leagueofextraordinarygentlemenOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

It’s been a quiet couple of years for Trevor Jones. The excellent Jack the Ripper thriller From Hell notwithstanding, the talented South African has limited himself to small-scale features and TV fare since the turn of the millennium, with titles such as Dinotopia, the Britney Spears vehicle Crossroads and the Charlotte Church movie I’ll Be There to his name. He wasn’t even the first choice composer for The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, with director Stephen Norrington originally approaching Mark Isham, with whom he had worked on Blade. But, with disastrous floods destroying sets in Prague, performers and directors clashing with each other on location, and a drawn out post-production period, LXG (the short-form acronym for the movie) eventually fell into the lap of Jones, who took it as another opportunity to create one of his well-liked action thriller scores.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is a big-screen adaptation based on the series of graphic novels by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill, set in an “alternate universe” which looks suspiciously like Victorian England, and which stars Sean Connery as H. Rider Haggard’s legendary adventurer Allan Quatermain. Now living out his retirement in Africa, Quatermain is recruited to the mysterious League when a dangerous criminal known as The Fantôme announces he is trying to initiate a world war. And so, in the company of other members of the league – Jules Verne’s Captain Nemo (Naseeruddin Shah), Bram Stoker’s Mina Harker (Peta Wilson), H.G. Wells’s Invisible Man (Tony Curran), Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray (Stuart Townsend), Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde (Jason Flemyng), and Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer (Shane West) – Quartermain hops the globe in an attempt to stop the Fantôme’s evil plans, and uncover his identity, before the world is plunged into chaos.

Ultimately, the film was a spectacular flop, having only grossed $66.4 million at the time of writing – $11.6 million short of recouping its budget – and suffering from largely under-par performances, an inappropriately self-important tone, baffling leaps in logic, and a plot line so simplistic as to be almost audience-insulting. With only impressive set design and some nifty special effects to call its own, Norrington’s over-stuffed turkey looks destined to be remembered as one of 2003’s high profile failures. Even the scene containing Sean Connery and white tigers in the same shot – something which usually signifies a sure fire winner for my wife Ami – failed to impress!

Of late, an immediately recognizable Trevor Jones sound has developed, mainly though the use of a propulsive action motif for stabbing brasses underpinned by prominent bass drums and timpanis. This motif, which has been in evidence since Merlin in 1998 and has subsequently been used in Dark City, Thirteen Days, From Hell and others, appears in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen again as the core action element, propelling the movie along with driving rhythms. While the motif certainly provides a stylistic link between projects, it is now beginning to become a little tiresome. Surely a composer of Jones’s caliber can invent another ostinato? Having a familiar and recognizable compositional style is one thing… using exactly the same action writing five scores in a row is pushing things a little.

However, what The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen lacks in originality, it more than makes up for with volume and scale. The full might of the London Symphony Orchestra is in force, thundering away in the lowest reaches of their register, and adding a sense of power and might to the many action cues. The opening ‘Dawn of New Century’ is very impressive indeed, while subsequent cues such as ‘Nautilus: Sword of the Ocean’, ‘The Game is On’, ‘Capturing Mr. Hyde’, the truly massive ‘Storming the Fortress’, and the conclusive ‘May This New Century Be Yours’ continue the trend. If nothing else, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen knows how to make your speakers wobble.

Eschewing the leitmotif method of endowing individual characters with small, defining themes, Jones instead scores the League as a whole with a single style, cornerstoned by an ascending brass fanfare that acts as the score’s central theme, and which is first heard in he fifth track. However, by using the broad-brush approach, Jones has left his score with very little individual personality: the theme is not strong enough on its own to act successfully as an all-encompassing heroic motif, and eventually the action music tends to meld together, with little variation from the “dark and loud” standpoint set out in the first track.

A couple smaller cues, such as ‘Task Requires Heroes’ and ‘Mina Harker’s Secret’ and the moody ‘Treachery’, are nice, and do break the bombast for a short time, but in themselves they are nothing more than echoes of the romantic, opulent darkness Jones put to much better use in From Hell two years ago. Three source music tracks – a Victorian promenade, and two mellow African vocals by Ladysmith Black Mambazo (who are still synonymous in England with Heinz baked beans commercials) – add running time to the album, although they are inappropriately sequenced and detract from the overall effect of Jones’s work. When all’s said and done, the lack of a truly distinctive theme is The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’s ultimate undoing. For all its brass-led bravado and thunderous action music, without a tangible grasp on something unique, the score becomes little more than a Trevor Jones standard made up of good bits from his past.

A purchasing note: somewhat inexplicably, 20th Century Fox originally decided to make this score available ONLY for download through Apple’s iTunes service – thereby cold-shouldering those who do not have Macintoshes, or are not in North America. When the rest of the world quite rightly complained about this, the score was then made available for purchase only via Varése Sarabande’s web site in North America, and released into stores though Varése ‘s subsidiary Colosseum in Europe and the rest of the world. Talk about a shambles!

Rating: ***½

Track Listing:

  • Dawn of a New Century (4:28)
  • Kenya – Wait for Me (written by Trevor Jones and Joseph Shabalala, performed by Ladysmith Black Mambazo) (3:32)
  • Task Requires Heroes (4:09)
  • Promenade by the Sea (written by Trevor Jones and Victoria Seale) (2:54)
  • Nautilus – Sword of the Ocean (3:30)
  • The Game is On (2:54)
  • Old Tiger (2:56)
  • Capturing Mr. Hyde (3:29)
  • Mina Harker’s Secret (3:18)
  • Phantom’s Lair (5:30)
  • Portrait of Dorian Gray (3:40)
  • Treachery (5:29)
  • Storming the Fortress (3:55)
  • May This New Century Be Yours (2:34)
  • Son of Africa (written by Trevor Jones and Joseph Shabalala, performed by Ladysmith Black Mambazo) (2:08)

Running Time: 54 minutes 41 seconds

Varése Sarabande VSD-6492 (2003)

Music composed by Trevor Jones. Conducted by Geoffrey Alexander. Performed by The London Symphony Orchestra. Orchestrations by Trevor Jones, Geoffrey Alexander and Mike Townend. Recorded and mixed by Paul Hicks, Simon Rhodes and Andrew Dudman. Edited by Adam Kay and Jeremy Raub. Album produced by Trevor Jones.

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