ZERO STARS/**** Image A- Sound A Extras B+
starring Sean Connery, Naseeruddin Shah, Peta Wilson, Tony Curran
screenplay by James Dale Robinson, based on the comic books by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill
directed by Stephen Norrington
by Walter Chaw Though I'm a fan of Alan Moore, it's pointless to address the myriad departures made by the cinematic adaptation of his graphic novel The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen--doing so would not only take too much time, but also miss the point entirely. Stephen Norrington's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen isn't appallingly bad only because it departs completely from its source material, but rather because it's a work of extreme cynicism and incompetence on every appreciable level, too. Five minutes into the film, a steam-powered tank has already stormed its way into a London bank (demonstrating a technical superiority for the bad guys that instantly invalidates the main conflict of the film) and a German zeppelin factory has gone the way of the Hindenberg--both scenes marked carefully by unhelpful title cards (London 1899; Germany 1899) that become something of an unintentional running joke, the only vaguely amusing thing to follow in what amounts to one of the most painful experiences to be had this year short of dental surgery, an Andrew Lloyd Weber revival-in-the-round, or getting stabbed in the eye with a knitting needle.
Legendary adventurer Allan Quatermain (Sean Connery, Quatermain spelled correctly in the credits but not so throughout the film) is recruited out of retirement by mysterious M (Richard Roxburgh) to join the titular freedom-fighting league that also includes Mina Harker (Peta Wilson, woefully miscast as a diminutive Victorian lady), Rodney Skinner the invisible man (Tony Curran, his character's name changed due to some falderal with H.G. Wells's estate), Tom Sawyer (Shane West), Dorian Gray (Stuart Townsend), Dr. Jekyll (Jason Flemyng), and Captain Nemo (Naseeruddin Shah).
Because Norrington and hack extraordinaire, screenwriter James Robinson, think their audience is composed entirely of screaming idiots (trenchant warning for those literary-minded readers of the graphic novel), the dialogue almost completely consists of flaccid attempts at establishing some sort of narrative and providing footnotes along the lines of "I'm Mina Harker--my husband Jonathan Harker and I, and a professor named Van Helsing, hunted a great evil. A great evil named Dracula. He was from Transylvania." Worse, when the crew find themselves in a nighttime Venice (things generally occur at night in this film, in a transparent attempt to camouflage the godawful CGI background mattes) and a character calls out, "Hurry up, we need to find the bomb," the only response is first the very reasonable, "What bomb?"--followed by the sad realization that they're going to have a hard time finding this bomb because they're all starring in it.
The central conceit of the picture, that these disparate misfits should band together to stop something called a "World War," is given a glancing look in deference to the strait-jacket constraint of the superspy/evil genius formula, all of it lent an air of the ironic when much of the purely hypothetical audience for this movie not only knows that there have been two World Wars since 1899, but something like a hundred James Bond movies. The action is spastic and impossible to follow and so Norrington, logically, twice stages three separate incomprehensible fights simultaneously (in the proud George Lucas tradition) so as to induce nausea and intense irritation. Whenever Mina becomes a vampire (forgiving first that she is overtly a vampire and next that she is ever anything besides a vampire), her transformation is inexplicably accompanied by a massive colony of bats; Dorian Gray is both immortal and invulnerable; although Captain Nemo dubs his invention of a roadster "an automobile," everyone promptly calls it a "car;" and Mr. Hyde looks just like a small Welsh actor in a blow-up rubber suit. The special effects are all dreadful--a fact exacerbated by their unforgivable lack of continuity. To wit, after Gray gets riddled with bullets and regenerates, his shirt, oddly enough, regenerates, too, while the problems with the Invisible Man animation are numerous and exhausting.
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen isn't good by any possible measure of quality. It's a snarky, self-knowing, self-hating film that instantly alienates reasonably intelligent people by being condescending (and apparently written by that sign-language chimp) before proceeding to alienate breathtakingly thick people by having the temerity to feature characters from non-Oprah-approved books. It is so terrible that it deserves mention with such classics of "I Want My Money Back Theater" as Wild Wild West and that other Connery standard, The Avengers--cementing my long-held belief that Connery is just the Scottish Burt Reynolds with, until the last twenty years or so, a slightly better agent. The picture is punitive, garish, and loutish, a flyblown corpse of an idea pocked by its constant explosions and battered by its dialogue and imperceptible performances. I've seen worse films than The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, of course--worse in 2003, even. But the bottom is ultimately just the bottom, and when you get this close to the absolute nadir of cinema, subtle measures of relative merit just don't mean much anymore. Originally published: July 11, 2003.
by Bill Chambers Considering that every quasi-blockbuster gets a two-disc set nowadays, Fox acquires a measure of humility by devoting only a single platter to their embarrassment The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. The 2.37:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer suffers in comparison to other recent releases from the studio (X2 especially), but I have a feeling that Dan Laustsen's cinematography presented telecine operators with a weak base coat. Shadow detail is all over the map and there's a dreary colour scheme to the film that could've been finessed to at least look stylish. There's also an intermittent softness that seems, in addition to patches of frozen grain, to be the manifestation of compression artifacts. (On second thought, maybe a bonus disc was in order to keep the image uncompromised.) The situation is much better on the audio front: The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is probably the third-best of the year in the Dolby format (after Finding Nemo and Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines)--a moment in which you hear guns being cocked in every corner of the room on the Tomb Raider 2 disc (review forthcoming) is magnificently, if anachronistically, expanded upon here to become a gimmick in any scene involving artillery, while the bass from Nemo's Nautilus is almost intense enough to make you sick. A perverse compliment, I know.
Extras include two film-length commentary tracks. Both patchwork quilts that manage to stay somewhat screen-specific, the first features producers Don Murphy and Trevor Albert and actors Tony Curran (who does the obligatory Sean Connery impersonation), Jason Flemyng, and everybody's favourite FFC interviewee Shane West, the second costume designer Jacqueline West (who does the obligatory Sean Connery swooning), visual effects supervisor John E. Sullivan, make-up effects designer Steve Johnson, and miniature effects supervisor Matthew Gratzner. Murphy is predictably obnoxious, particularly when addressing nitpickers of the film (he thinks "Or was she?" sufficiently addresses the purist complaint that Mina Harker was cured of vampirism in Bram Stoker's novel), and even though he can identify the subject of every last portrait in "M"'s study, he fails, perhaps intentionally, to point out that "Quatermain" is misspelled on an epitaph early in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
Claiming to have read "about ten of the fifty" books referenced in Alan Moore's graphic novel, Murphy pops up in "Assembling the League," a section of six Keith Clark-helmed featurettes (with Play All function)--"Origins" (10 mins.), "Attire" (7 mins.), "Nemomobile" (5 mins.), "Making Mr. Hyde" (14 mins.), "Resurrecting Venice" (8 mins.), "Sinking Venice" (10 mins.)--that cover the Prague production through a mixture of talking heads and B-roll footage overlaid with tasteful, comics-style trivia balloons. The piece on the Hyde costume (designed by Johnson, a Rick Baker protégé) is probably the most enlightening, since the character looks CGI more often than not. Despite appearing on camera (in one instance, as Connery's stand-in), Norrington does not lend any observations to these segments--he sat out the Blade DVD as well, and by all accounts the shoot for that film went a lot smoother, so his non-participation hardly comes as a surprise. Twelve thoroughly flavourless deleted or extended scenes and the anti-pot PSA from the X2 DVD round out the platter, which is packaged in a grey keepcase. Pan-and-scan (i.e., fullscreen) version sold separately. Originally published: November 26, 2003.