Back Comments (10) Share:
The line of comic book adaptations continues to grow. Most of the time they either storm their way through the box office or bomb considerably, both in terms of profit and critical reception. The stories created over so many years by comic writers are undoubtedly some of the most interesting, fantastical and visually exciting tales you could ever imagine. Placed into the wrong hands, however, and you have the potential to really make a molehill out of a mountain, so to speak.

The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, or LXG as it was so ridiculously coined during its theatrical run to make the most of the X-Men hype, possesses what seems to be a highly entertaining storyline on paper. The problem is none of it translates to the big screen at all well.

League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, The: Special Edition
Movie
The opening half hour starts incredibly promisingly, with a quick search for a man named Allan Quartermain (Sean Connery, coasting like he’s never coasted before). Quartermain is, of course, a legendary literary character, which is where the filmmakers should have stopped in terms of spelling things out. Instead we’re treated like complete idiot as each of the supporting players is introduced. Not that the exposition scenes are hard to watch, in fact they are incredibly well set up. You’d be forgiven for getting a little excited at this stage, with a quaintly different period setting (we pick up in 1899 London), a neat array of characters with ready-made history and a set-up that ensures plenty of action ahead.

No writer could have screwed up what followed as badly if they tried. With all the introductions and set-ups out of the way the action and plot, albeit an inevitably thin one, should’ve stepped in and taken control of the ship. Sadly, HMAS “Gentlemen” spins completely out of control, taking logic, coherence and quality CGI underwater as it sinks.

The basic plot surrounds a villain trying to manufacture weapons so the world can be engaged in a war to end all wars. Quartermain is brought in as the brains behind an operation to stop it, ably supported by his “league” of gentlemen, plus a lady named Mina Harker. Australia’s own Peta Wilson scrapes through without much harm playing the Vampiress who makes mention of Dracula and others just so the audience can follow along. There’s also Captain Nemo (Naseeruddin Shah), Dr.Jekyll and his terribly rendered CGI alter-ego, Mr.Hyde (Jason Flemyng), The Invisible Man (Tony Curran) and Tom Sawyer (Shane West), introduced so that it became even more obvious that these are all characters out of a book, even if his career as a supposed secret agent came totally out of left field.

And that’s possibly the story of the whole film. Everything starts out promisingly but ends up with enough egg on its face to feed the whole League its breakfast for a week. A trap shooting scene with Connery and some funky red sea-balls could have translated into something quite playful but instead turns into another moment of exposition between two characters as we’re told a little bit more about them to get a much clearer picture. Same too can be said for the ship sailing into Venice, with a fireworks display marking the chance to amp up the action quite quickly, but sure enough we’re treated to some hilarious dialogue that assumes the audience can’t think for themselves. There’s only so much “we need to do this…” or “this will happen if we don’t get here in time” sort of dialogue one can take before your mind just completely switches off.

League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, The: Special Edition
While the effects look like they were created by a fledgling visual production house and the editing completed by the work experience kid in his week off from school, there are a few mildly interesting points to the film. The first act has been mentioned  but that only accentuates the fall from grace from therein. Some of the visuals not involving the use of CGI are actually quite impressive, with the “ye olde” setting providing enough scope to get some tasty long shots going throughout. And if nothing else such a fanciful story allows the filmmakers to travel to a variety of different locations and feature enough costume changes they care to dream up. Sadly that’s where it ends, with the tragic script pandering to the lowest common denominator of them all and the action sequences confusing rather than electrifying us.

There was so much promise in this film which Blade director Stephen Norrington fails to deliver by not giving us enough credit as movie-goers and at the same time clumsily handling ever single action set piece in the 100-minute cringe-fest. It’s been a bit of a bad month for upcoming releases, with nothing at all interesting coming out of the mainstream for quite some time. I look forward to a change in the tide.

Video
While the action on screen borders on dodgy for a large chunk of the duration, the same can’t be said for the visuals, which in fact tend to show up even more CGI holes because of the clarity in the picture. Presented in 2.35:1 widescreen, the film comes up a treat on this near-perfect transfer. Sharpness is remarkable without making things look artificial (the effects do a good job of that already), the colours are as vibrant as can be in this deliberately dark presentation, and the black levels are maintained throughout despite having a hell of a lot of work to do.

As mentioned, the landscapes of Paris, Venice and the like go a long way to making this a disc to remember in the visual stakes. The two-disc set would have undoubtedly played a big part here, with plenty of room to get the most out of the transfer thanks to that extra disc for all the supplements. There’s only one mark off for the darkness overall, but if there were half marks available we’d be looking at as close to perfect as you could get without being so. Too bad the film tends to suck because you won’t get much better than this.

Audio
Again, with so much room to move it comes as no surprise that we’re given both a DTS 5.1 soundtrack and a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. It is great to report that the standard “cat-on-the-subwoofer” test came through with flying colours on both mixes, with my favourite feline sitting happily atop my sub as it rumbled along for the duration. The surrounds are used very effectively as the effects whiz past your head in shoot around the rears with great regularity. Dialogue, as ham-fisted as it is, sits firmly in the front for the most part but is directed across the stage to give us a clear, natural sound throughout.

If preference was given to one track over the other it would be the DTS mix, purely because it handles things a little better in the more effect-heavy sequences. Clarity, along with obligatory increase in volume and bass, makes the DTS track slightly above the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, though you won’t be too disappointed if you’re equipment doesn’t cut it in the DTS stakes. Quite good mix overall.

League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, The: Special Edition
Extras
The 2-disc edition (remember, this film is also available as movie only, for the two people who’d just choose to own a bare-bones copy of this disaster) is packed with some real meaty extras, most of which are housed on the dedicated second disc. On disc one, however, we do get an audio commentary cut together from separate sessions with the likes of producers Don Murphy and Trevor Albert and actors Shane West, Tony Curran and Jason Flemyng. For a cut-and-paste job this isn’t too bad, though it is strange there aren’t any words from either director or screenwriter on this one.

But wait! There’s a second audio commentary track with some of the less important members of the crew, including costume designer Jacqueline West, effects supervisor John Sullivan, make-up supervisor Steve Johnson and miniature builder Matthew Gratzner. West did a great job with the costumes and Sullivan should hang his head in shame, while Johnson and Gratzner are neither here nor there in terms of the overall effect of the film. With this in mind it comes as no surprise that only the most passionate costume designers will find this track interesting, as again the participants weren’t in the same room during their recordings. No banter here, just some dry recollections of how things were created.

Moving on to disc two, the first extra we come to is the pre-production section, divided up into two pieces named Matters Of Pre-Visualization and Still Galleries. The latter is obvious, with a series of sketches and mock-ups displayed for areas such as characters, weapons and locations. Budding artists will eat this up, though I’m not sure anyone else will be that interested. The former extra is a meaty, well constructed piece using pre-visualization animatic footage (basically a blocky looking version of the effects in the film) combined with the actual footage and occasionally vision of the animator commentating on the action. There have been better effects featurettes on other discs, mainly because the actual effects are much more polished, but this will appeal to those who want to know more about the way they get all those things on to the screen.

Now on to the production section, first up is the Assembling the League featurette, dealing with the production as a whole and containing a stack of behind the scenes footage and interviews with the key players. It is divided up into several sections but if you choose the play all function the whole piece will run for just over fifty minutes. Each section is usually accompanied by comic book themed trivia pop-ups which add even more to the informative nature of the piece. Overall this is easily the best extra on disc two as you get a feel for the whole filmmaking process.

The deleted and extended scenes section looks very comprehensive on the surface but many of these clips are just variations on what is already in the film. There are 17 scenes in total to look at, a number of which are hard to discern from the final version. Nevertheless there are some interesting bits which have been cut out and included here, including the old blue-suit routine before the animators have had their pass at it all.

League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, The: Special Edition
The next area of the extras concerns the release (notice there’s no Post-Production section), which covers all the finishing touches to the film as a commercial entity. We get a fluffy making of featurette which aired before the film’s theatrical release, a marketing piece that contains some red carpet footage from the European premiere, a European premiere featurette that includes exactly the same footage as the Marketing section minus about five minutes (quite bizarre, how did no one pick up on that?), and a series of trailers, TV spots and posters to round out the supplements.

Overall it’s not a bad extra disc in terms of quantity but the quality is let down a little save for the lengthy making of featurette in the production section. Deleted scenes don’t offer much new footage, entire featurettes are included twice and the audio commentaries weren’t recorded with everyone in the same location, so it seems the supplements have gone the same way as the film; promising but ultimately failing to deliver.

Overall
Even with a few stinkers here and there the flood of comic book adaptations will continue. Hopefully a film like The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen will serve as a reminder that you can’t just expect things to unravel perfectly in front of you. Coherency, logic and common sense must prevail or you’ll end up with another action film that promises plenty in the first act but goes straight downhill from thereon in. The video and audio make the disc look respectable even though the extras are surprisingly bland, so the disc isn’t a total disaster, it’s just that you’d want to think twice about how much entertainment you could get out of this one.


Links: