In my first post, I talked a bit about the terrible things that can happen when a comic is adapted into a movie. This time, I’d like to talk about an instance in which I think the transition from panel to motion picture was done well. The film I’m referring to is V for Vendetta. I am not saying that this movie attempted to follow the comic’s plot word for word. I’m not saying that the film really tried to capture the comic’s visual style. What I’ll say instead is that both have their own unique charms, and that both are capable of standing on their own.
The differences between the stories of the comic and the movie are pretty broad, but both embrace many of the same ideas. Both take place in a version of London in which certain events transpire that allow a Fascist regime to take power. In the comic, the event is a nuclear holocaust which has destroyed much of the civilized world, and left London as one of the only habitable places in all of Britain, and for that matter, the world.. This fits with the fact that the original series was published in the 1980’s, while the Cold War was still a very real, very scary thing. The movie’s event is a global pandemic which London was able to shut itself off from. In both cases, a super-humanly strong and agile man known only as V rises against the regime with the help of a young woman named Evey, their ultimate goal being to help the people of London to realize that they are allowing themselves to be oppressed, and from there to usher in an age where people can live their lives according to their own choices, without being hindered by the social repression engendered by a police-state. The comic explores the themes presented in a more detailed manner, with V explaining much more of his ideology concerning anarchy and the concentration of power in society to Evey, even singing a song about it at one point, titled “This Vicious Cabaret”. The story played out over ten issues, and I can say from my personal experience that I probably spent a good six hours at least reading through the whole thing over spring break. The movie had two hours and thirteen minutes to tell its story. Naturally, certain elements were condensed or cut out completely. Also, the movie is more action-oriented, with several scenes in which V actually fights in elaborately-choreographed battles. In the comic, V can usually outwit and overpower his foes very easily, and kill them before they can put up much of a fight. These factors create two distinct narratives which may not function in exactly the same way, but stay true to the same basic outline of a plot, as well as the spirit of the story.
I think it’s important to contrast the two works’ graphic styles, as well. The comic utilizes a very diverse pallet of watercolors, taking pains to bring V’s twisted version of London to life. Sodium-vapor streetlights cast a realistic glow on their panels. Lightning flashes and colors a rooftop scene electric blue for one panel before the grey of the storm comes back. Most impressive, I think, are the scenes which take place in nightclubs or dance-halls, where multicolored lights are all simultaneously represented on the same panel.
In the movie, there seems to be more of an emphasis on creating shadowed environments, probably to give the tone a dark and gritty feeling. In any case, I believe both work well, although the colors of the comic are very engaging, and they were one of my favorite parts of my experience with the story.
I believe that if a person wants to adapt an existing story for use in another medium, it is important that the adaptation should have its own identity. The limitations of the adaptation’s medium should be considered, as well as the new possibilities inherent in a new medium. I believe that V for Vendetta was widely considered a success because it kept these ideas in mind. Its creators were aware that a quality story needed to be told in around two hours, so they kept to a more fast-paced plot. They saw the potential for action in a film about a super-powered political insurgent, so they put in a couple of entertaining fight scenes. They also kept to a distinct visual style which captured the atmosphere they wished to convey. They recognized that films and comics are separate artistic media, and as such, a movie made from a comic would fail utterly if it tried to imitate the source material panel-for-panel.