Even in summers of poor films, the music has often stood out, but 2003 is turning into something of a disappointment all round. Arguably the season's biggest flop was The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (no relation to the hilariously weird black comedy series), which, despite being in yet another season of comic book adaptations, and starring Sean Connery, failed to get good reviews or bums on seats. At the time of writing, it has yet to reach these shores and despite the bad press, I am quietly optimistic that it's better than claimed, as it's an interesting premise - fictional characters from different books come together to fight crime, including Connery's Allan Quatermain, as well as Captain Nemo, The Invisible Man, Dorian Gray, Tom Sawyer, Dr Jekyll, sort of a Victorian version of the X-Men, but with less exciting abilities. Trevor Jones doesn't perhaps seem an obvious choice, but he provides a dark and brooding score, including some action outings that have the kind of thrilling and complex orchestral writing that is so becoming scarce these days.
The opening is especially strong, Dawn of a New Century introduces the robust, if somewhat unexceptional main theme, which sounds great pounded out the brass and percussion of the London Symphony Orchestra. The grim tone is immediately set and then, rather surprisingly, almost ruined. For some reason, two tracks by Ladysmith Black Mambazo are included, which would be a distraction if tagged on at the end (as the second is), but is nearly ruinous at the beginning of the album. I have no great objection to the group, but a capella African vocals do not mix with brooding Trevor Jones. A bit like putting ABBA in Mahler. After the slightly lighter Task Requires Heroes, Promenade is another aside in the form of a faux period song, music by Jones and lyrics by Victoria Seale. Nice enough in itself and at least more suitable than Ladysmith Black Mambazo, but a touch twee against the more modern slant of the score. The rest of Jones' music is, however, often extremely good, notably the action music which is dense and thunderous, seemingly trying to whip up the film's entire energy on its own.
The middle cues do start to drag a little, which is unfortunate. Given the nature of the premise, there seems a good deal of room for a variety of melodic material, but the quieter cues are rather unexceptional at times. There are a few fine moments, notably Old Tiger and Portrait of Dorian Gray, although the latter contains a three note motif disturbingly similar to that ascribed to Harry Potter's nemesis. Storming the Fortress, however, is an exceptional action cue (Jones with just a hint of Elfman) that recalls the bristling style that made Jones' score to Dark City such a thrill ride. Ladysmith Black Mambazo return after the somewhat downbeat finale, May This New Century Be Yours, leaving a slightly curious flavour after the turbulence of the final few score cues. I really wanted The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen to be, well, extraordinary; it has the ingredients, but the few dull patches are a disappointment against the score's stronger elements. Jones' work never used to excite me, but now he seems to be full of surprises, as directors are tapping his previously undiscovered potential. Not quite up to Dark City's level of inspiration, but still a fine score with enough thrilling moments that ought not to be missed.
Just as an epilogue to the review; the score was originally released only as a download, but as more and more people pointed out the inadequacy of this policy - long download time, only available in the US, poorer sound quality etc. - Varese were granted the rights to release a CD, which in the US, is only available from their website. However, everyone else can buy it from a shop - remember them? - like in the good old days.