Fri, Oct 10, 2003 - Page 20 News List

Loners set out to save the world

By ELVIS MITCHELL  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE

The listless movie adaptation of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen has the sweat stains of wasted energy; it's dreary, yet frantic. The film is inspired by Alan Moore's comics of the same name, an imaginative and grisly take on Victorian heroes.

Convened to battle a world-threatening evil, the league is a group of tough, forgotten or ignored British loners brought together at the behest of the queen to stop this encroaching danger. In the director Stephen Norrington's film, it's a plot engineered by a villain known as the Fantom to sink Venice, and, yes, eventually conquer the world.

To foil this plot, the British Secret Service agent Sanderson Reed (Tom Goodman-Hill), working under the auspices of the agency head M (Richard Roxburgh), is determined to bring the league of misfit adventurers together. The first summoned is Allan Quatermain (Sean Connery), the legendary hunter and explorer who, though well past his prime, is still capable of some world-beating moves himself.

Quatermain serves as president of these immortals, a number that eventually includes the pirate Captain Nemo (Neseeruddin Shah) and an invisible man, Rodney Skinner (Tony Curran, using his voice wickedly well). As the plot thickens, others link up, like Mina Harker (Peta Wilson), a victim of Dracula who now uses blood-sucking prowess for good. She helps, um, seduce to the cause the dandyish Dorian Gray (Stuart Townsend), whose portrait makes him invulnerable in addition to being impervious to aging -- a witty turn that Oscar Wilde apparently had no interest in. The noble, rambunctious and innocent Tom Sawyer (Shane West), now an adult operative for the US Secret Service, tosses his Stetson in.

Film Notes:

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

Directed by: Stephen Norrington

Starring: Sean Connery (Allan Quatermain), Naseeruddin Shah (Captain Nemo), Peta Wilson (Mina Harker), Tony Curran (Rodney Skinner), Stuart Townsend (Dorian Gray), Shane West (Tom Sawyer), Jason Flemyng (Henry Jekyll/Edward Hyde), Richard Roxburgh (M) and Tom Goodman-Hill (Sanderson Reed)

Running time: 112 minutes

Taiwan Release: yesterday


Eventually the league tracks down its final inductee, Mr. Hyde (Jason Flemyng), who stalks the streets of Paris after fleeing London. Wearing him down until he becomes the docile Dr. Jekyll, the league members browbeat him into joining. Aboard Captain Nemo's magnificent blade of a submarine, the Nautilus, the team sets out on its mission to find the Fantom and end his perfidy. Between bouts of bickering and possible treachery, the league must try to combat the Fantom's futuristic inventions -- like tanks and flame-throwers -- with valor, daring and some of Nemo's own engineering marvels.

The film's screenplay by James Dale Robinson -- who toiled in comic books for some time himself -- takes pains to get the spirit of Moore's tale right. It's a formidable task, bringing the comics' dank, coruscating vision to the screen, an abiding interest of the producer Don Murphy. Murphy was also responsible for a previous Moore adaptation, From Hell, featuring another Victorian misfit, Jack the Ripper. Moore's melancholic and apocalyptic stories have a dour, murderous humor drizzling through the depressive clouds. No one in comics is his equal at conjuring the end of the world, and in his stories -- from The Watchmen and V for Vendetta through League -- the world is awash in brutality and ugliness, deserving of doom. Moore's pleasure comes in serving up Old Testament balance.

The league of his comics falls into two piles. One group consists of victims, like the haunted, doddering Quatermain, who battles an opium habit and fears that he's too old to do much good, and Mina, whose past with vampires is only alluded to (and who leads the group with her cool British common sense and an implied death wish stemming from her reputation as a fallen woman). Or else, they're sly, amoral psychopaths, like the invisible man, who's introduced raping young women at a girls' school, and Hyde, a calculating man-beast who remembers every slight done to him or his alter ego. The vengeance he finally takes on the invisible man is horrific, a fate that will never make it from the page to the screen. No one is going to follow that story to the letter in making a big-budget action movie.

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