“THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN” (2003) Review
Comic novel writer Alan Moore must have a legion of fans to rival or maybe even surpass Marvel Comics icon, Stan Lee. I have noticed that whenever one of his comic creations is adapted as a motion picture, many of these fans seemed to crawl out of the woodworks to express their judgment on the finished film. This certainly proved to be the case for 2003’s “THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN”.
Based upon Moore’s comic series, “THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN” followed the adventures of famous 19th century literary characters that became part of a league to stop a madman named the Fantom from starting and profiting from a major world war, during the summer of 1899. Among the members of the new League of Extraordinary Gentlemen are:
*Allan Quartermain, British big game hunter and explorer
*Captain Nemo, the Indian pirate/captain of the Nautilus and inventor
*The Invisible Man aka Rodney Skinner, invisible thief
*Mina Harker, British chemist/widow of Jonathan Harker and vampire
*Dorian Gray, British gentleman and immortal
*Dr. Henry Jekyll/Mr. Edward Hyde, British scientist/evil alter ego
*Tom Sawyer, American Secret Service agent
The story begins in the spring of 1899 with an attack upon the Bank of England by men dressed in German Army uniforms, using explosives and automated weapons. A month later, men dressed in British Army uniforms, attack a Zeppelin factory, using the same or similar weapons. Both the British and German Empires seemed to be on the verge of war. A British government emissary arrives in British East Africa to recruit the famous big game hunter and explorer Allan Quartermain to investigate. Quatermain expresses disinterest in the mission, until some armed men attack a gentleman’s club in order to assassinate him. Upon his arrival in London, Quartermain learns from his new boss, a mysterious government official named “M”, the latter’s plans to form a new version of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen in order to thwart the war mongering plans of the Fantom. According to “M”, the Fantom plans to start a war and profit from it by blowing up Venice, Italy during its Festival.
While recruiting the immortal Dorian Gray at his home, the League is attacked by the Fantom and his men. During the attack, the League acquires a new member, an American Secret Service agent named Tom Sawyer. As the League sets out to recruit Dr. Henry Jekyll/Mr. Hyde in Paris and later for Venice aboard the Nautilus, Nemo’s submarine; they remain unaware that the Fantom’s plans to start a world war involves more than just blowing up a major city. His plans also involve acquiring and selling the League’s collective skills as weapons of war.
I have never read Alan Moore’s comic series. Nor do I have plans to read it. In fact, I have not laid eyes upon a comic book or novel since the age of nine. For me, comparing Moore’s story to the movie adaptation seemed irrelevant to me. But I can give an opinion of the movie. What did I think of it? Well, I had enjoyed it when I first saw it, eight years ago. And I still continue to enjoy it, whenever I view my DVD copy.
Mind you, “THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN” was not perfect. One, I never understood the reasoning behind the Fantom’s attack upon the League members at Dorian Gray’s home . . . especially since he proved to be so interested in acquiring or stealing their skills/talents. My second problem concerned a certain invention created by Captain Nemo – namely an automobile. I realize that the movie was set in an alternate 1899. I also understand that Nemo’s character was supposed to be the creator of various inventions a’la Jules Verne. What I did not understand was how Tom Sawyer knew how to drive Nemo’s car throughout the streets of Venice at top speed, without any previous experience behind the wheel. Three, I found Quartermain’s description of American shooting (“buckaroo” that shoots too fast without any real accuracy) not only ludicrous, but false. Who on earth came up with this opinion in the first place? My father, who had been an expert shot in the military, immediately dismissed Quartermain’s description of American gunmanship, claiming that he had been taught to utilize patience for long distance shooting. My final beef has to do with Dan Laustsen’s photography for the movie’s exterior shots. Quite frankly, I found it unnecessarily dark. The only exterior scenes or shots that featured any bright light were the sequences set in British East Africa and aboard Captain Nemo’s submarine, the Nautilus, while above surface. All other exterior shots were either at night, in the rain or overcast. I have the deepest suspicion that all of this was done to save money on the exterior scenes.
However, despite my complaints or those by the fans were disappointed with the movie’s adaptation, I enjoyed “THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN” very much. Hell, I saw it twice when it first reached the movie theaters, eight years ago. And the moment it was released on DVD, I immediately bought it. It may not have been the perfect adaptation of Alan Moore’s comic series, but I thought that it had a pretty damn good story, thanks to screenwriter James Dale Robinson.
One, I like stories about friends or colleagues that form a team to achieve a goal that involves a great deal of action. For me, “THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN” is like a 19th century forerunner of The Justice League of America or The Avengers. And I have to give credit to Moore for coming up with the idea of using 19th century literary characters as members of the team and the story’s main villain. I found it very innovative. Many fans and critics had complained that with Sean Connery in the role of Allan Quartermain, the latter seemed to dominate the film. I agree that Connery’s Quartermain turned out to be the movie’s main character. But I do not agree that he dominated the movie. The other supporting characters were given a good number of chances to strut their stuff . . . so to speak. If anything, the movie seemed to have a strong, ensemble feel to it. This was especially apparent by the time the Nautilus reached Venice.
Speaking of Venice, the movie seemed to reach a turning point by the time the League reached it. During Nautilus’ voyage between Paris and Venice, the story showcased the numerous conflicts and jealousies that the team seemed to engage, as they became more acquainted with one another. But when forced to work together to foil the Fantom’s plans to destroy Venice, all conflicts were thrown aside and the League worked together as a very effective team. Venice also represented a major plot twist in the story. It is in Venice, when the League discovered a traitor within its midst . . . and the fact that they had been betrayed on a major scale by the Fantom. Personally, I found it to be one of the most satisfying aspects of the movie.
I read an article that Stephen Norrington had a great deal of trouble with Sean Connery and vowed to give up directing. Needless to say that despite the conflict between director and star, the latter gave one of his more poignant performances as the aging hunter who has become disenchanted with the British Empire, after his service to it has caused him so much loss. I was also impressed by Naseeruddin Shah’s portrayal of the intrepid Captain Nemo. He seemed to be the only member of the cast who seemed as commanding as Connery. I also enjoyed Peta Wilson’s performance as the sexy and intelligent vampire, Nina Harker. One of my favorite scenes featured her character’s surprising revelation that she was a vampire. Most people seemed to dismiss Shane West’s portrayal of Tom Sawyer, but I rather enjoyed it. He managed to create a strong chemistry with Connery, and I also found his quiet wit rather endearing. Tony Curran was a blast as Rodney Skinner, gentleman thief and the Invisible Man. He gave a hilarious performance and projected a lot of style for a character that was barely seen. Stuart Townsend seemed to be the epitome of degenerate style and sexuality as the immortal, Dorian Gray. He also had the good luck to spout some of the best lines in the movie. Richard Roxburgh gave an effectively quiet and intense performance as the man who created the League, the mysterious “M”. But as far as I am concerned Jason Flemyng had the best role in the movie as the morally conflicted Dr. Henry Jekyll and his alter ego, the ferocious, misshapen giant, Mr. Edward Hyde. I really enjoyed how he managed to slip back and forth between the two personalities. More importantly, Flemyng did an excellent job in incorporating Hyde’s darkness into Jekyll and the latter’s decency into Hyde with great ease. Well done.
Despite my complaints about Laustsen’s photography of the movie’s exterior shots, I must admit that he did a pretty good job in shooting the film. And Paul Rubell did a first-rate job with his editing – especially in the sequence that featured the League’s attack upon the Fantom’s lair at the Asiatic Artic. I also thought that Jason Barnett and his team did an excellent job in handling the makeup – especially for the Captain Nemo, the Invisible Man and Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde characters. One last aspect of the movie that truly impressed me was Carol Spier’s production designs that nicely captured an alternate or Jules Verne-style take on the late Victorian Age. This was especially apparent in the interior designs for Nemo’s submarine, the Nautilus.
I could recommend that others keep an open mind in watching ”THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN”. Although it does not bear a close resemblance to Alan Moore’s comic series and I am not particularly fond of its dark exterior shots, I must admit that I was impressed by James Dale Robinson’s screenplay, the ensemble cast and some of the production designs. Considering what he had to work with – especially an allegedly difficult leading man – I think that director Stephen Norrington did a solid job in bringing it all together for what I believe to be a very entertaining movie.