V For Vendetta

V For Vendetta (2006)
Warner Home Video
Cast: Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving, Stephen Rea, John Hurt
Extras: In-Movie Experience, Featurettes, SNL Short, Music Video, Trailer
Rating:

In the post-9/11 world, it seems that people are growing increasingly more suspicious of their governments and the media's representations of them. Ideals of freedom are called into question with every political event, and liberals and conservatives butt heads daily over the pressing issues. The current political state of being is examined in Andy and Larry Wachowski's new thriller "V for Vendetta." Based on the famed graphic novel by Alan Moore and David Lloyd, the movie follows a mysterious freedom fighter in his assault on an oppressive English government. James McTeigue marks his directorial debut with this film, and a truly impressive one it is.

In the near future, England is governed by the fascistic Chancellor Adam Sutler (John Hurt), a staunchly religious conservative with a personal agenda. Under his administration, freedom of speech is suppressed, and unwanted "degenerates" are used for all manner of grotesque experimentation. Some of these victims include Muslims, homosexuals, and anyone else who refuses to conform to Sutler's narrow view of an upright citizen. Evey Hammond (Natalie Portman) is a regular girl who just struggles to get by each day. She does well to mostly ignore the oppression around her and lead a fairly innocuous life. But when a masked figure who goes only by the letter V (Hugo Weaving) begins killing important members of the political party, she is forced to face the reality of the world and choose a side.

Following in the footsteps of the legendary Guy Fawkes, who on November 5, 1605 attempted to burn the Houses of Parliament in London, V plans to destroy the current administration on the upcoming anniversary. Sporting an ever-grinning mask and black cape, V sweeps through London with deadly vengeance in mind for those who submitted him to heinous torture. When he discovers Evey, he recruits her as a sort of terrorist-in-training. At first frightened of him, Evey begins to fall in love with his ideals of a liberated nation where people are free to choose their own lifestyle, but she remains wary of his violent means of bringing about that future.

The audience, too, is forever in doubt about the validity of V's intentions. There is no mistaking that the totalitarian government is evil, but the masked avenger is just as guilty of putting personal feelings before the good of society. He uses violence to fight violence, one of the very policies that he seems to despise about the government. This makes for a much more compelling story than many other political thrillers, as we never really know who to trust. V is a classic anti-hero, with just as many flaws as virtues. He mixes charisma and charm with a dark secrecy that keeps us in constant uncertainty as to who he really is.

The story is told primarily from the point of view of Evey, though a parallel subplot follows Inspector Eric Finch (Stephen Rea), who is assigned to find the mysterious killer and expose him. As he comes closer to the truth, Finch also starts questioning the sincerity of the government, something that could cost him not only his job but his life as well. He quickly learns that no one can be trusted as intrigue arises around him.

Although the graphic novel was originally published in England in the 1980s as a response to Margaret Thatcher-era politics, "V for Vendetta" fits perfectly well with post-9/11 sensibilities. Some have called the film an outright denouncement of the Bush administration and the war in Iraq, but it touches on something much more universal than this. What we have here is an examination of what it means to be a free nation and what it takes to become one. Because of our anti-hero's ambiguous nature, the filmmakers acknowledge that the way to freedom has no clear path. We must be careful about who we choose to follow, whether that person is leading a nation or a revolution.

The depiction of the future society is admirably done from a realistic, no-frills approach. The London society in the movie looks essentially like the present, with no over-the-top contraptions or costumes. Satirical jabs are taken at public obsession with the media, and we frequently see the same groups of people glued to their TVs at home or at bars. Seeing this, I was reminded of Julie Christie's character sitting listlessly in front of her TV in another dystopian sci-fi movie, "Fahrenheit 451" (1966). The film also borrows much from the past, with political rallies and symbolisms that bear an uncanny resemblance to Hitler's public addresses.

The acting is uniformly fine here, with Portman in perhaps her feistiest role since "The Professional." Though her accent is sometimes shaky, she ably captures the full arc of her character, from blasé working girl to full-fledged activist. Hugo Weaving is equally good in his role as V. His is a wonderfully textured performance, made all the more remarkable by the fact that we never see his face. Once again, character actor John Hurt has thrown himself into his part, making his villainous character both chilling and realistic. Seen through the bulk of the film as a talking head on a large screen, Hurt takes what could have been a caricature and infuses it with enough humanity to make his evil deeds that much more despicable.

After a stellar DVD release, "V For Vendetta" is now also available in high definition on HD-DVD. Presenting the film in its 2.40:1 widescreen aspect ratio the transfer is a true beauty to behold. Entirely free of defects and blemishes, the richness of the transfer is immediately striking. Rich in color, the transfer creates striking visuals with ease as the filmmakers juxtapose colors for maximum effect. Skin tones are also nice and warm while the desaturated and muted palette used during for the government scenes are perfectly reproduced with very subtle shades and hues. Overall color reproduction is noticeably improved over the DVD version and with its very good level of detail there are more than just a handful of shots in the film that will stop your breath as they play up the high def muscle to their fullest potential when it comes to texture and detail.

The release contains a wonderful lossless Dolby Digital TrueHD audio track that rocks the house. The track has noticeably different quality than the Dolby Digital track from the DVD as it presents itself more balanced and even. Dialogues are better integrated and though sound effects and explosions still pop out from every channel they no longer drown out the music and dialogue the way they previously did. As such the track is a marked improvement over the DVD's audio presentation.

Of course the HD-DVD version also contains the bonus materials found on the DVD version that was released earlier – all encoded in 480p standard definition. "Designing the Near Future" is a 17-minute featurette that takes a closer look at the design and construction of the fabulous sets and miniatures that were built for the movie. We also get some information on the mask and costume worn by V.

The featurette "Remember, Remember: Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot" is also included, giving viewers a 10-minute overview of the legend that inspired the graphic novel. Featuring interviews with scholars and historians, this is quite an informative bit that gives greater insight into the story, especially for American audiences.

"England Prevails: V for Vendetta and the New Wave in Comics" lasts 14 minutes and gives us a brief history of the source comic book. Co-creator David Lloyd is on hand to talk about the inspiration for the graphic novel and provide context about the comic book scene at that time. With this feature, we learn just how important "V for Vendetta" was in the resurgence of comic books.

In the documentary "Freedom! Forever!: Making V for Vendetta" the cast and crew takes viewers behind the scenes with many interviews and lots of behind-the-scenes footage. It could have been a little more in-depth but is still entertaining and informative enough to warrant a viewing.

A "Saturday Night Live" skit is also included as well as a music video for Cat Power's "I Found a Reason," which is featured in the movie. The video is made up entirely of film clips.

Apart from these extras, the HD-DVD also contains some supplements that are new and exclusive to the high definition version, namely an "In-Movie Experience" video commentary. Entitled "Director's Notebook: Reimagining a Cult Classic for the 21st Century" it works like other in-movie video commentaries in that it runs video in a separate window alongside the feature film. Of course one would immediately suspect that this sis simply footage from the other featurettes strung together but fortunately enough, Warner went all the way here and offers entirely new footage and comments. Director James McTeigue as well as many of the film's cast and crew members, including Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving and producer Joel Silverman discuss the making of the film. It gives viewers great additional insight into the production, the characters and more. While all this is presented in a very coherent manner that has a natural flow, I am still not a big fan of the video commentaries and see them more as a gimmick than a truly valid extension of bonus materials. But you never, know, maybe one day it will grow on me as the quality of these video commentaries improves. The one found here is certainly an improvement and a step in the right direction.

Like previously on DVD, "V for Vendetta" is an impressive movie and manages to succeed as both great entertainment and a thoughtful reflection on current politics. The futuristic society bears enough resemblances to our own for us to identify with the characters, ambiguous though they may be. Despite their previous failings the Wachowski Brothers have been able to deliver a feast for the eyes and mind with this multilayered story of vengeance and honor. It is good to see such provocative material in "mainstream" entertainment that actually works without hitting us over the head. Since the HD-DVD version is a noticeable improvement over the DVD version in both the feature film presentation and the bonus materials, this one comes high recommended and should go straight on your shopping list.


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