"May this new century be yours."—Allan Quatermain (Sean Connery)
Pity poor Alan Moore. Though he's created some of the best comic books in the last twenty years, Hollywood still can't get his adaptations right. The Hughes brothers tried with From Hell, a Jack the Ripper tale starring Johnny Depp that failed to set the box office on fire. Even less impressive by critical standards was The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, based on Moore's story about a team of classic fictional characters (The Invisible Man, the destructive Mr. Hyde, et cetera) fighting to save the world from a common enemy. Like many literary classics, it could be that LXG (as it was known in the promotional ads) will become a rare gem once moviegoers have had some distance for reflection.
Or, maybe not.
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is now available on DVD care of Fox Home Entertainment.
Facts of the Case
It is the turn of the century, 1899. When a masked madman known only as "The Fantom" decides to wage worldwide Armageddon (Germany vs. England! New Zealand vs. Africa! Wisconsin vs. Iowa!), there is only one group of superheroes who can stop him: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. The League is made up of famous characters from classic literature: Mina Harker (Peta Wilson, TV's La Femme Nikita), who had a nasty run in with Count Dracula; Rodney Skinner (Tony Curran, Blade II), AKA The Invisible Man; the aquatic Captain Nemo (Nasseruddin Shah) and his submarine, the Nautilus; Oscar Wilde's immortal Dorian Gray (Stuart Townsend, Queen of the Damned); the mild mannered Dr. Jekyll and destructive Mr. Hyde (Jason Flemyng, Snatch); U.S. spy Tom Sawyer (Shane West, A Walk To Remember); and their leader, the adventurous Allan Quatermain (Sean Connery, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade). From the gondolas and streets of Venice (wait, Venice has streets?) to the snowcaps of Mongolia, it will take the combined efforts of all these unique individuals to thwart the villainous mastermind's plans and save the world for total annihilation.
While watching the documentary on the making of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Sean Connery explains that he was offered roles in both The Matrix and The Lord of the Rings film series. After mulling it over, Connery decided to pass on both projects because he "didn't get them." Obviously sensing his deeply eternal mistake, Connery jumped at the chance at not only acting in but executive producing The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (smelling a franchise opportunity, no doubt), even though once again he didn't "get" the movie. It seems that Mr. Connery's radar was way off course—The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was a general flop upon its release in the summer of 2003. Many factors led to the film's theatrical demise. One may be that a story about classic fiction characters in a superhero movie wasn't appealing to the MTV audience. Or maybe I was the fact that creator Alan Moore's graphic novel was condensed and cropped too heavily. Or, maybe it's just the audiences didn't "get it."
You can't begrudge a movie that tries so hard to entertain as this one does. Even though The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen fails on many levels, entertainment certainly isn't one of them. The movie is loud and obnoxious, but by the gods it's one fun little action flick. Cars fly out of nowhere, giant submarines are blown up, and a man is turned into a beast that makes the Hulk look like Pee Wee Herman. If nothing else you can't say the movie is boring—with all the hullabaloo there isn't time for LXG to become sluggish.
Fans of the comic book will notice some obvious changes to the movie's overall structure. The most glaring is the addition of Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer (Shane West), no doubt included so American audiences will have someone to identify with. Though I'm not familiar with the comic book, I found myself enjoying the movie far more than anticipated. There are glaring holes in the screenplay (streets and graveyards in Venice?) and it seems that just as the movie's about to settle into one place (i.e., Kenya), it jumps up and heads off to the North Pole. Then without a second thought we're off to Kenya again, then Mongolia. It's enough to make even the most seasoned travel agent's head spin. Then there are the action scenes, some of which are a bit of a stretch when it comes to plausibility. Yes, I know I'm watching a movie about classic fictional superheroes saving the world, but I'd still like to be able to buy whatever special effects BS they're selling. And in a few spots I was thinking "no sale." But on the whole I enjoyed what I saw, mostly because I wasn't expecting much.
The acting ranges from good to bad, depending on what point you're at in the movie. As usual, Sean Connery makes for a dependable hero, all rugged scruff and gravel voice. His Alan Quatermain is a cross between James Bond and Indiana Jones—two characters Connery knows a lot about. Shane West as his young protégé Tom Sawyer embodies an all-American can-do spirit, though he's never given quite enough to do on-screen. Peta Wilson smolders as Mina Harker, one of the sexiest vampires to come along in quite some time. Jason Flemyng as Dr. Jekyll is fine, but his performance as Mr. Hyde teeters on slightly laughable. While Hyde himself is neat to look at, he's not particularly scary—just a big, goofy obnoxious oaf. The weakest link in this chain is Tony Curran as the Invisible Man. Curran and the screenplay's attempts at humor with this character often fail, making the story drag whenever he's on screen.
Certainly the movie appears to have been spared no expense when it comes to visual effects. Monsters, mayhem, cars, boats, bats, bombs, bosoms—everything but the kitchen sink has been thrown into the mix. At one point in the movie a car flies around the streets of Venice (ho-ho) as underwater bombs are going off while cities are crumbling and the Nautilus is diving and Mina is turning into a flock of bats and…*phew*! See what I mean? It's like a huge candy store for action fans. Some of the effects are pulled off nicely, while others sometimes show that there truly are limitations to CGI effects (mostly when another character drinks Dr. Jekyll's formula and turns into a super beast himself).
I had a fair amount of fun during this movie. If you go into it expecting Shakespeare (or even Harold Robbins), you'll come out with a sense that you've been in prison and you're the one who dropped the soap in the shower. But if you head into The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen with your brain turned off—don't worry, brushing up on the classic novels isn't necessary—you should have a grand old time.
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. This is a great looking print—in fact, everything about this transfer is great. The film boasts strong colors and black levels. Flesh tones appear evenly rendered without any bleeding in the image. The black levels are dark without any gray tinting. Grain, dirt, and other imperfections were absent. Aside of the slightest amount of edge enhancement, this transfer is near perfect. There is also a full frame version of the film available, but it's not recommended.
The soundtrack is presented in a rollicking Dolby Digital 5.1 mix in English and French (there's also a Dolby 2.0 Spanish track available as well). While watching LXG at the theater this past summer I remember thinking to myself, "this movie is really, really loud!" My expectations were met on my home theater system as well—this is an excellent 5.1 mix. Bombs explode, music swells, gunfire erupts…the sound mixers sure put a lot of work into this track! Both the front and rear speakers are engaged to full effect whenever anything exciting happens on screen. Dialogue, music, and effects are crystal clear without any distortion in the mix. Also included on this disc are English and Spanish subtitles.
It's somewhat of a surprise that Fox included any supplements to this disc considering it didn't do very well theatrically (though it did end up with a sizable chunk of change overseas). The best of the supplements is the nearly hour-long featurette "Assembling the League," broken up into six sections ("Origins," "Attire," "The Nemomobile," "Making Mr. Hyde," "Resurrecting Venice," and "Sinking Venice"). Fans of the film, and maybe even Moore's comic, will find this to be a very intriguing look at the making of the film. Included in this documentary are interviews with various cast and crewmembers, as well as production footage, make-up effects, rare production artwork, and lots of other goodies that will most certainly make fans drool.
Next up are two commentary tracks, though neither Sean Connery nor director Stephen Norrington decided to participate. The first commentary track features producers Don Murphy and Trevor Albert and stars Shane West, Jason Flemyng, and Tony Curran. The second track includes costume designer Jacqueline West, visual effects supervisor John E. Sullivan, make-up effects supervisor Steve Johnson, and miniatures creator Matthew Gratzner. I was surprised to find these commentaries to both be very informative and entertaining. Though the principal actors and crewmembers aren't anywhere to be found, the folks who do pick up the slack do a great job. There is a lot of production information to be found in both commentaries, including funny stories about working with Mr. James Bond, as well as how various shots were achieved and what areas of the film are heavily draped with CGI shots. These commentary tracks are worth a listen if you enjoyed the film.
Twelve deleted and extended scenes are also included, each presented in 2.35:1 non-anamorphic widescreen. Most of these scenes were deservedly cut from the final film. A few of them give a tad bit more background on either the characters or their interaction before the film, though generally speaking they didn't need to be included in the final cut.
Finally, there is a special message from Fox about the dangers of using drugs and driving. Alas, no theatrical trailers or promotional materials are included on this disc.
You won't find the meaning of life in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, but you will find Sean Connery throwing out dialogue like, "If you can't do it with one bullet, don't do it at all." And what's so wrong with that? Fox's work on this disc is very nice—the video and audio portions are absolutely fantastic.
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is worth a look if you missed it in the theaters. Tally ho!
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• Commentary Track with Producers Don Murphy and Trevor Albert and Stars Shane West, Jason Flemyng, and Tony Curran
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