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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » V for Vendetta (HD DVD)
V for Vendetta (HD DVD)
Warner Bros. // R // October 31, 2006 // Region 0
List Price: $28.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted November 28, 2006 | E-mail the Author
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Highly Recommended
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Based on the graphic novel by Alan Moore and David Lloyd, V for Vendetta stars Natalie Portman as Evey, a young woman orphaned by a totalitarian British government unyielding to leftists such as her parents. Evey is aware of her political parentage but has chosen a different path for herself, toiling away anonymously in some menial capacity for the propaganda-spouting, state-run media. She faces nearly as grisly an end as her family merely for breaking curfew, but she's rescued by a masked revolutionary who calls himself V. Her savior wears a Guy Fawkes mask, and like that 17th century dissident, V plans to exact change on the 5th of November by leveling the political power centers of London. He announces that his next act of terrorism will take place exactly a year later, prompting paranoid, vindictive Chancellor Adam Sutler (John Hurt) to do everything in his considerable power to discredit and butcher him. Evey reluctantly becomes ensnared in the plot, steeled from an unremarkable twentysomething to the defiant revolutionary the media has made her out to be.

The box office race has traditionally been to see which action flick is the biggest, dumbest, and most expensive, but V for Vendetta manages to be politically minded and thoughtful while remaining tremendously entertaining. A smirking sense of humor, megaton explosions, and V's operatic knifeplay keep the pacing nimble, skillfully incorporating the political angles without grinding to a screeching halt. Still, society's most daunting problems don't have easy solutions, and this film adaptation's way of side-stepping that is to strike through the graphic novel's questions and to pen less complicated ones. The V in the film isn't Alan Moore's deranged anarchist so much as a swashbuckling hero. Sure, he racks up a hefty body count, but there's never any question that V is the hero of the piece. V for Vendetta is the filmmakers' response to the course that they think this country is heading down, but especially compared to Moore's novel, the issues are exaggerated and oversimplified. Political commentary is more effective when it's suggested rather than unambiguously spelled out, and it's more compelling when there are shades of gray in between the gallant heroes and fascist villains. I'm not sure the movie's quite as smart and substantial as it thinks it is, but there's still a strong underlying intelligence in V for Vendetta, and it's a welcomed change of pace to watch an action/drama that's actually worth talking about afterwards.

V for Vendetta owes much of its success to a strong cast, with Hugo Weaving in particular deserving a nod. V remains masked or is otherwise obscured for the entirety of the movie, and his trademark Guy Fawkes mask is too rigid and inflexible for any facial expressions to filter through it. The stills scattered around this review don't do him justice; Weaving manages to draw a remarkably expressive character entirely through body language and his delivery of V's hyperliterate dialogue. Natalie Portman is nearly as compelling as the movie's emotional anchor. Although her Evey has been criticized for being more confident and politically aware from the first frame of the film, I doubt Portman would be convincing as the graphic novel's naive, easily manipulated would-be prostitute. Perhaps the most sly casting choice is John Hurt as the leader of this totalitarian government, over twenty years after starring as Winston Smith in 1984, a novel and film from which V for Vendetta takes no small inspiration.

To no one's great surprise, Alan Moore has disowned this adaptation of V for Vendetta, but it's by far the strongest translation of his work to film so far. Admittedly, some of the characterizations have been revised with varying but generally positive results. Moore's sprawling, densely plotted narrative had to be trimmed down to function as a two hour film, but despite the leaner storytelling and a more uplifting ending, the spirit of the work remains remarkably intact. James McTeigue's direction is rather accomplished for a first time director, and clearly he absorbed a great deal about visual flair while working on such films as Dark City and The Matrix.

I walked away from V for Vendetta with two prevailing thoughts. One, I can't believe Hollywood sank somewhere in the neighborhood of a hundred million dollars into this when it's all said and done, and I mean that in the best possible way. The stereotype goes that the studios are run by beancounters and marketing teams, and V for Vendetta doesn't play it safe. It's a subversive movie with with a potentially volatile viewpoint, and even if the storytelling is somewhat black and white compared to Alan Moore's graphic novel, I'm kind of taken aback that a movie like this had been produced at all. Two, as much as I can nitpick V for Vendetta if I stop and think about it, none of those complaints hampered my enjoyment of the movie itself. Even after my third time through, I still get wrapped up in the performances and James McTeigue's keen visual eye, and the amateur film critic in me sits politely and quietly for a couple of hours. V for Vendetta may not be a great movie, but it is a thoughtful, entertaining one, and that's an accomplishment all its own. Highly Recommended.

Video: This 2.39:1 high definition presentation of V for Vendetta is every bit as stunning as you'd expect from a glossy blockbuster just a few months out of theaters. The scope image is brimming with detail and is bolstered by a great deal of depth and dimensionality. McTeigue deploys a few visual tricks that work in the context of the film but don't lend the sort of 'looking out of a window' appearance some gearheads prefer, such as occasionally desaturating colors or fiddling with contrast. Film grain remains unintrusive throughout, and I was unable to spot any hiccups in the compression or authoring of this disc.

Audio: V for Vendetta is one of just a handful of HD DVDs to feature lossless Dolby TrueHD audio, and particularly in the more action-oriented sequences, it sounds phenomenal. The powerful orchestral score and robust sound effects detonate from every speaker, making immersive use of the surround channels when given the opportunity. The megaton explosions set to the tune of Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture" are especially devastating, beckoning a bassy bellow from the subwoofer and highlighting the track's expansive dynamic range. V for Vendetta isn't an unrelenting assault on the senses, though; it's a film with a great many dialogue-heavy stretches, and not a single line gets lost in the occasional bombast. Detail and clarity are also a marked improvement over anything DVD has to offer. Thoroughly impressive.

Other audio options include Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 tracks in English and French, and subtitles are offered in the three usual languages.

Supplements: Exclusive to this HD DVD release of V for Vendetta is another of Warner's In Movie Experiences, and it's one of their stronger efforts. Director James McTeigue and stars Natalie Portman and Hugo Weaving have contributed interviews specifically for this feature, and the end result is an hour long video commentary interspersed throughout the film. Interviews with much of the rest of the cast are also provided, along with brief comments from producer Joel Silver and some of the crew, and there's surprisingly little overlap between this footage and the featurettes elsewhere on the disc. Their comments tend to be somewhat thematic, leaning more on the characters and the story than the nuts and bolts of production. Some of the notes include the differences between this adaptation and the graphic novel, particularly the revised take on Evey and how this stronger character humanizes V, the scale of the film's climax, production design so detailed that three hundred banned songs were selected by hand for V's jukebox, and the execution of the tens of thousands of tumbling dominoes. Conceptual art and some behind the scenes footage are also periodically displayed in a window on the left of the screen.

The In Movie Experience is especially appreciated because for such a high-profile title, the extras on V for Vendetta are otherwise surprisingly sparse. The hour's worth of extras from the two-disc special edition DVD have been carried over to this release in standard definition, and virtually all of them are either presented in 4x3 or non-anamorphic widescreen.

The meatiest of the featurettes is "Designing the Near Future", which clocks in at seventeen minutes. As you could probably guess from the name, it focuses primarily on the look of the film, such as its elaborate sets, the wardrobe, the construction of V's mask, the visual effects work, and the towering 1/7th scale 'miniatures' that were demolished for the terrorist attacks. Many production design-centric extras explain how certain creative choices were implemented, but "Designing the Near Future" also takes care to explain why these decisions were made in the first place. Very concise and well-worth a look. As Guy Fawkes isn't especially well known stateside, a series of authors on the subject introduce viewers to the 1605 Catholic scheme in the ten minute featurette "Remember, Remember: Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot".

The sixteen minute "Freedom! Forever! Making V for Vendetta" is actually interested in giving viewers a peek at production and a glimpse into the thought process behind the adaptation rather than taking the shamelessly promotional path of most making-of featurettes. It does stick to the familiar framework of interviews with the key creative talent, excerpts from the film, and some behind the scenes snippets, but it's more substantial than most. The last of these four featurettes is "England Prevails! V for Vendetta and the New Wave in Comics", a fifteen minute examination of the darker, more adult work that emerged from Britain in the '80s. V for Vendetta naturally gets the lion's share of the attention, discussed by such four-color luminaries as Bill Sienkiewicz, Paul Chadwick, and V co-creator David Lloyd. Alan Moore, who's voiced total disdain for any attempt to adapt his work, is expectedly absent. "England Prevails!" tries to cover the movement as a whole, but its runtime is too brief to discuss much more than V for Vendetta, either mentioning other titles in passing or letting a camera zoom over a couple of choice panels.

The 'Additional Footage' label is somewhat misleading as there aren't any deleted or extended scenes. This section consists of a pair of short clips, the first of which is a music video for Cat Power's "I Found a Reason" that condenses the two hour movie down to two minutes. The other is a, um, musical number by Natalie Portman from Saturday Night Live. You know the one. The remaining extras include an anamorphic widescreen trailer and a plug for the movie's soundtrack.

Conclusion: V for Vendetta is an engaging, visually enthralling blend of political drama and a masterfully choreographed ballet of violence. Although it could be argued that the movie stumbles a bit with the delivery of its political commentary, V is nonetheless a smart, thought-provoking action movie, and any major studio effort that can get pulses racing and synapses firing simultaneously deserves a look. Highly Recommended.
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