League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

October 9th, 2003 Film, Film Reviews, Personalities, Xpress

Yes, it’s another blockbuster. It’s not the most original movie you’ll see this year, it’s an easy-to-digest holiday movie, with no existential dramatic subtext and no pretensions about its purpose.

As Aussie girl star-on-the-rise Peta Wilson explains; ‘The real star of the movie is the production designers, the set designers and the costume department.’

Playing literature’s most famous vampire victim, Wilson’s character joins some of the 19th century pop culture’s most colourful personalities in the movie that had to happen, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

Born of the current Hollywood obsession with comic adaptations, it’s the second blockbuster reworking of an Alan Moore/Kevin O’Neill graphic novel (the first was 2001’s From Hell, starring Johnny Depp), pitting the likes of Alan Quartermain, Dorian Gray, Captain Nemo, Mina Harker, Tom Sawyer, Dr Jekyll and the Invisible Man against a menacing threat to world peace.

Among them is Mina Harker, former wife of Dracula’s first-ever English victim Jonathan, now a creature of the night herself.

Buckling swashes and busting blocks beside actors like Sean Connery and Stuart Townsend must have seemed as much an alternative universe as that the Moore/O’Neill book imaged for this NSW small town country girl. Xpress spoke to her while driving to Sydney with her young son in the car and a very dodgy mobile signal, and she could have been any other young mum talking about her day job.

Except her current day job puts her on a movie poster all over the world with a legend like Sean Connery. When pointed out to her that she’s a ‘star’ now, she doesn’t seem to have considered the possibility.

‘They’re very encouraging words,’ she says gratefully, ‘But I haven’t even thought about it like that. World famous? I don’t know. I’m just happy I’ve done it and we’ll just wait and see what the future holds. I’m really lucky. I’ve got a beautiful house on the beach and a very healthy son and the work keeps coming. So wherever the work takes me is already a bonus.’

But surely there must have been druggy parties in Malibu, boozy lunches in executive Hollywood offices, private jets to exotic locations with Sean Connery on hand for advice?

‘Fox had tried to get me for another of their big movies and I couldn’t get out of Nikita [the TV show Wilson starred in from 1997] to do it,’ she says. ‘They tried everything, even offering to pay for me to get out of my contract, but Warner Bros wouldn’t let me out.

‘But they had a screen test of me and showed the studio president who loved it, then the director who loved it, so they sent me the script via fax machine — three hours of it. I did the audition on my front verandah with my uncle filming, three hours later a bike came to pick up the audition tape up and a week later I was in Prague. It wasn’t your standard audition — I wish they were all like that.’

Since Wilson’s only on the periphery of stardom, Xpress asks her for the dirt on her famous co-stars, eager for stories about tantrums over trailer heights and first class rooms for personal Pilates trainers.

Instead, she disappoints thoroughly. ‘I was excited about working with Connery,’ she says. When I went to the first rehearsal, any nerves I had were nothing compared to what the boys had. But he totally disarmed all of us in the first five minutes, making jokes and putting us all at ease. I had a newborn son, and he said ‘this is a movie we’re making, but nothing’s more important than his needs so you go to him whenever you need to.’ He wouldn’t let you be intimidated by him.’

Her role in a summer blockbuster must mean stardom beckons. But despite her insistence that it’s about the characters that appeal to her, Wilson admits her TV work has been good preparation.

‘Being in Nikita. was a great place to learn the technical aspects of filming. It was also very difficult — 18-hour days, no rehearsals, no read-throughs, no days off. That kind of exercise early in your career is hard on you and burns you a bit but it also prepares you for movies. Movies are much easier than being the star of a one-hour drama. TV takes eight days to shoot an hour — in movies you have three months. At this point in my life I’m just happy being a mum and doing a movie a year.’

And if Wilson only does a movie of year from now on, let’s hope they’re all as unashamedly fun as LXG. Sure it’s ridiculous, but so are most of the other big American movie juggernauts this year, even the ‘respected’ ones such as Hulk.

The premise of the graphic novel — bringing some the Victorian era’s most famous fictional characters together to form a sort of 19th century terrorist task force — is an exciting enough idea to bring the punters in, and director Stephen Blade Norrington delivers a pretty rip-roaring payoff. The Nautilus is an enormous art deco submarine, Dr Jekyll’s evil alter ego is a redheaded CG Hulk’s younger brother, and immortal Dorian Gray yawns impatiently as bullets tear harmlessly through him.

Brought together by mysterious high-level defence bigwig M (fanboy websites point this to evidence of a sequel that will include the precursor to James Bond), they must do battle with a mysterious figure known as the Phantom. Hell-bent on plunging the world to war by stirring the pot of international unrest, the villain also plans to profit by supplying the new terrifying new weapons of war (including the tank and automatic rifle) to both sides.

The league chase the Phantom from London to Paris and Venice to the frozen wastes of Mongolia, and just when you think it’s going to finish too early and it was all just too easy, a pretty vanilla-flavoured twist plunges them (and the audience) deeper into the action.

Yes, action. Intriguing as it is for the story to be populated with the great personalities of classic literature, LXG is about adventure, action excitement and computer-generated money shots of destruction, no less than Charlie’s Angels or Spiderman. Keep that in mind, and you’ll have a good time.

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