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Pulp and Dagger Fiction!

Mar. 26, 2006

V for Vendetta...Who Are the Real Geniuses?

V for Vendetta has hit the big screen, joining the growing list of recent hit movies adapted from that once despised medium -- the comic book.

Sure, comics themselves are still generally despised by the mainstream, but once they are turned into celluloid magic shadows with a few hundred million dollars behind them, critics are happy to forgive such "dubious" provenance. (Though, apparently V for Vendetta hasn't quite proven the box office smash watchers were anticipating...but, it's done well enough to land in the number one spot for its opening week).

But what struck me as funny about V for Vendetta -- receiving, as near as I can tell, great reviews from critics -- is how those critics have being hyping it. I can't remember the exact phrasings, but lines like "from the fertile imagination of the Wachowski brothers" and describing them as "geniuses" have certainly been bandied about.

You almost wouldn't realize that V for Vendetta already existed as a comic, written by Alan Moore and drawn by David Lloyd, would you?

Well, you would, I guess. Critics haven't been too shy about acknowledging it's an adaptation of a comic -- and they do so with little of the backhanded condescension that's greeted some other comic book movies. I still remember, with some amusement, a reviewer praising Spider-Man, complimenting its use of characterization, and its sort of complex approach to the hero-villain dynamics, and saying how surprised he was the director could do all that with a comic-based property...wholly ignorant of the fact that those aspects which so impressed him were lifted directly from the comic!


So critics acknowledge V for Vendetta is based on a comic, and with a reasonable lack of snideness...yet they still praise the vision and imagination of the Wachowski brothers. I guess that means all you need to do to qualify as an artist and creative genius is, well, be literate. 'Cause that's what the Wachowski brothers did -- they read V for Vendetta, they optioned it for a movie, and, bam, they are regarded as visionaries

Sure, I'm being a little unfair. I'm sure they had to adapt the comic into a movie, making changes, maybe some for the worse, but probably some for the better, too.

Although it might seem heretical -- among comic circles -- for me to say: I'm just not a huge fan of Alan Moore. His work often seeming more cerebral than passionate, his approach to characters more as abstractions than as human beings (ironically, I read a comment by Moore, who is vehemently opposed to movies based on his work, saying that he couldn't stand seeing something in which he had invested so much passion being mangled by others...'cause I never really felt there was much passion in his stories). Funnily enough, the mega-flop that was the movie The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen significantly diverged from Moore's original comic -- but though the movie wasn't that good, in some ways I preferred it to Moore's comics, because in the movie, we were at least supposed to care about the characters! (I reviewed both League of Extraordinary Gentlemen graphic novels at Pulp and Dagger here and here)

Anyway, so the film of V for Vendetta may well have been altered from the original (though certainly what I've read about it and what clips I've seen look as though it stayed fairly faithful), and so, yes, the Wachowski brothers deserve credit if they've turned it into a great movie.

But I just think credit needs to rest where it should. And labelling people as visionaries and geniuses for doing an adaptation just seems a bit, well, overwrought. In much the same way that Peter Jackson has become a critical darling for the Lord of the Rings when that, too, was an adaptation of another's genius.

Of course, that might seem to some as almost heretical. To suggest that somehow an adaptation isn't quite as creative as doing something original kind of undermines the whole creative pretensions of the film biz. After all, a lot -- no, really, an awful lot -- of the movies you see are adaptations...of novels, plays, comics, TV shows and earlier movies. Creativity is involved, clearly. And I sometimes enjoy those movies more than their source inspiration.

But I think it's funny how we would see it as churlish to withhold the term "genius" from a filmmaker doing an adaptation...yet, we have no trouble with the reverse elitism. When was the last time you saw critics wax rhapsodically about a novelization of a movie? Talk about the visionaries behind some comic based on a summer blockbuster? Gave the label genius to Alan Dean Foster or any of the many writers who pick up a little cash doing novelizations? A movie adaptation can win Oscars and be heralded as a masterpiece...a novel of a movie usually ends up in the two-for-one bin.

As well, this seems to be part of the trend with movies, where credit seems to rest with certain pre-determined groups, and not others. Scripwriters -- even those who've written original screenplays -- very rarely receive their due within the industry, or among critics, as movies are always credited to the "vision" of the director. And when someone points that out, that the writer was the true creator, people huff, and sniff, and explain that, yessss, but it was the director who recognized the brilliance of the script, and he realized it on the screen. By that same token, one could say the cinematographer is the true visionary in a film, since he had to -- literally -- visual the director's ideas. Or the editor, who has to take all the excess footage the director shot, and shape it into something compelling.

I'm not trying to take anything away from the Wachowski brothers. After all, with their mega-hit Matrix trilogy they wrote and directed it on their own (if you excuse the obvious similarities to Dark City and the cult semi-classic, Tron -- and even, slightly, V for Vendetta, which they first read before making the Matrix). And if the movie of V for Vendetta is a great movie, good for them -- they are talented guys (well, they and the director, James McTeigue -- seems in movies, the only time the director is treated as dismissively as the writer is when an even more powerful director is involved as a producer or something...and then the critics assume that director did all the real work -- as happened with 1949's The Thing and 1983's Poltergesist to name just two).

I'm just not sure the label "genius" should be applied so recklessly to people who simply read somebody else's work and said: "Oooh. That was good. I wanna do that."

(My review of the original V for Vendetta comic can be read here for free at UGO (and remember, I get a few pennies from every hit on my review -- hint, hint). And for a slightly longer, more in-depth review, go here (but go to UGO as well, 'cause every time someone reads my review there...etc. etc.))

D.K. Latta, editor

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