The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen turns 20: the story of the movie that retired Sean Connery

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen turns 20: the story of the movie that retired Sean Connery

The comic book adaptation by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill is Sean Connery’s final screen appearance. Here is his story.

July 12, 2023 update Massacred by critics, denied by Sean Connery and disavowed by author Alan Moore, the adaptation of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemenreleased in 2003, was an almost total failure. “It was a nightmare”Sean recalled in 2011 in an interview with Times. “The experience marked me a lot. It made me think about showbiz. I was tired of talking to cretins”. What happened ? For the 20th anniversary of Stephen Norrington’s film, we tell you everything.

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Article from August 25, 2016:

parallel universe
When screenwriter Alan Moore imagines The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen in 1997, for the creator of watch men And V for Vendetta to give a flagship to his comics label ABC (America’s Best Comics). Inspired by the work of writer Philip José Farmer, author of two biographies of Tarzan and Doc Savage which links them to both Jack the Ripper and Sherlock Holmes, Moore decides to bring together the heroes of popular literature from the end of the 19th century in the same comics. Mina Harker (victim of Dracula), Captain Nemo, Doctor Jekyll, the Invisible Man and junkie adventurer Allan Quatermain fight against Moriarty in the first series of comics then against the “Marsians” of War of the Worlds in the second. Still being released today, the massive parallel universe of League now contains all the heroes of fiction: it was Hynkel (out of Chaplin’s Dictator) who started the Second World War while England was dominated by the Big Brother of 1984. And the penultimate series, Century, even manages to include Harry Potter. Moore puts the heroes to the test in a world of immense brutality, lost in a labyrinth of Borgesian references where each box, each supporting role comes from a pre-existing work.

Twenty versions of the script
The comics From Hell And The league caught the eye of producer Don Murphy, who bought them on behalf of 20th Century Fox. He hires the English James Dale Robinson, co-creator of Starman for DC Comics, to write the script which turns out to be a real nightmare. The studio keeps asking for rewrites. Robinson would write twenty different versions, and Fox would force him to add the character of Tom Sawyer to the League, hoping to connect with American audiences. The changes from the comics are brutal. Feminism and sexual and physical violence go by the wayside, the studio wanting a mainstream film especially after the flop of From Hell (2001) on the hunt for Jack the Ripper, a film prohibited for children under 17. Mina Harker is no longer the leader of the team and has spectacular vampiric powers, the Invisible Man is no longer a traitor and a rapist but a friendly scoundrel, the immortal Dorian Gray is added to the team, Allan Quatermain is no longer an old degenerate opium junkie but a former warrior in slippers who will become the leader of the League. These changes would have been made at the request of Sean Connery, who agreed to play in the film in exchange for a substantial salary (we are talking about 17 million dollars) and the title of executive producer with the right to look at the script. Connery regretted not agreeing to play Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings and didn’t want to miss out on a film that had the potential to be a hit.

A real Connery
To direct the film, Murphy chose Englishman Stephen Norrington, crowned with the surprise success of Blade (1998), the first film of the revival of superheroes in cinema. Monica Bellucci, originally scheduled to play Mina Harker, is replaced by Australian Peta Wilson. Fox plans the film for July 11, 2003 in American theaters and filming begins in August 2002 in Prague, but the imposing sets featuring Venice are ravaged by floods. The filming moved to Malta but the production took a difficult to catch up delay: the Fox left no room for Norrington, who regularly took the lead with Sean Connery, the latter regularly refusing to redo takes. In November 2002, the two men almost come to blows because of a stupid story of a rifle that does not work. Norrington managed to deliver a cut of the film in March 2003, four months before the release. A few scenes disappear without much damage (the mention of Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer’s partner, and two scenes with a scientist’s daughter which are in the Blu-ray bonuses). But it is especially at the level of the visual special effects that the film will suffer the most, the tight schedule and budget imposing on the production to disperse the processing of the VFX to no less than 25 different companies, preventing a good coherent vision of the result. finished.

Rated LXG
Fox is preparing to promote the film under the title LXGhoping to pass it off as a steampunk X-Men (the studio planned X-Men 2 in May 2003, three months before The league). While the cast – including Connery – normally promotes the film, Norrington is absent from the interviews. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was released in the United States on July 11, 2003. A week after Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl which completely crushes the Norrington. The following week, around Bad Boys 2 to wipe their feet on it. The film will end its American career at 66.4 million dollars (better however than Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, The Cradle of Life, forgotten flop of this year with 65.6 million), 44th biggest success of the year 2003 and far from its budget estimated at 78 million. On arrival, the film is brutally downgraded by the American press despite the certain energy of its combat scenes (the second unit director is the veteran Vic Armstrong). The year 2003 was a turning point at the American box office: for the first time, the difference between the first and second week of exhibition plunged on average by more than 50% for large films. The first weekend became crucial. The film was however a success more than correct abroad (notably in Germany, Japan, England and Spain) with a total of 112 million. And in France, The league reached one million admissions (released in 2003, Daredevil made 1.3 million and Hulk 1.6 million). Not enough for Fox. The actors had signed a contract for a trilogy of films but the second Leaguewhich had to adapt War of the Worlds like in the comics, will not happen. Première welcomed the film, calling it when it was released in October 2003 “superb poetic reflection on the turn of the centuries and the evolution of conceptions of entertainment” and this despite its difficult production, thanks to the characters of Dorian Gray, Mina Harker and Quatermain – yes, even the sober version of the film.

Moore on credit
The League still had to fight a battle. In September 2003, Larry Cohen (Phone Game) and Martin Poll (producer of lion in winter) are suing Fox for plagiarism. Larry and Martin claim to have offered the studio several times a project named A Cast of Characterswith a pitch identical to that of The league. What’s more, the accomplices accuse Fox of having sponsored the comics to prove their anteriority on the idea. The case will be settled “amicably” for an unknown sum. But above all, justice auditioned Alan Moore during tens of hours (by video recordings, Moore refusing to leave his city of Northampton) to know if he had copied the ideas of Poll and Cohen. One of their main arguments: Tom Sawyer and Dorian Gray appear in A Cast of Characters and in the movie—and that’s despite the two characters not being in the Moore and O’Neill comic (Dorian Gray just appears in a coloring game page) and part of the public domain. The absurdity of the complaint does not prevent justice from taking the case seriously. “I would have been treated better if I had sold drugs to children with disabilities”, Moore reportedly said, hurt by Fox’s lack of consideration to defend him. Moore declined to see the film. If his name appears in the credits (and on a poster in the film next to Kevin O’Neill’s), this will be the last time: watch men of Zack Snyder merely indicates “from the comic co-created and illustrated by Dave Gibbons”. And Alan won’t even want to get any more money for films adapted from his works (Constantine, V for Vendetta And watch men), whose rights are owned anyway by the publisher DC Comics.

“Retirement is fun”
The concept of The league remain attractive. A TV series was announced in 2013, written by Michael Green (screenwriter of Green Lantern and the future Blade Runner 2). But Fox decided against developing it, instead announcing a reboot of the film in May 2015. The studio may have been swayed by the positive reception given to Moore and O’Neill’s hugely comic-inspired TV series. Penny Dreadful (2014-2016) on Netflix, which notably brought together Victor Frankenstein and Dorian Gray facing Dracula while Timthy Dalton portrays a former explorer who looks a lot like Quatermain. The film’s failure also buried Stephen Norrington, who vowed not to do anything more, at least not for a big studio. It was for a time attached to the reboot project of The Crow now in the hands of Corin Hardy (The sanctuary), but devotes his free time to creating movie monsters: he has signed concept arts for Blade Trinity and he sculpted monsters for the DTV Harbinger Down with Lance Henriksen. As for Sean, he was content to dub the hero of the Scottish animated film Guardian of the Highlands (unpublished in France) in 2012. He never played again, on small or big screen. And this is what he replied after announcing that he refused to return to Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull : “in the end, retirement is fun”.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was re-released on Blu-ray by Fox in 2010.

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