I know the movie is 11 years old now, and it’s really just chance that I even encountered it again, but once I did see it, old wounds opened. The movie was The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and the car in the movie — the only car — is the worst because it shows how often Hollywood just doesn’t care about cars.
I better explain. I’m sure some of you are seeing the picture of that long, ornate, six-wheeled behemoth and thinking “Jason, you idiot, what’s your problem? That thing looks awesome!” I’m here to tell you that’s the problem. When this car was designed for the movie, that seems to have been the extent of the thinking — make it striking looking. By ignoring pretty much any other criteria about what the car could be, though, they squandered what could have been an amazing opportunity to make something genuinely interesting that supported the premise of the movie, and instead made 22 feet of flashy crap.
Oh, and before I go on, let me just address some things here really quickly: I know it’s a movie, I know it’s not real, I don’t expect perfect accuracy in everything, I can suspend disbelief, and so on. If these are any of the sorts of things you were planning to comment, then let’s just take it as read and please accept this free voucher for you to go visit any other page on the internet. You’re welcome.
Some backstory about the movie is in order. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was based on a comic of the same name, and took a bunch of Victorian-era literary heroic figures and put them together to do exciting things like fight Martians and defend England and lots of other fun stuff in an alternate world just before the 20th century. There a strong steampunk element in there as well, mostly based off Jules Verne’s work.
The series is fun and well done, but the 2003 movie proved disappointing to many. I’m just going to focus on one aspect of it, the car, but the issues with it can be extrapolated to the movie as a whole.
In the movie, the car was Captain Nemo’s, and kept aboard his advanced submarine, the Nautilus. I’m very willing to accept that Nemo designed and built a car to use when the Nautilus was ashore — hell, that’s why Fiat sold those Jollys back in the day. The era the movie was set (1899) is actually a fascinating time for automobiles, and there’s many ways the movie’s prop people could have researched this and made something fascinating.
The ideal would have been to examine what was around at the time, and to push it ahead just a bit, to reflect Nemo’s advanced abilities. It should also be something that makes sense to be stored in a submarine, all while reflecting Nemo’s character and style. It sounds like a dream assignment for someone who respects and loves cars and the era.
Sadly, it seems that whoever dictated how the car should look seems to have thought something roughly akin to that last paragraph there, and then done the exact opposite. And then swallowed a handful of pills, washed it down with drugstore gin, and started sketching. With a crayon, or maybe a carrot stick dunked in barbecue sauce.
Let’s just break down what that movie car is. It was designed by Carol Spier, and it’s based on a Land Rover fire tender. It’s 22 feet long and has six wheels, in the Tyrell F1 layout: two axles up front that steer, one at the rear.
The bodywork is long, sleek, and flowing, with lots of ornate metalwork, much of it bearing and elephant/Ganesh motif. The lights are external, which is weird seeing as how the advanced bodywork could have easily enclosed them. They also have very noticeable modern sealed beams, but I’ll ignore that.
My problem isn’t the ornate style of the car or anything like that — all that stuff is basically just stuck on the car — it’s that this car is essentially a car of the 1930s at least, just larger, more wheeled, and ungainlier. It’s ridiculous, in every possible way. It makes absolutely no sense not just for the era it’s supposed to have been built, but even in the context of the movie. Why the hell would Nemo want to have a 22-foot-long car aboard a submarine?
Sure, it’s a big sub, but come on. Plus, only about 8 or so feet of that length is even usable for people to travel in. It’s just a terrible design for a shore-car for a submarine.
And the technical design could have actually reflected the fascinating automotive technology of the time! There’s even a perfect template that could have been used as a starting point: the 1899 Jamais Contente.
The Jamais Contente was the first car to manage to go the magic mile-a-minute — 60 MPH. Plus, like the Nautilus itself, it was an electric car. Look, here’s what Nemo himself says about it:
“There’s a powerful, obedient, swift, and effortless force that can be bent to any use and which reigns supreme aboard my vessel. It does everything. It lights me, it warms me, it’s the soul of my mechanical equipment. This force is electricity.”
The man loves electricity — surely something based on the electric Jamais Contente would have made perfect sense. Nemo already knew how to build and work with electric motors, why wouldn’t he have used them for his car? The size is something reasonable, even if it was scaled up a bit and made into a four seater.
It’s even already a bit ornate, and the torpedo-shape would have worked well with Verne’s descriptions of the Nautilus, and still allowed for plenty of room for Nemo to cover it in elephants or whatever he’d like.
It would have been perfect. But, I guess, fuck it. I’m not going to squander my precious time-machine tickets to try and fix this, and what’s done is done. But there’s a lesson here, and I hope budding prop and movie design people will take it.
When it comes to cars in movies, you have to respect cars, not just think they’re cool. You have to understand at least a little about what they are, what they’re capable of, what the limitations are, and when and how they should be broken. Doing so will help make better car movies for everyone.
And maybe, it’ll help us all avoid shit like this.
And don’t even get me started on how the fuck Nemo could “track” the car. Ug.