Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

  This movie worked best as a memory for me. Nine year old me, in the theater, watching Captain Nemo, Mr.Hyde, the Invisible Man, and some other literary characters of yesteryear team up to take down bad guys who like to blow stuff up. It was odd, and unique, and eye-catching. What's worse is, it stuck in my head. I bought it from a DVD bargain bin a few years later, where it sat on my shelf for a long time until I sold all my DVD's and upgraded to Blu Ray. It was always that one movie. The one with all those guys, and that one scene. Never existing in my head as any more than a collection of parts that amazingly existed in a real movie and not just an old dream or nightmare.

  Not that the movie is worth being favorable towards, even in memory. Revisiting it was a painful experience, but one I knew would be frustrating at best. The movie doesn't start off all that badly. In fact by the time we get to Sean Connery, it's rather promising actually. The movie's first real action scene ensues, and is properly thrilling. The dialog soon after though... it shows it's true colors, sadly setting the tone for the rest of the movie. It's written with the finesse of a Moore-era Bond flick. Every other sentence seems penned in order to be featured in the trailers. At one point, a villain fires his machine gun into one of the 'Extraordinary Gentlemen', at point blank range... and to little effect. Shocked, he asks...  "What are you?", the man replies, "I'm complicated." Boom. Coming soon to a theater near you. You see my point? 90% of the dialog in the movie is like that, and any sentence longer than several words is almost certainly exposition.

It's mindlessness at it's worst. Case in point, The Nautilus. Captain Nemo's ornate submarine. It looks fantastic. It's design is extremely cool, and the intricate attention to detail on it is simply jaw-dropping. It's a breathtaking sight, hundreds of feet tall, and ten times as long. Unfortunately though, any awe it inspires, is quickly dropped like a sack of bricks when you realize it's only a special effect. There's a part of everyone's brain that knows it's a special effect anyways, obviously. A smart movie goer doesn't need to be told that. However, the movie isn't supposed to make it look like a special effect. Not only does the movie make you aware of the fact it's a special effect, it makes it impossible to ignore. That's a rather serious misstep.

  Not that it looks cheap or fake, but the story has this gargantuan vessel fitting into places it couldn't possibly. The canals of Venice, next to a tiny London dock- and more. It becomes so show-stoppingly bad that you can't look at it and see anything but a special effect. It seems to magically change it's size constantly. One moment it's two ocean liners long, the next, it seems like it could be dwarfed by a regular cruise ship. It fits into whatever moment the story sees fit to jam it into. Logic and the most basic of physics are casually thrown under the bus where The Nautilus is involved. What's even worse still, is that I thought up a few easy fixes in the spur of the moment that would've prevented all the mind-numbing displays of lazy writing. Because in the end, that's all it is. Lazy writing.

  Whoever wrote the screenplay had no concept of scale, space, time, and weight. Not to mention a terrible lack of research into locale. The whole Venice sequence is mired in faulty logic from top to bottom. I could write a whole article on that scene alone gets wrong. The whole movie is like this though. It presents incredibly interesting concepts, outstanding designs and visuals, and then finds a way to undermine all of it by failing to make any of it work within the basic laws of reality. As an audience, we instantly become aware of the movie itself, and the things that don't work stick out like a sore thumb. These are the kinds of movies people say you have to shut off your brain to enjoy. Because you really do.

  Smart movie goers often take offense to that statement, and I wholeheartedly understand why. No movie should make these mistakes. It's rookie bullshit at the end of the day, and we shouldn't be subjected to it. It's insulting. On the other hand... I'm sure the person who designed The Nautilus put serious time and effort into making it look the best he could, and it shows. The costume designer probably went all out on the wardrobe for our stalwart heroes, and it shows. The production designer probably slaved to give the movie a unique and memorable look, and wow, it shows. There were probably countless hundreds who put blood, sweat and tears into making this movie the best it could be. Everything on the visual and design side of things is just fantastic.

  I think that deserves a lot of appreciation. Off the top of my head I can't really name another movie that looks like this one, or plays like this one. It's incredibly atmospheric, and it's logic-raping aside, seems to exist in a mysteriously macabre world of high-adventure and science fiction intrigue. It may not muster the seriousness or jaw-dropping awe it so desperately wants to, but it's still amazingly cool eye candy. Some of the shots in this movie look simply gorgeous. Do those things deserve to be ignored because the script is simply awful? I don't know. I can't say. I personally do not mind sitting down and watching this every few years. It's a bad movie with good elements. It's painfully stupid, but it looks so neat.

  You wish so hard it had a better story and better dialog. Even the actors (most of them) are trying their damndest, and with so little to work with at that. If you want to hang the blame for this movie on anyone, aim your hate at the studios and the writers behind it. Even the director proved he could competently handle comic book material with Blade, which was and is ridiculously fun. One wonders what would've happened if The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen got a sequel like Blade did, helmed by Guillermo Del Toro even. Now that's an exciting thought. But, in this day and age, why bother with a sequel at all?

  It's been over ten years, Watchmen happened, and reboots/remakes are everywhere. Why not remake this movie? It's ripe with potential to be done right and adhere a little closer to the source material. When all is said and done, "LXG" as the marketing department dubbed it, (just picture me rolling my eyes) is a strange movie that almost no one could possible deny is bad, but it exists only just outside the realm of guilty pleasures, alongside movies like Resident Evil, Van Helsing, and Wild Wild West. These movies tried something different, for all the right reasons, and failed for all the worst ones. Someone reading this will probably be throwing up in their mouth at the mention of all those movies in one sentence.

  Maybe I'm a masochist who keeps returning to these awful experiences because I like the torture. Or maybe... I can appreciate the elements of these movies that were so damn good. The art, the visuals, the cinematography, that they shine no matter how awful the movie around them is. People praise striking visuals when they are married to a good story. Yet in the absence of a good story, striking visuals are suddenly worthless and the entire thing is critically chastised, woefully branded a waste of time. I don't necessarily agree with that total and absolute judgment. I believe the visuals of a movie are as praiseworthy as any other part of it. Like a badly written storybook with gorgeous illustrations, the whole design team behind LXG clearly gave it their all, whereas the writers... did not.

  It all depends on what you personally can salvage from this mess of a movie. I think, if you watch it with an average mindset, it won't be much more than nonsensical drivel. The kind of crap that's dragging Hollywood down. Not even with my apologist's mentality could I argue against that, but if you watch it with the brain switched off (which is something I hate to suggest or endorse) LXG is a fun, sleek, stylish, once-in-a-blue moon adventure flick. It may not be compelling or well written, but it managed to create a world and an atmosphere unique enough that I would want to return to it. Of course, only after it's been softened up in my memory for a long enough time that I have forgotten just how bad the bad aspects really are. It's unique and sometimes... that's enough.

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