Film (2003). Twentieth Century Fox. Directed by Stephen Norrington. Written by James Dale Robinson, based on the America's Best Comics Graphic Novel The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Vol. 1 (1999-2000; graph 2000) by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill. Cast includes Sean Connery, Tony Curran, Jason Flemyng, Richard Roxburgh, Naseeruddin Shah, Stuart Townsend, Shane West and Peta Wilson. 110 minutes. Colour.
Made by filmmakers clearly unfamiliar with the nineteenth-century fictional characters it celebrates, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen suggests at moments similar lapses in more – indeed most – general areas such as geography and logic. At the close of the nineteenth century, a masked terrorist called the Fantom foments strife in Europe by raiding national capitals with henchmen costumed as soldiers of rival nations. The organization uses advanced Technology such as machine guns, rocket launchers and tanks in these attacks. The British intelligence service, led by a mysterious "M", gathers together an eccentric group of extraordinary individuals to investigate the Fantom: Allan Quatermain from H Rider Haggard's King Solomon's Mines (1885); Captain Nemo from Jules Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1870); Mina Harker from Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897); the Invisible Man from H G Wells's The Invisible Man (1897); Dorian Gray from Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray (July 1890 Lippincott's Monthly; exp 1891); Tom Sawyer from Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876); and Doctor Henry Jekyll, alias Edward Hyde, from Robert Louis Stevenson's Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886). This League of Extraordinary Gentlemen foils an attempt by the Fantom to destroy Venice, and then unmask him, revealing him to be M, real name James Moriarty (Holmes's nemesis in Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories, 1887 onwards). Moriarty laboriously explains his scheme – to start a war and then become wealthy selling the various secret weapons and technology of the League – before fleeing to Mongolia. The League track and kill him, averting calamity.
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen departs radically from the plot of Moore and O'Neill's Steampunk graphic novel, notably by adding team members Tom Sawyer and Dorian Gray, but the new idea of prematurely instigating World War One is not without interest. However, most of the fun is leached out of Alan Moore's concept of combining the famous characters by the witless script. Whereas the comic offered slyly intelligent riffs on familiar faces, recognizable as the same characters as their literary counterparts, the movie's League share little more than the names and gimmicks of their sources (or in Allan Quatermain's case, not even that, as Haggard's great white hunter is misspelled "Quartermain" throughout the movie). Super-star Connery unbalances the cast, and overall the acting varies from competent to dreadful, as do the special effects. It is generally not considered appropriate for a work of reference to display animus or intolerance to its subjects, but it must be said that this film is so very bad that it is difficult to imagine how it could have got that way accidentally, especially since it is by no means a low-budget project. It is tempting to erect a conspiracy theory to explain this awfulness, particularly notable in the script, but we must make do with reported accidents and tensions on set. [JN/PN]
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