To say a film isn’t as good as the book is to echo what’s been said so many times before about film adaptations. Try as they might, the movie almost never feels as engaging or deep as its source…except, well, if you see the movie first? In a recent Harper’s roundtable, Tom de Zengotita put it this way:
If you read a book and then see a movie based on it, there’s always dissonance. The characters in the movie are never the people who occupied your mind when you were reading the book, that you constructed yourself out of stuff of your own life experience. On the other hand, if you go to a movie and then read the book, it feels seamless. […] You submit completely to the movie. You see Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennett. You just let that happen. (“Grand Theft Education” in Harper’s September 2006)
We recently did a highly scientific experiment to see if this is true for graphic novels. I read V for Vendetta and watched the movie; Q did the opposite. Even though the movie was reasonably well reviewed, we both found that what Wachowskis filled in was better in the head — from the political context to V and Evey’s relationship to the coda. The novel has a subtlety the film struggles to match. For V, then, order didn’t effect opinion. Well, excepting that Q now wishes she’d read the book first. Seems she’d like to forget what the Wachowskis overexplained.
It’s funny, then, to see the distance between V’s co-authors Alan Moore and David Lloyd on the adaptation. Writer Moore hates it, illustrator Lloyd loves it. Maybe their different roles yielded different levels of dissonance on seeing the movie: visual and textual. One could argue, for instance, that Lloyd’s visual ideas are more reasonably reinterpreted by the film than Moore’s story. Considering the Wachowskis’ penchant for putting spectacle before substance, it only makes sense.
Still, it should be said that V for Vendetta is worth the time in most any form and certainly bears revisiting considering the current stateside political climate. It’s testimony to the strength of the original V that its message remains just as relevant today as it was when the first episode appeared over 20 years ago.