It’s been a few years since I sat down with James McTeigue’s 2005 adaptation of Alan Moore’s seminal anti-fascist comic book from the early-to-mid ‘80s—so long, in fact, that I worried, as I prepared to digest the new 4K HDR release of V for Vendetta via Kaleidescape, that it would feel a bit outdated. McTeigue’s film was, after all, made in response to the second Bush administration, and by that point the comic book, although a nearly unparalleled work of sequential art, was starting to feel like a bit of an artifact, rooted as it was in the Thatcher era.
That concern couldn’t have been more off-base, and I’m honestly not quite sure how I feel about that. On the one hand, I know that as an unabashed Moore devotee, I’m supposed to dismiss the film, and its script by the Wachowskis, as a
toothless dilution of the anarchistic themes of the original. On the other hand, the years have been kinder to the movie than the comic, to the point where the adaptation is shockingly more poignant, relevant, ominous, prophetic, and indeed instructive than its inspiration. And I say that as someone who still holds the comic in the highest regard.
Whence the ambivalence on my part? It comes mostly from the fact that when V for Vendetta was released in 2005, it seemed a little cartoonish, over-the-top, and heavy-handed in its allegory. Fast-forward to 2020—roughly the year in which the film is set—and it almost feels as if it didn’t go far enough in envisioning the dystopian near-future. In a way, it’s as if it’s plotted a course for itself that’s exactly the opposite of Marx’s observation about the repetition of historical entities: What first appeared as farce now reads like tragedy.
Long story short, I’ve always liked the film, but I’ve never quite taken it as seriously as I now think it deserves to be
VENDETTA AT A GLANCE
This overtly political tale of resistance set in a dystopian 2020 was derided at the time of its release for not honoring its comic-book roots but feels uncomfortably relevant today.
The visually dark movie doesn’t provide a lot of room for HDR to blossom, but the 4K presentation is satisfyingly faithful to its filmic look.
A demo-worthy Dolby Atmos soundtrack that helps address the clarity problems with the film’s dialogue while powerfully delivering its diverse soundtrack.
taken. And watching it now shines an uncomfortable spotlight on the rate of societal collapse over the 15 years since it was first released.
If you’re not familiar with V for Vendetta, it centers on a mysterious revolutionary known merely as V—”a humble vaudevillian veteran, cast vicariously as both victim and villain by the vicissitudes of Fate”—and his attempt to inspire the oppressed subjects of a fascist regime to rise up and demand their liberty.
The Shakespeare-quoting, Count of Monte Cristo-loving V isn’t what you would call a hero by any measure, and his bone to pick with this regime is as much personal as philosophical. But that actually underscore’s the film’s central thesis: That while
humans are flawed and individually weak, ideas have the power to change the world.
I could pick nits about the unnecessary changes the Wachowskis made in adapting the book to film, but one thing that can’t be denied is that McTeigue absolutely made the right call when he chose to embrace the cinematic form in his adaptation. Just as writer Alan Moore and artist David Lloyd built their comic
on a foundation of classic literature and illustration, then pushed it toward the cinematic, McTeigue builds his film on a foundation of classic cinema, then pushes it toward the comic-book form—and remember, this film came out a time before the Marvel Cinematic Universe made comic books cool in the eyes of the general public.
It isn’t just the reliance on classic Hollywood clips and stylistic references to earlier films that firmly root this adaptation in the cinematic tradition, though. McTeigue also made the brilliant choice of casting John Hurt—whom audiences will instantly associate with his turn as Winston Smith in Michael Radford’s adaptation of 1984—as the Big Brother-like autocrat in this imagined future. This not only highlights the differences between the dystopian futures forecast by Orwell and Moore, but also serves as a subtle-but-effective warning about the oppressed becoming the oppressors.
Overall, V for Vendetta is an aesthetically dark film, which doesn’t leave much room for a high dynamic range grading that pushes contrasts to the extreme. But Kaleidescape’s 4K/HDR download does add a lot of richness and detail to the shadows, and allows the occasional specular highlight more room to breathe without blowing out. As such, this ends up being one of the rare remasters where the increased resolution is just as impactful as the enhanced dynamic range.
Details and textures look simply spectacular in this new transfer, and although it’s unlikely V for Vendetta will make any videophile’s Top 10 list for best HDR releases of the year, cinephiles will go nuts over just how much more filmic this presentation is. The differences are subtle, but they add up to a much more faithful representation of the original camera
negative from which this new transfer was sourced. This may not be the title you pull out to push your projector to its limits, but it’s the most faithful home video transfer I could imagine for V for Vendetta.
The new Dolby TrueHD Atmos remix, though? It’s definitely demo-worthy. V for Vendetta has always suffered somewhat in the intelligibility department by virtue of the fact that its main protagonist wears a rigid and resonant Guy Fawkes mask over the remains of his face, and anything less than flawless fidelity makes some of his vocalizations less than distinct.
V’s alliterative and magniloquent lines have simply never been delivered as clearly as they are in this remix, and the film’s soundtrack—which runs the gamut from Tchaikovsky to Stan Getz and João Gilberto—has never sounded this powerful, this beautifully resolved. I do think the overhead speakers are a bit overused at times, but that probably means most people will find the height effects perfectly appropriate. At any rate, given the choice between a slightly distracting at times Atmos mix and the muddled fidelity of the old, compressed 5.1 track, I’ll take the former any day.
I do wish the Kaleidescape download included the new bonus features added to
the UHD Blu-ray release. All we get by way of extras are carry-overs from the original DVD release. But no matter. V for Vendetta stands on its own, without the need for supplementation.
At least, I think it does. Watching the film now, though, I can’t help but think that audiences still haven’t completely gotten the film. Yes, its iconography has been appropriated by hacker groups and the hashtag-resistance. But the moral of this story—that if you have principles and the courage of your convictions, you can win the support of the people—still struggles to break through the noise. If we don’t learn that lesson, our future will be even darker than the one portrayed herein.
Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of Alabama with his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound American Staffordshire Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.