Title: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
Graphic Novel (Vol. 1) by Alan Moore (writer) and Kevin O’Neill (illustrator) . Published in 1999.
TV Movie directed by Stephen Norrington; Starring Sean Connery, Naseeruddin Shah, Peta Wilson, Tony Curran, Stuart Townsend, Shane West, Jason Flemyng and Richard Roxburgh. Released in 2003.
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is set in an alternate version of Victorian Britain where technology is very advanced, the supernatural coexists with the natural and characters from famous literary works are real people.
Miss Mina Murray has been recruited by the British Secret Service to bring together a group of individuals to work for a mysterious Mr M. With the help of an already recruited Captain Nemo (who had faked his death years ago and now is in search of new adventures ), her first stop is Egypt, where in an opium den, they find former intrepid hero Allan Quartermain now a hopeless, sick addict. Without much of a choice (especially when Mina is nearly raped and they have to fight to fight their way out) Allan is dragged to the Nautilus ship where so rehab is in order before they go to Paris to meet the next in their list. There, they must capture a man-beast who have been terrorizing prostitutes and who turn out to be Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde – once captured and turned over to their boss, the League moves in to the next target and visit a girl’s school whose pupils have been rumoured to have being impregnated by the “Holy Spirit” – in reality, The Invisible Man, who had been raping the girls.
They arrest the felon and return to London where they are informed of the purpose of bringing such a group together: Britain has been secretly planning a trip to the Moon using a key component called Cavorite which has been stolen – possibly by Britain’s enemies – and their mission is to recover the Cavorite, but for that they must learn to work together first under the leadership of gasp, a woman. In their path, they have to learn to trust each other, to let go of their pasts (is that even possible?) while dealing with plots twists and double crossings.
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is a ingenious work of fiction – Alan Moore doesn’t merely appropriate himself of known characters of fiction, he gives them new lives, playing the sensibilities of the time period whilst at the same time adding new flavourings – it is Steampunk after all, so the alternate universe serve the story by allowing for example a woman to be leader of the group, or the technological advances to be used by the characters in their pursuit of the villains.
I have to admit though at being completely surprised with some of the reviews I read which compare this League with say, the League of Justice and call this bunch of folks super-heroes.I think this is an utterly inapt description. There is nothing super about any of these folks (except perhaps Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, but that is hardly a superpower to talk about) and hardly anything heroic about most of them, considering that we have at least a rapist and a murderer in their midst. A much more apt comparison in fact, would be with Alan Moore’s own Watchmen , that group of flawed vigilantes who in the end, can do something good. But still having some bad apples in the group (an easy comparison is between The Invisible Man and The Comedian or between Night Owl and Quatermain) .
They get together for pure lack of choice not heroics. Mina is now a ruined woman, after the scandalous incidents with that Dracula chap, incidents that are only alluded to in the course of the story, but which have resulted in her divorce from Jonathan Harker and to always wearing a scarf around the neck and that ruination is thoroughly exploited by M. As is Quartermain’s opium addiction and former glory for example. Similarly The Invisible Man and Dr Jekyll are in it because they are criminals and they need to be pardoned.
In the end, something might have changed for some of them and to follow each character arc is what it is all about – and THEN, they might become Extraordinary. Plus, you know, the fun of it all – the trying to see if you can get all the literary references (OMG the Invisible Man is raping POLLYANA when they get to the school) and to get to the bottom of the mystery. Who is this M? Who is the real villain of the piece?
As for the art, I don’t find it especially spectacular but it is certainly effective in conveying the gloominess and darkness of both characters and setting. It is also very graphic – torture, attempted rape, murders are all explicitly detailed.
Now, for the movie.
It is safe to say that whereas The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen the graphic novel, is a great work of fiction that I really enjoyed and can highly recommend, The League of the Extraordinary Gentlemen, the movie, is a veritable Masterpiece.
Oh, the wrongness of it all. Let me count the ways.
For starters: Allan Quatermain is the one chosen to their leader. Of course, GOD FORBID , the ladyfolk be allowed to lead anything especially not this league of extraordinary gentlemen. The ladyfolk is there to be hot, speak with a raw, sultry voice and kiss the hot dude.
Speaking of Mina – there is nothing more unrefined than to have this scene right in the beginning? Yes, let’s make the character a blood-sucking fiend and forget all about the trauma and horror and the fact that it is never even revealed to the reader what happened to her in the book.
Since we are on the subject of subtlety , could this movie be any more obvious and crass? Starting with the addition of two new characters which do not exist in the comics: Dorian Gray and Tom Sawyer. Let me just say something before I go any further.
I can’t stand Stuart Townsend’s acting and any character he plays I will hate on principle
Thank you. Back to the matter at the hand – it is so obvious that these two characters have been added in an attempt to add “young” blood to the cast is not even funny – since most of the of original literary figures are former heroes in their later years, I guess Hollywood needed more commercial faces and I understand that, I do. But I also missed the great bickering and chemistry between Quatermain and Mina.
Moving on, moving on. Where was I? The godawful lines and dialogue: a mixture of overt clichés and dumb lines. Like for example, when they see Nautilus for the first time. In a scene that could have been good – because the visual effects here were rather cool, I like Nautilus, but the dialogue ruined it for me.
Tom Sawyer: Oh.
Nemo: Behold Nautilus, the sword of the ocean
Yeah, mind numbing.
Beyond that, the fact that the writers sucked all the fun and good things out of the original and made a complete mess of it all. None of the complicate issues exist any longer, Quatermain has no Opium issues, Mina is a bad-ass vampire, Invisible Man is just comic relief and so and so forth. I understand that adaptations do not have to follow the originals word by word but if you are not going to get the GOOD things out of it, then WHAT IS THE POINT???
In the end, an extraordinary disappointment. It is a horrible adaptation which does not stand on its own two feet. Not even the awesomeness of Sean Connery can save this one.
BUT IS IT STEAMPUNK? YES! Alternate history with advanced techonology which shapes and influences the world causing tension between nations, for example. Plus, cool gadgets!
Book: 8 Excellent. Recommended to fans of Steampunk, and of comics in general especially of the more darkish variety. If you liked Moore’s Watchmen you will probably like this one although it is nowhere near as good.
Movie: 1 One of the worst movie adaptations I have ever seen. and that’s about all I have to say on the subject.