The ZONE genre worldwide books movies
the science fiction
fantasy horror &
mystery website
 
 
home  articles  profiles  interviews  essays  books  movies  competitions  guidelines  issues  links  archives  contributors  email

The League oF Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003)
Director: Stephen Norrington

review by Paul Higson

It would appear I am going to have to accept the downgrading of the horror genre. In 1981 Amicus proudly announced the first horror film for the agreeing family with The Monster Club, when all they had to do was wait 20 years and see most of their catalogue move to DVD on a PG. The House That Dripped Blood was always anaemic and Dr Terror's House Of Horrors is so embarrassed its fibbed horribly of being a 15 in some of the adverts. Steven Spielberg's films should now all be granted a 'U' rating as he always seemed to be rated on an entirely different certification system from everyone else in the United Kingdom; Jaws was originally granted an 'A' certificate despite the nude bathing, body parts, gushing blood and jolts. In a few short years R.L. Stine and Buffy have reassessed what is horrific to children, and the urgency to catch the viewing public's attention has spiralled into the newly acceptable arriving on both sides of the Atlantic. Even so, there is something bothersome knowing there is a movie featuring Mina Harker, Dorian Gray, the Invisible Man and Messrs Jekyll and Hyde, and that it only warrants a 12A. What is the world coming to? Of course, one also assumes that on delivery to the BBFC it was accompanied by a note that read, 'This being a major studio production please rate it using the Spielberg criteria, the one that uses a 12A as it's roof.'
   The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen has moments of horror that would get the nobody-directors of old, Don Jones, Paul Leder or S.F. Brownrigg, an 18 rating, perhaps even now. The Jekyll to Hyde metamorphosis is uncomfortably done in and out by jolts, more unsettling still when done under water. A Hyde Mark II, one of the arch villain's henchmen, Dante (Max Ryan), is more horrifying, an angry red mask atop a distorted, elephantine body. Yes, please, shove this in the face of youngsters and give them the night quakes (or am I just miffed because it was the now PG, Dr Terror's House of Horrors that, when I was a youngster, gave me the nightmare of being chased by a hand). A disintegration scene matches that from the Hammer Dracula of 1958 and those of the original Evil Dead, a frightening collapse the awfulness of which can be seen in the face of both of the characters present, the one terrified at their imminent fate, the second by a range of emotions; seeing a former lover fall to such a terrible fate, the surprise realisation of and responsibility for what she had done, and how she too may is likely to meet an almost identical end one day. Add to this, Mina's first bite. It is an awesomely erotic moment. She turns away from the League upon completion of the act, shy of the details of her extraordinariness, living disgusted with herself, knowing how wrong it is, even if her heroic company is comprised chiefly of villains. The director, Stephen Norrington, had displayed a deceptively comfortable skill in his prior film Blade, and he knows the vampire very well, perhaps a few leftover details carried over to add to Mina's character.
   The League, as foresaid, is made up mostly of literary mischief makers, and a twist in the tale both makes sense and cancels the wrongness in it at the same time. For instance, why would some invisible body (no, not Rodney Skinner) seek the assistance of rogues to save the British Empire? Structurally, it has a lot in common with the X-Men film, with decent introductions given to the members of the League, yet going one step further, for the story is divided between them all. The presence of Sean Connery as Allan Quatermain and a token American, Tom Sawyer, played by Shane West, are never allowed to dominate, in fact are almost allowed to slip into the background. The American is ridiculed. "I know how to shoot."
   "Oh, I saw... very American, fire enough bullets and hope they hit the target." The technical, martial, chemical and supernatural abilities of Jekyll (Jason Flemying), Harker (Peta Wilson), Gray (Stuart Townsend), Captain Nemo (Naseeruddin Shah) and Rodney Skinner, the Invisible Man (Tony Curran) have incredible drawing power, which in a way is unusual, as all these fiends have been visited before so frequently. It is a terrifically calculated affair. We flip between the characters like they are in episodes of a soap at which the seven interact wonderfully. And to the brew is added mystery, not only the identity of a villain and what his overall scheme may be, but the suspicion that there is a traitor in the fold and who that might be.
   Plot-wise I don't need to go there any more than I have already, but there is mystery, there are twists, there is a story, there is character and there is imagination, action and spectacle. The Nautilus is of an outrageous size and has only limited access through the canals of Venice, their first destination, the first mission date of our incredible troupe. Naturally, the League is supplemented by the crew of the Nautilus the drones of Nemo. Here the captain is presented as the cool and unintentionally hilarious turbaned Indian with kung fu-come-Cossack fighting traits. Those swing kicks are undeniably extraordinary. The production design ranges from the dusty to the pristine, the uneven skyline and crumbling streets of London, dusty and decaying interiors, the rich décor and the pristine unique corridors of the Nautilus; all the responsibility of Carol Spier, the ever dependable production designer best known for her work with David Cronenberg over the years.
   There are niggles, from the very outset, a series of them. We want to study the details of the city and they run fat disagreeable introductory titles over them. They are disagreeable because they claim that in 1899 the world was entering a new mechanical industrial age when in the real world all the real great and impressive achievements had been accomplished by that year, by the British, we become concerned that an American studio is again to remove British pioneers of their crowning achievements. This is a fantasy version of the world though, in which Venice nearly collapses and in which the few heroic characters that are still human in all their traits escape and survive the most preposterous acts of heroism. The Venice episode seems initially the most important episode in the film, yet still it is mid-adventure and inferred doubts continue upon many of the characters, played against the ludicrous destruction and troubling dependence appears to be falling on Quatermain and Sawyer who survive crashing buildings, enormous speeds, an upturned car and explosions. The question arises as to the necessity for the inclusion of the indestructible Dorian Gray when Quatermain and Sawyer appear impervious to harm.
   It reminds one of the major film adventures we got excited about as a kid and it delivers the goods not at that level but a little above it. We warm quickly to the members of the League, bar the unexceptional Sawyer though one gets the impression that there is some return poisoning in his invite, a considered effort to bore the American audience with their own representative; identify with him if you can, damn Yankees! James Robinson's script encourages us in our liking of these bad boys and girls of Victorian literature. Not being a reader of the original graphic comics I cannot know how much of the playful dialogue originated in the Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill panels. There is a perverse pleasure in siding with so many career villains, and a disappointment to watch some letting go completely of their criminality, overcoming their worst excesses. Having admitted that, there is still the threat, indeed it is a plot point, that they may fall back into bad deeds at any point, though ultimately most must resolve themselves with their role carried onwards towards the greater good. The performances are good to great. Peta Wilson (too often overlooked because of her stint as television's La Femme Nikita) is suitably hypnotic in all of her scenes and her teaming with Stuart Townsend is a devilish casting coup. The buddying of Nemo and Jekyll is another winner, you end up wishing there was more still, that they were given a film of their own, wedding bands even. It can only lose out on the smaller screen, this really is an epic, a truly spectacular film and must be caught in the cinema. Norrington is the English director who is proving himself able to handle scale and character in tandem and if he takes more time over it than his contemporaries, say, Paul Anderson and Danny Cannon; at least the finished film is worth the wait. Catch it on the big rectangle while you can.
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

Please support this
website - buy stuff
using these links:
Amazon.co.uk
Amazon.com
Blackstar



Dr Jekyll in chains

Capt Nemo in action

home  articles  profiles  interviews  essays  books  movies  competitions  guidelines  issues  links  archives  contributors  email
copyright © 2001 - 2003 Pigasus Press