The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2 Disc Special Edition) Review

Comic book adaptations have felt a surge of activity and prosperity in recent years, undeniably kickstarted by Bryan Singer's X-Men back in 2000. Spawning cinematic incarnations of most Marvel superheroes, some more obscure adaptations have reached the silver screen – American Splendor is a recent example – and also ones based on graphic novels, such as Alan Moore's From Hell.

The same writer who created the From Hell universe soon began working on a new novel, entitled The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Pitched as a Victorian superhero yarn featuring some of literature's most famous figures, Hollywood became very interested soon after Moore's publisher gave him the green light.

Under the developing wing of Twentieth Century Fox, the production soon began the journey to the screen with the help of producer Don Murphy and Blade director Stephen Norrington. Headhunting Sean Connery, who the producers thought would never sign on, they soon assembled the rest of the cast and employed James Robinson to write the screenplay (who previously wrote and directed the little-known Comic Book Villains). After a very troubled shoot in Prague, amidst the recent devastating floods, the film arrived in US multiplexes last August and was met with savage critical reception and a poor domestic box office gross. Although it performed admittedly better in Europe when it dragged its feet over here a couple of months later (the delay in release is apparently due to the poor business it did on the other side of the Pond), The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was most certainly a failure considering the high expectations everyone had of it. However, films can see a new lease of life on home video, and DVD is a perfect chance for films to recoup lost revenue and try and not only break even but also make a profit…

The League is led by legendary adventurer Allan Quartermain (Sean Connery), world-famous but now someone who decides to spend the rest of his days living in the beautiful savannahs of Kenya. He is recruited by the British Government to establish a League of equally-impressive adventurers, comprising of Captain Nemo (Naseeruddin Shah), Dracula Vampiress Mina Harker (Peta Wilson), invisible man Rodney Skinner (Tony Curran), American secret service agent Sawyer (Shane West), Dorian Gray (Stuart Townsend), and Dr Jekyll/Mr Hyde (Jason Flemyng). Together they must unite to combat the fearsome wrath of the mysterious Fantom, who is intent on creating a world war by provoking various countries through acts of terrorism. With time running out, they must travel from location to location, battling adversities along the way, to ensure the safety of the world.

From the atmospheric opening in the streets of Victorian London, and the appearance of an oppressive mechanical vehicle (which obviously evolved into the modern-day tank), to the vastness of the Kenyan landscape, this film is certainly visually enticing. Norrington, who did a wonderful job directing Blade (another comic book adaptation, incidentally), paints with a surreal periodic brush – the setting may be the end of the 19th century, but the gadgets and equipment are certainly way ahead of their time. The action soon comes thick and fast, whether a good old fashioned fistfight or a more brutal shootout, in which our heroes are bound to emerge victorious. After all, many of them possess superhuman capabilities…

However, there are two main flaws that prevent The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen from living up to its title and breaking free from the usual summer blockbuster mould. The sheer size of the cast – the fact that this is an ensemble force, much like the X-Men – prevents character development, and although the actors succeed in their parts, with special mention going to the imposing Connery and wonderfully charismatic Townsend as Dorian Gray, the audience will not create a personal attachment to their well-being.

Another problem is the second half of the film; after establishing an excellent atmosphere and having me hooked, the film slowly starts to disintegrate after the hour mark – that's not to say it ceases to become enjoyable, rather that the superb start is sullied. By the end, the numerous twists have become a headache and the conclusion rather unsatisfying. Perhaps with a bit more careful editing, something that seems to have been a real bone of contention on the film (the media reported several arguments between Norrington and Connery, with the latter going as far as locking the director out of the cutting room), then the finished product wouldn't be as anaemic. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen went from being a very promising film to an adequate action adventure, a typical result of the summer blockbuster formula.

Poor box office takings and bad reviews may have prevented the chance of a sequel, but I do still recommend you check the film out…it's far from perfect as stated above, but for the first half alone it's worth seeing. A shame, but not a travesty.

The Disc
Released back in December on a single-disc Region 1 DVD, the UK wing of Twentieth Century Fox is releasing two versions: a single-disc version devoid of extras aside from two audio commentaries, and also a two-disc version that packs more extras than its Region 1 counterpart. Both UK releases feature a DTS soundtrack that the US version also lacked, and this review focuses on the two-disc special edition.

The menus are simple yet animated well – clips from the film play with the score echoing around the speakers, with the choices presented neatly at the bottom. They are very easy to navigate.

A superb showcase of DVD's potential, this transfer is reference quality material – presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen it is free from any compression signs or other artefacts that raise their ugly heads on other discs. Excellent colour definition, with no sign of bleeding or edge-enhancement, the flesh tones and dark visuals are reproduced wonderfully.

Two soundtracks are included – no doubt due to the space created by shifting the extras onto the second disc – a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix and a DTS 5.1 alternative. Both are excellent, with the DTS mix edging ahead due to better use of the surrounds and more bass-heavy subwoofer action. In fact, the DTS on offer here is reference quality; thanks to the clarity of the dialogue, frequency and quality of the audio from the rear channels and the aforementioned use of the subwoofer. The many action sequences in the film are ideally suited to audio of this quality, so whack up the volume and enjoy!

The first disc kicks off with three trailers, annoyingly presented before the menus begin (this kind of VHS-esque advertising is starting to rub me up the wrong way), of recent Fox releases: In America, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World and Runaway Jury.

Two audio commentaries are the only remaining extras on this disc, with the first featuring actors Jason Flemyng, Tony Curran & Shane West and producers Don Murphy & Trevor Albert. It’s a worthwhile listen, full of insight into the production, as is the second track – this time featuring Jacqueline West, John Sullivan, Steve Johnson and Matthew Gratzner.

The second disc is split into three sections, 'Pre-Production', 'Production' and 'The Release'. Kicking off with 'Pre-Production', there is a 10-minute look at a new technique known as pre-visualisation in 'Matters of Pre-Visualisation' – basically a chat with a CGI animator whose monotonous voice makes the featurette last a lot longer. The rest of the section comprises of Stills Galleries; an array of blueprints, sketches and designs.

'Production' also has two supplements, although this time more substantial. The main feature in this section is a 54-minute documentary entitled 'Assembling the League' (this and the audio commentaries were the only extras on the R1 release), and is an excellent source of information into the production, featuring interviews and on-set footage. Around half an hour of deleted/extended scenes are on offer, and although are presented in fairly poor quality (non-anamorphic widescreen, fact fans) they do add a little to the film – although the majority did deserve to be cut.

Moving onto the third and final section, 'The Release', this is the PR fluff of the disc. Headlined by an 18-minute featurette 'Behind the Fantasy', hosted by none other than Mr Andi Peters (Oh God…), it contains backslappings from various interviews with little insight since the majority of which has already been covered in the previous documentary. Having said that, some of the footage from the premiere in Prague is interesting to see. Further footage from the premieres (including the UK's in Leicester Square, hosted by Paul Ross) is included, and Sean Connery's appearances suggest he isn't the most courteous or polite man off-screen. A selection of trailers, TV spots and posters round off the section – and indeed the disc.

Unfairly savaged on release, this deserves a second look on DVD. It may have its problems, but it's certainly intriguing to see popular literature thrust up onto the screen in such a manner, and the many action set-pieces make the time go quicker. Norrington is a talented director, and it seems a shame to hear of his problems whilst making The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and his complete absence from the extras on this release suggests that the feud is still going on. On the subject of the DVD, I can safely assure you that it's an excellent one – thanks to Fox UK for providing a much better release than the R1 version, with not only amazing video and DTS audio but also some good extras. This is definitely worth renting, and some may decide to add it to their collections; not a bad choice indeed.

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