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'V for Vendetta' still behind mask

Fans of the graphic novel must wait till March for the troubled film, delayed by the London terror attacks.

August 30, 2005|Geoff Boucher | Times Staff Writer

Warner Bros.' upcoming "V for Vendetta" could be renamed "B for Bad Luck."

The movie is based on an acclaimed graphic novel -- but that book's author has called the screenplay "imbecilic" and wants nothing to do with the film. The lead actor was let go four weeks into the filming and his replacement never bothered to read the comic book. The main character is a masked terrorist on a rampage in London who uses the trains of the Underground to attack the government -- a scenario that has proven too close to real life. And despite a trailer for the film that culminates in a voice-over telling the audience to "remember, remember the 5th of November" -- a reference to the release date -- the opening was delayed at first until February and then, most recently, until March.

Finally, adding insult to injury, the film's promotional U.K. website was recently sabotaged by a hacker. "This is naturally somewhat bloody depressing," moaned the site's administrator.

With so many travails, it's not unreasonable to wonder if this capes-on-cobblestones movie will end up in the same commercial litter box as the studio's "Catwoman," a universally ridiculed masked mishap.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday August 30, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 38 words Type of Material: Correction
"Vendetta" headline -- A headline on an article in today's Calendar section about the movie "V for Vendetta" says the film's release was delayed by the London terrorist bombings. The release date was delayed because of post-production work.

If that fate befalls "Vendetta," it would be bloody depressing for legions of fans who have been looking forward to seeing the beloved graphic novel elevated into a socially provocative film.Producer Joel Silver ("The Matrix," "Lethal Weapon" franchises) acquired the rights to "V for Vendetta" in the late 1980s, at a time when the tale by writer Alan Moore and artist David Lloyd conjured up references of Margaret Thatcher and George Orwell -- not Osama bin Laden.

"This is a movie that is special.... It's about violence and society," Silver said in a recent phone interview. The producer spoke a bit more before the call came to an end. But he called back within the hour. "Look, we need help on this. We need people to understand what this movie is and what it's trying to do. Look, it is a controversial movie."

Silver can be forgiven for sounding a bit anxious about the road ahead. It'd be grossly unfair to say the movie is destined to be a train wreck. But even Silver can't argue that it's been a challenge just keeping this particular vehicle on track.

The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, made it awkward for any ensuing film that intended to casually pan across the New York skyline or weave scenes of urban carnage into a plot. Likewise, "Vendetta" is a film that has some echoes of the July attacks in London that used mass transit and bombs and left more than 50 people dead.

There is a wide gulf between the plot of "Vendetta" and the frightening real-life drama of today's terrorism (attributed to Islamic fundamentalist groups). But Lloyd, who drew the haunting illustrations for "V for Vendetta" more than two decades ago, said there is at the heart of both some troubling questions about violence and its necessity or rationale.

"One man's freedom fighter is another man's terrorist -- there is a lot of truth to that and it raises issues that cannot ignored nor should be ignored in light of what's going on in the world today," he said.

But Lloyd's voice had a tinge of resignation in it as he spoke on the phone from his home in a coastal resort town in the south of England: "I just hope the film comes out here. I can see a certain unfolding of events over the next few months that might make it difficult for this film to be presented and accepted in England. But I think it's a very important time for this film to be seen. Terrorism is something that more movies and books should be made about."

There have been significant changes that pull "Vendetta" the film away from "Vendetta" the graphic novel (most notably, the entire ending is markedly different and the number of characters has been dramatically reduced) but the plot is still this: A mystery man who exhibits some superhuman abilities is on a rampage in London and his theatrically symbolic acts of destruction are meant to topple a repressive conservative government.

His background is a mystery but there are hints that he was a victim of a government biological experiment. He wears a mask of Guy Fawkes, the infamous ringleader of the failed Gunpowder Plot of 1605. A provincial Catholic, Fawkes wanted to kill King James I and bring down the Protestant aristocracy of England in one big bang by detonating explosives beneath the Houses of Parliament during a state event.

The character who wears his likeness in "V" has similar plans. That brought the cast and crew to the very heart of the British government -- between Trafalger Square and Big Ben -- the first week of June with tanks and an ominous (but fake) brigade of commandos armed to teeth .

The commotion at the steps of Parliament created a stir with the attendant press and tourists but it seemed it could only generate some pre-release publicity heat. It was the first time that the British government allowed a film crew in the historical site.

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