The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (LXG) might best be described as a Movie of Bizarre Moments. Attempting to blend Gothic Batman imagery with an Indiana Jones cast, director Stephen Norrington shows his relative newness to directing. The film is at times awkward and unbalanced, but overall entertaining and visually impressive enough to justify watching.
The Plot: The story of LXG is an interesting one. A band of miscellaneous folk hero’s and mythological urban characters are brought together to f…rm a “Special Forces” commando squad for turn of the century (that is the prior century – 1899) Britain. Their task – prevent the warmongering terrorist activities of the mysterious villain “The Fantom.” Apparently this is all based on a comic book from some number of years ago, and you have to approach the movie ready to acknowledge that it is a fantasy in a more aggressive sense than in Indiana Jones – the laws of physics, the technologies employed, and the existence of some of the characters have to be taken as they are. This plot is Mission Impossible style over-the-top, and by end I was ready for a break from last minute twists.
Final plot note: the movie feels rushed. Without giving away any spoilers, this movie attempts to pack in an entire backstory, followed by an entire conflict/resolution plot. Each scene is dispatched with merciless efficiency, rushing to get to the next one, in order to fit them all in. I never thought I would say it, but slowing things down a bit, or even splitting this into two movies might have made the concept more palatable. Release the main store first, then the backstory as a prequel the following year or something. Just my $0.02.
The Effects: As with most recent adventure movies, LXG relies heavily on CGI which vastly increases the production team’s creative opportunities at the expense of the believability of some scenes. Some CGI is better than others – scenes of the Nautilus are generally believable with good oceanic texturing, and the Venice scenes are very well done, whereas the “Battle of the Titans” at the end is much less so. CGI is complemented with some quality swashbuckling fist fighting and occasional Martix-y moments that come off very well. Although, there are a few moments where Sean Connery’s punches visibly do not connect with his opponents faces, making their inevitable flight through the air somewhat humorous. All told, a good effort with some oddly amateurish moments, and apparently some rushed or budget constrained post-production.
The Cast: Like all other aspects of LXG, the cast is pretty good. Not spectacular, but far from bad. Sean Connery pulls through respectably, certainly better than in the Avengers, but without ever really achieving any emotional connection with the rest of the LXG or the audience. Blame this in part on directing – for instance, Connery’s final scene is shot at middle distance and its hard to tell if he’s grimacing or smirking. The rest of the cast does a commendable job of acting in Connery’s shadow and dealing with the overall bizarreness of the film – as the “making-of” documentary mentions, they’re all minor name method actors, noted for their bizarre roles, and they do a great job of perpetuating the movie’s bizarreness.
The audio is an embracing 5.1 mix. Surrounds are used aggressively to provide enfolding ambient noise environments, and action sounds are well placed on the soundstage. All told, about as good as 5.1 gets. If I had to be nitpicky, I would say that the audio mix has a tendency towards too much bass. As with many action films, “big sound” seems to be equated almost completely with “big bass” which leads to many scenes in which the action is drowned out by waves of bass – the Venice scenes are a good example. Still, a good audio mix in spite of a heavy bass bias by the engineers.
Oh, and I’m assuming that some future collector’s edition will come with a macked-out THX/DTS/7.1/??? track, so if that’s a big deal for you, hold off for a bit yet.
The video engineers for this DVD faced a big challenge with the gothic scenery in that this movie takes place in near perpetual darkness and rain. The dark is handled very, very well: the gothic atmosphere comes through perfectly, but illumination, contrast, saturation, brightness and so on are adjusted at the right places and times so that action and detail are not lost in murk. That was probably my biggest complain with Brotherhood of the Wolf (any release), for instance – half of the fight scene’s had to be inferred as they took place in such extreme gloom that you had no idea what was going on. Not so in LXG, so put your hands together for the video people.
Also, for what its worth, the transfer is devoid of particulate damage, artifacting and so on – a good job all around. Final note: the version reviewed here was the widescreen one, fullscreen is also available.
Deleted Scenes: There’s twelve of them, and they suck, hence their deletion. However, they’re funny to watch as many of the CGI effects haven’t been added in. Watch “To the Death” on page two to see Mina and Dorian pawing at non-existent wounds, for instance. Also, watch them, and then appreciate how good the video is in the actual movie – black levels, contrast and color saturation are nuts in the deleted scenes.
A Special Message: This one is interesting. Its an anti-marijuana commercial. Sort of chilling and sad. Interesting inclusion, not mentioned on the DVD’s packaging. A sign of things to come in DVD’s – paid message placements? Or perhaps it was included by the studio to appease some nebulous corporate guilt. Interesting is all I will say.
Documentary “Assembling the League:” Not a bad “making-of” feature, as these things go. Some interesting facts come out, and good behind the scenes shots. Who know that Connery was offered parts in the Matrix and LOTR? He turned them down because he “didn’t understand them,” but decided to go for LXG even though he didn’t understand it either. Interesting choices, Sean. Anyway, other similarly interesting bits await in the documentary.
Commentaries: There’s two, one with producers and non-Connery actors, and one with the Visual Effect people. Both are interesting and involved with no big long gaps or weird silences. The commentators all have a good easy banter with each other, which makes for good commentaries. Of the two, I would go with the directors/actors one – the two British contributors (on actor, one producer, if I remember correctly) have the whole dry British humor thing down pat, and it’s a great commentary to listen to.
I had no idea what to expect from this DVD, and I was pleasantly surprised by a movie that was better than I thought it would be, and an overall good DVD release. The movie is the kind that grows on you over time, and the DVD is a great non-Special Edition release with a good enough balance of audio, video, and features to make it worth checking out.
Special Features List
- Producer/Actor Commentary
- Visual Effects Commentary
- Deleted Scenes (12)
- “Assembling the League” Making-Of Documentary