Let’s start with a quote from Alan Moore: “I wanted to give comics a special place when I was writing things like Watchmen. I wanted to show off just what the possibilities of the comic book medium were, and films are completely different.”
And another one: “If we only see comics in relation to movies then the best that they will ever be is films that do not move. I found it, in the mid 80s, preferable to concentrate on those things that only comics could achieve. The way in which a tremendous amount of information could be included visually in every panel, the juxtapositions between what a character was saying, and what the image that the reader was looking at would be. So in a sense … most of my work from the 80s onwards was designed to be un-filmable.”
So it’s been no secret that Alan Moore hates the adaptations of his books. It’s actually uncomfortable to think that he is now so unhappy with the process of adaptation that he has requested his name to be removed from all film credits. However, I don’t at all think that adaptations are valueless, nor do they render their source material obsolete.
I saw the film V for Vendetta years ago and liked it. David has had the graphic novel on his shelf for sometime so I decided there was no better time to read it than the run up to Guy Fawkes Night. The plot is essentially the same: A fascist totalitarian government has taken over England following a nuclear war (in the film it is after a deadly global epidemic). Standing against this is V, an enigmatic masked figure, an anarchist who seeks to bring the government to its knees while pursuing his own personal vengeance. Evey is a working class girl who becomes unwittingly tangled in V’s activities and must determine whether he is the terrorist the government paint him as or the catalyst to free the country.
There are lots of differences between the book and film but for me the most major one was the change to the character of Evey. In the book we meet 16-year-old orphan Evey when she is preparing to head into the city, her first night as a prostitute having been driving to desperation by her low paying factory job. She is almost immediately caught by ‘Fingermen’, police patrolmen who assault her until she is rescued by V. In the film, Evey is a young professional working for the national TV station. Her life is not without tragedy, she is still an orphan and she is also attacked by Fingermen while out breaking curfew. However, she’s not at the same level of disenfranchisement when she meets V so her willingness to work with him doesn’t ring as believable.
My other source of disappointment is the removal of Rosemary Almond and Helen Heyer. Not only are they two of the very few female characters but their story arcs are key and offer two very different perspectives to the machismo of the Cabinet members and their cronies.
Stylistically, the film is very slick, as one might expect from the Wachowski Brothers (most known for The Matrix). Again, I have to say this loses some of the grit from the book, but the slow-mo knife-fights are intended to add a sort of ‘super-human’ quality to V which is also alluded to in the book.
Overall, the book is layered and at times has an unexpected subtlety which is missing from the film version. It creates a dystopian England that doesn’t seem all that far-fetched and in V creates a symbol for anarchy which has since been adopted (rightly or wrongly). Above all, it demonstrates Moore’s (and illustrator David Lloyd’s) mastery of the graphic novel form. So while the film is good, the book is excellent.
Have you seen or read V for Vendetta? What did you think?