It seemed like a sure-fire hit, didn't it? Cast Sean Connery as the lead against a solid supporting cast in a big budget adaptation of one of the best comic books(which itself was based on some of the longest lasting and most revered characters from classic literature) released in the last decade. Let Stephen Norrington, who lensed one of the best comic book to film adaptations as of late (Blade) direct the film and let James Robinson, a man well versed in comic books based on his past experience, write the project. Yeah, sign me up. Sounds good.
Connery plays Allan Quatermain, adventurer extraordinaire, is sent for by a British loyalist to how to stop a mysterious madman known as The Fantom, a maniac in a metal mask who speaks with a thick European accent. A diabolical genius if ever there was one, The Fantom is quite insane but also quite brilliant, with access to all sorts of highly technological weapons and gadgets which he intends to use to head up a world war.
In order to do this, Quatermain assembles a group of powerful allies with whom he hopes to work together with to take down The Fantom and save the world. Captain Nemo (Naseeruddin Shah, who steals the show), the vampiric Mina Harker (the very pretty Peta Wilson), The Invisible Man (Tony Curran), Dorian Grey (Stuart Townsend), C. I. A. Special Agent Tom Sawyer (Shane West), and Dr. Henry Jekyll (Jason Flemyng) together with Quatermain are the League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
Soon into their quest to stop these random attacks orchestrated by the sinister Fantom, they discover that there's a lot more involved in stopping these evil plans than simply smacking around a few bad guys and running around in nifty vehicles. It's going to take their full cooperation and all of their combined powers to save the world, and even then it's not going to be anywhere close to easy.
So it would seem that the film has a solid premise and a great cast and crew behind the scenes and in front of the camera making it all come together. Like I said, a can't miss hit, right? Well, maybe not. Yeah, the movie did alright at the box office, it did make a profit and would seem ripe for a franchise (rumors already abound about a sequel) but it wasn't the super smash hit we all thought it was going to be. A lot of that has to do with the many negative reviews the film received, and, well, rightly so. This movie, while not horrible, has some serious problems working against it.
The first major flaw is the script. Not nearly enough background is given on the main characters, which makes it hard to care about what happens to them. They look very cool in their period costumes and fancy make up appliances, but all the fancy duds in the world won't make a viewer care about a non-developed character – which is ultimately what almost every player in this film is.
The second big drawback is the soul sucking CGI effects that serve only to rip you out of whatever mood the film manages to create and draw you into in the first place. Intrigued by the fact that smart aleck American Tom Sawyer is hitting on the sexy and mysterious Mina Harker while riding about Nemo's ship? Well, throw intrigue out to sea, matey, because as soon as the camera cuts to a wide shot of a very computer generated ship cutting through the ocean, you'll forget all about it as your eyes are drawn to the unconvincing effects. Think the create effects in Ang Lee's The Hulk looked off? Wait until you get a load of Mr. Hyde, who is a front runner for dumbest looking computer generated monster ever. When the movie sticks to more subtle CGI or even, dare I say it, organic effects, it looks great and it's easy to relax your eyes and follow the story but once the CGI does kick in, prepare to stop giving a damn about any of it.
The third flaw, and I know I risk bringing some heat down on myself for saying this but I've gotta call it like I see it, is the male lead. Sean Connery plays the same tired, self parodied cliché character here that we've seen him do a few too many times before. You could cut and paste him from this movie and insert him into Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade or The Rock and the only thing that would be different would be his clothes. Don't get me wrong, Sean Connery has been a phenomenal actor in the past. The Man Who Would Be King, The Name Of The Rose, The Untouchables - all excellent performances indeed. In the eyes of many people, he is the definitive James Bond (though I've got to admit, I'm one of the rare breed that prefer Roger Moore). But here, he's tired. He walks through this performance with a slick wink of the eye to the camera and seems to be putting in as little effort as possible. Whereas in the past he's made his characters his own, here he does nothing new and it ultimately ends up being rather sad.
Luckily, the supporting cast, save for the goofy looking Jekyll/Hyde thing I already mentioned, is quite good. I've already mentioned how great they all look (especially Mina Harker – yowza!) but besides that they put in interesting performances and are much more interesting to watch on screen than their sorry leader is.
The cinematography is nice – Norrington ensures that the camera moves a lot but does so in a subtle enough manner as to not be jarring or feel like the dreaded 'MTV Style Editing' that so many go on about these days. The movie has a lush look and feel to it that serves it's purpose quite well and does add a certain ambiance to many of the scenes.
Overall, it's not that League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen is a terrible film, it's just that it's a very mediocre one when it should have been a great one. The tagline for the film is 'Prepare For The Extraordinary' but if you do that you're setting yourself up for a fall. What you should be prepared for is a big budget CGI wank fest that does a few too many things wrong and not enough things right. The potential for greatness was here, and you can feel it trying to get out, but ultimately it's stifled and limp and a disappointment. Take off your thinking cap and try not to notice the computerized everything and you might enjoy it, but if you can't get past that, don't waste your time.
The disc is presented here as it was theatrically, in a 2.35.1 widescreen presentation. The DVD is enhanced for anamorphic television sets and picture quality on this disc is exceptionally good. Despite the presence of some slightly softer looking moments scattered spontaneously throughout the film, colors are sharp as one could hope for while blacks are deep and rich and thankfully don't break up or become pixilated at all, which is important to the look and feel of the film as a good portion of it occurs during the nighttime hours. Shadows and flesh tones are also spot on and appear to be reproduced quite faithfully on this presentation.
On the disc you'll find Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks in both French and English as well as a Dolby Digital 2.0 track in Spanish. All three tracks are exceptionally clean and clear and the 5.1 especially as a very aggressive and well mixed effort. Very clear and distinct channel separation occurs constantly throughout the film with sound effects whizzing past you from all directions during quite a few scenes. Dialogue is never once hard to understand and is always clean and there are no problems with hiss or distortion of any kind. The quality of this mix succeeds in pulling the viewer into the film a little more than most tracks and it's a lot of fun to play this one a little louder than usual. Optional English and Spanish subtitles are included, as is an English closed captioning track as well.
The biggest chunk of the many extras on this release can be found in the section entitled Assembling The League. This section is broken up into six featurettes that, when combined, clock in at just a few minutes short of a fully hours running time. The sections are titled Origins, Attire, The Nemomobile, Making Mister Hyde, Resurrecting Venice, and finally, Sinking Venice. These bits do contain some spoilers, so be sure to watch them after you've watched the feature film (I can't be the only one who sometimes checks out the extras before the movie itself, can I?). These can be played as individual pieces or as one cohesive feature.
Up next? Roughly fifteen minutes of edited or deleted scenes are served up (sans commentary, unfortunately). As you go through these, you'll probably notice that taking them out was likely for the best as they add very little to the actual film itself (with one or two small exceptions that do give some much needed background on some of the more secondary characters in the film).
Next up are two full length commentary tracks. It's interesting to note that neither the film's director, Steven Norrington, nor the leading man, Sean Connery, are anywhere to be found on either of these tracks. What that says about their feeling on the end result, I don't know, but I did figure it was worth mentioning that they're not really involved at all with the DVD release it would seem. Don Murphy, Shane West, Trevor Albert, Jason Flymng and Tony Curran are on deck for the first track, as they discuss their respective roles in the production and their thoughts on the final product. While these aren't exactly the A-list stars you may have hoped to encounter on this track, rest assured that they give an amusing and interesting presentation here and if you are one of the fans of the movie (I know there are at least a few of you out there!) then you could certainly spend your time on something a lot less entertaining. Most of the group involved have nice things to say about Sir Sean and some interesting anecdotes are thrown in for good measure.
The second commentary track focuses less on the performances and more on the technical aspects of the film, so it's only fitting to have effect people and costume designers and miniatures technicians like John Sullivan, Jacqueline West, Steve Johnson and Matthew Gratzner on hand to discuss all of the effort that went in to creating the look and feel of the sets, costumes and effects used in the film. While this track is a little dryer than the first one it's still very informative, and obviously if you're intrigued by the technical aspects of effects work and filmmaking then you're going to get more out of it than someone who isn't. I eat this type of material up and had a good time with this track.
The final extra is a thirty-three second special message that isn't of any real value. Suspiciously absent is the films trailer. Maybe Norrington and Connery took it with them.
Love it, hate it, or regard it with sheer indifference, there's no denying that Fox has done an excellent job bringing this title to DVD. The audio and video quality are top notch and the extras are pretty interesting as well, and I enjoyed the movie as mindless entertainment enough to recommend it to those who don't mind checking their brain at the door once in a while, all others might want to rent it.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.