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THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Sean Connery, Shane West, Stuart Townsend, Peta Wilson, Jason Flemyng
Director: Stephen Norrington
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1, Spanish Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Features: See Review
Length: 110 Minutes
Release Date: December 16, 2003

“I don’t see what we need a big monkey for.”

“Well, this big monkey has terrorized the Rue Morgue for months…imagine the mayhem he’ll give the enemy.”

Film ***

If several of the most worldwide renowned characters from literary tales existed in another universe, they might make one hell of a 19th century version of X-Men, in this case known as The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. And like X-Men, the movie is alive in every frame in terms of its glorious production design and effects. And the plot, though in some ways applicable to something a B-movie status, serves the action adventure element of the movie quite well. It’s something of pure irony that an adventure movie theatrically released the same week as Pirates of the Caribbean, could manage to be engaging and entertaining on its own ground.

Set in 1899, the plot of LXG brings together a group of highly unlikely allies, each of which emerging from the depths of classic literary adventures. First off, there’s Allan Quartermain (Sean Connery), the legendary adventurer who’s been assigned to head up The League. Quartermain is reluctant to even think of leaving his home in Africa, feeling much regret over the death of his son. Nonetheless, a raging war between Germany and Britain has hit Quartermain’s homeland, which changes his perspectives a little.

Once summoned to London to a meeting with a government representative known as M (Richard Roxburgh), which is no doubt a nod to Ian Fleming, Quartermain is placed as head of the newly formed League. Among those signing on to the team are scientist/sea-farer Captain Nemo (Naseeruddin Shah); Rodney Skinner (Tony Curran), who can be considered the original “hollow man”; and the partially immortal Mina Harker (Peta Wilson), who’s best known for surviving that whole Dracula fiasco.

With only four days at their disposal, The League’s task involves that of stopping a ruthless madman known as The Fantom, who is responsible for igniting the tensions between England and Germany. The Fantom’s primary motive is profiting from the potential war by selling mass destructive weaponry. The British government has received word that the madman’s next target is a peace conference, which is being held in Venice.

Before heading off to Venice, Quartermain is able to recruit three more members for his League. They are Dorian Gray (Stuart Townsend), the legendary immortal who’s obsessed with recovering a missing portrait; Special Agent Tom Sawyer (Shane West), doing his part to prevent the hint of war from hitting across the Atlantic; and lastly, none other than Dr. Jekyll (Jason Flemyng), whose mighty morphin' alter-ego, Mr. Hyde, will no doubt come in handy to injecting a heavy dose of fear into their enemy.

The entertainment value of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is at a grand high level, pure and simple. Once plot setup is executed, it’s all fireworks from that point on. Once the action turns to Venice, LXG elevates to a good old rockin’ assault on the senses. It’s easy to dismiss something like this as all icing and no cake, but since this happens to be adapted from graphic novelty, by the same author who wrote From Hell, such an element is not so much bad thing.

It also helps that the director is Stephen Norrington, who directed the first Blade movie. Norrington has a very distinct and keen visual style, which is more than beneficial when bringing a comic book or a graphic novel to the big screen. Credit him, production designer Carol Spier, and cinematographer Dan Lausten for helping to create a movie of undying visual grace. Just about each frame of LXG is a treat for the eyes.

Energetically paced and wonderfully mind blowing, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is a dynamite entertainment package that is both a throwback to the adventures of yesteryear and a state of the art technical marvel. It’s rare that such a big budget, effects laden movie feels so go-for-broke-like and gloriously over the top, but LXG is such a rarity, and I think, is worthy of a potential franchise.

Video ****

Fox, continuing as always its DVD excellence, prevails with this remarkable anamorphic offering. The movie, as I mentioned earlier, is a pure treat for the senses, which is something Fox obviously took to heart with this stunner of a disc. Picture quality is of ultra-superb quality, never hinting a single bit of flaws, which is amazing since about 90% of the movie takes place at night. Colors are superbly natural as expected in this visual triumph. It’s very much one of the best looking discs of the year, as well as one of Fox’s best transfers to date.

Audio ****

Likewise, the 5.1 mix is as loud and ferocious as one could hope for. As far as range goes, it adds to the effect of the movie, especially during the action sequences. Be prepared to let your sound system let loose during a high speed pursuit on the streets of Venice, which did nothing short of rocking my ears, and I mean that in a good way. Once again, a technical triumph for the people at Fox.

Features ****

Fox prevails, as expected, in the extras field for LXG. Included are two commentary tracks; one with producers Don Murphy and Trevor Albert and actors Shane West, Jason Flemyng and Tony Curran; and the second with costume designer Jacqueline West, visual effect supervisor John E. Sullivan, make-up effects supervisor Steve Johnson and miniatures creator Matthew Gratzner. Also featured is a six-part behind the scenes documentary, and 12 deleted/extended scenes.

Summary:

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is an outlandish action packed piece, as you’re ever likely to find. It’s no doubt the 19th century answer to X-Men, and just as furiously engaging. 

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