Guilty pleasures: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen


The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen is based on the comic book by Alan Moore (writer) and Kevin O’Neill (artist). Briefly, a team of literary heroes from well known works is assembled in a steampunk version of 1899 by “M”, head of Britain’s Secret Service. Their mission is to foil the dastardly machinations of The Fantom to provoke war among the Great Powers of Europe. However, “M” is really both Moriarity and the Fantom (who knew?), and he hopes to mine the unique abilities of the League members to create his own criminal versions of them.

Production on the film was famously troubled. Sean Connery, who plays Allan Quatermain, was an executive producer. After turning down The Matrix and The Lord Of The Rings because he didn’t “get” them, he took this, afraid to miss the boat with another blockbuster. He obviously thought it would be a successful franchise. However, he clashed with the director Stephen Norrington, frustrated by his working method and slow pace. Allegedly, Norrington once shut down a day’s production because a prop didn’t look right. Connery said “On the first day I realised he was insane“. But he knew if he walked off set the film would never restart.

Norrington, for his part, was annoyed by Connery’s interference in the editing process, allegedly saying to him “I’m sick of it! Come on, I want you to puch me in the face!” Sadly, I don’t think we’ll ever know if blows were exchanged.

Two months of winter night shoots in Prague, doubling for London and Venice, didn’t help matters. Especially when large expensive sets were flooded and had to rebuilt from scratch. Norrington wasn’t given any extra time by the studio, so the production soon became a rushed, botched job. Connery was left to field awkward questions alone at the premiere, just as he was with The Avengers. When asked where the director was he snapped “Try the local asylum.”

The script went though twenty different drafts and “serious plot changes”, according to producer Don Murphy. Connery refused to portray Quartermain as an opium addict, as in the source material. His character instead became a reclusive mythical hero in Kenya, recalled to adventure like an old Tiger. As the biggest star he became the de facto leader of the group and a young sidekick was controversially introduced as a surrogate son, American special agent Tom Sawyer (Shane West). Sawyer’s presence doesn’t make sense as he is a young man here. The Tom Sawyer stories were set around 1860. However, West’s performance is likeable enough, bringing a youthful new world energy to the tale. Some unkind souls might say however he is to blame for the idea of adding Mutt to the last Indiana Jones film.

More changes were made, to the chagrin of Alan Moore. Dorian Grey (Stuart Townsend) is an interesting addition to The League, as a narcissitic, immortal snake in the grass. He gets one of the best lines after he stabs Mina Harker (Peta Wilson) on the bed –“I always thought I’d get to nail you one more time. I didn’t think it would be literally.” Of course, being a vampire (another change!) she doesn’t take this lying down. She pins him to the wall with his sword stick  and forces him to confront his corrupted portrait.

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The Invisible Man (Tony Curran) is imaginatively portrayed via special effects and Curran in white cream make-up as a roguish cockney chancer, who stole the invisibility formula. The producers were unable to secure the rights to H.G.Wells’ character.

Nemo (Naseeruddin Shah) is the “Q” of the group, having all the nifty gadgets like the Nautilus and the visually striking Nautmobile car, of which two were made, one still running, although not legally roadworthy.

Nemo is certainly underwritten, in the shadow of Connery’s character, but he does have some great martial arts fights. Finally, Jason Flemyng rounds out The League as Jekyll / Hyde. Hyde, unfortunately, is ridiculous, but he is actually faithful in appearance to the comic original, so the film can’t be blamed for that. When first introduced he has been mistaken as an ape terrorising the rooftops of Paris, in a nod to The Murders In The Rue Morgue.

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For all the razzle – dazzle, quick cutting sound and fury, the film has a great premise, impeccable production design and interesting characters who mostly spark off each other in tried and tested ways. It’s just a shame the plot is rather lame, although there’s always an action scene around the corner if you start to get bored (and if you can make out what is happening in the gloom). There are some terrible gaffs, such as the Nemo able to submerge and laughably traverse Venice’s canal systems, rising beneath a bridge. and Nemo’s car whizzing around roads(?!) in Venice also. In the comic Moriarity has The League retrieve a mcguffin called Cavorite with which he plans to build an airship to bomb Sherlock Holmes’s flat. This would not work as well on screen, but try telling Alan Moore that.

This was the film that swore Alan Moore off putting his name to any further adaptations of his work. The delays and clashes on set soured film-making for Connery too, this was to be his last live action performance. He still does voice over work though.

Although critically panned, LXG is still a watchable variation on the team on a mission movie. It is simple fun, not “complicated” as Dorian Grey describes himself to a goon. If you go with the flow and just enjoy it, it’s a fun ride through an alternative world. Despite the film’s failure, 20th Century Fox is determined to breath new life into the concept. According to Deadline, they have ordered a pilot TV show from executive producer Michael Green (Heroes, Smallville).

Originally posted 2013-08-31 11:43:00. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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