How did it take me so long to get to this, or, Leave Alan Moore Alone!
I said didn’t I? I asked nicely didn’t I? Please, stop trying to adapt Alan Moore books into films – stop it I asked. Just stop it. But did anyone listen? Clearly not. I’m not angry with you, film industry, I’m just disappointed. Now I know what you’re thinking – is this going to be a blog where you get all angry about the film version of a comic book? Yes. Yes it is, and with very good reason because the adaptation of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is one of the most singularly terrible butchering’s of a great source material I have EVER seen.
‘But it’s a fun movie! It’s like a steampunk version of the Avengers movie!!’
NO. NO IT ISN’T.
So once again, I’m back in the world of comics and graphic novels but before you start rolling your eyes, let me re-cap a little bit of comic history and re-introduce you to Mr Alan Moore. Alan Moore is a British comic writer who has done more than anyone alive to make comics a viable literary form. His scripts for his comics are insanely detailed and the finished products are widely accepted as the best graphic novels ever written.
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen came out at the beginning of the millennium, and was another success for the prolific Moore. In the comic, Moore skilfully synthesises two divergent styles from two different traditions; one, the superhero team and two, the Victorian adventure novel. He brings together the greatest heroes of Victorian literature and puts them into a team together to save the world. What makes ‘The League’ such a brilliant novel is that Moore has a deep knowledge and appreciation of the literary canon he is looking to join, his characters are not just stereotypes – he knows who these people are and his often bold re-imaginings of the characters never seem to be out-of-place and he doesn’t shy away from subverting readers expectations. For example, one of the main characters in ‘The League’ is the great Alan Quatermaine, taken from the 1885 novel King Solomons Mine by H Rider Haggard. Whilst Quatermaine was originally the archetype of the swashbuckling hero, Moore transposes him forward 15 years and makes him an opium addicted old man who wants to keep himself alive. The leadership of his superhero team doesn’t go to the ass-kicking man but instead Moore makes a bold choice. The leader of The League of Extraordinary Gentleman is not a Gentleman, but rather Mina Harker from the 1897 novel, Dracula.
So, what is her special ability that puts her in charge of this team of great men? Nothing at all – except she survived being attacked by Dracula himself and as such Moore recognises that she has to possess a depth of character and toughness that would make her a natural leader. The rest of the team is equally unexpected; Dr Jekyll is a coward, who transforms into a raving monster, and Captain Nemo is a lonely desperate man who serves an Empire he hates. Oh, and the boss? Campion Bond, which is another great way of placing this team of individuals in the literary genealogy of Britain.
As usual with Moore’s work is a bold and inventive comic, crammed with allusions, references and intertexuality. If you haven’t read it, you are in for a huge treat – stunning writing and some of Kevin O’Neil’s finest art ever.
And then they went and spoiled it all by doing something stupid like giving Stephen Norrington $78 million dollars.
The film was intended to serve as the beginning of a franchise, as Moore had written more than one volume but it never happened because the film is nothing less than a disaster. Firstly, the plot – as per usual I will try to avoid spoilers but in order to explain just why this film sucks so much a few small spoilers may spill out. In 1899 a shadowy man known as the Fantom is on the brink of pushing the world into a war and so the greatest heroes of the age are recruited by the mysterious ‘M’ to help save the empire. And it’s here that things start to go wrong. Don’t get me wrong, the heroes are the same; Quatermain, Mina Harker, the Invisible Man, Captain Nemo as well as Dorian Grey. Oh, and one more character who I’ll get to in a second.
The major problem is the casting – Sean Connery plays Alan Quatermaine and he refused to play Quartermaine as the stung-out,w ashed up hero so Quatermaine becomes the leader of the League and the main focus of the action. Yes, that’s right – Sean Connery is an action hero, whilst being in his seventies. The rest of the characters do the best they can but the script hampers them horribly.
Mina Harker is transformed from the brave and cool-headed leader into a sexy vampire woman who needs to be rescued! Stuart Townshend is woefully underused as Dorian Grey, asked only to smirk and crack lame one-liners! Richard Roxburgh smarms his way through the scenery as a villain! Jason Flemying is lost under horrible looking CGI! An American Tom Sawyer is put into the film for precisely NO REASON!
Oh Tom Sawyer…played by Shane West he is there simply to be an American, in a blatant attempt to ‘widen the films appeal’ (hateful phrase) to the US Audience. Sawyer has no skills, can’t shoot and is horrible annoying to watch – so irritating that West actually demeans Twain’s original character.
Everything about this film is a mess – the action scenes look awful, the plot is patchy and often inconsistent and complex characters are reduced to stale types with awful dialogue. If you want a perfect example of what’s wrong with the film, look at the sequence in Venice. The setup is great – bombs are blowing up the city sending back in the ocean and the heroes yell at each other until they decide that the best way to stop things blowing up is with some explosions of their own. YAY! ACTION MOVIE LOGIC!
All of it, is stupid, lacks effort and has awful execution – it’s no surprise that Sean Connery decided that he’s much rather spend his time counting his money in the sun than trying to act. Summing up, this film is one that I hate because it just shows complete contempt for the source material, taking the path of least resistance with every single choice. Seen the movie? Go read the book and see how it should have turned out. I can’t believe this made $179 million dollars.
But that’s just what I think…
- Jimmy’s End, Alan Moore’s first film (guardian.co.uk)
- Alan Moore, Saga of the Swamp Thing (onebookafteranother.wordpress.com)
- Did Alan Moore ‘Steal’ ‘Watchmen’ From A 1970s Novel? (geek-news.mtv.com)