Tuesday, July 15, 2003

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cos I'm LXG, I'm dynamite

So I finally went to see The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen this evening with a bunch of folks from the Buffy group. For those who haven't heard, LXG is a film adapted from the serial comic written by Alan Moore. The premise was that a group of iconic Victorian-era literary characters were recruited by the British government to be ... well, a superteam, and carry out missions. On a surface level, it was a great story, and on a deeper level, it was chock-full of literary and historical references - so many that one fan started an annotations website to keep track of them. And then Hollywood took it and made a film out of it.

Man, this has been strange. I still remember reading the previews before the comic even came out and reading and rereading the first issue when it finally did. Big long gaps between issues being released, entire printings getting destroyed due to a mischievous mock advertisement, the stretch between Volume 1's end and Volume 2's release ... wow. Crazy. And then I heard they were making a film out of it. "Ha ha! Yeah, that'll come out right after the Hellblazer film." And then they hired The Sean to play Allan. And La Femme Nikita to play Mina. And news kept coming! Cripes!

So now I've seen the film. Enough chatter and memory lane walking. Here's the Metrokitty overview.


The Nautilus
Words fail me. But not these words: f*cking hell, the Nautilus is beautiful! It's slick, it's awe-inspiring, and it's got amazing ornamentation. Definitely not true to the comic, and I'm not even sure if it's true to 20,000 Leagues under the Sea. But who cares! It's great! I also liked the interiors; they actually seemed stronger than those of the comic. Clean white corridors and silver detailing on everything. It's like riding in the Rolls Royce of the sea.

Dorian Gray
I wasn't enthusiastic about the addition of this character when I first heard who they were adding to the film's lineup, but daaaaamn. I take it back. Not only did he have character, motivation, a slightly slashtastic demeanor, and panache ... DORIAN GRAY IS ALSO A SEXY MOTHERF*CKER. Again, daaamn. My new plan:

Fight Scenes (some of 'em)
I am thoroughly sick of Matrix-style slo-mo chop socky being used in every single action film nowadays, so it was refreshing to see some honest-to-god fisticuffs in this movie. Go, Allan! Get your donnybrook on! Even Nemo's Hindu Fu wasn't too bad. And I'd happily be a convert to Dorian Gray's not too shabby school of fighting: outlive all bullets and assaults on your person, and then slash your opponent to ribbons with a sword.
... heh. Slash.

It's a fun brainless action flick
If you're in the mood for that sort of thing, it wasn't too bad. It reminded me quite a bit of Indiana Jones or James Bond, with all of the explosions and cross-continent journeying. "Travel to exotic locales ... and punch the inhabitants." And contrary to initial rumors, the story wasn't set in America. Thank god. Special effects for Hyde not bad - got across how painful the transformation is. Tom Sawyer not too annoying an addition. Mina as vampire not too bad, though I'm confused about how she can be in daylight.


That's Venice? It looks like London
Maybe it was an attempt at adding atmosphere. I don't know. All I know is that all of the city sets were extremely murky and dark, making them all look exactly alike. Thank goodness for the helpful Copperplate Gothic city names flashed on the screen before new cities were shown. Otherwise I'd be completely lost.

Strange Anachronisms and Nitpicky Details
I'll accept the fact that Captain Nemo went and invented himself an automobile. Okay. But how is it that in 1899, without any prior driving, Tom Sawyer has absolutely no problem freewheeling it around the narrow streets of Venice? And nobody flips out or is baffled by this newfangled technology in the slightest? And that the f*cking huge enormous massive (but gorgeous!) Nautilus maneuvers around the canals of Venice and slides easily under the Rialto Bridge? I also would have liked to see people slightly more taken aback at the villain's automated machine guns. At least in the comic Mina and Allan raised their eyebrows at Nemo's automatic harpoon gun ... um, thing.

In case you didn't catch it, HIS SON WAS KILLED
Sweet Jebus, how many times do you have to hammer home that Allan's son was killed and he feels bad about it? It was as clunky a character aspect as it was when it was used in Stargate, and it hasn't improved since. Every other scene, it's "blah blah haven't gone adventuring since MY SON WAS KILLED" or "mwa ha I mock you and will mention that YOUR SON WAS KILLED" or "blah blah MORE ABOUT YOUR SON AND HOW HE'S NOT HERE ANYMORE." We get it! It's deep! It's also a one-note character! Move on! ... spend the time exploring Dorian Gray's character. ... No, keep exploring further, yeah. ;)

It's an army worthy of Mordor, sir
The villain is building a cache of arms and an army of minions. When they show a flyover of his preparations, sweartogod it's like Saruman's Build-an-Army Shop from Lord of the Rings. Even the music sounded vaguely Rings-ish.


The plot
Oh dear christ on toast. The plot. Where do I begin? Well, let's see if I get this straight. Quartermain and the team are hired by M. They are the latest incarnation of a superteam that has existed for ages. They need to stop "The Phantom" (baddie) from continuing to develop lots of weapons and harrassing nations. So they track him to Venice, where they find that "The Phantom" is actually M and that he's gotten samples of the sources of some of their powers (e.g., vampire blood, invisible DNA, etc.). They avoid M's attempt to destroy them, and then they track him to ... um, Outer Mongolia or something, where they find his lair and super-army factory. They smash it. The end.

It just makes no sense. If M is the baddie, then why assemble a team to go after ... himself? Did he assume that they would be incompetant? At least in the comic, M found a separate task for them to pursue while he carried out his evilness, and their achievement of that goal only served his villainy more. And worse yet, in the film, M dons his Phantom disguise and goes on location to do his crime. What? If my evil alter ego used a disguise and had minions doing the hard work, I'd just hire some other guy to pretend to be me while on location. I'd avoid embarrassing unmasking scenes with the people I hired to hunt down my evil alter ego.

So then if the point of the entire exercise was to get samples of the team's powers ... why bother with the entire elaborate ruse? Wouldn't smaller, simpler ruses work? The Invisible Man seemed quite happy to do odd jobs - no problem getting a sample from him. Mina came when she was called, and it was no biggie to get a blood sample from her. Captain Nemo has a crew of hundreds - dead easy to bribe one of them to take photos of the Nautilus interior. And if you know where Jekyll is staying, wait until he's having his Hyde nights and make off with the formula. Eccola. All done. And if that is in fact the point of the exercise, the most irritating part is that Quatermain has no powers. There is nothing to Quatermain. He's just the great white hunter. They don't steal samples from him. So then what the f*ck is the point of getting him all the way back to England to join this team?

And this isn't even addressing the fact that the villain's plan is to ... um, what. I get the part about starting a world war and getting nations to purchase his weapons. Then what? Rule the world? Take over the world? Why is he doing all of this? World domination might have passed muster as motivation back in early James Bond films, but nowadays, it's just f*cking silly. It's mocked in Austin Powers films, for crying out loud. Make it something at least slightly realistic or more detailed, like "plans to steal all famous artwork in Europe", or "plans to destroy all houses of nobility and put the working class in charge."

The writing
The plot was just one part of the cheese writing throughout the entire film. Everyone had their obligatory clunky "I explain who I am and my origin story" scene, except the main villain for some reason - his name ("I'm actually Professor James Moriarty, boy howdy") is just tossed out, no explanation as to why that's a revelation. The villain concept - The Phantom - was underdeveloped (completely ditched partway through the film) and seemed to be a rip/homage of "The Phantom of the Opera." Hey James Robinson, you already ripped/homaged Phantom in Leave it to Chance! Come up with some new material! :(

Annoying one-liners - "Rule Britannia" - and clumsy winks at the audience - "I call it an auto-mo-beel", "Missing a picture, Dorian?", "A worlllld war". There was also a gratuitous cheese thread about the turn of the century, how Allan is part of the old century and how Tom is going to inherit the new century. Apart from the fact that it was bad enough when they tried to pull that off in the From Hell film, it just wasn't woven in enough to be effective. It's not emphasized in the story all that much. It reminds me of Hearts in Atlantis - how the bookend message for that film was "And that was the last summer of my childhood." How? All the main character did was ride his bike, play in the woods, and occasionally observe Anthony Hopkins being psychic. You can't just toss out lines like that and expect to be perceived as "deep". You need to build up the plot around it as well.

My official worst hated thing, though, would be the ...

Big steaming sacs of EXPOSITION!
Jebus Fuck! If I never, ever, ever, EVER see or read an "and now I shall tell you my plan, ma ha" scene again, it will be six billion years too soon. I am sick sick sick of villain exposition scenes. Let's see - M/The Phantom and his mole in the group make off successfully with the power-samples. What should he do next? Should he spin a story for the remaining members and send them in the opposite direction of his lair? No, that would make sense. A better idea: leave a gramophone record for them with full details of how he stole samples from them and how he set the entire scam up. That would give them full knowledge of his plan as well as the motivation to come and kick his ass. OH BOY!

I'm especially peeved at this one because I recently finished reading Ice Station Zebra, which until the final two chapters was a great suspense story about murder and espionage at an Arctic observation base and on board a nuclear submarine. Fantastic story, very tense ... until the last two chapters, where the detective feels compelled to summon everyone into a single room and describe in full detail all aspects of what has been happening. "And then the murderer did this. But little did he know that I did this. And then he did this blah blah blah purple monkey dishwasher" SHUT UP SHUT UP FOR THE LOVE OF GOD SHUT UP. So yeah, there was that in this film. Lots of other cheesy exposition and plot explanation as well. Here's why I'm a vampire. Here's why I'm immortal. Here's my plan. Here's his other plan. Here's my fist. Shut up please. Show don't tell. Show don't tell.


All in all, the best way to describe this film is "bland and lackluster." It's like eating a bowl of Special K. It's not bad, and every now and then you enjoy it a bit, but at the end, it wasn't anything much, and it's just going to leave you in an hour. Characters were underdevloped, chasing plot aspects solely for the reason that it was what happened next in the script. It leaves you with nothing to think about but the main plot, and no no no, you really don't want to think about that because it'll just annoy you. It was quite frustrating, because the original comic had so much potential and depth. And James Robinson (writer of the screenplay) has been a terrific writer before (his Starman is one of my all-time favorites). Sad kitty.
Two stars out of five

... but I did spot a big stone head in the Outer Mongolia scene that looked like Hyde from the illustrations of the comic. Easter egg!

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