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Adventurer Allan Quartermain (Sean Connery) is recruited by the mysterious British intelligence agent M (Richard Roxburgh) to head a secret mission. In this quest to stop the elusive Fantom and his evil doings, also gathered together are other fabled characters: pirate and freedom fighter Captain Nemo (Naseeruddin Shah); master vampire Mina Harker (Peta Wilson); the eternally young Dorian Gray (Stuart Townsend); Agent Sawyer (Shane West); ‘gentleman thief’ invisible man Rodney Skinner (Tony Curran) and frail chemist Dr Jekyll (Jason Flemyng) who is a slave to his alter-ego Mr Hyde.

Review by Louise Keller:
Jumping straight from the lively pages of a graphic novel, these fabled super-heroes of the 19th century all originate from the crisp white pages of English literature. It’s a wonderful supposition, and who better at the helm than H.Rider Haggard’s adventurer Allan Quartermain, hero of King Solomon’s Mines? Especially when the role is in the hands of the Sean Connery whose appeal has never stumbled for a single second. Add to the mix Oscar Wilde’s ageless Dorian Gray, H.G. Wells’ Invisible Man, Robert Louis Stephenson’s Dr Jekyll/Mr Hyde, Jules Verne’s Captain Nemo plus a Vampiress who cut her teeth in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. 

But what could have been a turn-of-the-century thinking-man’s X-Men is relegated to a lavish splash of a special effects movie, with all the effort placed on the big bangs rather than allowing the characters to drive the plot. What an opportunity lost! And in the hands of director Stephen Norrington (Blade) and screenwriter James Dale Robinson, the storyline goes seriously askew. It begins well as we meet the enigmatic Quartermain in Kenya, as he is enticed to doing his bit to save the world. The script begins with every promise of wit and sparkle with lines like: ‘Doesn’t the prospect of a world war make you sweat?’ to which Quartermain responds: ‘We’re in Africa – sweating is what we do!’ 

Our interest is held as the remainder of the group is gathered together and we discover their credentials. These are the best moments of the film, when the special effects actually complement the characters and we are surprised and innovated. The effects with which the Invisible Man are revealed are dazzling, and Peta Wilson’s fiery Vampiress displays her fangs with a sensational flurry of showmanship. But there’s something heavy-handed about the Jekyll/Hyde transformation (reminiscent of Bruce Banner/The Hulk). 

Apart from Connery’s disillusioned Quartermain, whose bitterness is now drowned in a Gin and Tonic at Nairobi’s Britannia Club, Wilson’s Mina is the most satisfying character and she plays it beautifully. She is vixen, temptress and dastardly adversary and we see first hand that hell hath no fury as a woman scorned. But characters like Stuart Townsend’s Dorian Gray (looking very much like Johnny Depp) and Richard Roxburgh’s M, badly need a gravitas to reflect their position, and this is never achieved. Without a strong, juicy villain – one that we love to hate – the film lacks an important ingredient. As for the special effects, they may have been more cohesive if fewer specialist companies had been employed – have a look at the never-ending end credits that give an idea of the number of people involved. It’s staggering. I found the shaking effect (as though there is something wrong with the special effects and our vision needs to be muffled) seriously annoying. On the plus side, the production design is striking and a sharp-edged score accentuates the dark edge that the film aspires to. 

Special Features reviewed by Craig Miller:
Being such an effects heavy movie, it is no surprise that the only special features on this two-disc set of any real interest, are those involving the visual aspects of the film. 

The Matters of Pre-visualisation featurette is a ten-minute look at the technical planning of the film and what the finished product will hopefully look like, and the Assembling the League featurette is a series of smaller featurettes that cover everything from casting, costumes and visual effects through to set construction and miniatures. Both cover their subjects well, but rarely escape that produced-for-DVD feeling.

The film’s fanatics may also wish to check out the commentaries from selected crew and cast members that offer up some nice entertainment as well as an in-depth history of the films life, with the producer/cast commentary the obvious standout.

Much of the remaining is interview footage and typical behind the scenes snippets, with this reasonable, yet typical DVD package rounded out with the usual promotional / marketing material of trailers, posters and TV spots.

Published February 12, 2004

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(US/Czech Republic) (2003)

CAST: Sean Connery, Peta Wilson, Stuart Townsend, Shane West, Richard Roxburgh, Jason Flemyng, Tony Curran

DIRECTOR: Stephen Norrington

SCRIPT: James Robinson

RUNNING TIME: 106 minutes

PRESENTATION: Widescreen 16:9 Enhanced, Dolby Digital 5.1

SPECIAL FEATURES: Disc One: Audio commentary with producers Don Murphy and Trevor Albert, and cast members Shane West Jason Flemyng and Tony Curran, Audio commentary with costume designer Jacqueline West, visual effects supervisor John E. Sullivan, make-up effects supervisor Steve Johnson and miniatures creator Matthew Gratzner, Disc Two: Matters of Pre-visualisation featurette, Assembling the League featurette, Behind the Fantasy featurette, Still galleries, Deleted and extended scenes, Premiere footage, Trailers, TV spots and Poster art.

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Fox Home Entertainment

DVD RELEASE: February 11, 2004

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