work, and how he went about getting Moore involved in this project.
The Special FX Artist Interview (11:25) is a talk with Brian Kinney about the various sculptures and miniatures that he created for use in the movie and how these were created with the intent of changing a talking head interview into a 'psychedelic journey.' From there, Kinney talks about what he used to create the props and what the intent was behind the work, how Swamp Thing influenced a couple of pieces, and more. We then get a look at some of the prototype 'V Masks' that he created, a nasty rotting corpse that shows up in the film, and a bio-mechanical hand.
The last featurette is the Composer Interview (18:44) that allows musician Drew Richards to talk about how his childhood interest in music while growing up in Jamaica eventually lead to his branching out on his own and creating his own music when he moved to London and was exposed to a much larger music scene. From there, he talks about how he got involved with the feature and how he went about creating the score and the sound design for the movie using instruments and computer technology.
Rounding off disc one are a pair of trailers for the feature, some animated menus and chapter selection.
The second disc contains a selection of Interviews From The Comic Book Universe. Here you'll find interviews with:
Melinda Gebbie (31:04) - The artist who collaborated with Moore on Lost Girls talks about how she got into comic books through working on an anti-Regan comic before moving to England. She talks about how her father used to draw when she was a child, which obviously influenced her, and how she started with crayons as a kid before moving on to water colors. She waxes nostalgic about the bravery of doing things on your own, with our without support from others, and she talks about how she wound up working with Moore on Lost Girls and what it was like working with him on the project, a so called 'erotic comic' as opposed to flat out pornography. From there she talks about some of the themes and ideas that are used in her work and what makes it interesting to her. Some interesting examples of her work are shown and discussed as she talks about concepts such as superheroes and beauty being in the eye of the beholder.
Dave Gibbons (27:28) - The illustrator best known for his work on the seminal Watchmen talks about how he wanted to be a comic book artist from the age of seven before going on to talk about how he started drawing and how he eventually broke into comic book illustration by way of doing stuff for underground and amateur magazines. He talks about his influences, such as Jack Kirby and Al Williamson, and then he talks about the power of Alan Moore's writing and what it was like working on one of the greatest comic books of all time with him. Gibbons offers some interesting insight into Moore's working process and what he presumes to be his mindset and makes for an interesting interviewee. Again, some examples of Gibbons' illustrations are used for the purpose of example. Gibbons also talks about Moore's 'wandering about of the magical world' and how he feels about it.
Paul Gravett (28:20) - This author and comics historian talks about his role within comics, what it is that he does within the industry, and how it has given him some insight into various aspects of it. From there, he discusses a few different Alan Moore projects and offers his thoughts on them as well as on Moore's writing as a whole. He also talks about how it makes sense for filmmakers to look to comic books for inspiration before talking about the differences between the two mediums before moving on to talk about how and when Alan Moore left his mark and the influence of the direct sales market and the new freedoms that it afforded the industry as a whole.
David Lloyd (13:16) - Moore's collaborator on the seminal V For Vendetta discusses how he got his start doing advertising illustrations for an advertising studio but how he was always interested in cartooning. From there he talks about how he made the transition into comics after having some of his work rejected by newspapers. Lloyd cites Ditko and Kirby as influences before mentioning a few English artists and then moves on talking about his process and what it was like working with Alan Moore and adapting to his way of writing comics. He talks about their work together on V and how he chose a specific style for that particular project and how he went about trying to really nail down the specifics of what he wanted to portray with his art.
Kevin O'Neill (19:57) - The artist of The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen talks about growing up in England on a steady diet of Marvel and D.C. comic books as well as monster movies like King Kong. He talks about his strict Roman Catholic upbringing and how this could very well have lead to his fascination with the pop culture that was denied him in his younger days. He talks about how he, like so many other British artists, got his start working on 2000 A.D. and how he and Pat Mills started working together (their beautifully subversive work on Marshal Law is still amazing) and how this opened doors to work with other writers, Moore being one of them. From there he talks about their work on League and what it was like collaborating on this project and what influences worked their way into the finished product.
Jose Villarubia (18:40) - Last but not least, the artist of Promethea, Mirror Of Love, and Voice Of The Fire speaks of Picasso and his theory of 'the muse' and how that relates to the constant work and evolution of the artist. From there he talks about artists whose work he was attracted to and who influenced him before moving on to talking about how he started his career in illustration. He talks about being labeled and pigeonholed with a specific style but how it's important to be honest to yourself and true to yourself with your work. From there he talks about the projects that he's worked with Moore on, and how he first got in touch with Moore and what it's been like working with him since.
Also included inside the lavish packaging is a full color insert booklet containing essays from Michael Moorecock and DeZ Vylenz that discuss their thoughts on Moore, his work, and this film.
While this feature at times teeters dangerously close to the edge of pretentiousness it never quite falls over it and remains an interesting examination of a truly brilliant and definitely unique man and his important work. On top of that, there's quite a bit of decent supplemental material included in here as well. The Mindscape Of Alan Moore comes recommended - you don't have to be a comic book junkie to enjoy this one.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.