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V for Vendetta - Two-Disc Special Edition

Warner Bros. // R // August 1, 2006
List Price: $34.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Francis Rizzo III | posted July 14, 2006 | E-mail the Author
In 10 Words or Less
The future is now, and the future is bleak

Reviewer's Bias*
Loves: Alan Moore's work; complex, intelligent films
Likes: Natalie Portman
Dislikes: Paying more for extras
Hates: America's current "leadership"

The Movie
In V for Vendetta, the government, run by a conservative, religious party, restricts the freedom of the people and lashes out against anyone different, in an attempt to use fear to maintain power. Thank God it's just a movie based on a comic book, huh?

A thinly-veiled critique of the Bush regime's response to terrorism, this film updates Alan Moore and David Lloyd's classic graphic novel, keeping much of the spirit of the story, while changing the details a bit. In the hands of the Wachowski brothers (The Matrix) and their protege James McTeigue, the story avoids becoming a popcorn film about freedom and anarchy (despite what the trailer might depict), but instead translates into a rather intelligent movie about the power of citizens versus the power of the state and what the difference in between a terrorist and a freedom fighter.

Evey (Natalie Portman) is the daughter of two progressive parents, whose stance against government policies put them into detention centers, and eventually a mass grave. She hasn't followed in their footsteps, but a back-alley assault by government curfew guards puts her at the start of the same path, as she is saved by V, the masked man at the center of the film. Played almost anonymously by Hugo Weaving (The Matrix), this caped crusader uses a mask of British revolutionary Guy Fawkes and a buttload of knives to strike back at the government and fulfill a vendetta he carries, which is explained as the film unfolds.

As V's quest proceeds, and Evey is drawn into his world, he draws more and more attention from Chancellor Sutler (John Hurt) and his totalitarian Fingermen, who attempt to stop his charismatic ways from influencing the people of England. That includes Inspector Eric Finch (Stephen Rea), whose own quest to find out who V is and to stop him, has him finding out information he'd prefer to not know, and which the government certainly doesn't want him to know. Finch, played wonderfully by the underrated Rea, is the true hero of the movie, as he hunts down thetruth and is willing to do what's necessary to find it.

Unlike what you might expect, the film doesn't take V at face value, accepting him as an anti-hero who should be cheered due to a cool costume and way with a dagger. Instead, he's challenged by Evey (a marked change from the graphic novel) and his motivations are questioned. That's important to the film, as one of the main points is the concept of the role of terrorism in a government's policies. If terrorism can't be cleanly defined or identified, how do you combat it? Is it terrorism, if there's positive result from your point of view? Is it terrorism if the government does it to its own people? The film, which includes a great deal of dialogue and some rather provocative topics, requires you to take a viewpoint to enjoy. This is not a crash-boom action movie that you can just sit back and watch. Actually, you probably could, but it would be a meaningless way to spend a few hours.

The imagery of people kept in pens with black bags on their heads clearly means to recall images of detained Iraqis in Abu Ghraib. The persecution of homosexuals and immigrants obviously mirrors U.S. current events and legislation aimed at "outsiders." The restriction of the rights of the people to protect the people is an obvious reference to America's Patriot Act. It's the pervasive feeling that "This is actually happening," that gives this film it's power. The thing is, V for Vendetta was set in England, and written in the '80s. As such, the material is prescient, but it's also informed by the truth of the negatives of power, thanks to a few centuries of seeing what other cultures have done with power, and how it destroyed them. Hopefully seeing it in a glossy two-hour version with some explosions will get people to pay attention.

The DVDs
Warner Brothers is releasing two versions of V for Vendetta, one a single-disc, relatively bare-bones edition, and the other a two-disc special edition. The two-disc version is packaged in a standard-width keepcase with a second tray, which comes wrapped in a sweet embossed slipcover featuring the film's poster art. The main disc has a well-designed animated anamorphic widescreen main menu, with options to play the film, select scenes, view extras and adjust languages. The scene selection menus have still previews and titles for each scene, while language options include English and French Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks, and English, French and Spanish subtitles, as well as closed captioning.

The Quality
I expected a fantastic image when popping this disc in, but I can't say I was blown away. In spots, the 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen image is obviously intentionally soft or grainy or both, but most of the film is reasonably solid, with appropriate color and a fine level of detail. The film seems to be falling short in terms of how sharp it should look, but that could be a style choice. There's nothing obviously wrong with the transfer though, as there's no dirt or damage, nor any obnoxious digital artifacts.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is very lively, especially during the film's select action scenes. Explosions fill all your speakers, giving a rich, dynamic feel to the film, as sound moves around the room. The dialogue is crisply delivered, which is a key to this film. Turn your surround system up nice and loud, as this film will reward you with a great aural experience.

The Extras
Anyone picking up the standard, one-disc edition of V for Vendetta will get just one bonus feature, "Freedom! Forever!: Making V for Vendetta". Running just under 16 minutes, this featurette does a good job of covering the film's production, mixing plenty of on-set footage with interviews with the talent, including some rather thoughtful observations on politics and film from Portman, one of Hollywood's smarter actresses. It's not too fluffy, but is well produced. A feature-length audio commentary would have been appreciated, considering how dense this film is in terms of theme, the controversies involved and everything that went into making the film. Getting Portman behind a mic would have made for an intriguing track.

The two-disc edition uses a second DVD to deliver three more featurettes, and some other odds and ends. First up is "Designing the Near Future," which spends nearly 17 minutes talking about the art design and costumes for the film. It's a good piece about the look of the movie, and should appeal to those interested in how a visual medium like comics is adapted to the screen.

"Remember, Remember: Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot" is the kind of featurette a movie like this needs to have. When you have a story based around history that might be unknown to the majority of the audience, it never hurts to educate them. Thus you have this 9:30 extra, which explores the story of Guy Fawkes for the uninitiated. The presence of some academics slows it down a bit, but it's a solid supplement that actually supplements the film.

The final featurette is "England Prevails: V for Vendetta and the New Wave in Comics", a 15-minute segment that puts the original comic strip and graphic novel into the context of the '80s comic industry and the changes in tone in comics that occurred at the time. Though a bit light on Alan Moore's influence as part of those changes (for obvious reasons), it provides some decent insight for anyone not informed about the evolution of the comic book arts.

Listed as a "Cat Power Montage," there's essentially a music video for Powers' "I Found a Reason." It's just two minutes of clips from the film, with the song playing over them. It's followed by a promo screen for the film's soundtrack album. The film's theatrical trailer, which plays up the action portions of the movie, wraps up the package.

As is now seemingly the standard with these two-disc special editions from Warner Brothers, the first disc is pretty much empty, but then, the second disc is isn't too packed either. In essence, this is a one-disc release spread over two platters, in an attempt to make people pay a few bucks more for the extras. If they are going to do that, they should make the extras worth paying for. Warner Brothers really should give up this whole two-tier special edition concept if they are going to charge more for less than what you get from other studios.

On the Hunt
On the second disc, there's a not-too-hidden easter egg, that will be of interest to many of Portman's fans and those of a certain late-night weekend variety show. What!

The Bottom Line
V for Vendetta is an enjoyable action film that goes beyond the usual muscles and guns and gets into more cerebral real-world territory. As a result, there's much more to get out of it than cheering when the bad guys get blown up. There's a sense that perhaps the power can be regained by the people. The DVD delivers the film in fine shape, both visually and aurally, but disappoints a bit in the extras. What's included is good, but there should be more, considering you're paying extra for them. While it's only a few bucks more, sadly the two-disc set isn't really worth the difference, as the three featurettes, music video and trailer add up to only a little more than 30 minutes of bonus features. The film needs to be seen, but the second-disc only requires a rental, so I'm splitting the difference and giving it a "recommended."

Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.

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*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.

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