As the science fiction of the previous century has become today’s reality, the world of fantasy and adventures has expanded to more futuristic adventures of characters that first appeared in comic books but now rule the world of blockbusters set in Marvel and DC comic universes. There are now many versions as well as permutation combinations of such characters – e.g. the Avengers or the Justice League and the cult of loving these characters have now spread across generations.
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
|Producer||:||Trevor Albert, Rick Benattar, Sean Connery, Mark Gordon, Don Murphy, Michael Nelson|
|Screenplay||:||Aaron Sorkin||Based On||:||The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen By Alan Moore, Kevin O’Nell|
|Screenplay by||:||James Dale Robinson|
|Music By||:||Trevor Jones|
|Production Companies||:||20th Century Fox, Angry Films, International Production Company, JD Productions|
|Distributed by||:||20th Century Fox|
|Released On||:||July 11, 2003|
|Starring||:||Sean Connery (Allan Quatermain), Naseeruddin Shah (Captain Nemo), Peta Wilson (Mina Harker), Tony Curran (Rodney Skinner), Stuart Townsend (Dorian Gray), Shane West (Tom Sawyer), Jason Flemyng (Dr. Henry Jekyll / Edward Hyde), Richard Roxburgh (The Fantom / “M” / Professor James Moriarty), Max Ryan (Dante), Tom Goodman-Hill (Sanderson Reed), David Hemmings (Nigel), Terry O’Neill (Ishmael), and others…|
So it is not such an uncommon idea that if you take a team like the Justice League of America but set it in past – say Victorian England – at turn of the century. It was this premise that led to The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Published in a series of comic books / graphic novels from 1999, the books were ripe with historical and fictional references and were liked by enthusiastic readers who like to connect the dots and fill in the background references.
In 2003, the novels were adapted to create the movie version by the same name. Recently, we had a chance to watch this movie and here we are sharing our views on it.
It is 1899. A tank rolls through the streets of London and breaks into the vault of Bank of England. A masked figure emerges and takes out what looks like blueprints of a city from out of the vault. The newspapers cry of the German attack on England. The same group then attacks the German fleet of balloons and so the Germans believe the English are attacking them.
Tensions rise as Europe is on brink of the war that may just turn into the world war. Something that has been unthinkable so far.
And so it is that “M” decides to recruit a few legendary (literally!) characters to form a team that will prevent the approaching catastrophe. These are:
- Allan Quartermaine – the formidable, almost indestructible hunter of Africa
- Captain Nemo – the scientific genius of a king from India and the captain of Nautilus
- Wilhelmina Harker – A chemist turned vampiric beauty
- Rodney Skinner – A thief who is now the sole invisible man
- Dorian Gray – The immoral, hedonistic character who is working for M in return for a missing portrait
- Tom Sawyer – An American secret service agent
- Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – The self-destructive but immensely powerful dual-personality scientist
Now none of the above need introduction, if you are an avid reader yourself as every single one of them, is a fictional character with immense recognition around the globe. Once the team is formed, they start a journey to Venice, where Fantom plans to destroy the peace conference as well as the city.
But there is a mole in the team.
By the time the League identifies the mole, it is too late. Although they are able to save some of Venice, they are all sitting on a ticking time-bomb themselves.
Will they survive to fight another day?
Movies featuring superhero lean towards either light or dark interpretation depending upon the director. What I liked about this film though is that most of them are struggling with some sort of evil that was inflicted upon them through misadventure or misfortune. While Tom Sawyer and Allan Quartermain make up the sunny side of life in general, even Quartermaine is struggling with the grief over his son’s death and his regrets around not having saved loved ones.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are in it for redemption, but it is too late for Mina and Dorian, who seem to have lost the battle with their demons. Captain Nemo says that while he is not over the grief of wrongs done in his past, he is just trying to be part of something good in the present and keep the shadows at bay.
With such complex backgrounds for the characters, the film could just as easily turn into a drag, but it doesn’t. For one thing, the film doesn’t go into backstories for any of the characters. The viewers know those anyway, so the film is more of action sequences, lots of shooting and bombs and even chases as Nemo provides the first-ever automobile and the first-ever submarine to the lot. And although they may appear quite ostentatious at times, they do provide awe-inspiring visuals.
While Jules Verne only told us that Captain Nemo was from the Indian subcontinent, this film shows him attired like a king, worshipping Kali and a spectacular Shivalinga on top of his Nautilus. His crew consists of people of all faiths thus highlighting the all-inclusive culture of our country and it is good to see this in a movie which is about bringing together characters from all around the world and merge the people of Africa, India, America and Europe into this extraordinary league.
As most of us look at the cast of any movie before watching it – this film stands out quite well, featuring heavyweights like Sean Connery and Nasiruddin Shah. The rest of the cast also has their own fan following. While I would think of this as the world of science fiction, this film definitely has a fair element of gothic in it with vampires and monsters as well. The masked Fantom happens to be none other than one of the most loathed villains in fiction and a criminal mastermind.
In addition to the visuals and special effects and action sequences, I liked the film for some of its dialogues and observations as well, e.g., when Allan Quartermaine is first approached by Sanderson Reed with a request to join the league and save the Empire, Quartermaine says,
You are too young to know this, but the Empire is always in some sort of peril.
And this is so apt. Although this film is set in 1899, it clearly draws some of its plot from the events that happened only a few years later and led to the World wars. The wars have since continued to rage in one form or another all around the world even though the British Empire no longer exists. Towards the end of the movie, when Quartermaine is dying, he says to Tom Sawyer:
May this century be yours as the past has been mine.
And in some ways, so it has been. If the 18th-19th centuries were of Europe and its conquests around the world, it is America who emerged as a superpower in the 20th century.
There are many such little remarks and sequences that have a fair bit of sub-text and will appeal differently to different readers, as they connect the characters featured in this film to the ones that were originally created by their writers.
But even if you have not read the books featuring the team, the film is still quite an entertaining watch. It has characters with extraordinary abilities, experience, paranormal capability and the power of science. And they are on a quest to destroy an evil-minded terrorist and save the world…
So quite an enjoyable journey awaits you if you are looking for a science fiction cum paranormal film to watch…
Around 8 out of 10.
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