Combustible Celluloid
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With: Sean Connery, Naseeruddin Shah, Peta Wilson, Tony Curran, Stuart Townsend, Shane West, Jason Flemyng, Richard Roxburgh, Max Ryan, Tom Goodman-Hill, David Hemmings, Terry O'Neill, Rudolf Pellar, Robert Willox
Written by: James Dale Robinson, based on comic books created by Alan Moore, Kevin O'Neill
Directed by: Stephen Norrington
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of fantasy violence, language and innuendo
Running Time: 110
Date: 07/11/2003

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003)

1 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Minor 'League'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Though The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is based on a graphic novel, the characters contained therein come from classic literature.

How often does one get a summer action movie based on H. Rider Haggard ("King Solomon's Mines"), Robert Louis Stevenson ("The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde"), Bram Stoker ("Dracula"), Jules Verne ("20,000 Leagues Under the Sea"), H.G. Wells ("The Invisible Man") and Oscar Wilde ("The Picture of Dorian Gray")?

There's only one way to screw this up, and the filmmakers behind The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen have found it. They assume that we viewers have absolutely no knowledge of these characters whatsoever, that we're basically walking tree stumps.

And so director Stephen Norrington (Blade) and screenwriter James Dale Robinson spend the first half of the film introducing us to these characters, and explaining who they are and describing what they do and what they've done and what they think, which leaves nothing whatsoever for the audience to discover.

The story begins in the year 1899 when a mysterious benefactor known as "M" (Richard Roxburgh) assembles our crew. The experienced great white hunter Allan Quatermain (Sean Connery) assumes command. Captain Nemo (Naseeruddin Shah) joins in, followed by vampire Mina Harker (Peta Wilson), the new Invisible Man, Rodney Skinner (Tony Curran), the immortal Dorian Gray (Stuart Townsend) and the Hulk-like Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde (Jason Flemyng).

And as if to further imply how stupid we are, the filmmakers throw in Tom Sawyer (Shane West), a handsome young American, to help with box office appeal. Sawyer was not in Alan Moore's original graphic novel, and he bears very little resemblance to the Mark Twain version; he's more like a typical American pretty-boy nitwit. The filmmakers seem to have picked him at random without really knowing anything about him.

Only Quatermain has any kind of character depth to chew on, and it consists of this: he didn't get along properly with his son. It's basically the same simpleminded psychological makeup Claire Danes has in Terminator 3 (except the other way around).

After sucking the life from their characters, the filmmakers plunk them into Captain Nemo's gigantic submarine, the Nautilus, and give them even more time to constantly chatter with one another. The characters are forever wandering around the endless corridors, and always happen upon each other at the most revealing and opportune moments.

Finally they get to do something: a nasty bad guy is trying to take over the world using complex weaponry, and the League has to stop him. Also, one of the League is actually a traitor, and if you take one second to consider which one would take the coolest special effects to kill, it's not hard to figure out.

For the rest of the film, all the characters try to out-cool each other, and each spits out the most ruthlessly stupid dialogue in ages. It actually sounds like little kids playing with plastic action figures -- "The enemy is mine!! Ha ha!!"

You might think this sounds good for the little kids, but even little kids want to be excited and challenged. This is a plot they could figure out for themselves for free at home.

It gets even worse, though. The action scenes shake and cough in order to cover up the half-baked CGI effects. And the film abounds with strange continuity errors, from the Invisible Man's shifting makeup to Mina's primping in a compact (she's a vampire), to Nemo's enormous submarine Nautilus navigating the narrow Venice waterways with no trouble.

At first I hoped that the Quatermain character would hold some interest. Coming from H. Rider Haggard's novel, he's one of the original prototypes for Indiana Jones. Not to mention that Connery actually has experience in that arena playing Indy's father. But it's all wasted.

Then, I was at least hoping that Norrington could deliver another scrappy, enjoyable "B" movie like his 1998 vampire flick Blade, but it's too big and stupid and clumsy to qualify for that category.

In an effort to say something nice, however, I will compliment the film for its beautiful set design. There's nothing like watching action heroes meet in one of those big libraries with the rolling ladder. Maybe if there were some way for audiences to check out the books on the shelves, then we would have had something.

DVD Details: Fox's DVD comes with two audio commentary tracks, deleted scenes, and a making-of documentary.

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