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Tuesday, July 15th, 2003

Time Event
9:18a
League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
On Monday evening the 14th, we went to the Mayfair Cinema to see "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen." This turned into quite a fannish event, as twenty-one local fans gathered. A good time seemed to have been had by all. The film starts at a similar point to the highly-regarded comic book, with the gathering of the "League" to combat a mysterious force threatening the British Empire. However, the plot veers off from the comic almost immediately, since the villain is not a certain Chinese doctor, but an international provocateur known as "The Fantom" ("How operatic," Connery as Quartermain muses--). Quartermain is the team's de facto leader rather than Mina Harker, the Invisible Man is a thief named Rodney Skinner, who stole the orginal Invisible Man's formula, and the League is also joined by Oscar Wilde's character Dorian Gray, whose magic painting protects him from physical harm as well as the ravages of aging and vice. A grown-up Tom Sawyer, now an agent of the United States Secret Service, invites himself along for the very wild ride.

Let's get the one major gripe with the film out of the way:the Nautilus. This version of Nemo's submarine is WAY over done. Sizewize, it makes the "Red October" look like a bathtub toy, yet nevertheless manages to get up the Thames submerged; negotiate the (larger) canals of Venice (!); and ultimately pursue the villains up the Amur river to a frozen Siberian lake.

Once this is set aside, the remainder is VERY good, and lots of fun. The main characters are an excellent ensemble, and well supported by the spear-carriers. Of course Sean Connery is always worth watching as adventurer Alan Quartermain. Naseruddin Shah as Captain Nemo (who was indeed revealed to be an Indian in "The Mysterious Island) plays the role with great dignity on one hand, and great ferocity on the other. I particularly liked the whirling martial art style given to Nemo which well suits his preference for the tulwar over the gun. Tony Curran was a very likeable rogue as the Invisible Man, Stuart Townsend suitably decadent as Dorian Gray, and Shane West very good as the impetuous Tom Sawyer. There were two very remarkable performances in the cast. First, Jason Flemying as both Dr. Jeykll and the gorilloid Mr. Hyde. I truly did not recognize that they were the same actor. The scenes where Jeykll and Hyde talk to one another in the mirror were quite effective, especially at one crisis point where Hyde is trying to warn Jeykll of something his animal-like senses are detecting while Jeykll remains oblivious. The second, and at least equally good, is Peta Wilson as Mina Harker. Her transformation from reserved Victorian lady to wild-haired vampire woman is in some ways at least as profound as the Jeykll-Hyde transformation, and jsut as striking, particularly when aided by the effect where she appears to transform herself into a swarm of bats, with occasional glimpses of her face in the cloud of wings.

Like the comic, the movie is full of references and homages. There is a portrait of Mary Shelley among others on Dorian Grey's wall. The scene of the Nautilus broaching to the surface echoes both the Disney "20,000 Leagues," but also the "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea" television show. Captain Nemo's automobile (a new invention for this movie) not only has a "Batman" style grille treatment, it has a six-wheel configuration identical to Lady Penelope's custom Rolls from the "Thunderbirds" Supermarionation TV series.

My overall judgement:utterly cool, with the exception of the submarine faux pas. I do want to see it again.

Question:I wonder just how many of the younger generation, seeing this movie, will think that Alan Quartermain was just created for the film? H. Rider Haggard's novels have been out of vogue for so long, with only a very poor remake of "King Solomon's Mines" as movie in living memory. The first reference I ever came across to Quartermain was in a Robert Heinlein novel, where he was listed as one of the mian character's most admired people. I had no idea who Quartermain was, although when I got more into obscure fantasy, I tracked down and enjoyed both "She" and "King Solomon's Mines." I know there are a number of other Quartermain novels that at least existed once--perhaps I can find those as well.

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