Gothic Steam Phantastic

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

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The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen or LXG (2003)

It took a while for me to see the movie, so I couldn't prevent reading some reviews before I saw it. One review called it "The League of Extraordinary lack of plot", so I did not expect much when I sat in the theatre. I was not disappointed in that.

But does it make a bad movie? Well, no, not directly. But there sure are many things that could have been done better in this movie. And we might learn from it, too.

The story in very short: seven extraordinary gentlemen (well known for their share in Victorian literature) gather to prevent bad guy the Fantom from taking over the world. Much like James Bond A.D. 1899, in fact, and not because Sean Connery is in it.
In the first half, it is about stopping a terrorist, who is blowing up Venice, in the second half it becomes clear the weapons he wants to use to take over the world are not the normal ones: he needs the LXG's extraordinary powers to get his weapons made.

Much of the story is about introducing the LXG to us. As if we don't know the characters. Oh well, we might know the characters because they have household names, but they are not much like the ones we know from literature.
Take for example Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde. Both are not like they have been described by Stevenson. The quiet, distinguished, elder gentlemen Jekyll has turned in a neurotic youth, and the crooked, ugly, sad Hyde turns into something like the Hulk. The original story was that the elixir made even the most educated man into a violent sinner - it's never clear what these sins are, but something sexual comes to mind. The name of the elixir might have been alcohol. No trace of this in LXG. Hulk Hyde is not a sinner, only a violent, rough unreasonable "ape". As the LXG goes to Paris to find him, the murders in the Rue Morgue are mentioned - a story by E.A. Poe where an ape, who speaks in a language no-one understands, terrorises the Rue Morgue. If that was a joke in the LXG, it was not a funny one. In my opinion, you can't just change and twist history like that; it's fully unnecessary too.
The other LXG characters come in just as deformed from their originals.

Furthermore, there are things that are in a way very wrong.
First, we see it is the year 1899. An unknown evil terrorises Europe. Allen Quartermain is in the early summer called to London by a servant of her majesty, with a warning to be prepared for an English summer. Upon arrival in London, he mentions he is quite late. But how long does it take to travel from Kenya to London? Not much more than a few months, I guess. Yet, in London they hear they only have four days to get to Venice. They arrive in Venice during the Carnival, which is in February/March (and in the early days, the carnival season lasted for about half a year, but the catholic highlight of the festival would have been 6 weeks before eastern). Did Quartermain take so long to arrive in London, or are the filmmakers thinking Venice has a permanent Carnival? (Pity though that they did not meet Poe's Montresor and/or Fortunato in Venice)
Second, the terrorists have guns that look quite a lot like Kalashnikovs in too small metal boxes. The final shoot-out is in Siberia. The architecture of The Fantom's castle is Slavic/Russian. Yet, in reality, the Russian Empire was in the 19th century a very wealthy empire, befriended to the British Empire, inhabited by many famous scientists, philosophers, and artists. It was not a realm of evil for the rest of the world. In fact, there should have been a Russian extraordinary gentlemen in the league instead of that Mr Sawyer. It would have been logical...

The steampunk gadgets in the movie are somewhat bombastic. The weapons of the good guys are their extraordinary skills, no technical advances there, except for the Nautilus of course.
The Nautilus is the castle of the good guys. It is huge and white, and cuts through the sea like a sword. There are enormous, luxurious rooms to spend the day in, and there are plenty of machines in it, too. Which do a excellent job of being blown to bits when necessary, of course.
The Nautilus has a car in it, so the heroes can move on land as well. It looks a lot like a white-and-chrome batmobile. It has with all its chrome more resemblance to the American cars from the early fifties than any real classic car (a good example might have been the cars from The Great Race (1965) that show elegance and power, and some nasty tricks as well).

Intrigue... well, political intrigue, it hardly has any that goes beyond "and who betrays the lot?". It is all the classic James Bond scenario for World Destruction: an evil genius wants to dominate the world, and is willing to use violence to do so. A small group of heroes should stop him. It's not all that intriguing or intelligent. At the end of the movie, when you know how it all has happened, you might even thing: if there is a difficult way that makes a spectacular movie, why think of a simpler and smoother way?

In general, I think the movie is entertaining if you don't expect much from it. There are fights and action and a lot of explosions. Being something of a block buster, it might give more people the opportunity to get to know better the genre of steampunk - and attract them to the more serious steampunk settings, as well as the classic books featuring the main characters of LXG.
If there ever will be a sequel, it might be more interesting, because there hasn't have to be as much story time filled by introducing the characters. With a more intelligent plot, it might even be a successful series of movies for both steampunk-fans and the common audience.

© Yaghish 2003

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