Behold, the cool scenes from every science fiction movie ever made, all in one video. Well, not necessarily all of them; in fact, true geeks may noticed that some of their favorites might be lacking. However, I think you’ll agree, this is a pretty good sampling of a wide array of classic films. In fact, the creators merged footage from 100 movies here, a collection of classic and more recent sci-fi films, and set it all to music (Glitch Mob remix of “Monday,” by Nalepa). Enjoy!
Please, sir, I want some more… futuristic looking guns!
The Beretta company, the people famous for the world’s most popular pistol, designed this baby as part of Italy’s own Future Soldier program. Here, we see the souped-up version, with an additional 60mm grenade launcher and a computer-assisted, advanced optics, night-vision scope.
A relatively recent addition to the gun lineup, this weapon has still managed to make its way onto the pop-culture scene, showing up in the series Nikita, the Modern Warfare and Rainbow Six video games, and the movie Forces Speciales starring Djimon Hounsou.
The Chang Feng 05, a submachinegun that was developed by the Chinese arms manufacturer in response to the military and police’s demand for a new breed of handheld automatics.First seeing service in the late 90’s, it has some rather interesting design features. The first is the top mounted cylinder magazine, which feeds bullets in a rotating fashion into the chamber.
Despite it’s cool design, it has yet to really break onto the scene, appearing in only two video games: Mercenaries 2, and Firearms: Source. Give it time…
Another South African creation, this is the bullpup Vektor CR-21. A composite stock assault rifle that is considerably lighter than its competitors, it also has the usual advantages of a modern weapon. These include a mount for a grenade launcher and a computer-assisted scope.
Not surprisingly, it appeared in the sci-fi movies District 9, Doomsday and Slipstream, the anime movie Ghost in the Shell: Standalone Complex, and a slew of video games.
Now I know people here have seen these one before! Designed by German arms manufacturer Heckler and Koch back in 1996, this gun has made the rounds in the movie and game verse. Due largely to its futuristic look, sci-fi franchises have made sure to keep it stocked.
So far, it’s appeared in such movies as Equilibrium, Children of Men, DOOM, and V for Vendetta, animes such as Full Metal Panic and Cowboy Bebop, and more video games than I can name.
You got to hand it to the Germans, they make great guns! Another example from HK industries, known as the MP7, this weapon is a sub-machinegun that also has the honor of being labelled a PDW (Personal Defense Weapon). Developed in response to the proliferation of body armor in the field, the MP7 was specifically designed to combine armor-piercing rounds with a high rate of fire.
It’s cinematic appearances include such hits as Stealth, Live Free or Die Hard, Next, Hancock, Wanted, The Interceptor (Zapreshchyonnaya Realnost), G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, Zombieland and District B13: Ultimatum. It also has a strong representation on television, including Battlestar Galactica, Stargate: SG1, and such video games as Half Life 2, and the Rainbow Six, SOCOM, Splinter Cell and Modern Warfare 3.
Here’s another installment from modern China, this bullpup assault rifle was designed for the as a replacement for the aging type 56 and type 81 assault rifles (derivatives of the AK-47). Light, versatile and highly adaptable, this weapon can be modified to act as a machine gun, sniper rifle, light infantry weapon, and an assault rifle with a 35mm grenade launcher.
And because of its look and feel, it has appeared in the movies Inception, the series Stargate: Atlantis and Universe, and the Rainbow 6 series and Modern Warfare 3.
And now to Singapore, a city-state famous for technological innovation. One such example is this, the ST Kinetics Singapore Assault Rifle-21, a rifle built for the 21st century and an intended replacement for the countries aging stocks of American made M16A1’s.
Having been unveiled in 1999, it has yet to make a big splash. Still, it has already made appearances in the movies Gamer, as well as the video games Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory and Ghost Recon Online.
Everybody knows that Israel is famous for making some sweet-ass and powerful guns! The Desert Eagle, the Uzi, and now this, the Tavor TR-21. Much like the SAR-21, the name stands for Tavor Assault Rifle – 21st century, and it was built to become the mainstay of the armed forces to replace older weapons. A bullpup design, this weapon is compact, modifiable, and comes in many variants.
And of course, it’s made several appearances. These include the movies of Resident Evil: Apocalypse, and Screamers: The Hunting, and the video games series of Rainbow Six, Batman: Arkham City, and Modern Warfare 2.
This gun never made it beyond the assembly line, and as such has made no appearances in pop culture. But you know what, who the hell cares?! Just look at the thing and tell me it’s not a futuristic gun! Based on a very unique take on the bullpup design, the Korobov, as its known, was intended as part of a new generation of weapons designed to replace the Kalashnikov.
Unfortunately, this proposed design was overlooked in favor of other, more conventional pieces. Too bad too. Maybe they could churn out a few test models strictly for science fiction directors. I know they’d pay to get their hands on them!
And finally, we have the XM8, possibly the most futuristic looking gun available on the market. Designed in the late 90’s and early 21st century in the US, the XM8 represented a collaborative effort between Heckler and Koch (natch!) and the US Army to develop a lightweight assault rifle that could replace the M16 and its variants.
Thought the project was cancelled in 2005 (politics!), the gun made some pretty serious waves on the public mind and inspired its use in numerous franchises as an example of a futuristic weapon. Examples include the movies Children of Men and District B13: Ultimatum, the tv show Mail Call, and the video games series SOCOM, Splinter Cell, Ghost Recon, Raindbow Six, Command and Conquer 3, Metal Gear Solid 4, Crysis 2… the list goes on and on! Just goes to show you, you don’t have to be operational to make an impression!
Looking at this futuristic array of weaponry, I notice a few things that might provide some hints as to the future of firearms. On the one hand, there is the clear indication that new designs which take advantage of bullpup or top loaded magazines are the way of the future. For quite some time now, gun designers have gone with the concept of a front loader and it seems that this is the result of convention. However, a paradigm shift is clearly in effect and I imagine that all future designs may very well phase this out.
Second, there is the Future Soldier program and how modern weapons are being designed to be consistent with its requirements. What this means is that new firearms models must be able to sport computer-assisted aiming (aka. ballistics computer scopes) as well as night vision and even thermal imaging. In addition, it is hopes that these scopes will be able to be connected to the new generation of Head’s-Up Displays (HUDs) which are being specially designed for infantry use.
Oh, and a possible third conclusion is that all future weapons will need to come with their own built-in grenade launchers. That may not be a requirement per se, but I sure hope it is since it’s just so freaking cool. And keep in mind they can be modified to shoot air burst shells so that police and peacekeepers won’t get go all nutjob on mobs of unarmed people. It’s all about proportionality…
Thank you, that’s all for now. As much as I’d like to make this a new series right now, I have too many of those on the go and I already spend too much time on those. Seriously, things are getting way back up with my regular writing and my real job! But if people like this enough, maybe I’ll stay on it and be sure to post new examples as they come along. Oh, and of course suggestions are always welcome. Good day and good hunting 😉
Well, after many, many suggestions on how my list of dystopian franchises could be augmented – this mainly consisted of poeple asking me “what about (blank)?” – I decided there were a few that I really couldn’t proceed without mentioning. This will be my last tour of the dystopia factory, lord knows that place gets depressing after awhile! But one thing at a time. Here’s my final installment in dystopian science fiction series, a hybrid list of novels, graphic novels, and movies!
A Clockwork Orange:
This dystopian novella was originally written in 1962 and was adapted into film by the great Kubrick almost a decade later. In addition, it was adapted into play after the author realized he didn’t like how the adapted movie ended. Having experienced all three, I can tell you that the movie was probably the best. In addition to the rather ingenious ideas presented by Anthony Burgess, it also benefited from Kubrick’s directorial genius and the superb acting of Malcolm McDowell.
Set in the not-too-distant future, the story revolves around a British youth named Alex who is growing up in a world permeated by youth violence. He is the leader of a group of thugs known as “The Droogs”, young men who go about committing acts of “ultra-violence” which consists of them beating up homeless people, random strangers and other gangs, as well as committing theft and gang rape.
In time, Alex and his friends go to far (even for them!) and an innocent woman is murdered during a break-in. His friends, who are already angry over his bullying and strong arming of them, decide to betray him and leave him to the police. Once in prison, Alex decides to cut his sentence short by undergoing a radical government experiment – an artificially created conscience through Pavlovian conditioning!
The result of this conditioning is that Alex is no longer capable of committing any acts of violence. In fact, even the mere thought of violence produces a reaction so strong that he breaks down and is overwhelmed by nausea. This renders him benign, but also helpless. And in time, all his past crimes begin to catch up with him and he is nearly killed. Once he wakes up in the hospital, he discovers the conditioning has worn off, and he can either resume his old ways, or strike out on a new path…
Another interesting side effect of the conditioning is that he can no longer listen to Beethoven without getting sick either. This has to be one of the most curious and intriguing scenes in the movie, where a restrained and helpless Alex begs the doctors to turn off the symphony because he can’t stand the idea of not being able to listen to it. Much like everything else he does, it speaks volumes of his sociopathic nature.
Ultimately, the movie differed from the novel in that the final chapter was omitted. Immediately before this, we see how Alex is now freed from the conditioning. He also seems intent on blaming the current government, which will oust them from power. But beyond that it not quite clear what’s going to happen. However, the following chapter shows how Alex has realized, independently, that he doesn’t want to live a life of violence anymore. Human freedom, he’s determined, is the ability to make choices for oneself, free of persuasion and operate conditioning.
As I said, I truly think the movie was an improvement on the novel, which is a rare thing with adaptations. Still, it is was in the film that the point of the story really came through, thanks to Kubrick’s usual attention to detail and subtlety. Whether it was through those long, close-up shots of McDowell and his crazy eyes, the combination of wide angle action shots in slow motion, or the way that it played to the tune of Beethoven, you really got a sense of the odd combination of genius and madness that is the anti-hero Alex. The reliance on white, sterile settings also helped to punctuate the sociopathic nature of the story – how underneath the veneer of domesticity, brutality and violence can exist! And last, by leaving the ending a mystery, the moral was more ambiguous, which made for a far more effective dystopian feel!
A Scanner Darkly:
Next up, we have Philip K Dicks seminal novel about drug abuse, self-destruction and the various hypocrisies arising out of America’s war on drugs. In this near-future scenario, which takes place in California in 1994 (seventeen years after it was written), a new drug has hit the streets known as Substance D – or SD, which stands for Slow Death. This powerful hallucinogenic is a great high, is violently addictive, and can render users brain damaged after too much use and abuse. And as a result of its popularity and impact, society is gradually becoming a full-blown police state, where cameras – or “Scanners” – are on every street corner and in the home of every suspected dealer.
Written from the point of view of an undercover narcotics agent, the story follows his descent into addiction and his eventual inability to tell reality from fantasy. Through repeated use of Substance D, he gradually becomes brain damaged himself, is released from the police department, and must go to a privately run recovery-center known as “New-Path”. There, he discovers that these centers, which operate like franchises, are actually growing the plant that Substance D is synthesized from. An interesting twist in which we learn that the people profiting from the side effects are the one’s providing the drugs. A stab at strong-arm governments or the pharmaceuticals industry, perhaps?
For the sake of adapting the movie to film, director Richard Linklater shot the entire thing digitally and then had it animated through the use of interpolated rotoscope. The effect of this was to render every single image in a vivid, almost cartoon-like format, which could only be interpreted as an attempt to mimic the effects of hallucinogens. This animation also came in handy with the rendering of the “scramble suit”, a sort of cloak-like device that PKD invented to ensure that undercover agents in his story could completely disguise their appearance, voice, and any other identifying characteristics.
In addition to being science fiction genius, these cloaks were a clear allegory to the anonymity of undercover agents and a faceless system of justice. While responsible for infiltrating and busting up the narcotics subculture, PKD clearly understood that this sort of profession can lead to an identity crisis, especially if the agents in question find themselves using drugs and becoming over-sympathetic to the people they are spying on. This, of course, is precisely what happens to the main character in the story!
In short, the novel was a commentary on the dangers of recreational drug use, but also on the reasons for why such subcultures come into existence in the first place. In addition to ruining lives and causing crime, repression, domestic surveillance, and other extra-legal practices can become quite commonplace. All of this mirrored PKD’s own experiences with the drug subculture and the law, which is why he dedicated the book to all the friends he had who succumbed to drug abuse and died as a result. Very sad!
And let’s not forget the name, a play on the words from the Biblical passage, 1 Corinthians 13:12 : “Through a mirror darkly.” In this day and age, where “scanners” are the means for monitoring society and police officers spend hours looking at their feeds, the scanner has become a sort of means through which people attempt to gaze into other peoples’ souls. But, as with the Biblical passage, this title is meant to refer to how, when we look at the problems of drug use in our society, we are seeing it all through a haze, the result of our own prejudices and preconceptions.
How the hell did I forget this one last time? I mean seriously, this is one of my favorite movies and one of the most inspired Mangas of all time! Not only that, it’s a pretty good example of a dystopian franchise. And yet, I forgot it! WHAT THE HELL WAS I THINKING?! But enough self-flagellation, I came here to talk about Akira! So, here goes…
In 1988, famed Japanese writer, director and comic book creator Katsuhiro Otomo undertook the rather monumental task of adapting his Manga series Akira to the big screen. Though some predicted that a two hour movie could never do justice to the six-volume series he had written, most fans were pretty pleased with the end product. And the critical response was quite favorable as well, with the film being credited for its intense visualizations, cyberpunk theme, its post-apocalyptic feel, and the exploration of some rather heavy existential questions.
To break it down succinctly, Akira takes place in Neo-Tokyo, a massive urban center that was literally build up from the ruins of the original. According to the story’s background, WWIII took place in 1989, and after twenty years of rebuilding, the world once again appears to be one the brink. However, as we come to learn, the destruction of Tokyo was not the result of the nuclear holocaust per se. It’s destruction merely heralded it in after the world witnessed the city’s obliteration, assumed it to have been the result of a nuclear attack, and starting shooting their missiles at each other. The real cause was a phenomena known as “Akira”, an evolutionary leap that scientists had been studying and lost control of…
Quite the story, but what I loved most about the adapted movie and the manga on which it was based was the level of detail. Set in 2019 (the same year as Blade Runner, coincidentally!) this series incorporated a lot of concepts which made for a far more intricate and interesting tale. First off, there’s the concept of a post-apocalyptic generation that is filled with unrest and angst, having grown up in a world permeated by the horrors of nuclear war. Second, there’s the ever-present element of gang warfare that has sprung up amidst the social decay. Third, there’s a government slouching towards dictatorship in response to all the protests, unrest and chaos that is consuming the city.
Into all this, you get a secret military project in which the Akira phenomena is once again being studied. Though motivated by a desire to control it and prevent what happened last time from happening again, it seems that history is destined to repeat itself. Once again, the survivors must crawl from the wreckage and rebuild, their only hope being that somehow, they will get it right next time… A genuine dystopian commentary if ever I heard one!
But what was also so awesome about the series, at least to me, was the underlying sense of realism and tension. You really got the sense that Otomo was tapping into the Zeitgeist with this one, relating how after decades of rebuilding through hard work and conformity, Japan was on the verge of some kind of social transformation. Much like in real life, the characters of the story have been through a nuclear holocaust and have had to crawl their way back from the brink, and a sense of “awakening” is one everybody’s lips and they are just waiting for it to manifest.
A clear allusion to post-war Japan where the country had been bombed to cinders and was left shattered and confused! Not to the mention the post-war sense of uniformity where politicians, corporations and Zaibatsu did their best to repress the youth movements and demands for social reform. Well, that was my impression at any rate, others have their own. But that’s another thing that worked so well about Akira. It is multi- layered and highly abstract, relying on background, visuals and settings to tell the story rather than mere dialogue. In many ways, it calls to mind such classics as 2001, Clockwork Orange, and other Kubrick masterpieces.
Children of Men:
Made famous by the 2006 adaptation starring Clive Owen, this dystopian science fiction story was originally written by author P.D. James in 1992. The movie was only loosely based on the original text, but most of the particulars remained the same. Set in Britain during the early 21st century, the story takes place in a world where several subsequent generations have suffered from infertility and population growth has dropped down to zero. The current generation, the last to be born, are known as “Omegas” and are a lost people.
What’s more, the growing chaos of the outside world has also led to the creation of a dictatorial government at home. This is due largely to the fact that people have lost all interest in politics, but also because the outside world has become chaotic due to the infertility crisis. Much like in V for Vendetta, the concept of “Lifeboat Britain” makes an appearance in this story and acts as one of the main driving forces for the plot.
In any case, this also leads to the birth of a resistance which wants to end the governments tyrannical control over society, and which comes to involve the main character and his closest friends. In time, the plot comes to revolve around a single woman who is apparently pregnant. Whereas some of the rebels want to smuggle her out of Britain and hand her over to the international Human Project, others want to use her as a pawn in their war against the government. It thus falls to the main character to smuggle her out, protecting her from resistance fighters and the military alike.
Naturally, the movie drew on all the novels strongest points, showing how society had effectively decayed once childbirth effectively ended. It also portrayed the consequences of impending extinction very well – chaos, withdrawal, tyranny, etc. However, when it came time to adapt it to the screen, Mexican film director Alfonso Cuaron (who brought us such hits as A Little Princess, Y Tu Mama Tambien, and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban), also used a variety of visual techniques and sets to convey the right mood.
For example, most of the sets were designed to look like near-future versions of today. In Cuaron’s estimation, all technological progress would have ceased once the implications of the crisis had fully hit, hence all cars, structures, weapons and gadgets were only slightly altered, or used sans modification. So while the billboards, newspapers and signs were all updated and carried messages appropriate for the period, cars, guns and other assorted background pieces looked entirely familiar.
In addition, much of the movie is shot in such a way so that the images are grey and the light effect seems piercing. This conveys a general mood of drab sadness, which is very accurate considering the setting! Last, Cuaron and his camera crews made many continuous action shots using wide angle lenses in order to capture a sense of crisis and how it effected so many people. Never was there a sequence in which you only saw the main actors and their immediate surroundings. The focus, like the scope of the story, was big and far-reaching.
Ghost in the Shell:
Much like Akira, this franchise comes to us by way of Japan and is cyberpunk-themed. In addition, it also came in the form of a manga, then onto a film, but with a television series to follow. And in many respects, it qualifies as dystopian, given that it took place in a dark future where technology has forever blurred the line between what is real and what is artificial. In addition, it also tapped into several cyberpunk trends which would prove to be quite apt (i.e. cyberspace).
Again, this story takes place in Japan in the early 21st century, a time when cybernetic enhancements and technological progress have seriously altered society. The main character is named Motoko Kusanagi, a member of a covert operations division of the Japanese National Public Safety Commission known as Section 9. She is affectionately known as “Major” given her previous position with the Japanese Self-Defense Forces. And did I mention she’s a cyborg? Yes, aside from her brain and parts of her spinal cord, she is almost entirely machine, and this plays into the story quite often.
In addition to facing external threats, Kusanagi and her companions also face conflicts that arise out of their own nature. These deal largely with issues relating to their own humanity, whether or not a person and their memories can even be considered real anymore if they have been replaced by digital or cybernetic enhancements. These questions were explored in depth in the movie, where events revolve around a sentient program that was developed by the government, but which has since gone rogue and is seeking an independent existence.
However, another thing that makes Ghost in the Shell a possible candidate for the category of dystopia is the setting. Whether it was the manga, the movie, or the television series, the look and feel of the world in which it takes place is quite telling. Always there is a dirty, gritty, and artificial quality to it all, calling to mind The Sprawl, Mega City One, and Neo-Tokyo.
As in these settings, things look futuristic, but also rustic, poor and improvised, hinting at extensive overcrowding and poverty amidst all the advanced technology. This is a central element to cyberpunk, or so I’m told. In addition to being futuristic, it also anticipates dystopia, being of the opinion that this “advancement” has come at quite a cost in human terms.
Considered by many to be a classic dystopian story, Logan’s Run takes place in a 22st century society where age and consumption are strictly curtailed to ensure that a population explosion – like the one experience in the year 2000 – never happens again. In addition, society is controlled by a computer that runs the global infrastructure and makes sure that the all the dictates of population and age control are obeyed.
In any case, the story revolves around this concept of an age ceiling, where people are monitored by a “palm flower” that changes color every seven years. When they reach 21 – on a person’s Lastday – the crystal turns black and they are expected to report to a “Sleepshop” where they will be executed. Those who refuse to perform this final duty are known as “Runners”, and it falls to “Deep Sleep Operatives” (aka. Sandmen) to track down and terminate these people.
The main character – Logan 3 – is one such operative. On his own Lastday, he is charged with infiltrated the underground railroad of Runners and finding the place they call “Sanctuary”. This is a place where they are able to live out their lives without having to worry about society’s dictates and controls. However, in time, Logan comes to sympathize with these people, due largely to the influence of a woman named Jessica 6. In the end, the two make plans to escape together for Sanctuary, which turns out to be a colony on Mars.
Right off the bat, some additional elements can be seen here. In addition to the concepts of Malthusian controls and ageism, there is also the timeless commentary on how rationalization and regimentation can lead to inhumanity and repression. Much like in We or Anthem (by Ayn Rand), people do not have names as much as designations. All life is monitored and controlled by a central computer, and it is made clear towards the end that the computer is in fact breaking down. I can remember this last theme appearing in an episode of Star Trek TNG, where a planet of advanced people are beginning to die off because their “Custodian” is malfunctioning and no one knows how to fix it.
A true classic of both film and expressionist art, this movie also has the added (and perhaps dubious) honor of being a classic of dystopian science fiction! Created in Weimar Germany in 1927 by Fritz Lang, this movie tells the story of a dystopian future where society is ruled by elites who live in vast tower complexes and the workers lives in the recesses of the city far below them where they operate the machinery that powers it all.
This physical divide serves to mirror the main focus of the story, which is on class distinction and the gap between rich and poor. To illustrate this artistic vision, director Fritz Lang relied on a combination of Gothic, classical, modern and even Biblical architecture. In an interview, Fritz claimed that his choices for the set design were based largely on his first trip to New York where he witnessed skyscrapers for the first time. In addition, the central building of the futuristic city was based on Brueghel’s 1563 painting of the Tower of Babel (right>).
The theme of class conflict is further illustrated by the fact that the workers who live in the bowels of the city are also responsible for maintaining the machinery that makes the city run. One is immediately reminded of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine and the divide between the Morlocks and the Eloi. This comes through even more when the workers decide to revolt and begin ransacking the neighborhoods of the elites. Ultimately, it is only through the love of the two main characters – Freder and Mariah – that the gulf between the two is sealed and order is restored, a fitting commentary on how society must come together in order to survive and achieve social justice.
In another act of blatant symbolism, we learn early on in the movie that the workers have taken to congregating in a series of tunnels that run under the city. It is here that they meet with Maria, their inspirational leader, and makes plans to change society. So in addition to tall, Babel-like buildings illustrated the gap between rich and poor, we have workers who are literally meeting underground! Wow…
In addition, several other dystopian elements weave their way into the story. The line between artifice and reality also makes an appearance in the form of the robot which the movie is best known for. This robot was created by Rotwang, a scientist who is in the service of the main character’s father – Joh Fredersen, the master of the city. Apparently, this robot is able to take human form and was created to replace his late wife. Once this robot was released into the city, she began sowing chaos amongst men who begin to lust after her, and is the very reason the workers began revolting in the first place. She even causes the character of Rotwang to go insane when he can no longer distinguish between the robot and the woman she’s impersonating.
Gibson is one of the undisputed master’s of cyberpunk and future noire lit and it was this novel – Neuromancer – that started it all for him. In it, he coined the terms cyberspace, the matrix, and practically invented an entire genre of Gothic, techno-noire terminology which would go on to inspire several generations of writers. His work is often compared to Blade Runner given the similar focus on urban sprawl, cybernetic enhancements, the disparity between rich and poor, and the dark imagery it calls to mind.
The first installment in the “Sprawl Trilogy”, this book takes place in the BAMA – the Boston-Atlanta Metropolitan Axis (aka. The Sprawl). In this world of the 21st century, cyberspace jockeys or cowboys use their “decks” – i.e. consoles – to hack into corporate databases and steal information. The purpose is, as always, to sell off the information to the highest bidder, usually another corporate power. In addition, guerrilla tactics and domestic terrorism are often used to get employees out of their contracts, seeing as how most companies have no intention of ever letting their talent go!
Also, there is the massive gulf that exists between the rich and the poor in these novels. Whereas the main characters tend to live in overcrowded tenements and dirty neighborhoods, the rich enjoy opulent conditions and control entire parts of the world. In addition, the richest clans, such as the Tessier-Ashpools and Vireks, actively use cloning and clinical immortality to cheat death, and often live in orbital colonies that they have exclusive rights to. Much like in his “Bigend Trilogy”, much attention is dedicated to the transformative power of wealth and how it affords one better access to the latest in technology.
But always, the focus is on the street. Here, jockeys, freelancers and Yakuza agents are at work, pulling jobs so they can buy themselves the latest enhancements and the newest gear. In the case of Molly Millions, a freelance lady-ninja, this includes razor nails that extend from her fingertips. In the case of Yakuza enforcer from the short-story (and movie) Johnny Mnemonic, it consists of a filament of monomolecular razor wire hidden inside his thumb. For others, it might consist of artificial limbs, new organs, implants of some kind. Whatever ya need, they got it in the Sprawl. If not, you go to Chiba City or Singapore, chances are it was made there anyway!
*Interesting Fact: according to Gibson, Blade Runner came out when he was still tinkering with the manuscript for this novel. After seeing it, he nearly threw the manuscript out because he was afraid Ridley Scott had pre-empted him! Funny how things work out, huh?
Gee, there really isn’t much more to say is there? One thing I have noticed is that much of modern dystopia comes to us in the form of the cyberpunk genre. Though the definition of cyberpunk appears to constantly be evolving, it is generally acknowledged that it is a postmodern form of science fiction that combines “high tech and low life.” Having sorted through several modern examples of dystopian sci-fi, I can say that this is certainly an apt description.
In essence, it assumed that the presence of high tech would entail the emergence of a dystopian society, that the endless march of progress would lead to the destruction of the environment, the devaluing of human life, the elimination of privacy, and the line between real and fake. This last aspect was especially important, embracing cybernetics, virtual reality, and things like cloning and clinical mortality. Since the 1980’s, all of these notions have infiltrated science fiction movies, television, and have even become cliches to some extent.
This genre has given rise to new kinds of science fiction as well. For example, it is generally acknowledged that a sub genre known as post-cyberpunk emerged in the 1990’s which broke away from its predecessor in one key respect. Whereas it too focused on the rise of technology, it did not anticipate dystopia as part of the process. This is best exemplified by books such as Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age, a 21st century bildungsroman which predicted vast social and political changes as a result of nanotechnology.
Other sub genres that have emerged in recent years include “Steampunk”, a literary form that combines Victorian era technologies with the punk genres noire sensibilities. Other derivatives include Dieselpunk, Nanopunk, Biopunk, and even fantasy-punk crossovers like Elfpunk. Yes, like most things in the post modern era, it seems that literary genres are becoming fragmented and tribalistic!
But alas, I still feel the need to ask the question, what’s happened to dystopian literature of late? In my initial post, I got a lot of people asking me if I could include some more modern examples. You know, stuff that’s come out since 1984 and The Handmaids Tale. But unfortunately, what I’ve found tends to be more of the same. Just about every example of dystopian fiction appears to draw its inspiration from such handy classics as the one’s I’ve already mentioned, or is in some way traceable to them. Does this mean that we’ve hit bottom on the whole genre, or could it just be we’ve moved away from it for the time being?
Well, I recently learned from an article on IO9 that Neal Stephenson himself stated that science fiction needed to stop being so pessimistic and had to start getting inspirational again. Perhaps he’s onto something… Maybe we’ve gone too far with the whole cautionary tale and need to steer things back towards a brighter future, urging people on with common sense and technological solutions rather than laments. Maybe we need to let them know that such problems as world hunger, overpopulation, pollution, climate change, poverty, war, licentiousness and greed can all be overcome.
Then again, I’m working on a couple dystopian tales right now… Is it too much to ask that this craze last just a few years longer?
Thanks to all who’ve written in and “liked” my dystopian series! Hope to see y’all again soon as I get into ore cheerful things…
Picking up where I left off last time, I thought I’d get into some examples of how dystopian fiction has influenced popular culture. And given all the feedback I got on my previous post, I also wanted to incorporate some suggested titles as well. But, just to be clear, I still haven’t read Hunger Games, so please don’t ask about it!
Alright, so last time, I mentioned just about every examples of dystopian literature I could find. From the earliest examples of Candide and Gulliver’s Travellers, onto the more modern interpretations of The Time Machine and We, and culminating with classics like BNW and 1984, I essentially ended before I could get into how these novels have had an influence on film and other media. In addition to inspiring the written words, these classics have inspired an entire culture of iconography, symbolism and motifs.
Not surprising, really. Every work of dystopian fiction and satire has sought to create images in the reader’s mind, using highly specific descriptions in order to paint a scene and inspire the right mood. Whenever these novels have been adapted to film, or directors were simply trying to convey similar themes, the task of properly conveying it all visually has always been a hefty one. The same is true for graphic novels and any other visual medium. So today, just for fun, and perhaps to complete my romp through the realm of this inspired genre, here are some examples of dystopia in modern media:
Granted, Blade Runner was based on Philip K Dick’s Do Android Dream of Electric Sheep?, a dystopian story in some respects, but not in the same way that the movie was. Whereas the novel took place in a post-apocalyptic Los Angeles (circa 2019) which is sparsely populated and where a living animal is seen as a status symbol. In the movie, the year and location are the same, but the setting is starkly different. Here, it is a stuffy, polluted, mega-city made up of massive skyscrapers and giant animated billboards, where the streets are dirty and packed with people who spoke a strange dialect known as Cityspeak (check out my post on Cityspeak for on that).
And what made it all so awesome, aside from the plot, was the attention to detail. Director Ridley Scott, the same man who brought us Aliens, brought his usual artistic touch and a team of first-grade set designers to the table. Overall, they produced some pretty awesome concepts, ones which are still being praised to this day. Here are just a few:
The Tyrell Corp. building, which was kind of the focal point of the movie. Early on, we get a birds-eye view of it as Detective Deckard Cain (Harrison Ford) is being flown there in a Spinner (flying car). Later on, the leader of the Replicant party, Roy Batty, travels there as well seeking answers to some of life’s most basic questions.
For starters, the building is clearly based on a the design of a Ziggurat, the breed of ancient Babylon temple that inspired such legends as the “Tower of Babel”, and which serves as a clear representation for the almost godlike power Tyrell wields. The interior design, with its large columns, soft lighting, candles, an owl (a possible reference to Athena’s owl) and the way Tyrell can block out the sun at will all serve to further illustrate this point. That scene near the end where is dressed in lavish white robes also seemed pretty symbolic, I’d say!
And for those who read 1984, there is a possible encoded reference to the four ministries as well- Truth, Peace, Love, and Plenty – all of which were pyramid-like in design. Coincidence? Who knows? All that matter is when it comes to massive structures that harken back to ancient Egypt and Mesapotamia, the symbolic value is clear. Much like the civilizations that built them, these things stood for power and dominion, both over lesser subjects and the afterlife itself. They were the ruler’s way of achieving immortality by creating something that embodied their power and would stand the test of time. As Shelley said in his poem “Ozymandias”: “Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!”
And when it comes right down to it, this old-world kind of mentality, updated for the modern age, is indispensable to any dystopian story: Absolute power, wielded by the few over the many and represented in conspicuous and obvious ways! In many cases, it comes in the form of totalitarian governments (a la The Party) who runs things with an iron fist and build massive government buildings to remind everyone of who’s in charge. But in other cases, it takes the form or corporate dominance, where the wealthy rule society like feudal barons while the rest live like serfs. And much like their bureaucratic peers, they choose to lord this by building lavish buildings to themselves and covering themselves with ornate symbols!
Another trademark bit of dystopian set design were the massive skyscrapers, complete with giant video-billboards. No doubt, these too were designed to give the impression of the control corporations had over the people of LA in the future. As if regular sized billboards ads weren’t enough, (or televised, print, bench, flier, blimp, and radio ads) now it seemed that corporate monopolies were splastering their logo’s on screens the size of buildings!
And just to make it realistic, Ridley Scott and his designers were also sure to use logos that were already big in the early 80′s and seemed destined to get bigger – Atari, Coca Cola, Pan Am Air, Cuisinart, Bell System. But interestingly enough, all of these companies suffered heavy losses after the movie’s release. The phenomena came to be known as the “Blade Runner Curse”. Strange, one would think audiences began associating them with dark imagery or something
But personally, I think one of the most effective aspects of the movie’s look and feel came through in the construction of the streets. Here, Scott’s design team made sure that every shot was crammed full of people who whore plastic jumpers, dark glasses, cool headgear, and carried what looked like umbrellas with neon handles. Then came the street vendors who peddled food or exotic pets in the same neighborhoods, facades that were ashen grey in color, and all kinds of neon signs written in various languages. It painted quite the scene, one which can only be described by the words “Future Noire”.
Directed by Terry Gilliam, an old-time member of the comedy troupe Monty Python and director of such movies as The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, The Fisher King and 12 Monkeys, Brazil was a rather humorous take on the classic 1984. In it, we are presented with a dystopian society that is ruled by a totalitarian regime, but which is buffoonish and incompetent rather than exacting and brutal.
In addition, the people in this world are also overly-dependent on machinery which is rather unreliable and poorly maintained. And last of all, there is the main character of Sam Lowry, a low-level government employee who works in a mind-numbing government job, lives in a small apartment, and is having prescient dreams about a woman and a man in mask who is torturing him.
The movie shared many plot and thematic elements with 1984, but much of its genius comes through in the set design and direction. Given that the aim of the movie was to present a world in which the machinery is as undependable as the bureaucracy, Gilliam decided to go with a look that would call to mind the kind of over-the-top aesthetics of past sci-fi films. While everything was admittedly grey, dark, and shot in wide and tilted angles, there was also a sort of comic, retro feel to the whole thing. This helped to establish the central premise of the movie, in which incompetence and mind-drudging inefficiency were what was destroying humanity, not a specific agenda.
In addition, Gillian had much to say about artifice and vanity in this film. Lowry’s mother, who plays an important role in the plot, is obsessed with plastic surgery which she hopes will make her look younger. Towards the end of the movie, Lowry dreams that his mother is attending the funeral of a friend who died as a result of too many invasive procedures. And in what can only be described as an moment of oedipal confusion, his mother even looks like Jill, the much younger woman he has fallen in love with!
An interesting take on 1984 isn’t it? Rather than following a philosophy like the one espoused by O’Brien, where the Party wields absolute control over reality and people’s minds, want to eliminate all emotion except hatred, and has destroyed any activities that do not serve their interests, the totalitarian regime in Brazil is instead motivated by laziness and a desire to cover its own ass. Not being wrong literally means more to them than the lives of their citizens. What better commentary is there on a bureaucratized society?
Yes, the movie didn’t so well, and the script and plot were so simplistic that Stallone himself called it a “no-brainer”. But that doesn’t change the fact that the source material is actually one of the better graphic novels in existence, especially when it comes to depth and irony. Set in a post-apocalyptic world of the not-too-distant future, the comics take place for the most part inside “Mega City One”, one of several megalopolis’s that have sprung up in the US after a nuclear war which left it and Soviet Union utterly devastated.
Within this city, just about everything is automated and unemployment is almost universal. Every city block contains over fifty-thousand people, amounting to a population of about 400 million people per city. Due to overcrowding, massive unemployment and uncontrollable violence, the leaders of this future society created a quasi-fascist justice system whereby individual “Street Judges” (policemen) were charged with dispensing judgement and punishment on site. This had a stabilizing effect on society, but the problems remain…
Automatically, one can see a few things at work here. For starters, there’s the Hobbesian idea of man in the state of nature; how because of nuclear war, life became “nasty, brutish and short” and a tyrannical system was needed to put things back in order. In addition, there’s the whole “who polices the police?” side of things, where audiences naturally fear that the judges will abuse their power or fight to the death to hang onto it.
And last, there is the very real sociological concept of the “megalopolis”, the Northeastern mega city running from Virginia to Maine which was originally coined by French geographer Jean Gottmann. In the course of the comic’s history, it is made clear that Mega City One was not actually designed, but grew out of natural urban sprawl that predated the nuclear war. It was only after the war that it became a self-contained place where automation, unemployment and chaos become so rampant.
Now one might also get the impression that this was all meant to illustrate some preachy, “we made a mistake” kind of message (which is in fact what happened in the movie). But in truth, these issues are presented with a fair degree of subtly and irony in the graphic novel.
Knowing full well how his audience would react to fascist symbols and ideology, John Wager (creator) presented readers with a story that is loaded with both. For starters, the Judge’s symbol is an eagle, which bears a striking resemblance to the Nazi black eagle. The Judge’s uniform is also highly ornate and calls to mind the classical imperial motifs of Centurions and Gladiators. And the fact that Dredd’s face is never seen can only be seen as highly indicative. He’s a faceless law-giver, much like Stormtroopers or the SS.
What’s more, the people who sport these symbols and preach these values are presented as heroes. Judge Dredd, for all intents and purposes, is a social fascist who is bereft of sentimentality, doubt or remorse over what he does. Unlike the other Judges, there’s no crime he won’t ignore, and he never stops for more than ten minutes at a time to rest in a sleep chamber, then he’s back on the job. He also has little sympathy for people who believe in enlightened reform or who criticize the Street Judges for their abuses of power.
The purpose of this always seemed to be for the sake of ironic social commentary. Rather than condemning the Judges and the system they represent (or endorsing them) we are meant to see how – under the right circumstances – something like this could very well happen!
You know, its movies like this that remind us all that there was a time that George Lucas had talent, when he cared about thing like plots and inspired story-telling, and not special effects and merchandizing. But I’ll leave my riffs about the Star Wars prequels for another day. Right now, I will admit that there is plenty about this directorial debut worth praising, and not the least of which was the faithful dystopian tone it struck.
Set in a dystopian future where the human race is required by law to take drugs that suppress emotion and sexual desires, are controlled by android police, and all inhabitants worship a godlike being known as OMM 0910, the story is clearly a commentary on how rationalization and automation threatened to destroy humanity. In addition, there are clear and obvious parallels to novels like We, Brave New World and 1984.
For example, the people in this future are all given designations instead of names, the state sanctioned religion is reminiscent of Big Brother, and the mandatory use of mind altering drugs calls to mind Soma. And of course, the stark, clinical portrayal of society in the future is very similar to descriptions of the One State and Oceania in We and 1984. And let’s not forget the scene were android police torture and abuse the main character? Tell me that didn’t come directly out of the scenes where Winston was languishing in the Ministry of Love!
And of course the overall moral of the story, that love is precious and will fight the odds against the forces of cold rationality, this too was practically lifted from Orwell’s and Zamyatin ‘s classics! This is not a criticism, mind you. If anything, Lucas demonstrated a keen ability to adopt freely from novels and franchises in a way that really worked. Much as he would do with Star Wars just a few years later, he seemed to know where to borrow from and how to put it all together!
Now this was one of my favorite graphic novels of all time. Lucky for me, it also falls into the realm of dystopian fiction, hence I can talk about it here! In addition to taking place in an alternate universe, the setting is one which is quite dark and gritty. Set in the 1980′s, which is the same period in which it was written, the story is of an alternate reality where the existence of superheroes has caused history to diverge quite a bit from our own. Technically, superheroes have been in existence for many decades, which helps to give the story a real sense of historicity.
However, it was with the service of superheroes in actual wars and government programs that caused history to shift. Beginning with Doctor Manhattan’s intervention in Vietnam and culminating in the development of cheap, renewable energy by Ozymandias (with Manhattan’s help), the Cold War took an unexpected turn. Russia was systematically beaten back to the point where it was becoming desperate and nuclear war seemed inevitable. Meanwhile, society began to decay as war began to occupy more and more of society’s attention and the inner cities were neglected and left to rot.
Told for the point of view of Rorschach, a borderline social fascist with deep-seated issues, the darkness and impending sense of doom really come through! As he investigates the death of the Comedian, a fellow superhero who’s death incites the whole plot, we learn how both he, the Watchmen, and society came to be the way it is. His own tragic story, and that of the Comedians, serves to illustrate how the American Dream failed and cynicism and fear took over.
But of course, the point with dystopian stories is not just to speculate, but to make a point about the time in which it was written. Looked at from this angle, the Watchmen was really telling us about the real world of the 1980′s, a world which had come very far since the post-war era in terms of technological, social and cultural development. And like many other cultural commentaries, a sense of failure and betrayal is at work. What happened to the post-war dream? What happened to the American Dream? How did poverty, crime, licentiousness and cynicism become so rampant? From Rorschach point of view, the Cold War is largely to blame, but so is human nature. And given that he is such a dark and messed up character, I don’t think his opinions were meant to be taken too seriously!
V for Vendetta:
Yet another awesome graphic novel, and one which also inspired a hit movie adaptation. A piece of speculative fiction, this series was produced in the 1980′s and was set in a near-future dystopian England. Over the years, this series’ thematic elements and symbolism have been compared to 1984. However, in truth, the story has much more in common with The Iron Heel and It Can’t Happen Here, by Sinclair Lewis (which should have made my list of dystopian literature, dammit!) In these two novels, especially the latter, a fascist regime takes power by appealing to the people’s sense of moral purity and a desire for order, and in the end the people got more than they bargained for!
But alas, the story in the comic book version involves nuclear war and the transformation of the UK into “lifeboat Britain”. Given that the movie was made in the early 2000′s, the story had to be updated somewhat. There, the focus shifted to terrorism and the exploitation of fear – echoes of The Handmaids Tale and “Loose Change” there, but I digress. After being passed over by the nuclear holocaust, Britain found itself being flooded with refugees and victims of the war. Bit by bit, authoritarian measures were put into place to deal with the crisis, until eventually, the fascist government of Norsefire took over, and that’s when the real changes happened!
They’re motto: “Strength Through Purity, Purity through Faith” pretty much sums it up! In addition to pushing a religious agenda, they were also very much concerned with purging British society or minorities and “undesirables”. A police state was put into place where a series of departments – the Eyes, Ears, Mouth, and Hands – were tasked with controlling and monitoring all aspects of society. The Eyes handled surveillance, the Ears listened to people’s by tapping their phones and bugging their homes, the Mouth disseminated propaganda, and the Hands investigated criminal activity. And of course all minorities, be they racial minorities, homosexuals, or just political dissidents, were sent to concentration camps where they were exterminated and experimented on.
Into all this enters the character of V, an anarchist revolutionary who is the product of one camp’s twisted experiments. As a result of their invasive procedures, he became an enigmatic genius/amnesiac with a serious chip on his shoulder who is now on a quest to pay the government back for its crimes. His famous disguise, the Guy Fawkes mask and robes of black and red, are as intrinsic to establishing his character as his monologues and affinity for blowing up government buildings!
Judging by the color scheme alone, one immediately can tell that this man is an anarchist by his use of the color black (or anarcho-syndicalist seeing as how he combines it with red). The mask is a further indication of this, given that Guy Fawkes was a radical who tried to blow up parliament because he believes any vestige of government to be anathema to freedom. So in the end, we can see that this a man who wants to bring down the system and is reaching into Britain’s forgotten past to resurrect the idea of civil liberty.
In contrast, Norsefire’s logo was pretty straightforward too. In the comic, Norsefire represented itself on its “motivational posters” with a set of white wings with a space in the middle that was in the shape of a cross, and behind it lay flames. This is obviously meant to conjure up images of religious propriety, or holy war, and of action, all of which are clear allusions to fascist and religious-right iconography. It was also meant, in my opinion, to call to mind Britain’s Action Party, a fascist political group that played a small but influential role in British political life during the 1970′s.
In any case, one can see several staples of dystopia at work in this series, hence why it earned a loyal following and garnered so much critical acclaim. In addition to the idea of a nuclear war breeding totalitarian regime in Britain (right out of 1984), of “Lifeboat Britain” giving rise to a fascist regime (which may have helped to inspire the novel Children of Men) and countless allusions to Nazism and how it really could take root in Britain – which calls to mind Orwell’s essay “England Your England” where he basically asserted that it couldn’t.
Wow, this sort of stuff makes me feel head-heavy and tired! It seems that when you get into a subject as rich as dystopian literature and its various offshoots, there’s no shortage of material! But I think I’ve learned something from all of this and it’s important that I get it right. So bear with me…
As I said in my last post, utopian literature predates dystopian by a couple centuries at least. And I also focused on the differences between the two, how utopian lit shows our failures by using a prefect society as a comparison while dystopian societies show the logical outcome of our most worrisome flaws. However, I’ve now come to think that the issue is far more complicated than all that. For starters, one can find elements of the former in the latter and vice-versa. What’s more, utopian novels and treatises were often loaded with irony, at times truncated themselves to make the point that perfect societies were not so perfect, or perhaps unattainable.
On the other hand, all dystopian novels take as their starting point the idea of a failed utopia. Whether it was a willful lie (as O’Brien revealed in 1984) or an attempt at perfection gone wrong, all dystopians arose out of attempt to create a “perfect society”. In the case of the classics written after the 18th century, the inspiration for this is clear. Beginning with the French Revolution, then the Russian, and countless other revolutions who’s aim was to radically transform society, it seemed that every attempt to create “real equality” and an “earthly paradise” was doomed to result in tyranny and abuse. Sometimes horribly so!
But the earlier utopian writers didn’t have these failed social experiments to point to. In their case, saying that utopias were unattainable would have had to have been purely philosophical. And examples abound! The very word Utopia, for example, is Greek for “no-place”. And the narrator of this book, the man who is an apparent specialist on this fabled society, is named Raphael Hythloday. This last name has a Greek root which loosely translates to “expert in nonsense”. Samuel Butler, another utopian writer, named his fictional society Erewhon, which is simply “Nowhere” written backwards. In addition, in his “perfect” society, people are punished for being sick and treated for criminal behavior, an inversion of the usual procedure!
I guess its like the dividing line between heaven and hell, or revelation and madness. Somehow, the line is fine, and one misstep can take you from one to the other in the blink of an eye! And, as with everything else, we carry these things with us and project them wherever we go. Well… that was deep! Stay tuned, I’m sure to have something more cheerful for next time!
Chances are, we all know people who are avid readers and swear up and down that a movie is never as good as an original novel. Man, those people can be annoying! However, as time goes on I find myself identifying with those people more and more. The difference between them and myself is, they read the books first and then see the movies. I, on the other hand, see the movie, listen to people complain about how “it wasn’t the same”, read the novel, and then join the chorus! Maybe this is a sign that I should read more, maybe its just dumb luck. But somehow, I find that with a lot of adaptations, I’m getting it all backwards.
The experiences tend to be pretty far between, but on the whole, I notice they are becoming more and more frequent. First, there was The Lord of the Rings, where I saw the first movie and then read the trilogy. By the time the trilogy was wrapping up, I was nitpicking all the omissions and changes with all the other Rings geeks! Then there was Fight Club, a movie I thoroughly enjoyed but then read the book and suddenly found reason to criticize. Then came Blade Runner, one of those rare instances where I liked the movie better. More recently, its been Game of Thrones – we’ll see how that turns out! – and, for the purposes of this review, V for Vendetta.
Yes, here too I saw the movie before I ever knew the source of inspiration. Then, having finally read it, I found myself having second thoughts about the movie. In truth, that’s not really fair, but it is kind of unavoidable. Regardless of what order you do it in, you can’t help but be very much aware of the fact that between the original story and the screen adaptation, things change. It might not always seem faithful, but a movie is not diminished simply because it’s different from the source material, nor can you fault director’s for taking creative liberties. And with adaptations that come years or even decades after the book was first released, you have to figure that changes will be made because they have to be. Things have happened between now and then, things which may make certain parts of the story impossible or at the very least unlikely. So with that in mind, let’s get down to V for Vendetta – the movie, the graphic novel, and everything in between!
Since I knew in advance that V (the movie, not the sci-fi series) was based on an original graphic novel, I thought it only fair that I read it before giving the movie a review. After reading it, I was reminded of why I enjoyed Watchmen as thoroughly as I did. In both cases, Alan Moore was the creative mind, combining an obvious passion for politics, history and narrative depth with the usual subject matter of comic books (i.e. superheros). It was these same elements that Frank Miller would later emulate in order to create one of the best entries in the Batman franchise – The Dark Knight Returns. This is surprising, seeing as how V was apparently a side project of Moore’s, something he and illustrator David Lloyd did for fun more than anything else. The fact that it went on to become one of the most critically acclaimed series’ in history, eventually spawning a movie adaptation, was just a sign of its quality.
But of course, the graphic novel was released between 1982 and 89, covering events which took place towards the end of the 90’s. In it, a post-apocalyptic Britain has been spared the ravages of the nuclear holocaust, but then finds itself struggling to survive in a devastated world. It is then quickly taken over by a fascist government that uses the chaos of the outside world and the mentality of “Lifeboat Britain” to take power and justify its extreme policies. After many years of supposed peace and stability, a masked anarchist emerges who begins to slowly take apart the state, exposing its lies, secrets, and the crime that made him what he is.
Not only was this a chilling basis for a story, it also had an undeniably British flavor to it. The setting, the characters, and the mentality of it all just screamed Britain! In the movie, we get much the same feeling, but the elements are different. Rather than involving nuclear war, the plot revolves around the threat of terrorism and repression done in the name of security (something audiences in 2006 would find much more relatable). That, and a slew of other changes, made the movie more current, but also had the effect of watering it down somewhat.
The movie opens almost exactly as the graphic novel does, except that for the sake of American audiences, the story of Guy Fawkes is first explained. Natalie Portman tells of the Gunpowder Treason, the man behind the plot, and the difference between ideas and the people who fight for them. However, the movie then moves to a near-future London at night, where both Evey (Natalie Portman) and V (Hugo Weaving) are getting ready to go out. In the background, the “Voice of London” – the regimes chief spewer propaganda – is delivering his latest spiel.
Evey then goes out for the night, on her way to meat her suitor and superior over at BTN (British Television Network) where she works. However, on her way she is intercepted by Fingermen (government spooks) who attempt to rape her. She is narrowly saved by a masked stranger who is in the habit of spouting poetry before wielding his knives and cutting his enemies to ribbons. He says his name is V, a name which he then cuts into one of the government’s posters. Thus begins Evey’s adventure with him, and the premise of the story.
He then takes Evey to the roof of a nearby building where a performance is about to begin. This “show” involves the destruction of the Old Bailey, the symbol of Britain’s justice system in London, done to the tune of 1812 Overture. During the display, he mentioned the 5th of November to her, and how that act, over 400 years old at this point, has been largely forgotten. As has the lesson. Through all this, we are made immediately aware that V is a revolutionary anarchist who has a score to settle with Britain’s fascist government. His theme: Guy Fawkes, and the Gunpowder Treason!
I should note that within these first few scenes, there are some notable differences between the book and movie. For one, Evey did not work in television, she worked in a munitions plant. And she was not out for a date, she was out trying to sell herself. Yes, this 16-year old (they never specified her age in the movie) had fallen on hard times since her job didn’t pay enough, was looking to make a little extra money and thought dabbling in prostitution might make up the difference. What’s more, in the movie V whooped the Fingermen’s asses but left them otherwise unharmed. In the book, he killed several, and used gas and an exploding hand, not knives!
What’s more, V did not blow up the Old Bailey in the opening scene, but Parliament itself! Much like the Old Bailey, this was an old government building that was no longer in use. Given the fact that the fascist party that had taken control had no need of parliamentary procedure, the building was essentially empty. But of course, it was the symbolic value that mattered. It was shortly thereafter in the book that V blew up the Bailey, but only after delivering an impassioned speech to the figure of Madam Justice on the subject of betrayal.
In any case, we then get a quick gander at the authorities who run Britain and their leader – the Lord High Chancellor Adam Sutler (John Hurt). Much like in the book he is a totalitarian and runs Britain through several branches known as the Eyes, Ears, Nose, Mouth and Finger – video, audio surveillance, regular police, propaganda, and secret police (echoes of 1984 with its four ministries!). But whereas in the movie they are known as the Norsefire party (a clear reference to their Nordic beliefs and action platform), the Party was never really named in the book. Regardless, they are of course determined to find the masked vigilante, and put out a spin story about a controlled demolition to cover up the terrorist incident. Since this is a criminal investigation, it falls to inspector Finch (Stephen Rea) to find him.
However, their attempts at spin control prove futile when on the 5th of Nov, V marches into the BTN network headquarters with a bomb and forces them to broadcast a manifesto of sorts. In it, he declares that the people of Britain have been robbed of their freedom by the Lord Chancellor and his goons, and were of course complicit in the process. And that, in one year’s time, he will resurrect the Gunpowder Treason by blowing up Parliament, and invites the people of Britain to come and watch. In the course of his escape, Evey comes to his rescue and is knocked unconscious. Unsure of what to do, he brings her back to his lair and they become acquainted.
In the course of this, Evey begins to tell V her story, how her parents were political dissidents who were taken away when she was young. However, her sympathies are soon spent when she realizes that he is killing people and she hatches a plan to escape. She puts this into action when V asks for her help in killing Archbishop Lilliman (Eddie Marsan), a Party member who was the Chaplain at Larkhill – now the Archbishop of Canterbury – and who just happens to be a pedophile. She knows that running away is dangerous since the police now believe she is his accomplice, but can’t stomach what he’s doing. This is also different from the book, but more on that later.
Shortly thereafter, V enters into phase two of his plan, which Evey becomes involved in. This includes him isolating members of the Party that run Britain, key personnel in the regime, who he then murders. The first is the Lewis Prothero (Roger Allam), otherwise known as the “Voice of London” (Voice of Fate in the book). But whereas in the book, V goes through the process of kidnapping him and bringing him to Larkhill – where he destroys his prized dolls (which he collects), in the movie, V enters his apartment and kills him with a poisoned needle. I notice a subtle reference to the doll collection though; in his bathroom, Prothero had a small collection up on his wall.
In the course of investigating, Detective Finch (Stephen Rea) – head of the Nose – discovers that Prothero was once the Commandant of the camp. His other victims all have similar ties to the place, one of whom was a doctor named Delia Surridge (Sinéad Cusack), the one who conducted the camps’ experiments and was responsible for creating V. When she is dead, V leaves her journal, in which she kept detailed notes about her time in the camp, for Inspect Finch to find. It is from this journal and their own snooping that the Nose men begin to see what’s going on. Like V, they’ve stopped believing in coincidences and suspect that everything in this case is connected. And since things have escalated, the investigation has been taken over by Creedy (Tim Pigott-Smith), head of the Finger, which is a blessing since it leaves Finch free to look into this conspiracy.
Things become increasingly desperate as things get closer to the 5th of Nov. The government, as predicted, begins to become more repressive, leading to increased resentment and backlash from the people. Into all this, V continues to point Finch and his investigators in the direction of the overarching conspiracy. This includes the creation of a biological weapon which the people of Norsefire unleashed on England in order to secure power and then pinned on some hapless Muslims as a terrorist incident. They realize that Arkhill was ground zero, and that V was a test subject who became changed as a result of the testing, then blew the place up and escaped! Whats more, they know that this can only end in bloodshed, and with the fall of the Party… unless they can find another way.
At this point, something crucial takes place. Evey, having run away from V, goes to stay with her friend Dietrich (Stephen Rea), who just happens to be the one she had a date with at the beginning. He is her superior over at BTN and takes her in, revealing that he too has secrets, being a liberal intellectual and gay to boot! He promises to jeep her safe. However, after an episode of his show that makes fun of Chancellor airs, the is taken in the night by Creedy and his men. Evey is forced to watch as he’s beaten and has a bag put over his head, thus reliving what happened to her parents. She tries to escape but is captured outside the house.
Afterward, she believes she is in a government camp, where she is tortured, interrogated, and locked in a tiny cell for weeks on end. During that time, she finds a note stashed in a rat hole written on toilette paper. The note is apparently written by a woman named Valerie (Natasha Wightman), a former actress who was an inmate on a count of her being a lesbian. Her story empowers Evey, and when asked to give up V, she refuses, choosing death instead. Her guards offer her one last chance, but when she again refuses, the guard says only “Then you have no fear any more. You’re completely free.”
Mystified by this statement, Evey leaves her cell and finds that she is still in V’s lair. It seems her conducted her torture and detainment as an elaborate ruse to help her come to terms with what happened to her parents, and to find the strength to fight the fascists and win. She is initially quite furious, but in time sees to see what he did as a good thing. It is at this time that he reveals that the woman Valerie was real, that she and V were both at Larkhill together, and he is doing what he’s doing to avenge her and everyone else they murdered. In fact, it was her love of roses that motivated V to use them as his calling card. Eve leaves, but she and V promise to see each other one last time before the 5th.
At this point, V makes a deal with Creedy to betray and kill the Chancellor. In exchange for overthrowing the man,
V will surrender willingly. Creedy agrees, mainly because he knows he’s not likely to be able to stop V otherwise, and that Sutler will have his head in that event. Meanwhile, Evey meets V one last time and he shows her the train that he’s loaded up with explosives and placed on a track that leads underneath Parliament, true to the original Gunpowder Treason! He leaves the controls to her, saying he must go do his final errand, and that she is to decide whether or not to blow up Parliament. She naturally tries to stop him, but he insists that he must go and leaves her.
Nearby, Creedy and his men show up, bringing the Chancellor with them as agreed. Creedy then shoots Sutler and demands V come with them, but V refuses. A gunfight ensues, but V is relatively unharmed and kills all Creedy’s men. He saves Creedy for last and then strangles him, but not before delivering one of the best lines of the movie. “Behind this mask lies more than flesh. Behind this mask lies an idea, and ideas are BULLETPROOF!” He then unstraps the metal vest that absorbed most of the bullets, but is still mortally wounded and lurches his way back to the subway. Once he gets there, he dies in Evey’s arms, and is followed shortly thereafter by Finch.
Not surprisingly, Finch does not stop her. He knows this must happen and lets her set the train off. Up above, the masses are converging on Parliament in anticipation for its destruction, each of them wearing a Guy Fawkes mask! Without orders and no word from the Chancellor or Creedy, the soldiers decide to do the right thing and stand down. The crowd is then in the perfect position to see the fireworks. And they do! The crowd whip off their masks, revealing everyone who’s been in the movie, even those who have died. This coincides with Evey explaining that V was every one of them, not just some masked vigilante inspired by Guy Fawkes.
Okay, now would be a good point to mention all the differences I had to skip over because believe me, there are a lot!
As I mentioned, the character of Evey was different in the book, being far more vulnerable and naive than she was in the movie. It was in this way that her transformation, which happened because of her contact with V, became all the more apparent. Making her character a stronger, more nubile and independent person who saves V at one point was clearly designed to appeal to post-modern audiences.
In keeping with this, she did not leave V during the commission of his murder of the Archbishop. In truth, he kicked her out shortly after this, thus forcing her to shack up with Deitrich, who was then murdered not by Fingermen, but by thugs. The reason for this was because in the book, Deitrich was involved in criminal activity and had nothing to do with broadcasting, nor was he gay. He and Evey had a sexual relationship for a time, and it was clear that Evey’s unresolved father issues had a part to play in that!
Moreover, the “Leader” (not Chancellor) did not work from some bunker and communicate with his lieutenants on some massive monitor. In fact, he worked from a central location called “The Head” where he was connected to all the other branches (Eyes, Ears, Nose, Finger, Mouth) through a computer named Fate. Strangely enough, he became increasingly obsessed and even enamored with this computer over the course of the story, leading to an eventual breakdown that led to the plot to overthrow him by Inspector Creedy. Speaking of which, the plot to overthrow was not spearheaded by V but occurred as a result of inter-Party politics, a lot of which was the result of Creedy’s wife who was scheming to make sure her lover the new Leader. V, of course, took advantage of all this and played the people against each other so that by the time the train was dispatched, they had all killed each other.
However, in another twist, this plot came to halt when the Leader was shot point blank by the wife of Creedy’s successor (Inspector Almond) during a parade. Her involvement was a side-story that was completely missing from the movie. As indeed was the confrontation that took place between Finch and V in the subway. Yes, in another change-about, that action scene at the end did not take place between V, Creedy and his Fingermen but between Finch and V alone. But similarly, it was this confrontation that caused V to be mortally wounded, right before he meets Evey for the last time and leaves it to her to dispatch the train.
But, as mentioned earlier, V didn’t blow up Parliament at the end, he’d already done that at the beginning. His target
was the Head, and Evey did not just send the train but adopted V’s persona and addressed the crowds of London before it went off. This, combined with a scene were Evey removes his mask and sees herself, her father, and many other faces (anyone but V’s true face) was meant to illustrate what V said: behind the mask is an idea. Behind the mask was anarchy and freedom, and it lives in the heart of all people. The Wachowski brothers illustrated this as well, but chose to have an entire crowd dressed up as V with Natalie Portman doing a voice over about how “he was all of us”.
But the biggest difference of all had to do with how England came to be a fascist state. In the book, WWIII takes place in the mid to late 80’s, England was spared a direct nuclear attack, but society goes to hell all the same. Then, in the early 90’s, the fascists took charge of the country, taking advantage of all the disorder and chaos. Once in power, they proceeded to round up all the political dissidents, minorities, gays, and placed them in concentration camps. And of course, they established a police state where everyone’s movements, words and actions were monitored.
And their slogan was “Strength Through Unity, Unity through Purity”, not Strength Through Unity, Unity through Faith“. Faith, after all, implies the presence of religion – i.e a state where religion and politics are not separate. Purity, on the other hand, implies a state that seeks singularity, which in the case of Fascism involves the active liquidation of minorities and other “undesirables”. This is in keeping with the fundamental character of the Party in the book, a ruthless, fascist organization that has no qualms about committing genocide. By contrast, the Norsefire party was somewhat more subdued, concerning itself with direct control and avoiding racial purity. Ironic, considering the fact that in the movie, they committed mass murder in order to obtain power!
Which brings me back to the different back story that was used in the novel, which I found far more realistic than the movie’s. With the movie, the Wachowskis needed to update things since the end of the Cold War pretty much meant that WWIII was no longer a likely event. And after Sept.11th and the advent of the “War on Terror”, what better angle was there than a government that turned totalitarian because of terrorism and the manipulation of people’s fear? True, it WAS more current, but it also a lot less realistic. The 9/11 Truth Movement’s opinions aside, are we really to believe that any government would be willing to commit mass murder just to get in power? And its openly alluded that the world outside was going to hell all same, even if it wasn’t specified from what (the US’s war is mentioned, but they do not go into detail). This alone would have been enough to create a the “Lifeboat Britain” mentality, why did they need to kill 80,000 people as well?
But aside from all this, the movie was quite faithful to the source material. And most of what was changed arose out of the need to shorten and condense the original ten volumes into a two hour movie. And dammit if they didn’t do a good job of it! Above all, the back story of V was treated faithfully. V being the Roman numeral for five, signifying the 5th of November, and also referring to the five V’s that make up “Vi Veri Veniversum Vivus Vici”, which is Latin for “By the power of truth I, while living, have conquered the universe”. This quote, which is attributed to Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus, has immense symbolic value since V himself is the product of a Faustian deal, though it was the state who forced him into it. The deal he makes with Evey is similar, that in exchange for his help, he forces her to undergo a painful transformation.
And of course the movie has undeniable signs of quality that is typical of the Wachowskis at their peak. The colors are vivid (in the Matrix everything was green and black, here it’s red and black), the direction and cinematography are very good, and the writing was both cool and faithful. In many places, the Wachowskis took liberties but still managed to capture the essence of the story and the characters. And I musn’t forget to mention how much the movie benefitted from an all-star cast! Hugo Weaving was especially good at capturing the magnetic personality of V, John Hurt is sublime as the ruthless High Chancellor, Stephen Rea was spot on as the straight and fearful detective, and Tim Pigott-Smith was very convincing as the evil “Creepy Creedy”. And Natalie Portman, wow! Those scenes where she is being tortured and humiliated in prison were made real by her powerful performances.
In the end, I think I’d file this movie under the same category as the Dune Miniseries. In short, it was different from the source material, but was faithful nonetheless. I highly recommend both the graphic novel and the movie, the one is inspired and interesting, while the latter is highly entertaining!
V for Vendetta:
Entertainment Value: 8/10
Sometime last week, I finally got my hands on the original graphic novel of V for Vendetta. I figured that since I was going to review this movie at some point, I ought to read the source material and treat it like all the other adaptations I’ve covered so far with this blog. Interestingly enough, the creative force being the graphic novel was none other than Alan Moore, the same man who created The Watchmen! While I’ve never been much of a comic book guy – which I admit is both treasonous and weird given my obvious geekhood! – I can honestly say that this was one of the best graphic novels I have ever read. Hell, it was guys like Moore with such creations as Watchmen and V that helped to establish the very concept of the graphic novel. While the dividing line between them and comic books is pretty fine, one can’t deny that guy’s like Moore combine a great deal of thought and inspiration to come up with these things, certainly no less than what typically goes into a high-end novel.
Not only that, but with The Watchmen, we got a story that was equal parts satire on the traditional subject matter of comics (superheroes) and the history of the 20th century. This is done in true sci-fi form, employing an alternate reality to show how the existence of a certain phenomena altered history, and using the differences to illustrate what took place in the real world. Embracing such things as generational change, feminism, war, civil rights, the decline of America, politics, nuclear holocaust, paranoia, UFO hysteria, and the American Dream, the scope and depth of this book was virtually undeniable. And when it came time to adapt it to the big screen, the same spirit came through pretty clear. There were naturally some weaknesses that emerged out of the monumental task of adapting the voluminous text to the big screen, and some complained about the changes, but in the end, it felt like a pretty faithful adaptation, and one that was overdue!
Zack Snyder must have seemed like the natural choice to shoot this epic, having directed 300 – another graphic novel adaptation – just three years before. The end result was an official release that left out various parts of the plot in order to cut down on run time, but still managed to be two and a half hours long. As expected, a directors cut and an “Ultimate Cut” were also released on DVD that contained much of the missing elements, and they run for approx. three and three a half hours respectively! That’s what you get when you try to adapt a classic to the big screen, I guess. In either case, the box office draw and DVD sales were through the roof, another result of a classic meeting the big screen!
Naturally, there were those who complained about the cinematic release, citing the things that were left out, the new ending which did away with the whole UFO theme, and what not. However, the thing that divided audience the most, ironically enough, was Snyder’s commitment and reverence of the original source material. While some praised him for his faithful adaptation, his biggest critics saw this is as a drawback, claiming that his commitment to the source material made the movie feel “stuffy” and “boring”. Some even found themselves falling in the middle, saying that they were impressed with the faithfulness of the adaptation, but unsure as to whether or not this made for a good movie. One thing was certain though, for fans of the graphic novel, the biggest source of contention was the changed ending! Squiddy or Manhattan, which was better? For those of you who read the novel, you know what I mean 😉 For those of you who don’t, read on!
The story opens on the murder of a superhero by the name of The Comedian. Whereas the novel only shows the aftermath of this, the movie gives us the full fight scene in order to open with a bang and get our attention. In any case, we begin the movie knowing that The Comedian (played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is dead, and his friend, fellow superhero Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley), is on the case! This latter superhero, named for the mask he wears, is one of the few superheros in this day and age who’s not working for the government or gone into retirement. He believes The Comedians death is part of plot to eliminate the Watchmen, as superheroes have been turned on by popular opinion and outlawed by the state. We also learn quickly that due to the historical presence of superheroes, the world has unfolded quite differently. Due to their efforts, America won the Vietnam war, Richard Nixon remained president since, the Cold War escalated and nuclear war now seems inevitable. Society has also gone to hell in a hand basket, but at least there are electrical cars!
So, fearing a plot against his former superhero friends, Rorschach seeks them out and tries to warn them. These include Nite Owl (Patrick Wilson), Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup), his wife and partner Silk Spectre II (Malin Akerman), and Ozymandias (Matthew Goode). Most of them are retired, except for Dr. Manhattan who is doing nuclear research for the government (fitting since he’s a nuclear-powered, godlike man!) and Ozymandias who’s supersmarts have led him into the world of inventing and big business. Most of them are skeptical, until an assassination attempt against Ozymandias is narrowly averted. The movie then gravitates between filling in the characters back stories and the progress of the murder investigation in the present.
On the one hand, we see how The Watchmen, an organization of crime-fighting superheroes, evolved from the Minutemen, a similar group that was formed in the 1930’s in response to the rising tide of organized crime and gangsters. In showing the history of the Watchmen, we are made aware of how history unfolded differently since their own stories are so very intertwined with history. What is palatable in all this is the feeling of loss and betrayal that accurately portrays America in the 20th century. Much like in the novel, there is the pervasive sense of the “end of innocence” as we go from a rought but optimistic past through a series of shocks and upheavals, landing finally in a dark and gloomy present where annihilation seems inevitable. Most of this told from the point of view of Rorschach, a man who’s own cynicism reflects the mood of his age. His thoughts and findings, all of which he puts down in his journal (which will come up later), provide the narration. And I dare say Haley did a very good job portraying this dark, brooding superhero! The way Rorschach always said “Hrrrmmmm”, that I thought was done pretty well too.
In any case, Rorschach’s investigation soon leads him to a former villain named Moloch (Matt Frewer) whom he suspects because of him being a former enemy of The Comedian. However, his suspicions are allayed when he learns Moloch is dying of cancer. Interestingly enough, Moloch tells him that the Comedian showed up at his apartment shortly before he died, drunk off his ass and muttering something about how it was all a joke. This makes Rorschach even more curious, as he now believes the man was onto something that could shake even him. It’s been well established at this point that The Comedian was a real SOB, and that his alias is sort of an ironic joke. Like the Joker, his humor comes in a brutal, sardonic form, albeit somewhat less evil (only somewhat).
In any case, Rorschach soon finds himself framed when he returns to Moloch’s apartment, finds him dead, and that the police are upon him. He puts up a brave struggle, but the police soon have him and rip off his mask. They are suprised to find that this ass-kicking vigilante is actually a pretty puny man who wears lifts, but is a grizzled due nonetheless (Haley looked the part pretty well too!). While in jail, we get to hear some of Rorschach’s story as a shrink examines him, and the reasons for his cynicism and dark world-view quickly become clear. Seems Rorschach was the child of a prostitute who routinely beat him, until he ran away from home and began beating the shit out of bullies. In time, became a vigilante and donned a mask that looks exactly like a Rorschach diagram, dolling out justice to those who violated the law and/or his rigid moral code (which he clearly uses to compensate for his lack of moral values growing up). At first, he had limits, beating criminals up but never killing anyone. But then came the encounter that forever changed him, which he relates with brutal detail to the shrink while looking at (you guessed it!) Rorschach diagrams! I shant go into too much detial, suffice it to say that it involved a pedophile/murdered who’s crime demanded swift and severe retribution!
Meanwhile, Dr. Manhattan comes under fire during a televised interview. Seems some investigative reporter has turned up evidence that everyone he’s ever been in contact with is dead or dying of cancer. You see, Manhattan was created when a nuclear accident broke down ever cell in his body, only to later be recomposed out of pure energy. He can take whatever form he wishes, duplicate himself, teleport, vaporize his enemies, and so forth. However, it was assumed up until this point that his presence was benign and he was not a threat unless he wanted to be. When he learns this, he has a minor breakdown and teleports himself to Mars, wanting to break contact with humanity and spare anyone else the harm of being around him. His partner, Silk Specter II, has already moved out since his lack of humanity was driving a wedge between them. But when she hears of his departure, she is understandably upset. She has already moved in with former colleague and friend Nite Owl (Patrick Wilson) and the two begin a sort of affair.
With Manhattan gone, the Soviet Union, which has been at a strategic disadvantage since Manhattan first started working for the US government, decides to take advantage of his departure and invades Afghanistan. The Doomsday Clock gets closer to midnight! Similarly, Silk Specter and Night Owl decide to come out of retirement because of the impending crises and do what they can to help people in need. Their affair has been abortive up to this point because they feel afraid and impotent with all that’s happened, but after saving several people from a burning building, they feel on fire and do it right in Nite Owl’s hovercraft! To Halleluiah by Leonard Cohen no less! They then break Rorschach out of jail, knowing that he was right about their being conspiracy at work. With The Comedian dead, an attempt on Ozymandias and the confrontation that made Manhattan leave Earth, it now seems evident that someone wants The Watchmen out of the way. After all that is done, Silk Specter decides to confront Manhattan, which she does after he comes for her and brings her to Mars. In the course of a tense discussion, he reveals to her that The Comedian was her father. Seems her mother, Silk Specter the first (played by Carla Gugino) slept with him in spite of his violent behavior towards her, and she was the result. She is, again, understandably upset, but still manages to convince Manhattan to come back and help them.
Together, Rorschach and Nite Owl go to Ozymandias’ office and unlock his files. In them, they find compelling evidence that he has been behind everything. The smoking gun comes when they see that The Comedian was working for him in the last while, and that his death was obviously to prevent him from telling the others what he had found out. They also figure out that he staged his own assassination attempt and sent a false reporter to tell Manhattan the cancer story, thus getting him out of the picture. They then travel to his Antarctic retreat where they know he’s still working on whatever pet project The Comedian died to protect. And here we get another change just like at the beginning (aka. the addition of a fight scene). In the comics, Ozymandias reveals his full plot to them and only tangles with Rorschach briefly. In the movie, there is an extended fight scene between Owl, Rorschach and Specter before he shows them what he’s really up to. And that’s where the biggest change of all comes into play: the big finish! But first, his motive!
Basically, Ozymandias explains that his plan was to unify the US and USSR and prevent a nuclear war by exploding the world’s largest energy reactors which he and Dr. Manhattan created. This will level several of the world’s major cities. Naturally, they try to stop him, but he explains that its too late and the reactors are already set. The energy signatures of the explosions are consistent with Manhattan’s, in part because the technology is based on the same forces that created him. Ergo, it is believed HE attacked Earth, most likely out of some anger-fueled breakdown that happened as a result of his breakdown. As noted already, this is not what happened in the novel, but more on that later…
Silk Specter and Manhattan have already shown up, and Ozymandias tries to kill Manhattan by luring him into some kind of nuclear de-compiler that is similar to the one that altered him in the first place. However, Manhattan proves immune to it and manages to finally subdue Ozymandias. He, however, turns on his many TV’s and shows him the reports which tell how the US and Soviet Union are standing down in the face of this new attack. They both seem to think Dr. Manhattan is attacking them now and are combining forces to defend against him. The others are angry, but Manhattan cannot argue with the logic and agrees to take on the role of the bad guy and go back into exile, this time permanently. Rorschach refuses to play along, him being a no-compromises kind of guy, and Manhattan is forced to vaporize him to maintain their little secret. Manhattan then says good-bye for the last time and leaves them for good. Nite Owl and Silk Specter leave too, vowing to keep fighting crime as New York rebuilds and build a future together.
The movie then ends with people from a right wing tabloid named the New Frontiersmen talking about there’s no news now that the Cold War has ended. But it seems that in their incoming mail, there’s a strange journal… It’s Rorschach’s, which he happened to mail to them just before he and Nite Owl departed for Antarctica. Remember how he recorded everything in there? Well, it seems like the secret might get out after all! The movie and comic both end on this scene, offering the reader/viewer an uncertain and possibly open ending.
First off, the new ending. As I’ve said twice now, the part where Ozymandias blew up the world’s major cities and blamed Manhattan was not what had happened in the original graphic novel. There, Ozymandias was working on perfecting matter teleportation, and it was this technology which he also used to try and destroy Dr. Manhattan. In any case, what he was teleporting was the body of a massive, genetically engineered bio-organism that looked very much like a massive alien squiddy into the heart of New York. Sounds weird, I know, but the result was that New Yorkers became convinced that an alien attack was underway. The organism died in the teleportation sequence, and only a few people were killed, but the point is they believed that an invasion attempt had failed, but more could be coming. THIS is what united the US and USSR, the prospect of an external threat that came from another species, not Doc Manhattan.
To be fair, I saw the reason for the changeover. The Squiddy concept was weird, but it played into the whole UFO paranoia that also existed in the latter half of the 20th century, as seen with Roswell and Area 51. The idea of playing that against Cold War rivalry made sense, it was just the execution that seemed a little weird. By putting Dr. Manhattan at the center of the conspiracy, Snyder was able to rework the plot quite effectively, but he did away with an essential element as a result. In addition, the recurring side-story about the pirate comic Tales of the Black Freighter which a patron is reading at a newstand, was also missing. However, Snyder was sure to include an animated adaptation of this portion of the novel onto the DVD.
The concept of the Doomsday Clock was also something that was changed, albeit in a faithful way. In the novel, the clock is not an actual object but a device that tells the reader before each chapter how close they are to the climax. But in order to keep it, Snyder adapted it into the movie as a set piece a media personality used to capture people’s fears about the impending nuclear war. Other than that, the only real changes had to do with action sequences which were included for obvious reasons. And they’re actually quite entertaining, being at once over the top and brutal. In a way, it kind of adds to the satire, combining superhero-like antics with bloody realism, which is essentially what the comic book is all about.
So what else was bang on…? Well, the feel was almost exactly the same. The movie’s intro, done to “The Times They Are A-Changing” by Bob Dylan was quite masterful at establishing the tone and giving the audience a quick glimpse of the back story. In fact, the entire soundtrack is faithful to the time period being depicted, giving it all a sense of historicism. The only flaw I saw in any of this was the scene where Nite Owl and The Comedian (in a flashback sequence) are shown cracking down on protesters during the late 70’s before superheroes were officially outlawed. After dispersing the crowd, Nite Owl turns to The Comedian and says “What happened to this country? What happened to the American Dream?” This was a bit obvious, and it was never done in the comic. For the most part, the movie captured this theme very well so I didn’t see why any of the characters needed to come right out and say it.
But overall, I felt that the movie was a faithful adaptation. In fact, I was impressed with how closely the movie followed the novel until the end. However, this does not mean that it could ever hold a candle to the original. This is not an attempt at snobbery on my part, it’s actually just how I feel about all adaptations. They are fun and serve their purpose, but can never really be expected to provide the same meaning or enjoyment as the original. In addition, reading is always more enjoyable, in my humble opinion, because the reader is able to stop, think, and interpret what they are taking in. In a movie, the entire process is transmissive, no room for interpretation until its all over, and the key jobs of visualization and imagining are done for you.
So… yeah! Watchmen, people! Read it, see it, decide for yourself. And know that the second you do, you too will have an opinion on the subject and demand that it be heard. Hell, you might even shout at a person or two for not sharing your beliefs. See, that’s the thing about geeks. We’re passionate about interesting but inconsequential things!
Entertainment Value: 7/10 (run-time kind of brings it down)
Hello, and welcome to my updated review list. After many, many reviews and plenty of change-ups in the lineup, I decided it was time to revise my master playlist. I do this mainly for the sake of being succinct, seeing as how I put up three in the last two months. The first was dedicated to initial ideas for reviews, the second to all the ones I forgot, and a third for animes that I realized were being neglected. There was also the constant need to go back and alter these lists so that I could indicate which reviews were covered and when. So to simplify things, here is my new master list, with the titles that have already been covered listed first with the date of their review provided. As usual, I will try to stick to this lineup, but some of the later ones might be brought forward if it seems like its taking too long to get to them.
Enjoy! Oh, and fyi, suggestion are still welcome!
1. Terminator: Salvation – July 7th
2. Independence Day – July 9th
3. Blade Runner – July 10th
4. Alien franchise (movies 1 through 4) – July 10th, July 11th…
5. Dune (1984, and the 2000 miniseries) – July 14th, 16th, and 18th
6. 2001: A Space Odyssey – July 21st
10. Starship Troopers – July 28th
11. Akira – Aug. 2nd
12. The Terminator franchise (movies 1 through 3) – Aug. 7th, Aug. 13th…
13. Equilibrium – Aug. 14th
14. The Star Wars prequels – Aug. 24th and 25th
15. The Matrix Trilogy – Sept. 4th, 11th, and 17th
16. Strange Days – Oct. 18th
17. Ghost in the Shell
18. V for Vendetta – Oct. 21st
19. Avatar – Sept. 29th
20. District 9
21. I, Robot – Sept. 27th
22. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
23. 28 Days Later – Oct. 28th
24. Ninja Scroll
25. A Clockwork Orange
26. Predator franchise (1, 2, and Predators)
27. Screamers (first in the Philip K Dick lineup)
30. A Scanner Darkly
31. The Adjustment Bureau (finishing off the PKD segment)
32. Lord of the Rings (like I said, some fantasy will slip in, and allowances must be made for such classics!)
33. Willow (another fantasy honorable mention)
34. Solaris (the original and the Soderberg remake) – thanks to Tom Sharp for the suggestion!
37. Princess Mononoke
38. Vampire Hunter D.
40. Children of Men
41. The Watchmen – Oct. 12th
42. Tron (original, and Legacy)
44. Twelve Monkeys
45. Iron Man