Sat, Jul
12
2003

"It Is the Sound of TREACHERY!!!" -- League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Reviewed

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

I walked out of my first movie today.

Dan was kind enough to take us to see League of Extraordinary Gentlemen this evening. It started okay, looked all right, but then completely and utterly collapsed. Halfway through the movie, Erin and I were laughing at lines delivered in total seriousness. We all agreed that this movie had descended into utter crap, and we got up and walked out -- the first, but perhaps not the last patrons to do so.

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is based on a comic book series by Alan Moore and artist Kevin O'Neill wherein selected fantastic characters of the nineteenth century unite to form a precursor to the Justice League of America. The comic is an excellent opportunity to compare and contrast the superheroes of yesteryear in the gaslight atmosphere of Victorian England, and to make numerous allusions to nineteenth century literature.

The movie follows some of the same template. In 1899, a mysterious supervillain known as the Fantom tricks the European powers to the brink of a world war with staged attacks using spectacularly advanced weaponry. Some in the British secret service have apparently realized that the other world powers aren't to blame, and so they contact Allan Quartermain (the hero of King Solomon's Mines) in Kenya and ask for his assistance.

Together they recruit other extraordinary figures from Victorian literature -- Captain Nemo and the crew of his Nautilus, Mina Harker (vamped by Dracula himself, but working on the side of light -- so to speak), a thief who stole the Invisible Man's formula and can't get visible again, Dorian Grey and, of course, Professor Jeckell. Even an American, "Agent Sawyer" decides to tag along and act as Allan Quartermain's surrogate son. Then it's off in the Nautilus to the canals of Venice (where the submarine strains both the canal's width and the audience's suspension of disbelief), where a last ditch peace conference between the European powers is going to be held.

Oh, did I forget to mention that Leonardo DaVinci's blueprints for Venice have been stolen from the Bank of England, the British secret service knows that the Fantom is going to attack, and nobody has had the presence of mind, or even the moderate IQ required to consider possibly cancelling the conference and moving it to... I dunno... Belgium? The Swiss Alps? Toronto?

The movie has strengths. Sadly, they're not used. Fans of Alan Moore's work are bound to be sorely disappointed, since the comic series' wit and references are bulldozed in favour of incoherent action scenes (lines such as "Call me Ismael" and Mina Harker's "I'm not much of a drinker" don't get a laugh). The set design is lovely (especially the Nautilus), but the camera doesn't show the sets to their best effect (Dorian Gray's house is opulence on top of decay, but we hardly get to see that). There is none of that "Sherlockian resonance" that gives the comic books their strength.

The actors are well chosen for their roles (the movie does star Sean Connery, after all, and Naseeruddin Shah's Captain Nemo and Peta Wilson's Mina Harker both suggest themselves to be interesting characters), but it is most surprising that in a movie that's supposed to have an ensemble cast, there is very little chance for the cast to ensemble. A dinner aboard the Nautilus, which would have given all of our characters the chance to interact, share witty Victorian dialogue, develop character, and possibly make the movie work, is mentioned, but never shown (I suspect it ended up on the cutting room floor).

The movie, early on, sacrifices atmosphere and character development for cheap action. Fantom's men attack on cue roughly every ten minutes, barely giving our heroes a chance to breathe, much less grow. Characters hint at their dark pasts and their hopes for redemption, but the scenes pass in a rush to get to the next spate of gunfire. This might be forgivable if the action was anything to write home about, but it's not. The fight sequences are hard to follow, clumsily lit and edited way too fast. There is little opportunity for the audience to know what is happening to whom, much less care.

If that wasn't bad enough, around the sixty minute mark, the movie's IQ dropped to the floor. Our heroes arrive in Venice, but before they have a chance to even disembark from the Nautilus, they realize that the Fantom has mined the foundations of the city. Quick! They have to go find the bombs! Too late! The bombs go off! And the buildings of Venice start to collapse like a row of dominos! Then Captain Nemo has the "brilliant" idea of destroying a key building ahead of the collapse, stopping the chain reaction and thus saving (what's left of) the city. To aim the rocket, Agent Sawyer races Nemo's automobile through the streets of Venice (think about that), braving snipers (who don't seem to care that they're about to die as Venice sinks into the sea) and falling masonry, to the predetermined spot in order to act as a target (why? I don't know. The screenwriters appeared to have gone on break at this point, or have run out the studio door screaming!)

Of course, the plan works. Half the city is saved. People are happy, despite losing their loved ones and their homes, and Agent Sawyer manages to walk out of a crashed, overturned car and a blown up building without a scratch.

Oh, and Dorian Gray is a traitor.

Trust me, you don't need a spoiler warning for that. It's practically a neon-sign on the character throughout the film.

It's about that point that I decided to walk out. Truth to tell, if Erin had been braver, she probably would have left several minutes before me.

One unintentionally funny line: when Dorian Grey makes plain his treachery and escapes on the exporation shuttle of the Nautilus, the characters hear a mysterious whirring sound. Mina Harker asks "what was that?" and Captain Nemo says, "It is the sound of TREACHERY!" And Erin and I just burst into laughter. We were so out of there.

I don't think I ask for much from an action movie. Just give me a coherent plot and a reason to care about our heroes. But to do this, I have to be introduced to our heroes and given time to get to know them. I have to understand what they are doing in order to care what happens to them during a fight. And it would be nice if you didn't cheat so blatantly by doing something like... oh, I don't know... showing Agent Sawyer trapped beneath a flipped automobile one second before Nemo's rocket demolishes the building.

So, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, the movie: crap. Don't go see it. It's not worth a $2 ticket. It's not even worth a video rental.


Spirited Away

To get the taste of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen out of our mouths, Dan, Erin and I went to Generation X Video and rented Spirited Away, a Japanese anime production purchased by Disney/Pixar and dubbed for the American market. We watched the movie in the original Japanese, with English subtitles, and we were totally blown away.

Surly and slightly spoiled girl Chihiro is upset at having to move from her old home. But as her parents drive her to their new place, they take a wrong turn, and end up outside a mysterious temple -- or abandoned theme park. Chihiro turns out to be the sensible one, sensing right away that the place means trouble, but her parents seem enchanted. They walk through the temple, into the abandoned amusement park, drawn by the smell of freshly cooked food. Finding the food, the parents fall upon it like pigs -- and are promplty turned into pigs. Chihiro finds herself trapped in a bathhouse of mysterious, weird, and very morally ambivalent gods. However, she finds friends, and she finds initiative and courage, and through hard work, overcoming obstacles and learning to accept the help of friends, she grows and wins back her freedom and the freedom of her parents.

Spirited Away is a movie based on a number of Japanese folk tales, and I suspect that some of the elements that Japanese viewers take for granted will rush over the heads of North American viewers. Also, the writer, Hayao Miyazaki, has a bold imagination, and some of the plot elements that materialize come from so far out of left field, they bowl you over.

The animation is simply gorgeous, ranging from terrifying to jaw-droppingly beautiful. The background visuals are lush, and the characters themselves are fascinating to watch and very lively. There were a couple of times where I was so caught up by the visuals, I had to rewind the action a few seconds to catch some key subtitles I'd missed. Some scenes will frighten younger viewers. Some visuals really get into your head and are likely to give Erin and I strange dreams.

A lot is packed into Spirited Away, and the plot is so full, some viewers may end up confused as to what all is going on. We were, and that's the reason I've knocked a star off the rating. But I still came off the two hour animated movie on an incredible high. Spirited Away must be seen to be believed. Add it to your viewing list, now.

So, to reiterate: League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is actively bad and must be missed by everyone (* 1/2 out of *****), while Spirited Away is packed with so much creepy and gorgeous animation, not to mention plot, it will blow you away (**** out of *****). Hopefully, you'll take my advice and alter your movie picks this weekend accordingly.


Well, it could have been worse. We paid $5.85 to see LXG at Fairway Cinemas. We thought about asking for our money back, but decided against punishing the theatre for the badness of the movie. It's not like they made it.

If we'd paid $13.50 each, as we would have done at Silver City, you can be darn sure that we would have asked for our money back.


On This Day

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