LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN, THE
Adventurer Allan Quartermain (Sean Connery) is recruited by the mysterious British intelligence agent M (Richard Roxburgh) to head a secret mission. In this quest to stop the elusive Fantom and his evil doings, also gathered together are other fabled characters: pirate and freedom fighter Captain Nemo (Naseeruddin Shah); master vampire Mina Harker (Peta Wilson); the eternally young Dorian Gray (Stuart Townsend); Agent Sawyer (Shane West); ‘gentleman thief’ invisible man Rodney Skinner (Tony Curran) and frail chemist Dr Jekyll (Jason Flemyng) who is a slave to his alter-ego Mr Hyde.
Review by Louise Keller:
Jumping straight from the lively pages of a graphic novel, these fabled super-heroes of the 19th century all originate from the crisp white pages of English literature. It’s a wonderful supposition, and who better at the helm than H.Rider Haggard’s adventurer Allan Quartermain, hero of King Solomon’s Mines? Especially when the role is in the hands of the Sean Connery whose appeal has never stumbled for a single second. Add to the mix Oscar Wilde’s ageless Dorian Gray, H.G. Wells’ Invisible Man, Robert Louis Stephenson’s Dr Jekyll/Mr Hyde, Jules Verne’s Captain Nemo plus a Vampiress who cut her teeth in Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
But what could have been a turn-of-the-century thinking-man’s X-Men is relegated to a lavish splash of a special effects movie, with all the effort placed on the big bangs rather than allowing the characters to drive the plot. What an opportunity lost! And in the hands of director Stephen Norrington (Blade) and screenwriter James Dale Robinson, the storyline goes seriously askew. It begins well as we meet the enigmatic Quartermain in Kenya, as he is enticed to doing his bit to save the world. The script begins with every promise of wit and sparkle with lines like: ‘Doesn’t the prospect of a world war make you sweat?’ to which Quartermain responds: ‘We’re in Africa – sweating is what we do!’
Our interest is held as the remainder of the group is gathered together and we discover their credentials. These are the best moments of the film, when the special effects actually complement the characters and we are surprised and innovated. The effects with which the Invisible Man are revealed are dazzling, and Peta Wilson’s fiery Vampiress displays her fangs with a sensational flurry of showmanship. But there’s something heavy-handed about the Jekyll/Hyde transformation (reminiscent of Bruce Banner/The Hulk).
Apart from Connery’s disillusioned Quartermain, whose bitterness is now drowned in a Gin and Tonic at Nairobi’s Britannia Club, Wilson’s Mina is the most satisfying character and she plays it beautifully. She is vixen, temptress and dastardly adversary and we see first hand that hell hath no fury as a woman scorned. But characters like Stuart Townsend’s Dorian Gray (looking very much like Johnny Depp) and Richard Roxburgh’s M, badly need a gravitas to reflect their position, and this is never achieved. Without a strong, juicy villain – one that we love to hate – the film lacks an important ingredient. As for the special effects, they may have been more cohesive if fewer specialist companies had been employed – have a look at the never-ending end credits that give an idea of the number of people involved. It’s staggering. I found the shaking effect (as though there is something wrong with the special effects and our vision needs to be muffled) seriously annoying. On the plus side, the production design is striking and a sharp-edged score accentuates the dark edge that the film aspires to.
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LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN, THE (M)
(USA / Germany / Czech Republic / UK)
CAST: Sean Connery, Naseeruddin Shah, Peta Wilson, Tony Curran, Stuart Townsend, Shane West, Jason Flemyng, Richard Roxburgh, Max Ryan, Tom Goodman-Hill, David Hemmings
PRODUCER: Trevor Albert, Don Murphy
DIRECTOR: Stephen Norrington
SCRIPT: James Robinson (comic books by Alan Moore, Kevin O'Neill)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Dan Laustsen
EDITOR: Paul Rubell
MUSIC: Trevor Jones
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Carol Spier
RUNNING TIME: 110 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Fox
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: October 2, 2003
RIVERSIDE SCREEN PREMIERES
A program of premiere screenings of new movies prior to their commercial release
on 6 consecutive Tuesdays, starts February 17, 2015 at Riverside Theatre,
Curated & presented by Andrew L. Urban, discussion to
follow with special guests. Briefing notes provided.