The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

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Something Extraordinary

Superhero movies seem so commonplace today. Just within the past decade moviegoers have seen “Batman” and “Superman” remakes and the “X-Men” and “Spiderman” sagas. It almost seems pointless to write a review about a hero-movie in order to point out its individuality, but I believe that “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” deserves special attention. Based on a graphic novel by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill and directed by Stephen Norrington, this 2003 action film starring Sean Connery enjoyed financial success but not enough critical acclaim to warrant producing a film franchise. Despite its flaws I would recommend this film to anyone interested in a riveting tale about a group of unusual heroes.

The movie is set in 1898, and tensions are rising among the nations, especially after the schemes carried out in England and Germany by a mysterious figure known as “Fantom.” In response an enigmatic man called only “M” assembles a team of peculiar persons to halt these schemes. Most people will recognize the members’ association with classic literature: Allan Quatermain (Connery), Captain Nemo, an invisible man named Skinner, Wilamina Harker (a companion of Van Helsing), Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, Dorian Gray, and Tom Sawyer. The team heads to Venice to stop Fantom from bombing a council of world leaders in order to start a war and profit from manufacturing weapons. After this comes a series of unexpected twists that I will not relate so the movie’s ending will remain unspoiled.

Before I move on to what I like about “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,” I need to address a few petty troubles that could lessen the film’s appeal. This first one might have more to do with the genre as a whole, but I found the fight scenes in this movie a bit too lenghthy. For instance, at one point in the film gun-wielding men attack the league in Dorian Gray’s library. Now, although the paper flying in the air is a nice effect, the directors seemed to make the fight drag on longer than is needed. Another issue that might bother some is that the writers have tweaked some of the characters’ stories (I am mainly thinking of Dorian Gray and his portrait), and I am also sure that some pedants could show that the all of the characters could not exist at the same time. However, surely this movie was not made with literary integrity in mind, so I am not bothered. The final issue, which has more to do with the technology available at the time, is that the computer-animated aspects of the movie are not as realistic as I would like them to be. However, I am sure that anyone who has seen this movie will join me in saying that these issues do not detract from the film as a whole.

Now, lest I seem to be only complaining about trivial details, let me move on to what I like about this movie. I find all of the literary references quite clever. Not only do all of the league’s members allude to classic literature, many other classic literature references exist in the movie. For instance, in an allusion to “Moby Dick,” Captain Nemo’s first mate’s name is Ishmael (his first line is “Call me Ishmael.”). Also, when Quartermain first hears about Fantom’s deeds, he says “Very Operatic,” an allusion to “The Phantom of the Opera.” Besides these, I appreciate the dark and mysterious mood of the movie, which is achieved by using mysterious-sounding music and low light levels throughout the film. However, I also appreciate the contrast to this dark mood that is supplied by Quartermain’s dry humor and Skinner’s tacky humor. Such juxtaposition helps the film from being monotonous.

I must be sure to mention the camera techniques used in this film. I found the interpretation of Mr. Hyde’s shrinking back into Dr. Jekyll quite impressive. The director uses alternations between close-ups and full-body shots separated by flashes of white across the screen while Mr. Hyde slowly shrinks. Even though the ship was created digitally, all of the long shots showing the “Nautilis,” Captain Nemo’s ship, are excellent at conveying the ship’s magnitude.

In the final markup, I find that this film’s good characteristics far outweigh the bad. Yes, it may be another superhero/action movie, but the plot is engaging enough for anyone interested. Hopefully moviewatchers will always realize what a gem this movie is.





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