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League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

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  • Noel Vera
    The Mickey Mouse Club Noel Vera I haven t read Alan Moore s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (comic books are an expensive hobby), but I have read enough
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 22, 2003
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      The Mickey Mouse Club

      Noel Vera

      I haven't read Alan Moore's "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen"
      (comic books are an expensive hobby), but I have read enough Moore
      ("Watchmen," "Miracleman," "V for Vendetta" among others) to guess
      that whatever this is, it will probably be sophisticated and
      literate, stuffed to the gills with moral ambiguity.

      I thought my ignorance would be an asset; I thought I could watch
      the movie with few preconceptions (other than that Moore is very
      good), and perhaps give it a better break than did fans of the
      original graphic novel, who reportedly mostly hated it.

      No such luck.

      "League" starts off promisingly enough: it's circa late 19th
      century, and a series of attacks occur in places with enough
      primitive machinery that the appearance of 20th century weapons--
      tanks and automatic rifles, or at least Victorian approximations of
      them--gives you a small tingle. Some supervillain named The Phantom
      is threatening the world, and his extraordinary powers need to be
      countered by a band of just-as-extraordinary champions.

      Then, the process of recruitment: Allen Quatermain (Sean Connery,
      also the film's producer), famous adventurer of H. Rider Haggard's
      novels; Mina Harker (Peta Wilson), victim of Bram Stoker's legendary
      vampire; Dorian Gray (Stewart Townsend, apparently channeling Johnny
      Depp), Oscar Wilde's eponymous anti-hero; Dr. Jekyll (Jason
      Flemyng), Robert Louis Stevenson's tormented scientist; Captain Nemo
      (Naseeruddin Shah), a cheerier version of Jules Verne's submarine
      captain; Rodney Skinner, an invisible man (Tony Curran)--THE
      Invisible Man was unavailable due to copyright restrictions insisted
      on by H.G. Wells' estate; and Tom Sawyer (Shane West), one of Mark
      Twain's most popular characters--included by the filmmakers, or so I
      hear, to appeal to the American audience.

      That last bit of casting already gives you a strong hint that this
      won't be an attempt to capture the spirit of Moore's graphic novel
      so much as it'll be a big-budget special-effects superproduction,
      with the required dumbing down (why waste a big budget on an
      intelligent film?). Hence, the emphasis on automatic gunfire, huge
      explosions (at a time when explosion were probably restricted to
      coal mines, naval battles, and the rare volcanic eruption), CGI
      creature battles, even a car chase through the avenues of Venice
      (WHAT avenues? Venice's rare pavement is mostly crooked alleys and
      dead ends--any car crazy enough to drive through it would quickly
      end up in a canal). Moore, for all I know, may have all those things
      in his book, but he probably threw them in as little detail, meant
      to confirm his revisionist take on classic literature, and not usurp
      the primacy of the main story itself.

      The story itself is complex yet strangely uninvolving, maybe because
      the protagonists are as flat as, well, comic-book characters--
      something Moore's characters (though they do appear in comic books)
      can never be accused of being (the ones that I'm familiar with,
      anyway). Mina bickers with Oscar Wilde; nobody trusts the invisible
      man; Dr. Jekyll looks perennially depressed; Captain Nemo seems
      uncharacteristically optimistic (I miss the dark, brooding figure of
      Verne's novels), and consequently shallow.

      It's all meant to be colorful fun, but neither Norrington nor his
      cast nor James Dale Robinson's script ever capture the sense that
      what you're looking at are the iconoclasts of the late 19th century,
      observers of the waning Victorian age looking at that age's flaws
      and prejudices and unspoken assumptions from a unique vantage point,
      the outside--these people look and sound like your standard-issue X-
      Men, only with a more flowery vocabulary. Connery's Quatermain in
      particular seems indistinguishable from almost every other confident
      iconoclast he's played since winning the Best Supporting Actor Oscar
      for "The Untouchables" (he was just as smugly arrogant in Philip
      Kaufman's "Rising Sun," but there you weren't sure to which side he
      so confidently belonged--the film had a beautiful ambiguity, and a
      stylish sense of menace).

      Even from the point of view of a special-effects
      extravaganza, "League" falls short--Norrington, as he so abundantly
      demonstrated in "Blade," has little feel for evoking wonder with CGI
      effects (who does, nowadays?). His Nautilus is a silver-sabrelike
      beauty, if implausibly large--it should be plowing huge furrows up
      and down the canals of Venice, not sneaking through them--and his
      Mr. Hyde is more entertainingly monstrous than Ang Lee's gamma-ray
      version, but everything and everyone else feels like they never
      really left the drawing board. His action scenes are indifferently
      filmed and incoherently edited (they look as if Mr. Hyde had spliced
      them together), his visual style is as subtle as a music video's (as
      in: none), and his storytelling is clunky and graceless, which
      doesn't help clarify the already complicated plot.

      2003 has not been a good year for summer movies, much less summer
      comic-book movies: "The Matrix Reloaded" was a bore, a loud, large-
      caliber firefight with time out for interminable philosophy
      lectures; "Bad Boys 2" was just loud and large-caliber (and, at one
      hundred forty plus minutes, very long); "Spy Kids 3-D" was okay,
      hardly memorable; "X-Men 2" was also okay, barely
      serviceable; "Pirates of the Caribbean" would be a slog if it wasn't
      for Johnny Depp doing his impression of the late Katherine
      Hepburn; "Terminator 3" is actually okay, solidly made if uninspired
      (and chock full of those unfortunate CGI effects). Of the summer
      movies I've seen this year, the best of a poor lot would be Andrew
      Davis' quirky "Holes," with its refreshingly minimum amount of
      special effects (there's some, mind you, but not as much as most)
      and emphasis on characterization, and Pixar's "Finding Nemo" with
      the charming chemistry between Ellen Degeneres and Albert Brooks as
      lead seafood (irrelevant note: I kept feeling for the character
      Bruce in the picture: everyone but everyone looked delicious).
      Otherwise--nada, nothing, just pure bottom-feeding; "League" only
      helped scrape into the muck an extra inch deeper.

      (First published in Businessworld, 8.15.03)

      (Comments? Please email noelbotevera@...)
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