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The recent explosion in the popularity of comic book crossovers has produced a number of decent movies. Films such as Spider-Man, Hulk, Blade, Blade II, X-Men and X-Men II, although not setting new cinematic standards, are all enjoyable romps in their own right. But as studios and filmmakers continue to explore the potential of this genre, it seems almost inevitable that maintaining the quality of the work will become increasingly difficult. I’m not familiar with The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen graphic novel, which some might consider a disadvantage, but I feel this afforded me the luxury of an objective view of the film.

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, The

Feature


The year is 1899, and a mysterious villain known only as ‘The Fantom’ is engineering a global climate of distrust in order to create a market for his ‘weapons of mass destruction’. With all out war seeming increasingly likely, the British government brings together some of the world’s most remarkable individuals in an attempt to avert the crisis. Lead by renowned adventurer Allan Quartermain (Sean Connery), this ‘League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’ includes Captain Nemo, The Invisible Man, Dr Henry Jekyll/Mr Edward Hyde, Dorian Gray and the decidedly ungentlemanly Mina Harker. Together with American agent Tom Sawyer, the League travel to many exotic locations and battle many foes in order to put a stop to the Fantom’s fiendish plot.

My initial reaction to The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was “How can this fail?” Of course, potential can often go unrealised, and LXG certainly falls into this category. All the elements for a great movie are there - a ready-made history for the super powered characters, fantastical machinery, and a myriad of exotic locations - but it just doesn’t gel. The film loses its way after a solid first thirty minutes or so, with questionable dialogue, clumsy editing and even the sheer size of the ensemble cast chief among the problems. It’s possible that some of these failings can be attributed to the bitter disputes between actor Sean Connery and director Stephen Norrington, with Connery reportedly going as far as locking the director out of the editing room in the final stages. Norrington did such a good job with 1998s Blade that one can’t help but wonder if he wasn’t handicapped by his contractual obligation to deliver a PG-13 film. Certainly The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen could have done with a harder edge, and if there’s ever a sequel I sincerely hope they go down this path.

The visual effects also took quite a bashing from my fellow reviewer Pete Roberts, but I’m going to be kinder. Hyde, far from being a CGI creation, is actually actor Jason Fleming in a prosthetic for much of the film (all but the final battle with Dante). The special effects guys used forced perspective and blue screen effects to make the actor appear to tower over the other members of the League, and on the whole it works fairly well. I will agree with Pete that some of the CGI leaves a little to be desired, but the producers simply didn’t have the amount of money at their disposal that films such as Hulk or the Matrix sequels did.

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, The
Whatever you think of the special effects, there’s no denying how wonderful the production design is. From costumes and makeup, to vehicles and locations, the film is a visual treat. The sets constructed for the scenes in London, Paris and Venice must be seen to be believed, with the latter amounting to the size of three football pitches (I’m assuming they mean American football when they say this). If nothing else the film is worth watching just for the sumptuous design elements alone.

Finally I’d like to take this opportunity to mention one of my pet peeves – rental style adverts. When you insert The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen into your player you’re greeted with the usual patronising copyright messages, after which six minutes of trailers follow. Thankfully they can be skipped by hitting the menu button, but why should we have to bother? If studios want to put trailers on their discs they should be included as user selectable items alongside the trailers for the main movie.

Video


The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is furnished with an ‘extraordinary’ 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer. The image is sharp and detailed throughout, with colour reproduction that, be it the warm tones of Africa or the frozen wastelands of Mongolia, is superbly accurate. Black levels are suitably solid in all but a few instances, and shadow detail is also very good considering the predominantly gloomy locales. The image is all but free from defects, and I spotted no instances of edge enhancement or other digital nastiness.

Unfortunately the outstanding transfer only serves to draw attention to some of the weaker effects, which look a little too artificial in places. For example, a scene in which Connery’s character arrives in London features all too obvious matte paintings and CGI backdrops. Some of the scenes involving the Nautilus also suffer from the ‘something’s not quite right’ syndrome, as do a number of the scenes involving the CGI Hyade and Dante Beast near the end. But at the end of the day I’m just nitpicking, and given the superb effort it feels unfair to mark the transfer down because of a few CGI hiccups.

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, The

Audio


As is fast becoming the norm for high-profile releases, we’re treated to both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 soundtracks. I chose to listen to the DTS track for the purpose of this review. The mix is extremely lively throughout, with plenty of discrete surround effects and earth-shattering bass during the action sequences. The subtleties are not overlooked either, and there are some wonderful ambient effects during the quiet moments to really draw you into the alternate universe of ‘The League’. As one would expect, dialogue remains both clear and natural throughout, although it’s rarely directed around the soundstage. The score, although largely unremarkable, is also well suited to the on-screen antics. All in all you’re in for an engaging experience regardless of which track you pick.

Extras
The DVD release of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comes in two flavours: single and double disc sets. I’m reviewing the latter. As is the norm, most of the extras are to be found on the second disc, but disc one includes two Audio Commentaries. In addition to producers Don Murphy and Trevor Albert, the first commentary features actors Shane West, Tony Curran and Jason Flemyng. The commentary is one of those stitched together from various recording sessions, which usually has the effect of producing a disjointed track. Thankfully things aren’t too jarring, and the participants all seem to be enjoying themselves. There are some genuinely insightful comments to be found here, not to mention some friendly banter and anecdotes about ‘Big Sean’, and all in all it isn’t a bad track.

The second audio commentary features costume designer Jacqueline West, effects supervisor John Sullivan, make-up supervisor Steve Johnson and miniature builder Matthew Gratzner. This isn’t as interesting as the first track, and will probably be of greater appeal to those viewers who are particularly interested in the technical and logistical aspects of film production.

Disc two houses the rest of the additional material, and is divided into three categories: Pre-Production, Production and The Release. The first item in pre-production, Matters Of Pre-Visualization, runs for a little over ten minutes and covers various pre-visualisations of the Nautilus and Mr Hyde. Pre-visualisation artist Kyle Robinson narrates the footage, which is a mixture of pre-vis CGI, completed effects, and composite shots of the two side by side. Although moderately interesting first time around it isn’t as interesting as the better effects featurettes, and unlikely to encourage repeated viewings. Also on offer in the pre-production section are a number of Still Galleries, which cover everything from vehicles, weapons and locations, to character and miniature design. Now I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been particularly interested in looking at a bunch of still photos, so this section held little interest for me.

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, The
The bulk of the extras are to be found in the production menu, which is divided into a number of categories that can be played individually or as a complete fifty-four minute featurette. First up is the Assembling the League featurette, which deals with the production as a whole and contains a stack of behind-the-scenes footage and interviews. It is divided up into several sections, but if you choose the play all function the entire featurettes 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 number seventeen in total, and clock in at a little over thirty minutes. Much of what is on offer here is simply an extension of existing material, but there are a number of entirely new clips to be seen. All scenes are presented in non-anamorphic rough-cut form, with incomplete special effects and scratchy production audio, but they do make for interesting viewing at least once.

The final section on the disc deals with the release, and covers pretty much everything you could want to know about this aspect of the film. Behind the Fantasy is an eighteen minute featurette presented by Andi Peters, and although it falls firmly into the category of ‘promotional fluff’ it’s actually a little more informative than most.

Next we come to what I can only assume is an annoying authoring error: two featurettes, Marketing and The European Premier contain virtually the same footage! I’m unsure whether this is a genuine gaff (I’m reviewing a pre-release version of the DVD set), but if not it’s a shameful way to pad out a DVD. In any event, the actual footage is that of the European premiere in Prague, and the UK premiere in London. The only difference between the two featurettes is the inclusion of two theatrical trailers at the end of the Marketing featurette.

Rounding things off we have a selection of Theatrical Trailers, TV Spots and Posters. There are four trailers and twelve TV spots in total, and around ten theatrical posters from various European countries. There’s nothing particularly exciting here, but everything is worth running through at least once.

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, The

Overall


After various negative reviews I held little hope for The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, but I have to admit that I didn’t find it as objectionable as most. It’s true that it’s not going to win any awards for outstanding, well, anything really, but it’s an entertaining enough yarn for the most part. It’s possible that my reaction to the film would have been more negative had I read the graphic novel, as this was apparently much darker in tone, but I can appreciate what the filmmakers tried to do here. Even if they ultimately failed some credit must be given for the fact that they tried to craft something a little out of the ordinary.

On the technical side of things, the audio-visual quality of the set is first rate. With one of the finest transfers I’ve seen in a while, and a kick-arse soundtrack in either Dolby or DTS, this is certainly a treat for the senses. However, the supplemental material, which at first glance appears to be both plentiful and engaging, is, in reality, merely so-so. Aside from the first commentary track and the fifty-minute featurette I seriously doubt anyone will bother revisiting the extras.


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