Famously, and should that be infamously, Alan Moore hated film adaptations of his comic book work. Both From Hell and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen bare his name in the credits but following the second’s butchering of his work, Moore made it clear he was done with Hollywood. Subsequent adaptations of his work – V for Vendetta, Constantine and Watchmen have all credited their artists but not Moore, who in turn refuses money for them.
You might then assume that Moore hated films, which is not the case at all. What’s clear is that Moore hates compromise, his work is singular in its dealing with existentialism, and it’s playing with form and genre. His screenplay The Show is no different really. Instead of teaming up with an artist as he does in his comic book medium, he has teamed up with director Mitch Jenkins for a film that at times defies explanation.
The Show on the surface appears to be a neo-noir about a private investigator – played by Tom Burke – who is on the hunt for a man who may or may not be dead who possesses an ancient artefact. But in the sleepy town of Northampton, dreams and reality blur.
Jenkins and Moore are playful creatives, the trademark mixing of genres that Moore has done in most of his work is on show here. We find strange goth morticians, children run noir-inspired detective agencies as well as strange supernatural nightclubs all melding together in the heart of Moore’s beloved hometown.
Jenkins, a photographer making his directorial debut, does know how to make an arresting visual and works around the limited budget by focusing on the actors more than anything else, but it’s clear at times that the film is limited in its resources. Moreover, not all of the acting is particularly good. The film alludes to a Faustian subtext but at times it fells like a story that probably should have just been a short film, or better yet a comic book where the art between reality and dreams could have changed.
Tom Burke is perfectly fine in the lead role though he’s given very little to work with in a part that usually has him looking at people delivering exposition. At times he’s a dead ringer for Jack White, but he never gets a grip of what his character is about. In fact, many of the performance veer between the so-so and the suitably campy until Alan Moore himself appears.
Looking like a crescent moon crossed with Saruman, Moore is gamely suited for this film. His small role reminds you that there was a time when Terry Gilliam was going to adapt Watchmen, and you wonder what would happen if Moore and Gilliam teamed up for a film or better yet Moore appeared in a Gilliam movie. Moore’s distinctly raspy Northern voice and intense eyes hold the attention in a scene that feels almost like a confrontation with the devil, but the rest of The Show simply cannot keep up with Moore’s understanding of presence.
As it is, The Show is not awful, but it probably has a very limited audience. Moore devotees will drink deeply of its Victorian-style goblet but it’s far from mainstream, and even further from perfect.
The Show is available to stream now in the UK