Welcome back to MOORE OR LESS, my three part look at the cinematic adaptations of one of my and many a comic readers favorite writers: ALAN MOORE.
Alan Moore is known for his meticulously researched, crafted, written, and mind-blowingly executed scripts by the comic reading public. He is almost as equally known by both comic and film fans alike for his being a cantankerous old queen when it comes to studios making films of his comics and how they are soulless they are and how they lack his vision or whatever his gripe might be.
Alan’s ball-breaker Numero Two: 2003’s THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN (Or “LXG” as it was post X-MEN success marketed as, and will be referred to in the rest of this column for the sake of me ol’ wrists and digits.)
Here’s the thing about Alan Moore—Alan Moore is SMARTER than you. Yes…you there reading this. (Except maybe Rafe.) You, the soulless wretch in front of me at the gas station checkout. You, the noted scholar. Alan Moore is smarter than all of you. And he knows it. And he likes to show it, but not flaunt it, and use it entirely to entertain you in a new and unique way each time he spins a yarn. You, the nerd who reads comics. And consarnit if that isn’t what make his books brilliant! (Along with the art of the books, of course. Well…Usually…95% of the time anyway.)
And The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Moore and Kevin O’Neill, from the first mini-series/eventual collected graphic novel that the LXG film is “based” on, to the four series that have followed, all have been historically fictive romps through times and recent decades and eras ripe for storytelling from the very turn of the 20th in 1899 aaaalllllll the way up 2009. The mind-bending art by O’Neill and references by Moore are so obscure both historically and fictionally that you, along with the MST3K writers and Dennis Miller alike, feel proud when you recognize one–Moore being smarter than you, and all.
Especially in the 3rd book THE BLACK DOSSIER. I think Moore was mad when he wrote that one. It was a big middle finger to idiots, and a challenge to even the most well-read enough schlub like me. Seriously, TBD was exhausting to read! Merhaps he was targeting on readers who only picked up the book because of LXG? …Even though TBD came out a solid 4 years after said film?…Does anyone else hear Eddie Vedder narrating this nasty turn of graphic novel author vindictiveness towards his ‘fans’ in their head?
Anywhozell…Three things you should know about LXG going into it:
- It made Alan Moore so mad, he not only disavowed it, but Moore demanded his names be taken off the credits of potential future films and his creator’s cut be given the artist of whatever book may be slaughtered next.
- This is also SEAN CONNERY’s last film. For many reasons we’ll get into later.
“What the heck is LXG or this so-called League of Extraordinary Gentlemen about, already, Danno?!”
Oh. Right. Sorry. I do tend to ramble. OK, so let us take a comparative look at the Moore/O’Neill first series the film LXG was based on, and their similarities and vast, vast differences.
Campion Bond (A made-up character for this book, who is 007’s grandfather!) is tasked on behalf of British Intelligence—specifically his Bond boss ‘M’–and asked to assemble a league of extraordinary individuals to protect the interests of the Empire. (Bond was the first thing cut from the film. Alas. I thought it was cute nod.) So Bond recruits firstly to be de facto leader of TLOEG a post-Dracula disgraced and divorced MINA HARKER. (you know, Winona Ryder in BRAM STROKER’s DRACULA. Except she has still got her vampire powers…and can go out in the day.)
Winona being the team leader was the second thing cut. But again, more on this later. Anyway, she is sent along with CAPTAIN NEMO to Cairo to locate and recruit ALAN QUATERMAIN, which she does. Quatermain is now a near-skeletal Opium junkie on his last legs. This character flaw, is also WITHOUT HESITATION probably one of the first things cut from the film. Why? Didn’t I just review an Alan Moore adaptation where our hero was an Opium fiend despite that NOT being in the comic? Well, as much as I predicted FROM HELL’s opium and Absinthe-laded brand of heroism was 100% star JOHNNY DEPP’s idea, the elimination of Quatermain’s habit HAD TO BE the first thing producer/Quatermain himself SEAN CONNERY had cut…if Connery was even aware this was in the comic. (It coulda been cut long ago in the scripting/producer interference stages as they aimed for a fun PG-13 summer blockbuster romp. Who knows how faithful this script ever was at any point?)
For funzies, here’s the legend of why Connery even made this film:
Sean Connery was given the script for the original MATRIX and asked to be MORPHEUS. Being old and cranky, he didn’t understand the script and gave the Wachowski’s a big fat “Nay, Laddies!” (And honestly, let us all get down on our knees to the Film Gods for this ‘dodged bullet’, as it were. Can you even IMAGINE Connery in the MATRIX, let along fighting atop a semi-trailer for 15 minutes in MATRIX RELOADED?!?! No special effect in the world could have made any of that work!)
Well, we all know the financial record and cultural and cinematic impact and revolution the original MATRIX had, so much so that Connery was evidently VERY upset, and between naps and drunken rage he promised himself to make the next big-budget, comic-based, non-sense script that came his way! …And that script, and the reason we’re all here today, was LXG.
But back to TLOFEG: So with a forced-to-sober-up Quatermain in tow, Winona and Nemo finish their business by collecting DR JEKYLL/MR HYDE in Paris and then–forceably--Hawley Griffin, THE INVISIBLE MAN, who has little interest in being a hero for his country (in fact he’d rather be running the show. Not just the League, but like ALL of Britain…and beyond. He’s a megalomaniac who even sells out his whole planet in Book 2 in the name of personal power. Spolier Alert.). The team assembled, they are set out on their mission: To battle FU MANCHU who has stolen the only known sample of CAVORITE** and plans to use it to build an offensive airship, against which Britain would have little defense.
(**Cavorite is a fictional element–An alloy in H. G. Wells‘ novel “The First Men in the Moon” that is opaque to all forms of radiant energy including gravity—is manufactured out of a complicated alloy of metals and a “new element called “Helium”. See, Moore knew that. Did you, Smarty-pants?)
Now here’s where the comics plot gets messy: After retrieving the Cavorite from FU, the League delivers it into the hands of their employers Bond and ‘M’—who is really none other than PROFESSOR JAMES MORIARITY!!!–Sherlock Holmes old nemesis! Oh, and Colton Bond is in on this treachery, so don’t feel bad for him. Now pay attention! MORIARITY, after faking his death in some damn book, now (somehow) controls British Intelligence— although he admits to being unsure whether he is a spy posing as a criminal or the other way round. MORIARITY also controls London’s West end Underworld, while FU MANCHU controls the East. However MORIARITY, who has a bad-ass airship of his own which is why he need the Cavorite back, plans is to bomb FU and the East end, taking out large parts of London and the League itself with it!!! An aerial battle above London commences, and the League eventually triumphs! Hurrah! The series ends with MYCROFT HOLMES (Shelock’s bro) taking over control of the League (for reasons of good and wholesomeness, for God and Crown and Country reasons this time!) and requesting they all stay in London lest they be needed again! (Which, wouldn’t know it the last page sets up the impending TLOEG Book 2…as Martains prepare to launch a WAR OF THE WORLDS!!!).
So, aside from what I’ve listed already–No Bond, no Opium–what is different about my belovedly cheesy LXG? Well…let’s say it begins with the, uh, the OPENING SCENE and pretty much doesn’t stop until the final credits roll. But unlike FROM HELL, it’s all delicious, silly fun, instead of ludicrous plot/history mashing and a stoned whore-loving hero. (Let us all just hope DETECTIVE DEPP lends such character gravitas to TONTO.)
First off: There is no FU MANCHU or Cavorite–instead the film opens in dear old Londontown with a TANK that is a good literal 17 years ahead of its time (if not more—it kind of looks like the one at the end of INDIANA JONES 3…Connery!!!) smashing through building after building, aka some lovingly recreated Victorian London sets and models on a massive back-lot (again, we’ll get back to this). The Bobbies are helpless against such an alien and unstoppable beast, as well as the rapid-fire machine gun technology that also didn’t exist back then. Finally the tank smashes its way into the Bank of England. Men dressed as German soldiers emerge and attack, along with their evil boss THE FANTOM who steals Leonardo da Vinci’s layouts of Venice’s foundations. How do you know THE FANTOM is the evil boss? Cause he’s wearing a metal mask that’s covering a horrible scarred face below, has a giant ass Black Metal wig, and dresses like BANE would have in 1899.
Well this unwarranted attack by the Gerrys brings the two nations to the brink of war! Just then– the tank shows up in Berlin and the Fantom, this time along with men dressed as British officers kidnap German scientists and destroy a factory. OH GOOD LORD! He’s JUMPSTARTING WORLD WAR ONE!!! Whatever can be done to save us all??? (Well, not us. Our great/grandparents who exist in this fictional alternate reality, if you want to be technical. And I thought I was a nit-picker!)
Jump cut to Kenya: Sanderson Reed (Our non-evil Colton Bond stand-in, I guess) of British Intelliegence ventures to a ‘gentlemen’s club’ (not THAT kind. Geez.) to recruit world-renowned hunter and adventurer ALLAN QUATERMAIN! Quatermain, totally sober (except for whatever he’s drinking) is retired and mourning the loss of his son after his last adventure, and has no interest in serving the British Empire further, nor does he think the problems of Europe have much concern for Africa. JUST FREAKING THEN armed men attempt to assassinate Quatermain and destroy the club, begrudgingly forcing Quatermain to agree to work with Reed.
Ok, so right there: HUUUUUUGE difference from the graphic novel! Quatermain is our hero and focus. Winona Ryder has been booted in order to appease Connery’s ego, and I’m sure contractual obligation. And for SOME REASON Winona Ryder is played by PETA WILSON. Now why would they do that? (“Connery was paid $17 million USD (of an $80 million dollar budget) for his role, which left the filmmakers little money to attract other big-name stars for the ensemble cast.”)
Jump cut again to Londontown: Quatermain goes over the aforementionedly cut 007’s head (for again, probably obvious Connery-related ego reasons) and goes right to “M”, and his comically evil and shifty moustache. (Baz Luhrmann would later go on to us this mustache to Oscar-baiting effect in THE GREAT GATSBY.)
‘M’ explains that the Fantom stole the plans to destroy Venice to prevent a meeting between the leaders of the world, his ultimate goal being to start a world war and arms race to profit from sale of his weapons (Now THAT is British Intelligence!). To combat the Fantom, a team of unique individuals known as the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is being formed – consisting of Quatermain himself, Captain Nemo (with a beard so terribly fake Mall Santas would scoff), “chemist” Winona Ryder, and invisible thief Rodney Skinner (for legal reasons they had to change both his characters name and personality, but also he had to be referred to “AN” INVISIBLE MAN, not “THE”. Whatevs. He’s one of best characters in the film). Also, once again stroking Connery’s ego and putting Winona Ryder’s character in her place as A WOMAN, Quatermain is constantly berating her for her uselessness and possession of a vagina. It’s some classy filmmaking.
Anyhoo, ‘M’ sends the group to recruit their fifth (and totally made up for the films sake) member, immortal DORIAN GRAY, who remains youthful while a currently missing portrait of himself ages. In another scene of exposition and character introduction/interaction Quatermine reveals he recognizes Gray from when he, Quatermine, was an “eager, young student” and, Opium-free, astutely realizes Gray is more than he appears to be. It’s also disclosed Dorian and Winona once had a thing, yet still he refuses to join the team.
SUDDENLY! IN DORIAN GRAY’S OWN HOUSE!!! The Fantom and his assassins attack, but are saved thanks to some intervention by (uuugghhh) U.S Secret Service Agent TOM SAWYER. (Yep. All grownz up–in his mid 20s, but still with a reckless streak and hear of gold whitewash–also now an irritating good-old boy. At the studios request, Sawyer was added for American audiences and to give the movie some “youth appeal.” Also, remember Quatermine’s dead son? Well, guess who both get to have some “character growth” by giving Quatermine at least one character flaw to overcome, and Sawyer one thing to achieve too.) The assassins are defeated although the Fantom escapes. Winona is revealed to be a vampire, a result of her past encounter with Count Dracula. Gray and Sawyer join the team and set off to recruit their final member, MR HYDE-who is hiding in Paris-in Captain Nemo’s submarine, the NAUTILUS. Ahh, MR HYDE…
For budgetary reasons (I’m guessing. Thanks, Sean!) instead of making a full CG Mr Hyde for the run of the film (though there are moments, but only when he’s confronting other CG concoctions) they instead covered actor JASON FLEMYNG in an awesome prothetics get-up, filmed his scenes and then later roto-scoped him into scenes (or however films are made) to give him a larger appearance then the rest of the team. And I have to be honest, STAN LEE has gone on record many a time saying that THE HULK is essentially a straight lift of JEKYLL/HYDE and man-o-man does LXG prove that. I’d dare say, the fun schtick at the end of THE AVENGERS notwithstanding, LXG still stands as my favorite HULK movie to date. Flemyng totally sells both the nervous/rattled/unstable DR JEKYLL as he does giving life, rage, and even eventual pathos to MR HYDE. Mr Hyde is probably the best character in the comic—especially in BOOK 2!—and LXG at least pays great respect to that. His internal back and forth scenes where Jekyll’s mirror reflection is Hyde (and vice-versa) and they have open discussions referring to one another as HENRY and EDWARD are pure gold, showing a character depth MARVEL has yet to capture with Dr Banner and the big green CG monster lurking inside him. (FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, DON’T MAKE HIM ANGRY!!!)
We’re running long here so I’ll do my best to get thru the rest of the film as quick as possible. While travelling to Venice aboard Nemo’s NAUTILUS, everyone starts to notice something is afoul—starting when Jekyll notices one of his viles of Hydejuice is missing, as has been the…err…AN invisible thief since they came aboard. Skinner is immediately then made patsy for all upcoming events, no questions asked.
This INVISIBLE MAN finger-pointing follows a scene where Jekyll uncomfortably fondles his open pocketwatch—both sides of it!—down by his general “Mr. Hyde” area, while watching Gray and Winona Ryder make out. I’m assuming Flemyng was miffed about his jack-off scenes in FROM HELL being cut so he made damn sure he was able to recreate just even a little bit of that magic in LXG. Flemyng must be Moore’s most hated on-screen nemesis, having dared be in not one, but TWO, of Moore’s hated adaptations! Gah! I’m getting way off track again! Anyway…everyone is in the NAUTILUS:
Look how big that F-er is! It’s pretty impressive too for a mostly CG mode of transport. The team reaches Venice where the Titanic-sided Nautilus fits—more or less—a good distance into the famed Canals. Umm…I’ve never been to Venice, nor am about to do a google search of the canals sizes and how large of ships can actually fit in them, but it all seems a bit silly. Luckily, it’s classic model-work and matte painting silliness, so all is forgiven. EVENTUALLY “The ship can go no further, Cap’n!” bellows Nemo’s first mate ISHMAEL. (Get it! Guess what his opening line is? Go ahead! Just guess!!!)
The team departs the ship—and JUST IN TIME! The Fantoms underwater bombs designed to sink Venice and kill everyone go off JUST AT THAT MOMENT! What to do? Well, even though they are god knows how far away from the original explosion–the perspective and area covered in this sequence gets a bit muddy—they know the buildings are “tumbling like Dominos!” (the game pieces, not the food chain. But who knows, what with all the different pizza operations out there these days?) There only hope is to “get ahead of the chain reaction” and stop it—by blowing up a building before it can be knocked over. Sure there’s a good chance the building they blow up could start the same reaction, but…forget it…rambling. For the most part the crumbling model and CG Venice is an antiquated and lovingly recreated set. But OK, here is where shit gets really crazy: So they are going to do this pre-demolition thing…but HOW to get to where they need to be in time to send a signal flare to the Nautilus so it can fire a missile stopping the Little Caesar’s Effect?!?! Answer:
US SECRET SERVICE AGENT TOM SAWYER DRIVING LIKE A BAT OUT OF HELL USING NEMO’S ‘AUTO-MOBILE’ I’M NOT 100% CERTAIN IT WAS EVER ESTABLISHED THAT SAWYER EVEN KNEW EXISTED IN THE FIRST PLACE. YEEEEEEE-HHHAAAAAWWWWWW!!!!
I think Huck Finn grew up to be a racist stock car driver in one of his later sequels when Twain was suffering from hallucinations and dementia but still writing every day, so Tom knowing how to suddenly drive is 100% plot hole proof, ya nit-picky nerds.
So Quatermine rides shot-gun (FUNNY! Cause he almost exclusively uses a rifle! Ok…not that funny.), Gray and Winona also hop in. While creeping out everyone with a quick Vamp feast during the attack at Gray’s earlier, Winona is still just THE WOMAN (ick!) and in sexist old words of Quatermine, “I’ve yet to be impressed!” FORESHADOWING?!?!?!
Well the race around Venice quickly turns into a gauntlet of gun-fire as the Fantoms men have been station all over, ready to attack in this about to implode city waiting for hours/days(?) for our heroes to show up. Luckily they are all the worse shots in the history of film (well, they are at least in the Top 10). Not that our heroes gun-play fares any better. Quatermine “Can’t get a shot off” (bet that’s been his excuse for 15 years or so now. Am I right, ladies?!) so Sawyer has him take the wheel as he fires roughly 9,000 bullets out of two 6-shooters and misses even the broadside of the only barn in Venice. The ‘Immortal’ and impervious to gunfire Gray (it was established) leaps out of the car to fight these machine-gunning goons like a civilized hero—with a sword! Winona Ryder finally impresses and leaps from the car where she turns into both a Vampire Super Woman but also can conjure up thousands of bats. Why not? Oh, have I mentioned everyone but Quatermine and Nemo want to bang Winona? Guys were into weird stuff back before they invented Betty Paige.
Then, spotting The Fantom–cause why wouldn’t he also just be waiting around in a city about to kersplode—Quatermine leaps from the car (going roughly 70mph) and chases down the villain. After a bit of gun-play and a fistfight between Fantom and a stuntman who, when you cut away fast enough, kind of look like Connery only moving 90% faster than Connery does during any given scene of pure dialogue. The Fantoms mask is knocked off revealing—YOU GUESSED IT! They’ve taken the ‘M’ as MORIARITY idea and all that charred flesh and silly mustache—MAKE UP!!! But Moriarity gets away vowing the League will never stop his plans! Mu-uh-hawh-hawh-hawh!!!
Meanwhile, Sawyer stops the Papa Murphy’s Effect by leaping across a canal, firing the signal gun , crashing and flipping the car (no seat belts, mind you!) but coming out unscathed. And then the missile shows up and blows him and the building he’s in to rubble.
Everyone reunites at The Nautilus—INCLUDING SAWYER!!! Who LITERALLY isn’t even dusty!—only to discover Gray was the traitor all along. He’s stolen Winona and Skinners blood, Jekyll’s formula, and Nemo’s Nautilius blueprints. (So wait, what did Moriarity ever need Quatermine for?) Gray then uses a weird-ass Nautilus escape sub that looks like a HE-MAN ‘Roton’ to get away.
Our heroes hit reverse on the Nautilus and take chase—but in the event the LXG somehow stopping/surviving Venice—Moriarity had Gray plant bombs IN PLAIN SIGHT all over the ship. So they kersplode. The Nautilus starts to sink because they can’t close a flood valve in the bowels of the ship. So, yes, finally it’s time for Jekyll/Hyde to be awesome and save the day and totally redeem himself. Seriously, he’s the best!
The Nautilus back afloat but damaged, the team receives a Morse Code message from AN invisible Skinner, who disappeared right away because he suspected Gray from the start and has been following him around as he collects his samples. He’s even (NAKED!) on the get-away sub and sends them the location of where Gray is headed– northern Mongolia! (Why not?) Once the team reunites with the very cold (NAKED!) Skinner he reveals Moriarity runs a factory where weaponized versions of the Nautilus are being constructed along with invisible spies, an army of Hydes, and vampiric assassins. As it happens, this is also the day Moriarity is leaving with ONE briefcase containing ONE OF EACH vile of synthesized power to sell to the highest bidder. Guess the superpowers of the world get together once a year to hear out mad-scientists or something.
The team attacks. Moriarity taunts Quatermine not once, but twice, in the course of this film during their scrapes about his dead son to remind the audience of Sawyer’s surrogate role (which is really hammered away on whenever possible throughout the whole film to the point of obnoxiousness), everyone more or less faces off against an evil version of themselves or their teammates. This particular final set piece is why I’m glad they stuck mostly practical with Hyde through the whole film, because guess what? His arch-nemesis Hyde is pure CG. Pure terrible CG.
Quatermine and Moriarity have a final showdown, but Quatermine is injuried and it’s up to Sawyer to finally prove himself to his surrogate father…by shooting Moriarity from an impossibly far distance. Which he does! Boo-Yah! USA! USA! USA! Luckily the ONE SATCHEL of viles slides forward as Moriarity falls to his death and sinks into the ocean just as the factory is kersploded. Oh, and Winona Ryder kills Dorian Gray by showing him his portrait and borrowing some left over aging/face-melting FX from THE FINAL CRUSADE .(Connery!!!)
Quatermain dies, is buried in Kenya beside his son, but the other league members recall his story of how a witch doctor, whose village he had once saved, blessed him, saying as long as he was in Africa, Africa would never allow him to die. The League leaves, the witch doctor appears and performs a ritual. A bolt of lightning strikes Quatermain’s grave, leaving the result ambiguous. Roll credits!
So, three things before we wrap this unduly long review of a ten year old film up:
- As I did last time, I ask the question does Alan Moore have the right to be a pissy little beeoch about this film. From all stand-points, I’d say yes. They took his idea and butchered it. And by ‘they’ I mean the studio (early drafts had reportedly relocated much of the action from England to America, allegedly in an attempt to make it more acceptable to an American audience) and Sean “I think after 500 movies I know what people want” Connery. The one person I don’t blame is writer JAMES ROBINSON. He did the best with what he had, and besides who knows how many people tinkered with it after him. Also, I don’t blame Robinson because I know for a fact he is a wildly talented writer (check out his STARMAN series and THE GOLDEN AGE graphic novel), and this film had absolutely ZERO of his voice. This was pure pap. Robinson does not write pap.
- As I mentioned about 4,000 words ago, LXG is one of my Secret Pleasures. Why? Is it because it reminds me of a first date with a girl I would have progressively disaster-prone nine month relationship with? Is it because it butchered one of the smartest and most entertaining graphic novel series out there? NO! It’s because of the film visually aesthetic cheese! This film cost nearly $80 but it certainly doesn’t look like it. As I said the sets and whatnot are wonderful, but whenever they are on a set it FEELS LIKE IT WAS SHOT ON A SET. Very soap opera-like. Also, they do a ton with models, minatures, and matte paintings in this film. A very lost art a decade later when CG is king. Not to say this film doesn’t have it’s fair share of CG, some, as I noted TERRIBLE, most ok, but there is the occasional shot I’d still hold up 10 years later as a work of art, like when The Fantom destroys a Zepplin hanger.
3. Finally, as suggested last time, Alan Moore is an occultist and spell-caster. Has he had any notable lingering effect on this film? Well, despite Connery going out on a Shrieking Skunk instead of a Swan Song, I think once again Moore has cursed the director! Much like FROM HELL’s Hughes Bros (who were bankable directors), LXG’s STEPHEN NORRINGTON , the man who brought you the first BLADE–was once again a bankable director. Even LXG made well over $100 million back. Yet…Norrington hasn’t worked a day since! It probably didn’t help that “during (LXG) he had such a hard time with the film’s star that he announced he would never direct another film again.” He would later (try to) change his mind. Post LXG, in 2008 it was announced that Norrington would direct a reboot of the The Crow franchise. That didn’t happen. Norrington was set to do the Clash of the Titans remake before the position went to Louis Leterrier. Finally, in 2010 it was reported that Norrington would direct and write the supernatural action thriller The Lost Patrol from Legendary Pictures, but that never panned out and imdb shows nothing in the future for him.
Is it just two random cases in row of back luck for directors, or is it something magically, mystically, black and evil being shot at them from Northampton, Northamptonshire, England? I guess we’ll find out for sure next week in the conclusion of Moore Or Less: V FOR VENDETTA!
*DANNO KLONOWSKI is a cartoonist, co-host of the WAYNE GALE VARIETY HOUR podcast, and host of the LUTEFISK SUSHI PODCAST. All of which you can see/find links to at his site*