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August 12th, 2003


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06:39 am - The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
You know, it's a shame because with its pointless action sequences, horribly inane one-liners masquerading as dialogue, cheap special effects budget and unusual enough premise, LXG or whatever could have been a decently mediocre summer action vehicle.

If only there wasn't such an incredibly creative and unique publication that it co-opted in order to happen.

I mean, on the one hand, I gotta respect Alan Moore. He comes up with amazing stories, wonderfully written and expertly researched, then he sells the movie rights away for a wheelbarrow full of sterling silver or something, says "Right lads, that's it for me, have fun with it" and goes back to his writer's garrett and comes up with another good story. His genius has already been realized; it's there on paper for us to read and enjoy. What the buyer does with it in other forms of media, he reasons, is none of his concern. And it must be absolutely lovely to be able to shake off the unwholesome burden of ex-post-facto artistic integrity and go on living with as little outrage as possible, because what the hell does he really care in the end, anyway? It's not his name on the film project.

I don't mean that facetiously or sarcastically, because it's rare that someone is able to reconcile that conflict, deposit the check, and continue writing, and I'm glad Mr. Moore can. I really am. However, those of us who would have loved to have seen a faithful screen adaptation of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen end up disappointed and left with an inferior product. I mean what I said in the first paragraph. I mean (yay! time for some historical what-if of my own!) the film would've been a passable mindless summer big-badda-boom feature if the comic series hadn't existed, and the film came about just because some twonk in Hollywood said "Hey, I got an idea! let's make a summer action movie featuring some of the great literary adventure figures in history -- like Captain Nemo, and Tom Sawyer, and that Jekyll and Hyde guy -- we can set it in Victorian times, and they can fight Professor Moriarty and his evil army of metal-plated shocktroopers."

(Well, okay, if that had happened, I bet it wouldn't have been greenlit. "Dorian who? A chick from Dracula, and not Dracula himself? Good god, Albertson, do you really expect our demographic to be reading and reading books with no pictures? Clean out your desk and surrender your cellphone earpiece to my secretary. You'll never brainstorm in this town again.")

But no, there was the comic series, and so Hollywood goes "Oh! Comic book! We done those before. Yay Spider-Man! Yay Superman! Yay ... hey, what the fuck, man? These characters -- these so-called 'good guys'... they're not so good! They've actually got real problems? What's our Invisible Man hero doing in the girls' schoo-- oh now we can't do that." And Sean Connery, who is executive producer and pretty much the only man in current cinema who could play Allan Quartermain, reads the project and says "Oh theresh no bloody way I'll play an opium addict, I've got to be the good guy!"

And so the treatment is written, gets rewritten and rewritten and edited and adjusted and boiled off and pretty soon what's left to shoot in no way resembles the original material. At least this film, however, clearly states at the very beginning that it's not the graphic novel at all -- it's an entirely different story, entirely different idea, not even steampunk at all, and the only resemblance it bears to the graphic novel is that it is set in The Past and some of the people in the movie have the same names as some of the people in the graphic novel. I can appreciate and accept its honesty, but unfortunately, the film does so with some extremely clunky exposition. It pretty much goes like this:

ENVOY FROM BRITAIN
Allan Quartermain, your country needs you.

ALLAN QUARTERMAIN
what

ENVOY FROM BRITAIN
There is a danger to our country, to all of Europe,
that is so great it could be real bad. We need you
to be part of a group of extraordinary persons we're
assembling to fight this danger.


At this point someone in the audience behind me went "pbbbbbbbth!" real loudly. In fact, it was the first of many "pbbbbbbth!" moments throughout the film from the entire audience. (This is also the point where I stop trying to point out why the film is different than the graphic novel, because that's pretty much been established. Now I have to try and take the film on its own merits, and am finding it impossibly hard to do.)

Ok, so we have Quartermain, who's just a beefy, albeit aging, action hero who pops out witty one-liners as he does battle with the baddies (sample: he breaks a full bottle of whisky over a bad guy's head, then looks at the shards and says "What a waste." Cut to next shot!) He's likable and spry yet (OH MY GOSH CONFLICTED) mourns the loss of almost everything near and dear to him, including a son -- which is why, as you can probably guess, he takes the youthful Tom Sawyer under his wing.

Sawyer, of course, is all grown up and part of the American Secret Service, so it's anybody's guess as to why he's involved in an overseas operation. (The Secret Service at that time was mainly committed to catching counterfeiters and domestic "fraud against the US Government" cases, with a little presidential protection on the side. Though Tom does admit that "if war breaks out in Europe it's only a matter of time before it'll cross the Atlantic." But still -- that's not fraud!) He's a genial, likable fellow with a sorta-Missouri accent, and, to the screenwriter's credit, he says absolutely NOTHING along the lines of "Call that tough? Why, back when I was a young boy in Missourah..." I was dreading something like that but got nothing like that. That at least was pleasant and refreshing. I don't know much about Shane West other than some initial IMDB research. IMDB sez he's been in nothing I've seen, including a made-for-TV adaptation of "The Westing Game", one of the coolest kids' books ever -- said adaptation, however, according to IMDB, pretty much sucked. Oh sigh. Should I be jaded at this point?

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde share a body and while the trick of having them talk to each other through mirrors is intriguing, the idea that Jekyll can simply drink a magic potion, POOF become Hyde, run around for a while being all tough and stuff and then POOF back to normal is rather a matter of contrived convenience. Hyde only is out of control at the beginning, when the League tries to capture/recruit him, and all it takes is a few words from Quartermain about serving Queen and Country (and a full pardon for past crimes) and Hyde goes "Okay, I'll calm down." And calm down he does. Oh, sure, there are several scenes when Hyde torments Jekyll, hollering "let me out!" and stuff, but when he's let out, he's in control. He doesn't go apeshit and rampage all over the place like a berzerker. In one instance he gets Jekyll to change simply so he can save the day. That kind of control was rather dull, I thought. Hyde's supposed to be unpredictable and here he just becomes Insta-Hulk for Smashy What Needs Smashing. I was also semi-impressed by the Hyde makeup, even when it was painfully obvious we were watching plastic and rubber prosthetics, but that was before a bad guy gets ahold of a LOT of magical Hyde potion, gulps it down, and turns into this gigantic mass of 'roid rage three times the size of Hyde himself, with raging red face, veins sticking out everywhere, and a mass of wallop. Then I realized THAT'S what our Hyde should've looked like all along.

Mina Harker, being the wife of Jonathan "Oh My Gosh There's A Vampire At My Neck" Harker, gets to be a vampire herself and go all red-eyed and bloodthirsty and stuff while still playing things very coolly and detached. That was pretty decent. Peta Wilson does a pretty good job of this (her first vampire attack was pretty cool) and only veers off into the campy a few times. (Her snarling "Save your bullets, these men are MINE!" during the chase scene in Venice was another "pbbbbbbbth!" moment.)

Dorian Gray, as comes as no surprise to anyone, is nothing but camp. At one point he even gets to say "Guh-rowl." when prompted. I don't know why Oscar Wilde's good name got dragged into this, as I don't remember him giving Dorian Gray the power of Nigh-Invulnerability, but there you go. He does get one decent line, and that's when he and Mina get into a fight (oh by the way, OH MY GOSH THEY ONCE WERE LOVERS, there's your Conflict for the two) and, as both are Nigh-Invulnerable, he resignedly sighs something along the lines of "We'll be here all day." That worked.

On the other hand, the Invisible Man clocking baddies on the head and saying "Night-night!" didn't. Also, while on board the Nautilus he's suspected of being a spy for the bad guys because, all together now, OH MY GOSH THINGS ARE MISSING AND I DIDN'T SEE IT HAPPEN, SO IT MUST BE THE INVISIBLE GUY. But there's no confrontation, nobody outright accuses him and he's not given a chance to explain himself or clear his name. Only until after we find out who the real spy is (sup Dorian) does the Invisible Man reappear, as it were, and even then his "Hey guys, see, I told you I wasn't a spy" is delivered to Captain Nemo via Morse code. Yawn.

Captain Nemo's conflict, it seems, is that OH MY GOSH HE MAY OR MAY NOT HAVE BEEN A PIRATE AND HE WORSHIPS THE GODDESS OF DEATH. Nothing more comes from this, however, and he's never confronted with this nor redeemed in any way. But he does have the Nautilus, the gargantuan submarine that's huge (and apparently a shapeshifter, as it navigates Venice's narrow twisty canals with almost no problem whatsoever, and can even surface in them despite being as big as an ocean liner) and manned by an infinite number of turbanned seamen. Plus a first mate who, when introduced, says "Call me Ishmael." (That's another literary reference for the book-larned among us.) But what's odd is that Moriarty's Nefarious Plot involves stealing bits of the League so that he may clone them, for lack of better idea, and make his own army of bad guys. So he steals some of the Invisible Dude's skin, and one of Jekyll's magic potions, and as for Nemo? He steals "Nemo's science" and he does that pathetically, by getting pictures of the bridge of the Nautilus. But it was already established that Mina was the chemist, the scientific one. (Moriarty samples her blood, as if becoming a vampire was harder than anybody thought. Why not just go up to an existing vampire and say "Hey, gimme the Lestat treatment" or something?)

Am I missing anybody? Probably. I don't really care. It was nice to see Moriarty act as "The Phantom" before being unmasked; you can guess he was meant to be the Phantom of the Opera or somesuch, what with a bizarre hybrid French/everything else accent and the mask and horrid melted face makeup. Moriarty also goes through several accent changes afterwards, which I don't think was intentional -- in one bit as he goads the good guys on, he has this marvelous Vincent Price-like intonation going on which I thought was pretty good. Yet, by the end of the film, during his final confrontation with Quartermain, he slips into some horrible Cockney-like thing that really didn't work. He should've been Vincent Price the entire time, really.

Oh, yes, and the ending. You can finish reading now if you don't want to know about the ending, because it came thiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiis close to fucking infuriating me beyond all belief.

See, Quartermain and Moriarty get into a big fight as Moriarty's super secret hideout crumbles into flames and ruin. And Moriarty gets Quartermain in a big way, stabbing him and making his escape. Tom Sawyer rushes in and gets to shoot Moriarty from a zillion yards away, completing the father/son arc that started when Quartermain gave Sawyer shootin' lessons earlier. Okay. That's all right, if a bit predictable.

After Moriarty goes down, Quartermain dies. Yep. He's old and he's mortally wounded and off he goes. I thought that was pretty interesting and a strong hint that there's really no sequel to be had unless you want it Connery-less. (At this point I wouldn't care.) I was actually quite impressed that they had the moxie to kill off the main character at the end.

But then we cut to Quartermain's funeral in Africa. It was mentioned earlier in the film that Quartermain had saved an entire African village from some kind of peril or another, and the local witch doctor had blessed Quartermain, saying that "Africa would not let him die." Or somesuch nonsense -- the point here being that Quartermain was supposedly immortal as long as he was in Africa. However, now that he's dead and buried and whatnot, the League pay their last respects, Sawyer leaves a rifle on the grave, and they all head on off ... but what's this?

A witch doctor is dancing around the grave, working some kind of mojo around the pile of dirt. "Oh, no," I said quite loudly. "Don't you DARE. Don't you fucking dare."

Mr. Witch Doctor sets fire to something and amazingly enough, a bunch of thunderclouds roll on in. It looks like the opening credits for Survivor: Africa, if you remember that. And a storm starts to brew. Mr. Witch Doctor dances around some more. "DON'T YOU FUCKING DARE!!" I seethe. He raises his arms. We cut to the shot of the rifle laying on the grave mound. There is a sudden clap of thunder...

Blackout. Up roll the credits.

Well, at least they didn't resurrect Quartermain. At least, not in the shot. But you know they're gonna.

That resurrection shot will most likely be the first shot of LXG 2: Return To The Nautilus or something.

If there's one thing Alan Moore's writing has taught me, it's to never be afraid to show your good guy in a bad light -- or to kill your good guy off. For good. Unfortunately sequel-driven movie economies can't take that risk, can they? Because Lord knows the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen film was such a smashing and rousing success -- financially (it's yet to turn a profit from its domestic release, though I'm not sure of its overseas box office -- and there's always video and DVD) critically (only a 19% favorable rating as calculated by Rotten Tomatoes!) and, well, narratively (see ALL THOSE WORDS I JUST WROTE) -- that everybody's just dying for them to do it again.

Did I mention the car chase in 1899 Venice? (Or the fact that Tom Sawyer, never having seen one of these newfangled devices before, hops behind the wheel and does some fancy stunt-driving?) Or did I mention the laughable transitional titles on the screen? (Title: "PARIS". Then a shot of the Eiffel Tower for, as we all know, you can't have a film set in Paris without at least one shot of the Eiffel Tower.) Or the fact that while Quartermain admonishes Sawyer for shooting "the American way -- with lots of bullets and not hitting anything", that Moriarty's most decidedly European troopers do the exact same thing? Or ... or ... or ...

Okay, I know when I'm licked. I'm going back to my splendid hardcover graphic novel now, and I'm going to read it, and thanks to some revisionist tendencies in my head a la Highlander 2, I'm going to say things like "This is a great book. Wouldn't it be nice if, one day, they made a movie out of it..."

(4 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


[User Picture]
From:fourcoffees
Date:August 12th, 2003 03:48 pm (UTC)
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Sean Connery, who is executive producer and pretty much the only man in current cinema who could play Allan Quartermain

Surely you forgot about CHRISTOPHER LEE!!!

(I'd make that blink and drip blood if I could)
[User Picture]
From:derspatchel
Date:August 12th, 2003 04:17 pm (UTC)
(Link)
As the emaciated opium addict Quartermain, sure. I'd give you that, and I bet Mr. Lee would look smashing in a pith helmet and khakis with an elephant gun by his side.

But as the rip-snortin "Watch me be all super-cool an' tuff" Allan Quartermain with a wink and a grin for the ladies, well. That's Connery's department.
[User Picture]
From:fourcoffees
Date:August 12th, 2003 04:19 pm (UTC)
(Link)
That's correct, but only one of those images is true to the comic.

Anyway, thanks for the review; it only confirms again that I needn't bother.
[User Picture]
From:isquiesque
Date:August 14th, 2003 04:08 pm (UTC)

You come highly recommended...

(Link)
...and didn't disappoint. kizlj and aussie_nyc visited last weekend and were both shocked that I didn't have you on my friends list, and told me that I must add you immediately. Glad I did. Great post.

I enjoyed the movie, but only because I (a) didn't expect much and (b) hadn't read the graphic novel and a distant (c) that there were a couple of attractive guys in it. I wouldn't say it was fantastic or anything, but I didn't feel too cheated. I saw the matinee, which helped in that regard.

I think I should make a point of not reading any literature until it's been made into a movie, so that I can see the movie first, not be disappointed, then read the book and be blown away. It's more fun that way.

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