The other day, I read that 20th Century Fox is planning on rebooting The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen movie they made back in 2003. They are legally required to do this because if we reach 2020 and we haven’t rebooted every single thing that ever existed prior to now, the unfathomable monsters who live beneath the oceans of the world will rise up and consume us all, probably.
Anyway, I was happy about the news. “Yay!” I exclaimed. The previous League of Extraordinary Gentlemen movie was super popular with viewers and critics! It made a lot of money! It was super good! It was very faithful to the comic! “If they’re all like this, I hope they keep making movies based off my works!” Alan Moore said! It didn’t cause Sean Connory to retire! I mean the opposite of literally everything in this paragraph!
(Because I feel I should say something nice somewhere here about the previous movie, I’ll point out that I unabashedly loved the actor they had for Captain Nemo, and I really loved his Nautilus as well. A Nemo movie would make me happy, although I’m sure Hollywood would go right back to casting him as white…)
So, presuming they make this new movie, I thought I’d offer some suggestions on how to make it less unbearable than they did the first time around.
Pay Very Close Attention to the Comics
The first movie had the classic Hollywood feel of a cigar-chomping executive going “it’s like a comic thing yeah? Make something out of the shit on this cover. Okay, who’s up for cocaine for lunch?” If you want a better movie than last time, do better than that.
For one thing, the comic continued long after the movie bubbled to the top of the swamp and burst. There have been three volumes of the League, a Black Dossier, several spin-off volumes (which I love) about Captain Nemo’s daughter Janni and her adventures through life. And through all of these, Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill have gleefully stuffed as much literary and pop culture from the past couple hundred years as they can, into every frame. More on that in a second.
Pay attention to what Alan Moore’s done with the story, then go and do thou likewise. Build your League, build your world, find an actual useful adventure that suits them in particular and then run with that. Don’t take a standard, fairly dim Hollywood rock-em-sock-em plot and then slap literary names on all the characters. The characters are key.
Get Very Detailed
There are two joys to reading League comics. The first is reading the comics themselves, which remain some of my favorites over the years (even very recently, Century: 2009 had a small sequence that gave me chills, toward its end). The second joy is that a little while after the League volume comes out, the annotations start appearing online. Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill have both talked about how if any character is mentioned by name in the League, then they are a literary character pulled from somewhere and traceable back to somewhere. But even without that, there’s a wealth of detail, literary and pop, backed into every panel, every reference, every line of dialogue, everywhere. You don’t need to know all of it to enjoy the comic, but it’s fun when you do. Comic fans are already doing that with movies now (just look at people niggle over tiny details in Marvel movies, working out if it is hinting at a future movie). Make everything something in your League movie and let the Internet have its fun dismantling it and poking around. But don’t do it arbitrarily. Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill always work out if these characters are alive at the same time, how old they’d be, how they’d cross paths, and so on. If nothing else, they’ve done a lot of the work for you. Build on it.
Don’t Get Stuck in Time
A lot of League fans complained when, after the first two volumes, the League stories began moving through time. Not through time travel Doctor Who methods, just that the League has existed for centuries and thus your stories can too. Plus, certain characters from the first volume of the League are essentially immortal and thus will have existed in the 1800s and also in the 2000s. So the third volume of the League, Century, took place over a century obviously. From 1909 to 2009, following mostly the same characters, with a lot of history, friends gained and lost, all accreting in between the volumes.
Do this with your movies, too. If you make more than one League movie, don’t just stay in a vague Victorian era forever. Move around in time. This can be made to work. Evidence of this is on hand with the Planet of the Apes movies they’re currently doing an excellent job with. The second one takes place quite some time after the first one, none but the main character Caesar, the ape, being left. It has a remarkable effect on the story they’re telling, and it would do likewise with the League.
Start With Volume 2
This is a tricky one that I go back and forth on. The first volume went about the necessary business of assembling the League, from getting the volatile and insane Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde, to catpuring the Invisible Math…but the actual story was a little light, in some places. Or at the very least, it wasn’t cinematic. The second one, in which the League has to deal with the Martians from War of the Worlds is great, very movie-like…but for certain character moments, betrayals and so forth, it really needs the weight and history of the first volume to make them mean anything. So how would this be done? I don’t know. I am not a Hollywood screenwriter, I don’t have a solution. Just a gut feeling. (Hollywood, if you would like to pay me something with a lot of zeros on the end, I will have the solution for you before you have finished your cocaine lunch)
So there we have it. Best of luck, guys. You’ve got a nightmare uphill battle here, because 1) the previous movie sucked so hard it’s actually been studied as a black hole simulator and 2) because Alan Moore adaptations always kinda suck. If you can pull this movie off, I suggest you go immediately buy a lottery ticket.
(P.S. Please don’t cast a white Captain Nemo)