In ”The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” (July 11), characters from such classic novels as ”Dracula,” ”The Picture of Dorian Gray,” and ”Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” make like the Justice League and join up to fight crime — in Victorian England. The film draws from Alan Moore’s graphic novel of the same name, published in 2000, and from the original tomes, all of which were written in the 1800s. To prepare for the movie, you can tackle all those big books…or toss out your CliffsNotes and scan our guide to this unusually literate summer blockbuster.
Literary Origins In a series of novels by H. Rider Haggard, the first and most famous of which is ”King Solomon’s Mines,” Quatermain is a British elephant hunter who, through luck and pluck, survives countless treacherous adventures throughout Africa.
In the Comic The ”great colonial explorer” is found washed up in an opium den in Cairo and dragged back to serve his country. This Quatermain is a cowardly opportunist with an addictive personality who is heroic mainly because he’s in the right place at the right time.
On Screen The film’s Quatermain is a cross between James Bond and Indiana Jones. And don’t look for Connery to inhale — in order to garner a PG-13 rating, the drug references were cut and instead, according to costar Tony Curran, ”they find [Quatermain] drinking in some old bar in Africa.”
Literary Origins Sawyer is, of course, the quintessential American boy in Mark Twain’s ”The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.”
In the Comic He’s not there. Because the League is a group of European heroes doing their duty for the British Empire, there was no room for an American ”white-picket-fence painter,” graphic novelist Alan Moore explains.
On Screen The studio wanted a young character from an American novel as one of the crime fighters, and Tom was a natural, considering that he’s the hero of Twain’s sequel, ”Tom Sawyer: Detective.” The movie takes it one step further, though: Tom has grown up to be an American Secret Service agent.
Literary Origins In Bram Stoker’s ”Dracula,” the young Mina Murray (her maiden name) is feasted on by the Übervamp himself. Her life is saved and she escapes his curse when her husband, Jonathan Harker, helps destroy the monster.
In the Comic Moore had trouble finding a strong heroine in Victorian fiction, so he created one by imagining that, a few years after the events of Stoker’s book, ”Mina toughened up…became a suffragette [and] divorced Jonathan.” She has emerged as the leader of the League.
On Screen The Mina that Wilson (”La Femme Nikita”) portrays in the movie has been transformed into a vampire, which should boost the sexy action level. If she can find a cure for her ”condition,” she’ll return to normal society, but in the meantime she uses her powers to fight England’s enemies.
Literary Origins In Oscar Wilde’s famous fable ”The Picture of Dorian Gray,” the title character trades his soul for eternal youth. His image in a portrait changes to show the ravages of debauchery and aging while he remains as youthful-looking as he did on the day it was painted. In the end, he can’t stand to see his corrupt soul laid bare in the painting, and in trying to destroy the artwork he instead kills himself.
In the Comic Though the collected edition of the ”League of Extraordinary Gentleman” series includes a ”paint by numbers” portrait of Gray in the back, the English dandy is NOT an original member of the League. Moore muses, ”I previously thought that the only thing you could do with Dorian Gray as a character was to have people say, ‘Oh, our Dorian, you’re looking well for your age.”’
On Screen The filmmakers decided that an indestructible hero could be pretty useful, actually. But, given his immoral and sometimes criminal past, and hints that his cooperation with the League may have more to do with his romantic history with fellow member Mina Harker than with his sense of civic pride, it’s hard to know how much he can be trusted.
Literary Origins In Robert Louis Stevenson’s ”Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” Dr. Henry Jekyll, a handsome socialite, brews a potion that releases the monster within, the hideous Edward Hyde. After Hyde brutally murders an aristocrat, Jekyll commits suicide.
In the Comic Jekyll fakes his suicide and moves to France, where as Hyde he murders prostitutes and others of questionable morals. Alan Moore noticed that Stevenson’s Hyde became increasingly powerful in the novel, which ”kind of led to our current, enormous Mr. Hyde and relatively feeble and shriveled Henry Jekyll.” Now Hyde’s a Hulk-like beast.
On Screen Flemyng got the role because producer Don Murphy loved him as the coachman in ”From Hell” (another Moore/Murphy adaptation) and pushed to get him cast. Flemyng’s Jekyll transforms into a huge, CG Hyde, the League’s sometimes uncontrollable muscle.
Literary Origins In Jules Verne’s ”20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,” Captain Nemo isn’t the Disney archetype played by James Mason in the 1954 film. In fact, Verne’s Nemo is never given a physical identity; we know only that he’s a technological genius who attacks ships and generally terrorizes sea travelers. It’s not till the sequel, ”The Mysterious Island,” that Nemo is revealed as an Indian prince with a grudge against the British.
In the Comic Alan Moore’s Nemo is based on the ”Mysterious Island” characterization — but older. He’s a ”dying has-been” who lets go of his anti-Anglo resentments and joins the League for one last adventure.
On Screen Nemo is played by the Indian star Naseeruddin Shah (”Monsoon Wedding”). Producer Don Murphy boasts that this is the first time Nemo has been portrayed correctly on screen: ”He’s not James freakin’ Mason.”
Literary Origins In H.G. Wells’ ”Invisible Man,” Dr. Griffin is a scientist who renders himself invisible. When an angry mob drives him out of town and an old colleague turns him in to the police, Griffin goes mad. He sets out on a murderous rampage that ends with his own demise.
In the Comic It’s explained that the body found at the novel’s end is merely a decoy transformed by Griffin to fake his death. Because Moore views invisibility as a way to ”behave immorally and get away with it,” he gives his Dr. Griffin a bad-boy attitude. The League’s Invisible Man is the type of guy whose idea of fun is to perform ”immaculate conceptions” at a girls’ school in London.
On Screen Curran (”Blade 2,” ”Gladiator”) plays Skinner, a new character who has stolen the invisibility serum for his own use. The studio was forced to create Skinner because Universal holds the rights to Wells’ story. But Curran drew on at least one previous source to build his character: ”It’s pretty much the same as the comic, apart from the fact you don’t find me shagging young girls in a woman’s dormitory…which is a damn shame.”