20,000 leagues of nonsensical news

It’s Marvel’s Avengers blockbuster team-up crossed with Penny Dreadful, but made ten years before either of those – yes, would could it be but The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen? “Based” on a comic book by Alan Moore, it’s a film that is almost universally reviled (“What a mess.” – Roger Ebert) and the experience of it drove Sean Connery to quit acting.

But we’re not here to dissect the flaws of a 2003 blockbuster, including the marketing department’s decision to market it as the catchy “LXG”, we’re here to talk newspapers. And there’s three of them, sort of, and they’re only there to function as a quick burst of exposition after a tank smashes into the Bank of London in 1899.

"Tanks for the memories"

It’s just that sort of film, you see.

Then we’re treated to what I suppose is supposed to be an update of the passé form of spinning newspapers. Instead of whizzing round, the front pages now shoot through a black void looking like flat 2D graphics. The effect is notably cheap and the sort of the thing that even Windows Movie Maker would have deemed excessive.

Whoosh!

First up is The London Post, which sounds real enough and is here 100 years after the real newspaper the London Evening Post closed. It looks distinctly like a 21st century newspaper.

There’s a big picture on the front (an artist’s impression of the tank), a large headline stretching the length of the page, smaller headings and a few columns. It looks irritatingly clean, both in its slickly efficient design and in how crisp everything looks. The sweat and grime of printing presses has not touched this.

An effort has been made to make this look like an actual piece of paper, though, with some creases here and there. The text, as far as I can make out from my DVD copy (two disc special edition!), seems to be written to fit with the headlines it appears under. It’s a nice touch and it doesn’t read as particularly modern or antiquated.

Not just yet, it isn't

Then it’s The Morning Leader (not that one) sweeping into view, unknowingly fulfilling rule number one of reading a newspaper: if the headline poses a question, the answer is almost certainly NO.

The design of the Leader is basically identical to that of the Post, and still it all looks sleek and mocked-up-on-InDesign-in-your-lunch-break. The sub-editors need a good kicking, too, for including two questions with the word “Germany” in them. It’s a bland and repetitive page, although their in-house artist has added a man to the tank. Dramatic!

NICHT UNS

And this is frankly the most laughable front page you’ll ever see in a movie. The Globe & Traveler – not real – has firstly used those godawful opening quote marks that are mirror images of closing quotes. I hate those things with a passion, but that’s just me.

What’s actually indefensibly awful here is that headline. It is a wholly tabloid way of writing a headline, especially with the exclamation mark. Globe & Traveler are clearly pioneers of cutting down issues to four words and it’s that ruthless efficiency we should blame for the way it seems like Germany is making diplomatic announcements with all the dignity of a four-year-old.

It’s so thunderingly anachronistic and stands out as such even in a film where Tom Sawyer drives a car around the streets of Venice. In fact, I only wrote this post after The Remake podcast noticed the stupidity of the headline and realised no newspaper criticism blog would be complete without it.

I shouldn’t even need to point out that as well as a modern sensibility of headlines, Globe & Traveler has a strikingly familiar design. Familiar to the other newspapers in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and none that exist in the real world. Just for reference’s sake, here’s a newspaper published in 1881, eighteen years before this film is set.

Obtained from Wikipedia
Obtained from Wikipedia

It’s wall-to-wall tiny writing and it’s all adverts and paid announcements. This was a very common practice in the era of Victorian newspapers and drove a lot of the revenue of the press earned. You’ll notice how the newspapers breaking the news of German tanks in 1899 are apparently funded by millionaires who see no need to blight their newspapers with grubby adverts. If you’d like to learn more about the industry of newspapers when they began then Judith Flanders’ excellent The Invention of Murder touches upon how the zeal for news about killings helped the papers flourish.

Still, while The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen has newspapers no more improbable and ridiculous than the rest of the film, there is one thing I really love about the film. I’m a sucker for when films use the studio logos at the start in an interesting way, and here the 20th Century Fox logo fades into… a rusty metal sign atop a London building for 20th Century Fox!

“Charlie Chaplin is ten, shall we sign him up?”

We can only imagine what this company might be producing, but I like the idea that some enterprising cockney decided to make his business sound futuristic in 1899 by alluding to the incoming hundred years.

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