Blu-ray Review: The Show Is an Adaptation Alan Moore Finally Approves
Warning: While this review may contain some SPOILERS, the film is so densely plotted as to be nigh-impossible to spoil.
Acclaimed former comics writer Alan Moore is, perhaps famously and arguably correctly, the most vocal critic of all the movies thus far adapted from his work. And while arguments can be made for the merits and fealty of individual scenes in movies like Watchmen and V for Vendetta (less so, From Hell and League of Extraordinary Gentleman), they all lack something compared to the source material. But now, released with very little publicity and almost no theatrical release, we have an adaptation so pure that Moore not only endorses it…he even costars in it.
Based on, or expanded from, Show Pieces, a series of short films made over the last decade with photographer Mitch Jenkins, The Show is as pure Moore as one can get on a reasonably small budget with a comprehensible story. Unencumbered by the needs of a large Hollywood studio, it is exactly the film Moore and Jenkins want it to be. As longtime fans of the writer might expect, that means it’s both dense and entertaining. But probably not for those who prefer their escapism easily digestible.
Like Twin Peaks, which it frequently resembles in ways both superficial and not, The Show sends a jet-black haired straight-man protagonist into a weird town to unravel a mystery. Our protagonist may or may not be named Steve (Tom Burke, who played Orson Welles in Mank). He’s in search of a man named Jimmy (Darrell D’Silva), who wears a gold cross of some importance around his neck. But when Jimmy turns up dead, and the jewelry missing, “Steve” must navigate the mysterious back alleys of Northampton (Moore’s real-life home town), and an occasionally intersecting dream world.
Among the characters he encounters are two young boys who behave like hard-boiled film noir detectives, a journalist with a choking fetish and recurring waking nightmares of hell, a local pop star who performs dressed as gay Hitler, a master hacker who dons a superhero mask, a man whose every utterance is a refutation of the last thing he said, and a deceased ’70s comedy duo who might also be God and Satan. One of whom is played by Moore himself. Which one? As with all things Moore, the answer gets complicated. But there’s definitely a knowing wink and nod here to every stereotype and apocryphal story that anyone has ever circulated about the man.
With his wild beard, eccentric outfits, intense baggy eyes, syncretic theology and inability to suffer fools well, Moore frequently gets the reputation of being crazy, into pagan god worship, an anarchist, a control freak, etc. Playing both a dubious godlike being and a comedian in one, he’s practically daring those rumors to dial back up to 11. And he’s great in this. Whether he believes it, or whether he’s having the viewer on, it doesn’t matter. Because, Moore suggests, God and the Devil may be similarly inscrutable…or simple. In a film that he has complete control over, is he not God, at least of this reality? As writer, he knows that you know that however much disbelief one suspends, the knowledge of the medium — film, in this case — remains. So omnipotent characters, and authors, know it too.
With the exception of some overhead drone shots to establish setting, much of Jenkins’ direction feels more at home on the small screen than big. He favors close-ups and sparsely decorated rooms, letting Northampton’s natural exteriors mostly speak for themselves. Take note of small details like the ads and flyers, though — a real estate broker named “Amityville and Usher” is the kind of Moore joke fans may appreciate. In the previous short films, Jenkins used more filters and effects to set the mood, but those were nearly all single set-ups. There’s a lot to cover here, with (evidently) not a ton of money. Think Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere as it appeared on TV, or similar cult U.K. sci-fi shows like Sapphire & Steel. The story and dialogue, designed to disorient and take away the familiar, can get scarier than anything the filmmakers will show you.
But it’s not all creep factor. Moore’s sense of humor is abundant, never more so than when “Steve” switches his name to Dennis, and dons a red and black sweater and the slingshot of the UK comics version of Dennis the Menace. After all, this is a world where — we think — an edgy comedian might have created the world. And Hell could be a nightclub that burned to the ground five decades ago. It’s extremely deadpan humor, and often depends upon catching all of Moore’s references, both esoteric and obvious. If viewers catch on, it’s a thoroughly rewarding comic night terror.
A commentary track noting all the references would be welcome on the Blu-ray. It would also be unlikely, and indeed, is non-existent. Moore is the sort of writer who would rather let viewers catch things on re-watches. For those who read Watchmen in their youth, how many years went by before the references to Kitty Genovese and G. Gordon Liddy made sense? We do at least get a making-of featurette that describes the long process of evolution from photoshoot to feature film. And Moore jokes about how easy screenplays feel compared to his previous work, all while saying this may stand as his first and last.
The package would feel incomplete without the original shorts, partly funded by Kickstarter. And here they are, making for better viewing after watching the feature. Frankly, the shorts feature languid pacing, perhaps owing to scripts written in an afternoon. (If we are to believe Moore.) As storytelling, they’re static and indulgent, but as vignettes offering backstory to the film’s characters, they’re crucial. They get the world-building out of the way so that the movie itself doesn’t have to waste your time with it. Having spent long stretches there already, the creators can tell their story in this fully formed new reality.
The Show amply makes the case that Moore should continue with screenplays if inclined. It also demonstrates that he never writes simple enough stuff for Hollywood. Surely, in a streaming world that offers big-money deals to Mark Millar, there could be a place to accommodate this. Not that Moore would necessarily say “yes” if there were.
The Show is out now on Blu-ray and streaming, from Shout Factory.
Buy It Now: The Show [Blu-ray]
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