Chapter & Verse – The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

Introduction:

The very first thing that anyone reading a modern horror comic should understand is that there are great economic advantages in being able to prop up an ailing, poor-selling comic book with an appearance by a successful guest star. Consequently, all the comic book stories produced by any given publisher are likely to take place in the same imaginary universe. . . . For those more familiar with conventional literature, try to imagine Dr. Frankenstein kidnapping on of the protagonists of Little Women for his medical experiments, only to find himself subject to the scrutiny of a team-up between Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot. I’m sure that both the charms and the overwhelming absurdities of this approach will become immediately apparent. . .

– Alan Moore, 1987 (in his introduction to Saga of the Swamp Thing)

A dozen years later, Alan Moore would go on to bring us The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

The Book:

Under the purview of the mysterious “M”, Campion Bond assembles a League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Miss Wilhelmina Murray, survivor of a great evil, and submariner/scientist Captain Nemo are sent to retrieve drug-addicted adventurer Allan Quatermain from a seedy opium den in Cairo. Eventually those three are joined by Dr. Henry Jekyll, Mr. Edward Hyde, and the invisible Hawley Griffin. The team is put on a mission to save England from the wicked plots of the Doctor, who curiously resembles Fu Manchu. Of course, things aren’t always as they appear, and perhaps M isn’t really, as Mina suspects, Sherlock’s smarter brother Mycroft Holmes.

In the second volume, the League must face the aliens of H.G. Wells, and the betrayal of a member.

The Film:

Allan Quatermain (Sean Connery) is called out of his quiet retirement to rescue England from the menace of the Fantom. Helping him out is Captain Nemo, a vampiric Mina Harker, an invisible man named Rodney Skinner, an immortal Dorian Gray, Secret Service agent Tom Sawyer, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

But it is all a trick! The Fantom himself is responsible for the formation of the League, so he can unlock the secrets of their fantastic powers. Or something like that. There is a big silly fight scene at the end, and the whole thing is remarkably uninteresting.

Differences and Similarities:

When it comes to adapting the brilliant works of Alan Moore to the silver screen, something horrible happens. The horrible thing that happens is usually the movie that gets made. So far, V for Vendetta is the winner of this pig contest, which also include the immensely frustating adaptation of From Hell and our subject in question.

Let’s refer to the comic as The League and the movie as LGX.

Where do we begin? The comic series features drug use, torture, implied bestiality, multiple scenes of rape and attempted rape, including members of the League raping other members. This is par for the course considering their source material. Stevenson’s Hyde is a creature of pure id, a murderer and a rapist who tramples children. Well’s eponymous Invisible Man is a megalomaniacal psychotic. These are powerful people, not heroic people. Mina Murray, having dealt with Dracula firsthand, is the only person equipped to keep these titans in line. She recruited the team, and is their defacto leader.

Naturally, things “have to” change when adapted for a movie. Such a film would be a costly affair, a big budget blockbuster. As such a PG-13 rating is “required”. Out go any themes or scenes deemed too adult. Movie executives don’t like to do expensive projects without a bankable star, thus Sean Connery as Allan Quatermain. Connery doesn’t want to play a drug addict, so all of the opium stuff is out of the picture. Quatermain is now the center of the team as he is played by the most famous actor in the flick. This gives Mina little to do, so the film-makers decide to make her a vampire and change her last name back to Harker so as not to confuse the audience.

But wait, there’s more! The Invisible Man might give us some legal troubles with film rights and all. They say, “Let’s change the character from the Invisible Man, to an invisible man.”

Then an Exec thinks, “Waitaminnut! There aren’t any Americans in this f*cking picture! Audiences won’t care about a bunch of European cockfags! Let’s throw in Tom Sawyer!”

So the adaptation gets dumbed down a bit, numbed down a lot. Characters are toned down to a nice easy to swallow beige. The story is run through “the Hollywood Homogenizer” (copyright Bruce Campbell, If Chins could Kill) until it is unrecognizable. At this point, the thing is ready for mass consumption by the illiterate.

But that’s not good enough for LGX! Somebody decides that Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray should be added to the picture. They build a film for idiots, and then add Dorian Gray. Because, you know, the unwashed masses love that story.

Perhaps something else is at play here. According to one of the film’s producers, pre-production of LGX pre-dated the first issue of The League. In fact, there was a lawsuit in 2003 which was settled out of court. In it, Larry Cohen (of It’s Alive fame) and Martin Poll claimed to have pitched the story that became LGX ten years prior. It could be that LGX is really their film, given the brand of Alan Moore’s similar comic book.

At any rate, the resulting film sucks the meat missile.

Which is better?:

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is one of the smartest, most literate comics around. It’s shocking, it’s funny, it’s crazy, it’s brilliant. It’s a terrifically interesting read. Books and websites have been devoted to panel by panel breakdowns of the series. The story is accessible to those unfamiliar with its 19th century literary references, but is made all the more fascinating with familiarity to its remarkable mosaic.

LGX is an action picture IMDB.com users rate as a 5.4 out of 10.