The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen: A Blending Of Worlds
“The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen”, released in 2003 and distributed by Twentieth Century Fox, was produced by Trevor Albert, directed by Stephan Norrington and starred Sean Connery, Naseeruddin Shah, Peta Wilson, Tony Curran, Stuart Townsend, Shane West, Jason Flemyng, and Richard Roxburgh. Legendary adventurer, Allan Quatermain leads a group of singular individuals with unique abilities in an effort to prevent a world war instigated by a terrorist arms dealer called “the Fantom”. In the course of their quest, they find that they’ve been deceived and that the real danger is far worse and more personal than they ever imagined.
I was particularly amused and excited by the collection of characters assembled in this film. When I first saw this movie, I remembered all of the characters only by the older movies that I had seen them in. There have been a number of “Dracula” movies since the early 1970’s that were actual retellings of the original Bram Stoker classic. I can’t honestly claim to have seen all of them, but I have seen more than one or two that involved the characters from the original story. So, for me, at least, the appearance of Mina Harker needed little or no explanation. To my memory, I’ve seen two versions of “The Picture Of Dorian Gray” that were made and released before “The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen”. I’ve only seen one version of “20,000 Leagues Under The Sea”. But, I did see “The Mysterious Island”, so I’ve been exposed to the character of Captain Nemo on more than one occasion. I did know that the character “Tom Sawyer” was created by Mark Twain, so my knowledge of him as a character didn’t originate from older films (though, I did see him [the character] in movies and some older TV shows). The character(s) of “Dr. Jekyll” and “Mr. Hyde” I knew from older films, including the silent version released in 1920. “The Invisible Man”, originally released in 1933, was an old favorite that I used to catch on TV as a teenager when they used to run those old “B” movies from the 1950’s and earlier. I lost count of the “Sherlock Holmes” films I’ve seen. Whenever I hear the name, the face that comes to mind belongs to Basil Rathbone. When the true identity of the villain was revealed, I felt a little self-conscious that I didn’t realize who he was before then.
As I thought more about this film, I took a closer look at the origins of the characters. To my shame, I found out just how ignorant I actually was about classic literature. I was quite surprised to find out who the actual creators of some of these characters were. The only author that I didn’t know at all was Sir Henry Rider Haggard. Also, before and apart from the movie versions of “King Solomon’s Mines”, I had no knowledge of the character “Allan Quatermain”. I had heard the name Bram Stoker before but I didn’t really know anything about him as an author or when he lived. Oscar Wilde, Jules Verne, Mark Twain, Robert Lewis Stevenson, H. G. Wells, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle I had heard of, but was unaware that three of them were responsible for the existence of some of the characters in this film. I wasn’t aware that Oscar Wilde and Robert Lewis Stevenson were the creators of the characters Dorian Gray and Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde respectively. And, I didn’t know that H. G. Wells was the author of “The Invisible Man”.
For myself, I was also quite impressed with the fact that the characters in the film and their respective stories were created and published just a few years before the time set in the film. The character of “Allan Quatermain” first appeared in 1885. Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” was published in 1897. “The Picture of Dorian Gray”, the only novel of Oscar Wilde, was published in 1891. The character of “Captain Nemo” appeared in Jules Verne’s classics “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” and “The Mysterious Island”, published in 1870 and 1874 respectively. (There was also a quick mention of Phileas Fogg, the main character of Verne’s “Around the World in Eighty Days”, published in 1873.) Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” was published in 1876. “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”, by Robert Lewis Stevenson, was published in 1886. H. G. Wells’ “The Invisible Man” was published in 1897. Though “Sherlock Holmes” first appeared in publication in 1887, the character of “James Moriarty” came to publication later in 1893.
Apart from the wonderful action sequences, what made this film work for me was the interaction between the characters and the indication that some of their paths had crossed at some point in the past. I have to admit that my knowledge of the respective origins of the characters (even before I learned of the literature that produced them) helped to fuel the novelty of their interaction. In Quatermain’s meeting with M, when he was introduced to Captain Nemo, Quatermain and Nemo revealed their respective knowledge “of “ each other and their past exploits. In the recruitment of Dorian Gray, the intimacy of a past relationship between Gray and Mina Harker is suggested and confirmed later on in the film. It is also indicated that the paths of Dorian Gray and Allan Quatermain had also crossed . . . when Quatermain was a boy. For me, these indications helped to make them a part of the same “universe” in spite of their diverse literary origins.
I also enjoyed watching them come together as a group. When the “league” was first fully assembled, they were wary and distrustful of each other. A number of them had misgivings about the others by reason of their pasts and subsequently judged their characters by them. But, as the film progresses, one can see the gaps being bridged by experience. Quatermain and American Secret Service Agent Tom Sawyer begin to forge their bond during the hunt for and subsequent recruitment of Mr. Hyde. In Venice, in their effort to save the lives of thousands of innocent people in the throes of Carnival celebration and prevent the city from being destroyed, they come together as a team, each of them revealing the true value and strength of their respective extraordinary abilities. It is at this point that the truth of respective loyalties is revealed and they are shown the mistake in their collective judgment by a costly betrayal. Their new found respect for each other grows into trust when they survive and recover from an attempt to destroy them.
The Passing Of The Torch
In the two instances in the film where the bond between Quatermain and Sawyer is forged and strengthened lie the foundation for the exchange between them at the end. The film begins by bringing attention to the impending turn of the century (from 1899). And at the end, it becomes the setting for what I call “the passing of the torch”. The vehicle for the bonding between Quatermain and Sawyer is the refinement of Sawyer’s ability to shoot. This begins in Paris on the hunt for Mr. Hyde. On the conning tower of Nemo’s submarine, Quatermain introduces Sawyer to his technique for shooting, showing him how to improve his accuracy over distance. Toward the end of the film, as the villain is making his escape, Quatermain talks Sawyer through the technique, enabling him to stop the villain just shy of successfully escaping. It is at this point that Quatermain says to Sawyer “May this new century be yours as the old one was mine.” It was at this point that I kind of got the feeling of “the end of an era”. It was almost enough to choke me up.
All Things Considered
There are some folks I know that would find one or two things a little difficult settle for. One was Mina Harker’s tolerance for sunlight. Traditional vampires cannot stand sunlight. There’s also the fact that, presumably, when Dracula was destroyed, Mina Harker was saved from becoming a vampire. For myself, I had no problem just writing it off as poetic or literary license. But, I thought about some that I knew who would not be so generous. For them, in the course of investigating the characters in this movie, I found that there are version(s) of the story of Dracula where Mina does not lose her vampiric abilities after Dracula is destroyed.
The other thing was something that I personally thought was really, really cool. Nemo’s car. I thought it was awesome. But I know some people who would have serious problems with what looked like a modified 20-cylinder Rolls in 1899. For me, I look at it like this; if Nemo can have a fully functional submarine complete with active sonar, then he can have a 20-cylinder Victorian style muscle car.
In the end, summing it all up, I thought this was a great movie. The action sequences were exciting and even inspiring. To me, the story was kind of typical of the time in which it was set. And I thought it worked well. But, I have to offer a word of caution. This film is definitely over the top. I, personally, enjoy over-the-top films. But, not everyone has a taste for that kind of film. If you’re not into “over-the-top”, then I can’t really recommend this film. If you are into it, however, then, this is the film to see.