The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
February 21, 2002
Starring: Sean Connery, Naseeruddin Shah, Peta Wilson, Tony Curran, Stuart Townsend, Shane West, Jason Flemyng, Richard Roxburgh, Max Ryan, Tom Goodman-Hill, David Hemmings, Terry O'Neill, Rudolf Pellar, Winter Ave Zoli, Robert Willox, ,
Based on the excellent graphic novel of the same name, by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is a beautiful looking mess of a movie. To anyone who has read the comic book, the film bears only a passing resemblance. The filmmakers have taken some of Moore and O’Neill’s characters and jettisoned everything else. This begs the question: why even adapt it in the first place?
Set in 1899, England is being terrorized by a criminal mastermind known only as the Fantom. He also attacks Germany in a way that draws both countries closer to World War I. To combat this menace, the mysterious M (Roxburgh), under the auspices of the British government, assembles a group of eccentric rogues and misfits: adventurer Allan Quartermain (Connery), outlaw pirate Captain Nemo (Shah), vampire Mina Harker (Wilson), the invisible man, Dr. Skinner (Curran), the immortal Dorian Gray (Townsend), Dr. Jekyl and his alter ego, the monstrous Mr. Hyde (Flemyng) and the earnest American, Agent Tom Sawyer (West). They must band together and stop the Fantom before he starts a world war.
There are many problems with this film. What made the comic book so interesting was its basic conceit: what if famous characters from literature really existed and what would happen if they teamed up to stop some sort of horrible menace? The movie keeps most of the ones that Moore and O’Neill uses but includes others, like Tom Sawyer for no good reason except that he is an American that audiences in North America can relate to amidst all the British actors that populate the cast.
In the comic, it daringly casts Mina Harker as the leader of the league, symbolizing the dawn of the emancipated woman at the beginning of the 1900s. However, by casting a big name star like Sean Connery as Allan Quartermain, the film plays it safe as he naturally becomes the leader. Also, the casting of Connery is problematic. Quartermain, when we first meet him, is supposed to be a down-on-his-luck, enfeebled drug addict, not the strong, virile, gun-wielding character he is in the film.
The script is also a mess. Clunky, cliché lines like, “The Empire is in peril,” spoken by a recruiter, are supposed to inspire Quartermain to suddenly change his mind and come out of exile to serve his country. The film is filled with flat jokes and corny one-liners. When Quartermain is informed that the source of evil plaguing England is the Fantom, he dryly replies, “How operatic.”
The cast is wasted in this film. Connery seems to be phoning in his performance with only Stuart Townsend (Queen of the Damned) looking like he is having any kind of fun as he vamps it up as Dorian Gray. While everyone else suffers and plays their dialogue straight, he seems to be aware that it’s all crap and revels in it. The film only truly comes alive whenever he’s onscreen.
The only other saving grace in this film is the stunning, atmospheric art direction and set design. Director Stephen Norrington has taken the dark, gothic look of Blade (1998) and applied to the 19th century with fantastic results. This is a great looking film, it’s just a shame that there is nothing of substance to inhabit it.
For such a disappointing movie, 20th Century Fox has assembled a decent collection of supplemental material. “Assembling the League,” is a series of featurettes on various aspects of the movie that can be watched individually or altogether. Surprisingly, the film’s screenwriter is a comic book writer as well but one would hardly know it from the way he butchers Moore and O’Neill’s work. There is on the set footage of Norrington directing but sadly no mention of the rumoured friction between him and Connery. The veteran actor mentions how he had turned down roles in The Matrix (1999) and The Lord of the Rings (2001) and did not want to pass on another potential blockbuster. Ouch. The featurettes also cover the creation of the Nemomobile, how the Mr. Hyde make-up was created and the creation and destruction of period Venice.
There are 12 deleted and extended scenes. Some flesh out the plot a bit more, others add little and were rightly cut. However, there is a nice extended scene between Dr. Jekyl and Nemo as they talk about their respective inner demons.
Finally, there are two audio commentaries. The first one features producer Don Murphy and Trevor Albert with actors Shane West, Jason Flemyng and Tony Curran. Murphy mentions that Norrington was contracted to deliver a PG-13 rating and so the violence had to be toned down. Too bad, maybe the film could have benefited from a bit of Blade-style ultra-violence. Curran and Flemyng are the most entertaining to listen to as they keep things relaxed and fun. Curran, in particular, tells a funny story about golfing with Sean Connery.
The second commentary is more technical in nature and features costume designer Jacqueline West, visual effects supervisor John E. Sullivan, make-up effects supervisor Steve Johnson and miniatures creator Matthew Gratzner. They go into detail on how certain effects were done, or in West’s case, how the costumes were made. For people who like these kinds of commentaries this one is just fine.
Along with From Hell, Don Murphy is now two for two in failing to properly adapt Alan Moore’s work to the big screen. Keep this guy away from Watchmen! From the flooding that stopped shooting for three weeks, to the rumoured antagonistic relationship between Norrington and Connery, this film was plagued with problems. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen makes the fatal mistake that so many other comic book adaptations make: too much time and money is spent on getting the look of the film perfect and not enough is spent on getting the script perfect. File this away with The Shadow (1994) and The Phantom (1996) as a beautiful looking failure.