I want to end this little series of Big Summer Geeky Blockbusters by panning
the upcoming League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, or LXG for short. No, I haven't
seen the movie, but I'm panning it anyway. In the last few years, I've read
enough about it and seen enough tidbits to put together a pretty complete picture
of the suckage they are about to inflict on an unsuspecting world. Wait, that's
not fair; after all, I have only seen the trailers. Maybe the terrible trailers
aren't an indicator of the merits of the film. Maybe I'm taking it all too seriously.
After all, it would seem like a dream come true: A best-selling, universally popular
comic book written by Alan Moore gets adapted by an award-winning comic book scribe
(James Robinson), and Sean Connery is cast in the lead role. What could possibly
Where should I start?
Robinson, who is British and should know better, changed the plot AND the location
of the story, altered the sequence of events, added characters, changed the roles
of the characters, and in general dumbed the whole project down to make it a popcorn
movie. His script is almost insulting to me; see, I'm an American, and so
I couldn't possibly know who some of these people are, and so it's
easier to just rewrite the bits that might be considered confusing to modern Americans
than to actually friggin' adapt the thing and let the audience catch up.
I know this sounds a little odd coming from a guy who's been screaming,
"it's a movie! They make changes all the time!" for the past
three months, but here's the difference: There is no popular preconception
of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen for the public at large to latch onto,
aside from the characters themselves (and the filmmakers thinking that people
would be confused about who The Invisible Man, Dr. Jekyll, and Captain Nemo are
is ludicrous). What made the comic book series cool was that Alan Moore dialed
back their personalities to be closer to the source material, the original novels.
That made their actions surprising and interesting.
Robinson took an interesting premise (fictional literary heroes team up to save
a world from a fictional menace) and turned it into an unofficial sequel for The
Wild, Wild West. And here's what I really want to say about making
changes: If you streamline a story and leave character and motive untouched, rearrange
some things to make it all fit in a movie, and try to be respectful of what you're
doing, then that's fine. But when you change stuff "because you HAVE
to have X, Y, and Z in a film," when you rewrite scenes that didn't
need to be rewritten, when you alter characterization and story for the sake of
getting all of the above in, then you have failed.
Wild, Wild West sucked because people scoffed at it. In a comedic film, people
can more or less accept a black sheriff. Okay, sure, it's a different time,
and anyway, who doesn't like Will Smith? But giant arachnid steam powered
automatons in the wild west is just stupid. On the crappy T.V. show, it was a
big, big deal if the midget brought out a man-sized robot. And there was a kind
of precedent for automatons; it was a big deal in the late 19th and early 20th
century. The average movie-goer might be a moron, but they know there weren't
steam-powered giant arachnid thingies back then. We couldn't make one NOW.
I call this Finn's Theory of Improbable and Anachronistic Technology, and
it'll most definitely apply to LXG (just look for the shot in the previews
when Tom Sawyer is driving what looks like the Batmobile down the streets).
All of the subtlety has been gutted from the original premise. Machine guns, clouds
of bats, and a villain who looks like a reject from Brian de Palma's Phantom
of the Paradise. Awesome. Excellent. Perfect. In short, it'll look like
every other no-brained romp, when the point about the original series was that
it wasn't like that at all. Why not just do your own movie? The characters
are in the public domain; that's why Moore used them. Just make up your
own damn explosion-fest, and call it "The Victorian Gentlemen Adventurers
Club" or something else. What, were you afraid of ticking off the 50,000
comic book geeks who read Moore's story?
Better yet, were you afraid of making a clever movie? I understand that's
a common affliction in Hollywood. There's so much idiocy running rampant
that it's difficult to know which horse to back. But it seems to me that
typically, or at least, if the last ten years are any kind of an indicator, clever
movies do really well. They find an audience, and that audience does all of the
promotion on the film via word-of-mouth. Ah, you're right; why chance it?
If I don't routinely practice brain surgery, then why should you try to
make a clever movie? Stick to what you know.
I predict LXG will do okay, not great, largely because the people who go to see
it will think it was stupid in a way that they can't quite put their finger
on. When pressed, they'll just shrug and say, "I dunno, it was just
. . . stupid." It won't be anything that anyone hasn't seen
before in the Indiana Jones movies or The Mummy movies, or in Sean Connery movies,
for that matter. Same old, same old. Here's hoping the sales on the trade
paperback don't tank, because that's really worth your time.