Pretend Unpublished Script 3

This original version of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is something I remain proud of. 

As you’ll see it’s almost totally different from the film that made it to the screen. At the time I was given this as a writing assignment, I confess that I questioned making it into a big Summer movie. In fact, I said to the execs at the time that I felt this should have been adapted as a BBC TV series with Dr. Who level effects but with a cast of British character actors of the type only British TV seems to be able to amass. 

However 20th Century Fox was going ahead with it one way or the other so I signed on convinced (albeit naively in hindsight) that I was the guy who could maintain the integrity of Alan Moore’s vision if not his actual story. 

Obviously changes needed to be made if a story like was going to be paraded out as a Summer blockbuster. You can’t have Allan Quatermain as a strung-out junkie. Other characters have to be less rapey. And in our more enlightened times there is no way Fu Manchu can be the story’s ultimate villain. 

On top of that, the first arc of the League comic upon which this is based, has an inherent story flaw if you give it the three-act structure that most films ascribe to. Namely, that it took two thirds of the comic book series (four issues of the six) to assemble the team, with the rest of the plot then wrapped up pretty swiftly. In a film those first 4 issues would basically be the first act, so where does one go from there? Alan Moore hadn’t even begun the second arc of his series at that time. 

And on top of this, whatever direction I decided to go came with some stringent requirements issued by Fox, these being…

1. The “death ray” doomsday device thing the villain has/wants/threatens the world with, and has to be stopped from using… had to be something that felt real and appropriate for the time the film was set but would still resonant in the present. 

2. I needed to find a role for a young American hero within the film in some way. 

3. The film should primarily be set in America.  

With regards to the “death ray” I refrained from coming up with something that simply hadn’t been invented at the time the story was set, so airplanes and Atomic Bombs were out. No, instead I wanted something that had some legitimate place at that time in history from which I could then extrapolate. Once I discovered the first use of germ warfare took place in the American Civil War, I decided to go down that path, in that it seemed right for 1900. Gas/germ warfare had been used as a weapon between that time through to today. Gases were already in development in 1900, for use in combat, and obviously, little more than a decade later Mustard Gas was used greatly in WWI. Then, in the present day (at least somewhat recently at the time I wrote the script) there was the Sarin Gas attack on the Japanese subway. 

With this in mind, I then combined it with the (also at the time recent) flesh-eating bacteria incident that cost a woman in Burbank some body parts. (Hands, feet, legs, all of the above? I forget. It was subsequently used as a plot point in an X-Files episode BTW.) Anyway it all seemed to work to me; a deadly gas bomb that stripped away flesh but left clothing and buildings untouched.

With regards a character for the young American lead (there was talk of approaching Freddie Prinz Jr. initially) I settled on Tom Sawyer. Now many have pointed out that Tom would have been an older man by 1900, but I noted that Twain himself did multiple sequels featuring Sawyer where despite many years passing between books, has Tom remain essentially the same age. (For example Tom Sawyer, Detective was published in 1896 a full 20 years after the first book.) In the spirit of this and also comic books where characters age little if at all, I felt this was acceptable.

And as to my setting the bulk of the series in New York, it is what it is. I felt the locale was interesting at that time and the future subway tunnels that were being excavated under the city for the subway helped out the finale.

Anyway when the script was finished it seems to be liked by one and all. Sean Connery read it, loved it, and signed on, which made it a go movie. All was good. All seemed golden.

And then 9/11 happened. 

The days and indeed months following were filled with uncertainty when everyone wondering “if/when would the terrorist strike next?” Because of that 20th Century Fox decided they couldn’t go with the script because they didn’t want to spend millions on a film that featured gas and subway tunnels when an attack like that could happen in reality in Manhattan, London or anywhere. But we had a Connery, so a film would be made…but with a different story. 

The thing about writing a film in Hollywood is after you’ve agreed with the studio on the basic plot, you’re pretty much left alone to write it. Sure, you’re overseen by a producer or studio creative executive, but that’s usually the only person initially giving input usually. Apart from that it’s all you. Yes, there can be a creative parting of the ways at some point, and often is. You leave the project, and another writer is brought in. That’s the way of Hollywood. However, while you’re writing the script, you’re left to yourself. 

With the new League script, however, I’m loath to say how much of it I actually wrote in the end. I’m honestly not sure. The studio, director, Connery, producers, all of them were getting into the mix and this resulted in the film that made it to the screen.  

Adding to this was the director. Steve Norrington is a great guy, but a very independent thinker in terms of wanting everything to be his vision in the movie — every set, every machine, everything visual, which I do think took away from one of the great things about the comic. This being the beautiful steam-punk design work of artist Kevin O’Neill. (You’ll note how in the original script, I do my best to describe the Nautilus as faithfully as I could from Kevin’s design.)

Then, after Norrington fell out with both Connery (they hated each other by the end of the shoot) as well as the studio, Steve ultimately walked away from the project at the editing stage. This left the studio, with X-Men 2 being such a hit at that time, deciding to edit it into a “Victorian X-Men”. Now this is a direction that could have been taken at the onset but was almost impossible to pull off after the film had been shot. At best, all they achieved was taking out any of the film’s more mature references. In fact, a lot of what I thought were my better lines of dialogue were edited out being deemed too risqué for the Summer youth market. And that was that.

So here, instead, is the original script. I think it’s a better story and I hope you’ll see that although I took Alan Moore’s creation into unfamiliar directions, I was trying to keep the feeling and essence of what he did with the comic (and again, please bear in mind at the time when I wrote this there was only the one six issue arc to reference, everything else was yet to come.)

Anyway here it is, judge for yourself.

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