Bringing comic books to the big screen using live actors must be a logistical nightmare. In comics, events are only limited by the writer’s imagination. The artist, who may also be the writer, also has an open slate when it comes to design, but filmmakers do not have the same luxuries, and creating anything that is close to faithful is inevitably time consuming and expensive, and box office flops are not tolerated.
And so we come to the latest effort, the Stephen Norrington directed, big budget, all action interpretation of Alan Moore’s graphic novel, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. With a relatively unknown cast, a fairly recent creation and new millennium technology, the potential was there for a great piece of escapist fun, or a very expensive blunder. It seems many of the jury are still out.
It’s 1899 and the world is on the brink of disaster. Most of Europe is convinced that war is just around the corner. The English declare that they have been attacked by the Germans who in turn claim it is the English who have attacked them. Each denies the accusation. What is not in doubt however is that the attacks took place, thanks to The Fantom (no, not the ghost who walks), a creature/man in the advanced and futuristic arms business with a financial interest in countries wanting to blow the crap out of each other.
However, European Leaders have planned a secret meeting in Venice to thrash out a peace plan, but the British Government is convinced that The Fantom will get wind of the meeting and intervene in his own, violent style. Peace in his time is not good for business.
Who can stop him then? British Intelligence officer, M (Richard Roxburgh), thinks that an elite bunch of professionals with skills and talents beyond normal men is the answer. And so he gathers up such fictional literary notables as Allan Quartermain (Sean Connery), the great white hunter living in Africa, Rodney Skinner (Tony Curran) a.k.a. The invisible Man, Captain Nemo (Naseeruddin Shah) and his nuclear submarine, Nautilus, Mina Harker (Peta Wilson), the bride of Dracula, Dr Jekyll and, of course, Mr. Hyde (Jason Flemyng), Dorian Gray (Stuart Townsend) the suave and eternally youthful immortal aristocrat, and Secret Service agent, Tom Sawyer (Shane West) sans Huckleberry Finn but a keen marksman all the same. Say “hi!” to the world’s first bunch of superheroes.
Can this apparent rag tag bunch of misfits actually save the world? They agree to try. Aboard the Nautilus, they reach Venice almost in the nick of time, but not quite. With Venice literally sinking before their eyes, they formulate a plan to prevent the city's total destruction. However, there is a traitor in the group, and they have no intention of seeing the League successfully thwart their master’s plans.
Eventually alerted to the traitor's existence, the remaining League members reformulate their plans to save the world, but not before they are presented with one final and surprising twist. With the Fantom revealed and apparently on the back foot, his even more sinister plans are slowly unveiled, and it seems this time, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen has been outplayed.
So, is the film any good you are asking, and the simple answer is - yes. Yes, on the proviso that you are not some literary genius who knows more about literature than is good for you and won’t sit through the whole film quibbling about the plot holes, the character flaws and interpretations, and can get over that fact that, even though fictional, there have been some liberties taken to bring The League together. And for the real comic geeks who will cry, “But Tom Sawyer wasn’t even in the graphic novel!” I say, “Get over it!”. If you need to vent at someone, vent at the studio bigwigs who insisted on having an American in the film.
The emphasis here is on fun and action, and there's oodles of both. This is quite possibly the most action-packed film of 2003, and while some of the CGI is a bit dodgy, overall the film is a ripper and there is endless and seamless usage of models, CGI, prosthetics and paintings, but many live action stunts and effects have been used where CGI might have been an option. Kudos should go to the team for keeping the film real where others may have chosen not to.
There are some glaring, almost annoying inconsistencies and some huge suspension of disbelief required. The mighty and gargantuan Nautilus effortlessly manoeuvring through the canals of Venice, a vampire that doesn’t care about the sun, a badly burned character that seems to disappear never to be mentioned again, and baddies that all dance around the goodies patiently waiting their turn to attack a la Monkey all infuriate. However, if you can just accept the film as a fun-packed action romp and leave your critic's hat at the door, then it should provide sufficient enjoyment.
Fox are reliable when it comes to meeting DVD expectations of quality and this two-disc set is no different. The aspect ratio of 2.35:1 should come as no surprise, nor the fact that it is 16:9 enhanced. Everything about the video image from there on is pretty damned near perfect. Colouring is strong and bold with very few, if any, problems. Skin tones are natural and black levels are solid and deep.
There are no marks, specks or dirt, and even the usual problems such as aliasing and shimmer are hard to spot, mainly because the film moves with such pace that looking for faults is not something you can concentrate on for long should you miss some great stunt or effect.
There is nothing significant in the way of edge enhancement or pixellation. A large proportion of the action takes place in darkened scenes, but even these scrub up well and shadow detail is good. Only the layer change at 50:52 is a little clunky.
Want a wham, bam, thank you ma’am audio experience? Consider it done. If you have DTS capabilities then prepare yourself for an aural treat. Right from the opening credits, the DTS track is a winner. Being an action-packed film, there are countless moments when the rear channels and subwoofer are kicking arse. The front channels are worked hard also, with most dialogue being placed there displaying no problems with clarity or synchronisation. If you want to piss the neighbours off, here’s your chance.
The remaining tracks are good and show off the low frequency sounds well. The English and Turkish Dolby 5.1 have a similar feel to the DTS, but just lack a little of the impact and punch.
This is a great reference disc to show to anyone who is still to jump on the home theatre bandwagon. With action, action, and more action booming for 360 degrees, it just makes the ride even more enjoyable.