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The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

With the majority of well-known cape-and-cowl heroes having made their way to the screen, Hollywood has begun mining more obscure graphic novels to fill their coffers. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003) is an excellent book, but since it's not as high-profile a title as Spider-Man or X-Men, the need to remain true to the source-material is not nearly as strict. Fox's cinematic interpretation takes a good deal of license with the property, disregarding the tale in the first book but attempting to keep the spirit intact. The premise behind League is rather grandiose — imagine an alternate universe in which some of the greatest literary heroes and anti-heroes are alive and well in the year 1899. Allan Quartermain (Sean Connery), the legendary adventurer made famous by his explorations of Africa, is called into service by the British government. A mysterious man known as "The Phantom" ("Very operatic," quips Quartermain) is using military technology the world has never seen (tanks, automatic weapons, rocket launchers) in an attempt to foster a war in Europe. To stop him, Quartermain is asked to hunt down a crew of misfits and freaks, all of whom possess a certain talent that will be beneficial in stopping the evil plot — Capt. Nemo (Naseerudin Shah) and his submarine the Nautilus, Mina Harker (Peta Wilson) of Dracula fame, Dr. Jekyll (Jason Flemyng) and his alter-ego Mr. Hyde, Skinner the Invisible Man (Tony Curran), Tom Sawyer (Shane West) as a Secret Service agent, and the immortal Dorian Gray (Stuart Townsend). All must join together to stop The Phantom from attacking a meeting of world leaders in Venice. From the vistas of Africa to the streets of Paris and London, the rivers of Venice, and the mountains of Mongolia, the League hops around Europe in the Nautilus, running into adventure and trouble at each turn.

*          *          *

Initially, the entire reasoning behind "building the team" in Gentlemen seems rather flimsy and contrived, as do the awkward and cartoon-ish appearances of The Phantom. Fortunately, there's a reason for it, and the second half of the film involves the team investigating the real meaning behind the formation of the League. Alan Moore's novel is for adults, and a true adaptation could certainly have yielded an R-rating. While the adaptation certainly accounts for the dark nature of most of the characters, it's mostly implied that they are capable of indecent or evil actions. The Invisible Man, for example, is found in the book using his talent to impregnate nuns in a convent (who believe God is visiting them in the night). Allen Quartermain is an opium addict, taken from his hovel by Mina Harker and forced to go through detox, and isn't quite the pugilist and marksman he's made out to be in the film — one can easily imagine Connery's influence here. Tom Sawyer has been added to give the cast an American appeal. All of these factors beg the question: If you're not interested in exploring the themes and subtext of an original work, and if the original tale isn't deemed worth telling, why bother adapting it in the first place? That said, League is better than it deserves to be. It maintains a good pace throughout, as the constant movement to new locations helps to keep things interesting. There is enough chemistry amongst the cast in spite of the minimal screen-time for most of the ensemble, and there are enough good effects (the destruction of Venice) to balance out the bad (the CG "bad" Hyde, for example). Fox presents The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen in a nice anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with Dolby 5.1 audio. There are two commentary tracks, one featuring the producers and cast, and another with the effects crew. A short documentary and several deleted scenes round out the extras — not bad for a disc that doesn't risk calling itself a "special edition." Keep-case.
—Scott Anderson

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