It seems like every two years an Alan Moore comic gets adapted to the big screen. In 2001 it was From Hell, followed in 2003 by The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and V for Vendetta in 2005. It's rumored that Watchmen is in production, and I wouldn't be surprised to see that come out in 2007 to continue the trend. Moore is a very creative and influential author, and arguably one of the two greatest writers to emerge from the comic book field (the other being Neil Gaiman.) These movies based on his work, though different in tone and content do have a few things in common: they are all pretty good films and they are inferior to the original work. This is particularly true of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen a rip-roaring fun adventure that isn't as good as it should be, but still a lot of fun.
Set at the very end of the 19th Century, a master criminal, the Fantom, is trying to start a war between the various crowned heads of Europe. A war that he feels will engulf the entire world. This mad mastermind has kidnapped teams of scientists and forced them to build new, powerful weapons: tanks, machine guns, and flame throwers. If war does break out, he's positioned himself to sell these armaments to all sides of the conflict, creating an immense fortune in the process.
The leaders in Great Britain suspect that there is more to the random attacks against various countries than meets the eye, so they call together a team of people with special abilities: Allan Quatermain (Sean Connery), Captain Nemo (Naseeruddin Shah), Mina Harker who has been bitten by Dracula and is a vampire (Peta Wilson), Rodney Skinner aka the Invisible Man (Tony Curran), Dorian Gray (Stuart Townsend), and Tom Sawyer (Shane West). Their first assignment is to travel to Paris where they secure their final member, Dr. Henry Jekyll (Jason Flemyng). With the good doctor in their group they are the League of Extraordinary Gentleman.
Traveling in Captain Nemo's impressive craft, the Nautilus, the group heads to Venice where they believe that the Fantom is going to strike next. It turns out that they were right, he's planted explosives on the pillars supporting the city and they arrive just in time to see them explode. The Fantom has something much more sinister than merely destroying a city though. He's planning on stealing the League's powers, and selling them to the highest bidder.
DVD Talk reviewer Megan Denny wrote this film up when it was in the theaters, and reviewer extraordinaire Ian Jane covered the DVD release. Neither of them liked it very much which only goes to show that even the best reviewers can get it wrong occasionally. This is just a fun movie. Yes, there are some plot holes (how did Tom Sawyer learn to drive a car?), stupid concepts (Venice's building toppling like dominoes), and dropped subplots (what ever happened to Tom hitting on Mina?), but how can you not enjoy the greatest 19th century literary characters all teaming up for a wild adventure? The characters are all enjoyable, and though they each only get a brief moment in the spotlight, that keeps the movie from becoming stale.
One of the aspects that is the most entertaining is seeing how many literary references you can spot. The numerous allusions to literary characters, places, and events are a lot of fun to notice. From Nemo's first mate proclaiming "Call me Ishmael." to Quartermain claiming that the ape-like Mr. Hyde has been terrorizing the Rue Morgue for months, there are several clever references.
The acting is good, though not terribly outstanding. Sean Connery does a great job, bringing a certain regal bearing to the role that makes it believable, and Shane West seems to have fun with his role as Tom Sawyer. Stuart Townsend is the most interesting actor though, making Dorian Gray seem both bored with life and potent at the same time. The movie was always interesting when he was on the screen.
This movie comes on a 25GB disc encoded with the AVC codec (also know as H.264 or MPEG-4 Part 10) at 16 mbps and it looks very good. There are a lot of dark scenes in this movie and the level of detail in shadows and low light situations in excellent. In bright light things look even better. The reflection of the water on the hull of the Nautilus is easy to make out and the pores and fine lines on Sean Connery's face are clear and well defined. The black levels are solid and look very good, and the colors are generally fine. They do appear a bit flat in parts of the movie, but this is undoubtedly the way it was intended to look.
This isn't a perfect looking disc however. There is some posterization which is mainly visible in close-ups of faces. The skin tones change a bit too abruptly and aren't as smooth as they could be. This isn't really noticeable unless you're looking for it however. Some of the skin tones look like they've been tweaked a bit in postproduction too. Shane West's face has a plastic appearance to it when he's on the deck of the Nautilus and about to make a play for Peta Wilson's character.
While this HD disc does improve the look of the film, some of it suffers
from the higher resolution. The CGI snow isn't nearly as convincing
in HD as it is in SD, and the ice floating in the water as the Fantom's
case sinks look like pieces of plastic, which they are. Mr. Hyde
looks pretty weak too, but then again he did on the SD disc too.
Like the release of Ice Age II, this movie comes with a 5.1 DTS-HD lossless audio track in English as well as DD 5.1 tracks in French and Spanish. I thought it was a little odd that Fox included a DTS-HD audio track as the only English choice since neither the Samsung BD player nor the Panasonic one can decode the signal. (I'm not aware of any receivers that decode that format either, but I could be mistaken about that.)
In any case when the DTS-HD track is chosen the audio plays as a regular DTS track, and it sounds very good. The audio has a full dynamic range, with the bass particularly getting a good workout. The scene where Venice is falling into the sea gives your subwoofer a good workout, but they don't turn off the bass after the action scenes conclude. The rumble to Mr. Hyde's deep voice and the hum of the Nautilus' engines adds a lot to the movie's atmosphere.
Not only does the movie makes good use of the whole soundstage, but it is good at pin-pointing the sounds. In the battle scene at the end when Mr. Hyde picks up a steel door to deflect bullets you can hear the projectiles strike the shield and then ricochet to another point in the room. This film has a very good audio track that adds to the viewing experience. I can't wait to hear how it sounds with the lossless track.
Fox tried to add some new and interesting features to this BD. While I applaud their effort, most of these gimmicks were just that; cheap tricks that didn't amount to much. The first of these was a "search content" option. Viewers are presented with an alphabetical list of topics which when chosen will start the movie at the point where the topic appears. If you search for "Moore, Alan" the disc takes you to the spot in the movie where the comic writer's name is listed on a poster proclaiming "Extraordinary Entertainment". Pretty cool but I doubt I would have ever used it if I didn't have to check it out for this review.
The same goes for the "Personal Scene Selections". Viewers can bookmark up to 12 scenes that they'd like to refer back to later. Of course if you eject the disc these bookmarks are lost, but you can program them on the fly while watching the movie by pressing "1" on your remote.
There are two commentary tracks, the first with producers Don Murphy and Trevor Albert and actors Shane West, Jason Flemyng and Tony Curran, and the second with the people responsible for the costumes, makeup, visual effects and the like. Both are enjoyable for what they are. The second is more technical naturally, while the first has some interesting anecdotes about the production. It's not too surprising that director Stephen Norrington did not appear on either commentary track. He had a horrible time creating this film. It was such an arduous task that when the movie was completed he proclaimed that he would never direct another film. He hasn't either.
Rounding out the extras are a series of trailers, a pop-up trivia track that gives viewers little tidbits about the filming of the movie, how effects were done and the like, and the "LGX: Shooting Gallery." This last is a video game. Wow, a video game on a DVD, how cool is that? Well, not very. While an action scene from the movie plays viewers can use the directional pad on their remote to move crosshairs around the screen and press the enter button to shoot. It quickly became irritating because just as you'd get the crosshairs centered, the shot would change. The controls were very unwieldy too. It was hard to control the little + on the screen and there was a significant lag between the time you pressed the enter button and when a shot would fire. The game play was just horrible. With the advanced gaming systems that are available today, this was just pathetic.
This isn't a perfect film by any means, but it is still a lot of fun. Savaged by bad press when it was released, this movie isn't nearly as bad as some reviewers made it out to be. Though there are a few defects, this HD transfer looks good overall and is an improvement over the SD version. Pop yourself a large bowl of popcorn and enjoy. Recommended.
Note: The images in this review are not from the Blu-ray disc and do not necessarily represent the image quality on the disc.