(2003) dir. Stephen Norrington
There is an amusing notion here at the core of this film, though it really stems from the idea as it originated in the comic book by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill that this film was derived from (or so I am assuming, since I haven’t read it.) The idea of “turn of the century” (need to find a new phrase for this), meaning 1900 AD, adventure fiction characters envisioned as precursors of modern “super heroes.” It’s not such a radical notion, and in fact it may have been the source of a fun dissertaion or two, in which the idea is actually analyzed, drawing out this popular genre as an evolutionary process.
The characters evolve from popular authors of the period: H. Rider Haggard, Bram Stoker, Robert Louis Stevenson, H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, Oscar Wilde, Mark Twain, and Arthur Conan Doyle. Interestingly, I read a short fiction collection that was compiled by Italo Calvino, looking at the “fantastic literature” of the 19th century, which actually introduced me to actually reading a number of these authors and even some of the original texts that the characters (all notably part of the public domain) all originate. It is an interesting era and the characters and novels are all fun.
While that is all well and good and could have made for some pretty good comics, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, the film, is pretty damn bad. The digital effects look intensely cheap on the small screen, flat and fake. I have always had a soft spot for the old matte paintings that were used for fantastic backdrops. The digital versions of these ambitious sets are just too much, so unreal and unconvincing that I actually thought to myself it might all be more palatable if the whole film was animated.
The film isn’t really interested in any of the characteristics of the era that it depicts or any of the clever ideas that might be investigated in compiling literary figures and re-envisioning them. It’s just summer popcorn fare that lacks soul and depth and might well make one feel like they’d squandered $10 if they had seen this in the theater (though it might have been slightly better on the big screen). At home, as a rental, it is what it is: moderately amusing, but generally lame.