The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

  • Title: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
  • Director:  Stephen Norrington
  • Date:  2003
  • Studio:  20th Century Fox
  • Genre:  Action, Adventure
  • Cast:  Sean Connery, Shane West, Stuart Townsend, Richard Roxburgh, Peta Wilson
  • Format:  Widescreen, Color 
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“I’m a representative of Her Majesty’s government, the Empire needs you.”  Sorenson
“But the question is, Do I need the Empire?”  — Allan Quartermain

“You’re missing a picture, Mr. Grey.”  Allan Quartermain to Dorian Grey

“I’ve lived long enough to see the future become history, Professor.  Empires crumble, there are no exceptions.”  —  Dorian Grey

The League of  Extraordinary Gentlemen starts with a steampunk bang as a tank bursts out of a building, crushes a bobby, and then bursts through the walls of the Bank of England to commit a robbery. However, the object of the robbery isn’t just money, gold, or even jewels — it’s documents.  The robbery seems to have been conducted by the Germans, but next on the hit list is a German Zeppelin factory — which is blown sky-high.  Thus Britain blames Germany and Germany blames Britain, while in the background the mysterious Fantom seems to be orchestrating everything.  The film is set in 1899.

And thus, M, the mysterious leader of the League of  Extraordinary Gentlemen assembles the extraordinary men and women of the League to prevent a war — he says.  And the League is assembled: hunter and adventurer Allan Quartermain (Sean Connery), Mina – the vampire lover of Jonathan Harker, a thief named Skinner who has stolen the formula for invisibility, American Secret Agent Tom Sawyer, Dorian Grey, Captain Nemo (and his Nautilus) and Hyde (and his alternate identity Dr. Jekyll).  Now assembled M tells them they must prevent the mysterious Fantom from sinking Venice and killing the world leaders assembled there for a peace conference.

Reaching Venice, the League discovers they are too late, Venice is already starting to fall.  They manage to stop the destruction, and discover that they were set up.  Dorian betrays the crew, he’s working for M who’s stolen something from him.  Skinner (aka the Invisible Man) whom the League thought was guilty is innocent, but steals aboard the small Nautilus excursion pod with Grey.  Skinner is able to send a message to the League and they are off to stop M where he’s using the unique talents of the League members (Vampirism, invisibility, Jekyll’s potion, etc) to create new superweapons, as well as his tanks, mechanical men, etc.

The League reaches M’s new hideout and manage to win the day.  Allan Quartermain dies but passes the torch to Tom Sawyer whom he calls a “hero for a new century” (Quartermain being the hero of the old century).  M is revealed to be behind the Fantom, and also to be Professor Moriarty.

The League of  Extraordinary Gentlemen is a good film, but I think it could have been better.  I loved the Victorian literary references (other than Tom Sawyer who seems too young and out of place in the film). Besides the main characters, Quartermain makes a reference to Phileas Fogg going around the world in 80 Days.  Sorenson is a Sherlock Holmes reference, it’s Holmes alias during part of his “missing three years” after Reichenbach Falls. That M is really Professor Moriarty is also another Sherlock Holmes reference.  There are some marvelous quips as well.  Sean Connery is brilliant, and the rest of the cast does a competent job.  However, I can’t help but wonder how much better the film could have been with a more experienced and better known cast.  Also, far too much time is spent assembling the League — time that could have been spent firming up the plot.  I didn’t like the obvious CGI Hyde (and the “super-Hyde that fights Hyde at M’s fortress is just silly-looking).  The initial CGI effect for the Invisible Man as he smears on cold cream to show his face is extremely well done, but the very next scene in the car has the actor with white greasepaint on his face that’s applied so badly you can see his beard stubble.  One or the other effect would actually have worked, but switching between both is distracting and screams “we didn’t have the money to do this right”.  The Nautilus is gorgeous, but is apparently solar powered, which makes no sense for a sub.  In Jules Verne’s novel it’s a nuclear sub — maybe the filmmakers were afraid to say so?  Nemo’s car is also beautiful.  Overall, this film felt like a nice intro, but its a real shame no further sequels were made.  I almost think it would have been better as a television pilot than a film, especially as a television series could have brought in even more fictional and real Victorian characters.

There is plenty of action, however, and the look of the film is actually really, really gorgeous.  And I did like the cast, they all do a competent job (I just think they could have done better in casting).  In a sense the film suffers from unfulfilled promise.

Recommendation:  a fun movie for teens and adults, see it
Rating:  4 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  The Lost Weekend

Jaws

Title:  Jaws
Director:  Steven Spielburg
Date:  1975
Studio:  Universal
Genre:  Suspense, Drama
Cast:  Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss
Format:  Technicolor, Widescreen
DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“This was no boat accident.”  Matt Hooper

“It doesn’t make much sense for a guy who hates the water to live on an island either.”  — Hooper
“It’s only an island if you look at it from the water.”  — Martin Brodie

“We’re going to need a bigger boat.”  — Martin Brodie

Quite by accident Jaws was the first movie that I got on DVD, received as a gift.  I still love it though because it’s a masterful piece of suspense, and a fine character study.  It is not out and out shock-factor horror, in part due to happy accident — the mechanical shark didn’t work, and the film works better when you can’t see it.  There are some scenes where you finally do see the shark, and it looks very fake, though the film stands up by it’s well-drawn characters and their relationships.

Amity Island is an East Coast summer island, preparing for the busy Fourth of July summer holiday.  The film opens with a group of young people having a bonfire on the beach.  One of the teenaged girls runs off to go skinny dipping in the ocean, at night, and is attacked and killed (eaten) by the shark.  Martin Brodie (Roy Scheider), the chief of police, immediately tries to close the beach — but is prevented by the local mayor and business people who are afraid they will lose their summer income.

And thus the first half of the film almost has the format of a disaster film:  one guy (Brodie) knows there’s a threat to life and limb, but no one listens to him, because doing the smart thing is a threat to local business and income.  Later a young child is killed, and reward is offered for the shark.  Soon every idiot who can find a boat is out looking for the shark, and doing a terrible job.

At this point, Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), a shark expert, shows up.  He tells Brodie the shark someone’s caught is a Tiger shark and too small to have killed the girl who died.  What they are looking for is a Great White.

The scene where Hooper examines the remains of the dead girl is well done, because we don’t actually see the body, he just describes into a dictaphone what he sees and what’s missing, while trying not to lose his lunch.  Similarly, when Brodie found the girl in the first place — all the audience saw was the girl’s hand — that’s it, no body and no blood.  (There isn’t even any blood in the first attack scene, though there are in later ones).

Again, Brodie and Hooper want to close the beaches, but the mayor won’t allow it on Fourth of  July weekend.  After another attack, and Brodie nearly losing his own son (he survives), the mayor relents.

Whereas, the first half of the movie is like a disaster film — with the one guy trying to convince everyone else and not being believed; the second half of the film is closer to horror — though it’s still more suspense than horror.  Because of the problems with the shark, and Spielburg’s excellent direction, surprise, brief glances, and suggestion is used more than actually seeing the shark eat anyone.

The second half of the film has Brodie — the chief of police, and a guy who’s afraid of water; Quint (Robert Shaw) the old poacher and fisherman, and Hooper (the shark expert), stuck on Quint’s boat trying to catch the shark.  The film examines these three characters, their relationships to each other, and their relationships to the shark.  This is where the character-building occurs, having already been touched upon as the three very different men are introduced.

My favorite scene in the entire movie is actually where the three are in the cabin of the boat, they’ve just finished comparing scars (except Brodie), and the three start singing, “I’m tired and I Wanna go Home”, only to have the shark butt in, literally, as it begins to ram the boat.  At this point, too, the shark goes from the unseen, spooky, where will it show up next, monster — to something they cannot kill.  It makes the film more towards the horror genre, but even once we start to see the shark, it still isn’t seen all that often.  A big part of what makes Jaws scary is that what you don’t see is a lot scarier than what you do see.  Even in Jaws, when we see people splashing around in the water, and hear the marvelous Jaws theme music, that’s scarier as the audience anticipates something happening, than later when the shark takes a chunk out of Quint’s boat.

Again, the acting in this is marvelous.  Scheider is calm and collected, but you can see he’s repressing his fears, especially when in the boat, or watching people swimming in dangerous waters.  Some of the best shots are of him reacting to things.  Dreyfuss is the manic scientist, smart, knowledgeable, but also able to get a quick insult off at the stupidity of people on the island when he needs to.  He also quickly convinces Brodie exactly what they need to do.  And Quint, the poacher and fisherman — course, mean-tempered, essentially a salty old sailor — the perfect foil for the more normal Brodie and Hooper.

In the end, of course, Hooper disappears (but survives), Quint doesn’t, and Brodie manages to thrust a compressed air tank into the shark’s mouth and then blow it up by shooting it.  Instant sushi.

Still, an excellent movie with great characters and some really good acting.

Recommendation:  See it!  But not for the really young (I’d go 13 plus on this)
Rating:  4 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Justice League Crisis on Two Earths

It Happened One Night

  • Title:  It Happened One Night
  • Director:  Frank Capra
  • Date:  1934
  • Studio:  Columbia Pictures
  • Genre:  Romance, Comedy
  • Cast:  Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert, Alan Hale
  • Format:  Standard, Black and White
  • Format:  R1, NTSC

“Just the spoiled brat of a rich father, the only way you get anything is to buy it, isn’t it?  You’re in a jam and all you can think of is your money.  It never fails, does it?  Ever hear of the word — humility?  No, you wouldn’t.  I guess it never occurred to you to say, ‘Please mister, I’m in trouble, will you help me?’ ” — Peter Warne (Clark Gable)

Claudette Colbert is Ellen Andrews, the socialite daughter of a very rich father, pampered and sheltered all her life, she runs off and marries the first man she meets.  But her father, not liking the young man, threatens to have the marriage annulled, so she jumps ship, literally — jumping overboat from her father’s yacht and swimming to shore.

In Miami, Ellen boards the night bus for New York, having pawned her watch to get some clothes and buy a ticket.  On the bus, she runs into Peter Warne (Clark Gable), a rough, tough, rude, drunk and unbeknownest to her — an unemployed newspaper reporter.  The two have a prickly relationship, but through a series of adventures, end up falling for each other.

Their adventures include — sharing a cabin at an “auto-camp”, where Peter strings a clothline between the two twin beds and hangs a blanket on it, to preserve their privacy and dignity.  Later, at a second cabin, he does the same thing.  They also spent a night in separate haystacks, out in the country.  When hitch-hiking, having lost all their money, and abandoned the bus as someplace Ellen could get caught, Peter utterly fails to stop a car — but Ellen hikes up her skirt and flashes some leg — that stops the car, all right.

Just shy of New York, Peter leaves Ellen asleep in a cabin and rushes to his old editor, with a great story, to get some money so he can propose to Ellen.  However, the woman who owns the auto-camp with her husband hears him drive off and wakes Ellen and kicks her out.  Ellen calls her father, asking for a ride. Meanwhile, her father’s buried the hatchet with her “husband”, Westley.  He offers to allow Ellen to marry her boyfriend.  However, when he meets Peter, he sees he’s a better match for his daughter and tries to convince her to dump Westley and marry Peter.  In the end, Ellen chooses Peter.

The film is filmed beautifully, on silver nitrate film, which practically glows.  Ellen’s silvery-white silk wedding gown is especially gorgeous, but throughout the film the lighting on both Colbert and Gable is breath-takingly gorgeous.  The plot is pretty much standard romantic comedy fare, with a surprising amount of physical comedy.  Gable is both a perfect gentleman — setting up the blanket barrier, offering Ellen his pajamas to use, even making her breakfast — and surprisingly course, insisting Ellen’s a spoiled brat, without really knowing her.

Recommendation:  A classic romantic comedy, See It!
Rating:  4 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Jaws