I was born in the 1980s, but a little too late to really remember its pitfalls (like huge hair and shoulder pads) or its triumphs (the advent of the music video, and of course, Steampunk) first hand. Luckily for us, this was a time when tons of weird, wonderful and sometimes experimental television and movies were being made, which captured some of the essence of that era. The 1970s and 80s saw a revival of a film technique that was pioneered by Thomas Edison’s manufacturing company in 1908: clay-animation. You can see their film, A Sculptor’s Nightmare, here.
The very first stop-motion film of all time, which employed moving toys, was made in 1897. Samuel Langhorn Clemens, better known by his pen name, Mark Twain, lived until 1910, so it is entirely possible that he saw the first clay-animation film and probable that he saw earlier stop-motion films as well.
The Adventures of Mark Twain was made in 1985 and is a trippy clay-anmation sojourn through the works of Mark Twain. There is a little bit of biographical information, but mostly it is a chance to showcase his contributions to literature. The viewer is swept away along on an airship adventure along with some of Twain’s best-known characters, Huck Finn, Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher. Twain was born near the passage of Halley’s Comet in 1835, and always said he believed he would leave this world again the next time it passed in 1910 (he died the day after it returned), so the film revolves around him trying to keep his “appointment” and visiting some of his greatest works along the way.
Though it may seem morbid that he is racing to his own death, the film is wonderful combination of stunning visuals, abstraction and humor, which totally downplays the seemingly morbid plot line. Though I should warn you that even though this is an animated film, and so you may be thinking it was made for kids, the depiction of “The Mysterious Stranger” is pretty terrifying. Adults would get much more out of this movie than kids, especially if they have read any Twain at all.
We Steampunk fans enjoy a nice mash-up of literary references like in Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, but it takes an exceptional writer to make it all fit together in a coherent narrative. Unfortunately, this sequel to Journey to the Center of the Earth shoe horns this notion between overwrought action and family drama in a pretty unsatisfactory way.
A few years have passed since the events of the first film, and Sean (Josh Hutcherson) has a new stepfather, Hank (Dwayne Johnson). His relationship with the former Navy code breaker is rocky, but when Hank helps Sean decipher a message from his wayward grandfather (Michael Caine) they find some common ground. The message reveals that the island in Verne’s novel is not only real, but is the same island described in Treasure Island and Gulliver’s Travels, and resides somewhere off the coast of the Philippines. (I actually winced when Hank rips the map pages out of the three books in order to fit them into a single island. Have some respect, dude!)
Once they reach Palau, they find that the only people willing to take them to their coordinates (which turn out to be caught in a perpetual hurricane) are a helicopter pilot (Luis Guzman) and his daughter (Vanessa Hudgens). The four of them crash land on a lush island populated by giant insects and Lilliputian pachyderms, and must fend off a dinosaur-scale iguana within minutes of landing. After a brief respite at grandpa’s house, they journey into the jungle past a volcano spouting gold (a reference to the mountain of gold in Treasure Island), see the remnants of the lost city of Atlantis that Verne described in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and discover that the island is rapidly sinking once again. Without any means of contacting the outside world during the storm, their only hope is Nemo’s Nautilus, which is still hidden somewhere on the island.
Okay, so you know how I like crappy movies? Even I had some trouble with this one. The action is overblown and basically unending and the dialog was hit and miss. I almost stopped watching the film completely when I got to a scene which centered on “The Rock” popping his pectorals and saying it was the best way to get women. GAG! Also, the “science” didn’t really work. For instance, I am willing to play along with their use of island dwarfism/gigantism, especially as the much-lauded 1961 Mysterious Island features giant critters as well, but if the island is trapped in a perpetual storm and periodically sinks to the depths of the ocean, where did the animals even come from???
It’s pretty much only worth a viewing if you like making snarky comments about what you are watching (which is a regular pastime in the Darqueling household) and can take it all with a grain of salt. Also, the effects are pretty awesome so the visuals are cool. But if you are looking for a good story that has much of anything to do with Verne’s book, skip it.
Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008) Pays Homage to the Original Without Just Retelling the Story
I just went back and counted how many TV and movie reviews I have posted since I started this site. Over the last 18 months I have told you about over 20 different films and shows, and to tell you the truth I didn’t even know there were that many to talk about when I started. Plus, I have a list of another dozen or so that are still forthcoming! With the exception of a few, my reviews have mostly been focused on stories that took place during Victorian times, but there are also films that make references to things from that era that occur at later dates. They may lack the Steampunk aesthetic that we know and love, but I think they deserve a nod for their “punking” of the classics.
The big-budget Journey to the Center of the Earth is one of these films, and should not be confused with the mockbuster by the same name that came out the same year. As a fan of the Mummy movies, there was no way I was going to miss Brendan Fraser in another adventure story. It served as the big screen directorial debut for Eric Brevig, someone whose work you have probably seen without knowing it because he worked on the visual effects for tons of movies such as Wild, Wild West, Men in Black, and several M. Night Shyamalan films. I only just finished reading the book, but as I was doing so I was able to draw a lot of parallels between the text and this contemporary reinterpretation.
The world of this story hinges on one central fact: Verne was writing the truth. According to the story, there is a secret society of learned folks called Vernians who are trying to find their way to the places described in the novels. Brendan Fraser’s character, Trevor Andersen, is not a Vernian but a volcanologist who has devoted his life to the study of volcanic tubes. His brother, Max, was also studying this fringe branch of geology, but he went missing on the path described by Verne leading to the center of the earth.
All that is known to his brother and his son Sean (Josh Hutcherson), is that he disappeared during field research in Iceland, but when an old copy of Journey to the Center of the Earth covered in his cryptic field notes (a direct reference to the discovery of the coded message in the professor’s volume in the novel) is discovered among Max’s belongings, Trevor and Sean rush to his lab to investigate the similarities to his own readings. Upon finding that the equipment placed on Sneffels has come back to life after years of dormancy, the uncle and nephew team head to Iceland to retrieve it.
They enlist a tough as nails mountain guide who recognizes the scribbles in Max’s book as belonging to a Vernian because her own father had also been a believer until his death a few years earlier. They hire her to take them up the mountain to get the scientific instruments, but none of them believe in the reality of the story until a landslide traps them in a cave and they have no choice but to descend into the bowels of the earth in hopes of finding a way out. After a side trip into an old mine and surviving a preposterously long fall down one of the aforementioned volcanic tubes they find themselves on the shore of the same sea recorded in Verne’s story. They attempt to voyage across the sea as their predecessors did, and like them fall prey to sea creatures and a terrible storm to find themselves on a distant shore and in danger from the rapidly rising temperatures in the granite chamber.
Oh yeah, and dinosaurs. Did I forget to mention the dinosaurs?
This is a lighthearted, fun movie that borrows some great parts from the original story, and adds some bits of its own. I remember when it came out it was at the forefront of the “we must make every movie 3D!!!!” phase of film-making which has thankfully calmed down in recent times, and some of the added scenes feel like they were definitely conceived with that in mind rather than say, moving the plot forward. But still, it is enjoyable and a nice way to waste 93 minutes if you’ve got the time. A lot of reviewers I read have nothing nice to say about Josh Hutcherson, but I liked him as the moody teen companion to his stodgy uncle.
I also appreciated that the biggest bad-ass in the group was obviously the female mountain guide, portrayed by native Icelander Anita Briem. She was only really in danger like one time because she was carrying all the heavy stuff and it almost drowned her. She’s the one that gets them through the physical challenges and keeps her cool in face of danger, not unlike her counterpart in the Verne novel.
What do you think? Should movies stick strictly to the original story, or is there room for this kind of interpretive punking?
In this made-for-TV flick part of the mystery of the island comes from relocating it from off the coast of New Zealand to the Bermuda Triangle. According to the movie, ships regularly disappear from this spot because of a rift in time that sucks in travelers. This allows the story to include not only 17th century pirates and refugees from the American Civil War, but also some ladies from the present. I really enjoyed this twist because it was a chance to call attention to how much has changed in the last century and a half. There are culture clashes even between fellow Americans because of advances in technology and social norms.
Ever since the 1961 version, the trend with movie adaptations of The Mysterious Island seems to be to add some kind of creepy critter to up the ante when it comes to danger and action to what is really a pretty subtle story about a group of castaways. In both the 1961 the 2005 version, all of the animals on the island grew to huge proportions. In this one, in addition to a giant octopus blocking their escape by sea, the island is overrun by apelike creatures who (spoiler alert) turn out to be Nemo’s disenfranchised crew.
The writing had a few holes and the acting was pretty hit or miss, but it was a fun movie all the same. I, of course, like “bad” movies so I will probably put with more than your average movie viewer. You can watch it on Netflix or through youtube below.
This mockbuster was made to piggyback on the major motion picture release the same year of Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, which was a sequel to the big budget Brendan Fraser movie, Journey to the Center of the Earth that came out in 2008. I’ll bring you reviews of those as well, so stay tuned during March for even more Verne and adaptations!
Fun Facts and Context
- Le Tour du monde en quatre-vingts jours was Jules Verne’s 11th novel, and like many of the time it was first presented in a serialized format before it was compiled into a book in 1873. It was accompanied by the illustrations of Alphonse de Neuville, a French painter known for his depictions of the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871).
- Verne served in the Franco-Prussian War, and doing research for this book likely served to take his mind off of those events.
- The dates of Fogg’s return to England coincided with the final date of publication for the original serial. Because of this, some readers believed they were reading a real travelogue rather than a fictional story.
- Many people associate a hot air balloon trip with this story, but in fact there was no balloon in the original text. This is likely because the 1956 Disney film added an additional stop in Spain to the tale and the protagonists reached it by balloon. Jules Verne did write about a daring escape by balloon, but it wasn’t until The Mysterious Island was published in 1874.
Timeline and Synopsis of the Story
- September 28, 1872: Bank of England is robbed. 50,000 GBP is stolen. This is the equivalent of four million GBP or 6.2 million USD today.
- October 1, 1872: Phileas Fogg hires Passepartout as his new valet after his old valet gets the temperature of his shaving water wrong. Fogg goes from his home on Savile Row to the Reform Club as usual, and during a discussion about a new stretch of railroad in India he is drawn into a bet with his friends. With the hefty sum of 20,000 GBP (1.6 million today) on the line, he agrees to travel around the world and return at the same time 80 days later on December 21, 1872.
- October 2, 1872: Fogg and Passepartout leave England by train.
- October 9, 1872: After a brief stopover in France, the travelers reach Suez, Egypt and meet Detective Fix for the first time. He is on the trail of the bank robber, and Fogg’s erratic behavior and passing resemblance to the vague description of the burglar make him a suspect. They leave Suez by ship with Fix in tow.
- October 20, 1872: The travelers arrive in Bombay, India, two days ahead of schedule. Passepartout wanders into a temple and is chased out by the monks for not removing his shoes. He arrives at the platform and boards a train bound for Calcutta just in time.
October 22, 1872: Fogg’s train can go no further because the railway is unfinished, despite what the newspapers say. They manage to hire a guide called Parsee and an elephant named Kiouni to carry them on toward Calcutta.
- October 24, 1872: While traveling through the jungle, the travelers encounter a ceremony where a young bride, Aouda, is being prepared to follow her aged husband into death. She cannot struggle because of the influence of drugs, so she is rescued by Fogg and another traveling companion after Passepartout creates a diversion by posing as the deceased man’s body and “rising from the dead” to scare the natives. They escape by means of their trusty elephant and continue to Calcutta.
- October 25, 1872: The travelers arrive in Calcutta with five hours to spare to remain on their original itinerary despite the delay. As soon as they arrive Passepartout is arrested for his transgression in Bombay and both he and Fogg are taken into custody. They use some of Fogg’s considerable cash resources to pay off his valet’s debt and make the noon ship bound for Hong Kong. Aouda continues on the journey because India is no longer safe for her, and she knows of family living in China. Fix, still without a warrant but with high hopes for Britain’s Easternmost colony, tags along in secret.
- November 7, 1872: The travelers arrive in Hong Kong. Unfortunately, Aouda’s family member had already moved away from Hong Kong years earlier. While out getting supplies for the next step of the journey, Passepartout gets news of an earlier departure time for their vessel. Fix still has not received his warrant for Fogg’s arrest and is determined to keep him from leaving British soil. Fix invites Passepartout out for a farewell drink and gets him to try opium. The valet becomes so besotted that he falls asleep and Fogg does not hear about the new travel arrangements. In his delirium, Passepartout says the name of the disembarking ship and is brought there and installed in his master’s cabin. He awakes the next morning to find that he has left his master behind, but determined to rejoin him somewhere along his route and alert him to the danger that Fix represents. Fogg hires a small vessel called the Tankadere to carry he and Aouda to Shanghai to catch the ferry to Yokohama at its next port.
- November 13, 1872: Passepartout arrives penniless in Yokohama, Japan. He seeks for ways to continue his journey to America to intercept Fogg by offering his services to the owner of a traveling circus. He is hired as an acrobat and during his first performance is astounded to see Fogg and Aouda in the audience, having also arrived in Yokohama after flagging down the American vessel in the port of Shanghai. Fix continues to travel with Fogg, who is covering all of his expenses.
- November 23, 1872: Fogg and company pass the 180th meridian, which marks the halfway point of their circumnavigation of the planet.
- December 3, 1872: The travelers reach San Francisco and are caught up in a political rally where Fogg has a confrontation with an American named Colonel Stamp Proctor. Fix steps in to help because he needs Fogg to return to England before he can be arrested. The company boards a train that evening intent upon using the Transcontinental Railway to reach New York.
- December 7, 1872: Fogg runs into Colonel Proctor on the train and a duel ensues. It is interrupted by an attack on the train by the Sioux tribe. Passepartout is taken hostage and Fogg, Fix and Aouda are left behind when the train continues on its route as they attempt to devise a rescue mission. With the help of American soldiers stationed nearby, Fogg retrieves Passepartout and the travelers are forced to continue by way of a wind-powered sledge to Omaha in hopes of catching another train.
- December 9, 1872: Arrive in Omaha and board a train for Chicago.
- December 10, 1872: Arrive in Chicago and board a train for New York.
- December 11, 1872: Arrive 45 minutes late for their steamship from New York to Liverpool.
- December 12, 1872: The party boards a ship bound for Bordeaux with little hope of arriving in London before the December 21 deadline, but it is the only ship leaving with a destination even close to England.
- December 16, 1872: Fogg proceeds to buy the ship from the captain and throw all of the wooden parts into the furnace to fuel their journey. He redirects the ship to bring them to Liverpool, England.
- December 21, 1872: With six hours to reach London in order to win the bet, Fogg and co. arrive in Liverpool. They would have just enough time to beat their deadline, but now that they have finally arrived on English soil, Fix arrests Fogg. It doesn’t take long to find out the real bank robber had been caught during the mad dash around the world, but the short delay is just enough to lose the wager for Fogg. He arrives in London 5 minutes late.
- Actually, December 21, 1872: The party gained an entire day during their journey, but they have yet to realize it. Aouda proposes marriage to Fogg and he heartily accepts. They intend to marry that very day and send Passepartout for the parson. When he arrives at the parson’s door he says he cannot perform the ceremony at that time because it is Sunday and he was busy on church business. Passepartout races back to Savile Row and whisks Fogg away to the Reform Club, where he arrives exactly on time to win the wager.
References in Steampunk Literature and Other Media
- Philip Jose Farmer wrote The Other Log of Phileas Fogg as part of his Wold Newton Universe. In it, Fogg is the foster child of an alien and Captain Nemo is aligned with another race of aliens. The bet and journey around the world were an elaborate cover story to disguise Fogg’s quest for an alien artefact that would change the tide of the war between the two competing races.
- It has been adapted for film five times since 1919, the most recent being in 2004, where martial arts expert and comedic actor Jackie Chan played Passepartout opposite Steven Coogan (Night at the Museum, Despicable Me 2) as Phileas Fogg in a new adaptation of the novel.
- It has been adapted for television four times since 1972, including a Japanese version where all the characters are animals.
- It was adapted for the stage for the first time in 2001 by Mark Brown. He has also written a sequel for the stage for another Victorian classic in the form of The Trial of Ebenezer Scrooge.
- In 2014, a game called “80 Days” was launched by Inkle Development Company. It is an interactive game that blends the story and retro-futuristic technology.
- Also in 2014, Ben Steele released a version of Around the World in 80 Days (a Steampunk Reimagining) with illustrations by Josh Ross. It includes “lost” content and a board game.
- The International Steampunk Symposium in April of 2015 is going to feature the theme “Around the World in 48 Hours” as an homage to Verne’s work.
I caught this quirky two-parter for the first time close to when it first aired in 2005. I wasn’t familiar with the Mysterious Island book, but the premise sounded fun and I was familiar with several of the actors. During my research I found several people who say their favorite rendition is from 1961, but I haven’t had a chance to see that one yet. So during March I will bring you reviews of adaptations in 2005 and 2012.
Quick book synopsis: During the American Civil War, five people escape a POW camp in Virginia by stealing a reconnaissance balloon. They end up crash landing on a tiny island off the coast of New Zealand. Their chances of survival seem bleak, especially with bloodthirsty pirates afoot, but thanks to a mysterious benefactor they create a cozy home for themselves. It turns out that their “host” is none other than Captain Nemo, who has retired the Nautilus and now lives with a single servant on the island. (Note- the chronology of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea as it relates to this book is problematic. The American Civil War ended in 1865, but 20,000 Leagues takes place in 1866, which means the war would have been over before the events of The Mysterious Island.)
Now onto the movie. It originally aired on the Hallmark Channel in two, 90-minute parts. This makes it a big commitment for a single evening. In this version, the lead role of the engineer and Union soldier is played by Kyle MacLachlan (Sex in the City, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), and in place of two of the soldier-types they substitute a comely widow (Gabrielle Anwar) and her teenage daughter. They also decided that building up the mystery surrounding Nemo (Patrick Stewart) wasn’t worth their time, so giant CG animals are added to the mix. The pirates, lead by Vinnie Jones (Snatch, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) also get a more central role in the plot.
Though this is technically not a mockbuster because it did not accompany any big-budget release with a similar name, I would file this under that heading in terms of quality. The graphics were probably pretty good 10 years ago when it came out, but look pretty choppy and fake by today’s standards. I actually dug the addition of the monsterous creatures because it added action to what would be a pretty boring film, but my inner geek has to complain for just a second. I am perfectly fine with suspending my disbelief enough to buy into the explanation that the animals got really big because there was radioactive material on the island, I can live with that. But the uber ant was like 20 times bigger than the XL rat. Proportions people! Ok, I am done now.
So, yeah, if you like giant insects and a plot dripping with pirate-itude, then by all means, check this one out (both parts are embedded below). If you are trying to get your hands on a faithful portrayal of Verne’s vision, maybe try to find the 1961 version instead.
Jules Verne died in March of 1905, so to commemorate his many contributions to the science fiction canon that have inspired myriad interpretations within Steampunk, I am devoting all of March to Verne-themed books, movies, artwork and characters.
Here are few things to look forward to this month:
Steampunk Sourcebooks for Around the World in 80 Days and Jules Verne himself
Reviews of two adaptations of The Mysterious Island
Unveiling a brand new 3D paper illustration by yours truly
Book reviews of two classic Verne tales
But there is still space in my editorial calendar for a few more things, so feel free to make suggestions! Have you ever dressed as a character from a Verne novel and you’ve got a photo you want to see on my blog? Do you know some fun facts you think others would enjoy? Let me know : )
One of my most popular posts is my review of The Brothers Grimm movie with Matt Damon and Heath Ledger. The original book of stories, Children’s and Household Tales, was published in 1812, and its English translation was read in nurseries during the Victorian period. This is one of my favorite movies of all time, so I have watched it many times with many different people. Across these viewings, a drinking game has emerged according to the references to the Grimm’s fairy tale collection. There a few instances of fairy tale-like phrases and characters that I haven’t been able to find a basis for in the Grimm’s book, so below is a guide both for people who want to play the game or who just want to know what the movie is referencing.
The rules of the game are pretty simple. Every time there is a Grimm’s fairy tale reference, you have to take a swallow of you adult beverage of choice. These references fall into a couple categories:
1. Fairy tale numbers: The numbers 3 (as in 3 wishes), 7 (dwarves) and 12 (dancing princesses) often occur in fairy tales. This film uses 3 and 12 more than once, so each time one of these numbers is mentioned, take a swig.
2. Phrases: Things like “Once upon a time” and “happily ever after” have become synonymous with fairy tales. Other recognizable tropes are “the fairest of them all,” “true love’s kiss,” and “Mirror, Mirror on the wall.” So any time you hear these types of phrases that ring a bell from a childhood tale, swallow away.
3. Direct references: There are tons of verbal and visual references to classic fairy tales throughout the film as well. The writers combine several tales into single characters, so there may be several times to drink stacked on top of each other. These are the ones that I have been able to confirm using a translation of the original text.
- Jack and the Beanstalk- Magic beans are mentioned at least 5 times
- Briar Rose (aka Sleeping Beauty)- one of the first gadgets they use is said to be from Briar Rose’s castle, and later several girls are put into a magically induced sleep after their fingers are pricked.)
- Little Red Riding Hood (cape, “what big eyes you have”, big bad wolf)
- Godfather Death
- Rumpelstilkskin (Jacob mentions an imp whose name they had to guess)
- The Frog Prince (“kiss a frog” mentioned, and kissing a toad in the woods)
- Hansel and Gretel (Hans and Greta)
- Rapunzel (tower with no entrance, long hair used to escape the tower)
- The Juniper Tree (trees that move. You could play that any time you see a tree move you take a drink, or only the first time when Greta is taken)
- Snow White (old crone with an apple, magic mirror)
- Cinderella (Cavaldi calls the brothers this while making them scrub floors, later glass slippers appear on the feet of a kidnapped girl)
- The Goose Girl- the peasants of Marbaden can occasionally be seen herding geese in the film.
Red herrings: There are other fairy tale references that you will recognize, but they were NOT in the original Grimm’s collection. It is up to you if you want to play the game with or without these.
- Bridge Troll (3 Billy Goats Gruff)- This is a Norse tale, first recorded in 1841.
- Horse infected by spiders- There is a terrifying scene where an enchanted horse swallows a little girl with the aid of the spiders who infected it earlier. Though compelling and in the spirit of the dark tales, I couldn’t find any basis for this in Grimm’s collection.
- The Gingerbread Man- in the film, one of the girls is encased in mud and takes the form of a gingerbread man. This story was not published until 1875, so post-dates the Grimm’s collection.
- The Princess and the Pea- In the film, the evil queen is sleeping on a thick stack of mattresses. But, this is a Danish story recorded for the first time by Hans Christian Andersen in 1835.
- “Huff and puff”- Though there are two “big bad wolves” in the Grimm collection, they don’t blow anything down.
- Ravens as minions- There is a tale in the Grimm collection of seven brothers who are turned into ravens, but in the film the evil queen employs them as spies and to carry someone up to the tower window. Ravens were the minions of Odin in Norse mythology, but are not used this way in the German collection of stories.
Did I miss something? Leave a comment below!
The accidental theme for me during the first week of February ended up being trippy animated Steampunk flicks. I’ll tell you all about The Adventures of Mark Twain another time, but if you are looking for something a little bit different from your average romantic schlock-fest to help you celebrate Valentine’s Day, this is the movie for you.
First of all, it is French, and in my experience French films are often both interesting and disturbing. In the spirit of The City of Lost Children it is as surreal as it is beautiful, and don’t worry, there are versions in several languages including English. It is also a musical which is based on a concept album by Dionysos and an illustrated novel created by the lead singer, Matthias Malzieu. The French iterations go by the title Jack et la mécanique du cœur (2013), which translates to “Jack and the Mechanics of the Heart”, which is a much stronger title in my opinion. Like the title, some of the lyrics in the English version come out sounding a bit funny due to the translating, but I am sure it all rhymed in French. The artwork is inspired by the work of Tim Burton, which gives the setting and the story a dark and Gothic feel that adds to the Steampunkishness.
This twisted tale is set in the 19th century and starts in Edinburgh. Jack’s mother struggles through a storm on the coldest night of the year to get to the midwife in time to deliver. Unfortunately, the frigid night has frozen Jack’s heart solid, and it is only through the ingenuity of the midwife who replaces his living heart with a clock that he survives. His mother abandons the infant in the night, and the midwife finally has the child she has been longing for. But, his mechanical heart makes him vulnerable to the strains of the outside world, and his adoptive mother fears for his safety in the face of fear, angry, and especially falling in love.
When Jack is 10, he convinces her to let him go into town and it is love at first listen when he meets a girl working as a street performer. In hopes of seeing her again, he begs to be allowed to go to school where he falls victim to the school’s chap hopping bully. (“chap hop” is a musical style that combines hip hop with being gentlemanly, first done by Professor Elemental). Jack endures years of torture before he finally flees to Spain where his love has moved to in the interim and strives to win her heart, even at the expense of his own.
Jack the Ripper is the world’s most famous serial killer, both because of the brutality of the murders and the fact that the crimes are still unsolved. I have seen many Steampunk works make reference to the Whitechapel Murders as a means of situating their stories in time, as well as Jack appearing as a character in movies and books. But with so many interpretations floating around, it can be hard to keep the facts straight, so here is a cheat sheet to help you get it right.(I went on a Jack the Ripper tour while I was in London for my Steam Tour research and you can read about it here.)
- In 1888 there were a string of murders in the Whitechapel District of London. Due to the similarities between the victims, modus of the murders, and the proximity of the crimes they were attributed to the same killer. There are five women who are generally accepted as victims of the same serial killer, but there easily could have been more murders that were never discovered, or there could have been more than one murderer.
- Murder #1: Mary Ann Nichols, killed sometime between 2:30 and 3:30 a.m. on August 30, 1888. She was an alcoholic, which led to her separation from her husband in 1882 and her inability to keep any other job than prostitute. Her throat was cut and her abdomen was mutilated.
- Murder #2: Annie “Dark Annie” Chapman, killed at approximately 5:30 a.m. on September 8, 1888. After the death of one of her children by meningitis, she and her husband both became heavy drinkers and separated in 1884. Her husband was required by law to provide for her welfare, but he died in 1886 from alcohol poisoning. She tried to support herself through crocheting and selling flowers, but was also involved in prostitution.
- Murder #3: Elizabeth “Long Liz” Stride, killed sometime between 12:35 and 1:00 a.m. on September 30, 1888. Her throat was cut and her abdomen was mutilated. The postmortem doctor identified the weapon as a thin knife blade, approximately 6-8 inches in length. Like the other victims she and her husband separated, but she was a prostitute before and after her marriage fell apart. She spoke Yiddish and Swedish in addition to English.
- Murder #4: Catherine Eddowes (aka Kate Conway and Kate Kelly), killed a few hours after Elizabeth Stride on September 30, 1888. She left her first common-law husband, Thomas Conway, and her three children in 1880. Later, she took up with John Kelly and they lived together in a lodging house on Flower Street. The night of her death she was arrested for drunkenness and held at the Bishopsgate police station until approximately 1:30 a.m. Within minutes she was killed on her way home. Her face and her abdomen were mutilated, and a piece of her ear as well as her kidney was taken by the killer.
- Murder #5: Mary Jane “Fair Emma” Kelly (aka “Ginger” and “Black Mary”) was killed November 9, 1888. It is believed that the increase in police patrols accounts for the lag between the deaths of Eddowes and Kelly. Her origin is less well-documented than the other victims, but sources say she was the widow of a coal miner with the surname Davies who died in an explosion around 1881. Like the other victims, she was a drinker and reportedly sang Irish songs while enjoying her gin, so it is believed she hailed from Ireland. Unlike the other victims, she was found murdered in her home around 10:45 a.m. and the time of death was set at between 6 and 8 a.m. that morning. Her body was extensively mutilated, the coroner believed the murderer took more than two hours to complete his task.
- During press coverage, the killer was most often referred to as “The Whitechapel Murderer” or “Leather Apron” because of the aprons worn by butchers. The name “Jack” became connected to the murders after letters began to arrive at news outlets and signed by that name.
- The five canonized Ripper killings occurred between August and November of 1888, but police continued to investigate a total of 11 murders that they suspected were linked up until 1891.
- Historians and hobbyists alike have speculated over the identity of The Ripper, and some sources say as many as 500 different people (including at least one woman) have come under suspicion. Many of these people were not suspects during the actual investigation and that is far too many to talk about here to I will only highlight the most well-known and/or plausible.
- According to some, Jack’s identity was already discovered in 2014—or was it? A silk shawl that supposedly belonged to one of the victims underwent DNA testing starting in 2007. In 2014, a book by Russell Edwards detailed the findings of scientist Jari Louhelainen, who claims to have definitive evidence that identifies Aaron Kominski as the notorious murderer. Kominski came under suspicion in 1888 at the age of 23 and died in a mental institution 30 years later. Unfortunately, Louhelainen made at least two major errors in his analysis that were brought to light in October 2014, rendering the conclusions useless. The search continues.
- Others think that the Jack the Ripper conspiracy went all the way to the highest levels of government. Spoiler alert! In the 2001 Johnny Depp flick called “From Hell,” Jack is in fact Prince Edward “Eddy” Victor, aka “grandson” to queen Victoria. According to the theory, Eddy impregnated a low-class girl (and a Catholic no less!) and to avoid the scandal, the queen ordered the matter be “taken care of.” Annie Crook and her royal offspring are spirited away by the royal physician, John Gull, but her friends like Mary Kelly are making too much noise about the disappearance and must be silenced. The serial killer who hates prostitutes is created to cover the real scandal and claims many victims.
- Others actually suspect John Gull himself as the murderer because of the precision of the cuts made to the victims and the fact that Jack was never caught points to some kind of conspiracy in the minds of many enthusiasts.
- One of the more likely suspects is Seweryn Klosowski (aka George Chapman), a Polish-born Jew who had only been in Whitechapel a short time before the murders began. In 1903 he was convicted on three counts of murder and hanged for killing his wives. This would seem to make him a very good suspect indeed, but he killed his known victims with poison, not brutality, and serial murderers rarely change their modus operandi.
- John Pizer was arrested in 1888 for the murders, but was later let go because he had alibis (including talking to a policeman) during two of the five canonical murders. The Sergeant who arrested him, William Thicke, allegedly had personal animosity against Pizer and no evidence whatsoever. Pizer sought reparations from at least one of the news outlets that reported he was the murderer. Thicke was later accused as being The Ripper in a letter sent to The Home Office, but this was likely a hoax and was never followed up on by the authorities.
- Gotham by Gaslight (1989) pits Jack against Batman in Gotham City.
- In the Steampunk Chronicles series by Kady Cross, Jack is a character.
- Ripper (2012), by Stefan Petrucha, follows the quest of young man from New York City to find his father in London, but instead finds himself in the middle of a murder investigation.
- Ripper (2012), by Amy Carol Reeves, is about a young woman who is volunteering at a Whitechapel hospital and has visions of the Ripper’s murders before they happen.
- “Ripper Street” is a BBC show about rebuilding Whitechapel in the wake of the Ripper killings. It began in 2012 and the third season is airing as of now (January 2015). (Review coming soon!)
- “Time After Time” (1979) Jack the Ripper uses H. G. Wells time machine to escape his own time and is pursued by Wells to San Francisco, CA.
- “From Hell” (2001) Johnny Depp and Heather Graham star in this film that takes its name from one of the famous Ripper letters that were sent to the press.
- “Progress” is a webseries that operates in an alternative Victorian London where there is already a steam-powered internet. You can watch the first three episodes for free at progresstheseries.com.
- A game for Xbox 360 and Microsoft Windows entitled “Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper” was released in 2009.
Did I miss and Ripper references, books or movies you know? Please leave a comment so I can add to my list!
As a person living very far from home at the moment I am so thankful for the internet, and especially networks that post episodes of my favorite shows. It was love at first viewing of the Comedy Central show @Midnight, which is hosted by Chris Hardwick of the Nerdist podcast series. He is fabulously nerdy and a big fan of cosplayers, so it came as no surprise when he dressed up in clever costumes for several episodes of the improv comedy show leading up to Halloween.
In addition to Luke Skywalker Texas Ranger, he also got decked out by Clockwork Couture in a Steampunk Doctor Who ensemble. From a distance, you wouldn’t know he was posing at the Doctor, but as he told the audience, his splendid cravat actually had his name embroidered in Gallfrayan on it. Someone photoshopped Hardwick onto a TARDIS interior and I couldn’t resist posting it.
Maybe witches aren’t your thing, so you won’t be seeing Hansel and Gretel as part of your Steampunk Halloween. But everyone likes vampires, right? In 2010, author Seth Grahame-Smith penned an alternate history featuring America’s favorite president and pitted him against the forces of darkness running rampant in the South. It was made into an insanely good action movie in 2012 and it is another awesome choice for any steam-inspired monster movie marathon.
Abe’s (Benjamin Walker) sojourn into the vampiric underworld starts when he is a child, though he doesn’t know it. His mother falls victim to a mysterious disease as a result of his father standing up to the unfair treatment of free black people under his boss, Jack Barts (Marton Csokas). Even as a child he knows that Barts is somehow behind his mother’s death, and once he is grown he tries to take his revenge. To his shock, his bullets have no affect on Barts and Abe has to be rescued by a stranger whom he just met in the bar. The man calls himself Henry (Dominic Cooper) and tells Lincoln about how vampires escaped persecution in Europe to the American South, where they are deeply involved in the slave trade as their source of food.
Abe is only interested in his own vendetta, but agrees to be a vampire hunter under Henry’s guidance in order to gain the skills he needs to finally take down Barts. After hunting a series of vampires one by one, Lincoln decides he can make a much bigger difference in the world as a politician than by wielding his special silver-bladed axe, and his life takes the shape of the history we know for a while, including his marriage to Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), presidential election and the outbreak of the Civil War. But when the Southern politicians ally themselves with the vampires, the unkillable soldiers start to tip the scales towards a Southern victory, and Abe must confront them and the mastermind of their ascent to power (Rufus Sewell).
Whether or not you know anything about the real Abraham Lincoln, this is a really fun and entertaining film. The effects are very special, the lighting and camera work are Gothic and moody and the action scenes are dynamic and sometimes even breath-taking. This was a much better film than I expected just based on the premise, and as it turns out the author did a great job of integrating vampire lore into the politics of the mid-19th century and documented historical events. Plus, it is a great action film. There is a fight scene that takes place during a stampede of horses, and a struggle on a speeding train that will keep you on the edge of your seat. It does not have the same ratio of dark comedy to action as Van Helsing or Brothers Grimm, but there are still some good lines and ironic twists that will make you smile. I haven’t read the book, but I really enjoyed this movie and I will definitely be re-watching it to bring some “spook” to my “steam” again this year.
In my last movie post about an awesome…ly bad Sherlock Holmes flick I introduced the idea of a mockbuster. I think Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters may actually deserve to crowned as mockbuster royalty. I found not one, or two, but three other films that came out during 2012-2013 that have something to do, however loosely, with the Grimm’s fairy tale. I watched the trailers for Hansel and Gretel: Warriors of Witchcraft (starring real life brother and sister, wait for it, Fivel and Booboo Stewart), Hansel & Gretel (a nasty-looking horror flick by Asylum Pictures) and Hansel & Gretel Get Baked (a half comedy-half horror stoner parody) and none of them are the least bit Steampunk, so accept no substitutions.
Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters stars Gemma Arterton (Quantum of Solace, Clash of the Titans) and Jeremy Renner (The Avengers, The Bourne Legacy), as well as one of my favorite character actors, Peter Stormare (Brothers Grimm). The original story was published in 1812, but with the delightful mish-mash of technology in this movie it is hard to place it in time.
In the Grimm’s fairy tale Hansel and Gretel’s evil stepmother convinces their father to abandon them in the woods because there isn’t enough food to go around. They find their way back once by leaving a trail of pebbles, but the second time their breadcrumb trail is eaten by birds and they end up at a house made of candy. They defeat the witchy homeowner and when they find their way back to their own dwelling the wicked stepmom has died of unknown causes. Luckily, the kids found gems at the witches’ abode so their money problems are over, and it ends happily ever after (except for the witch and the stepmother, of course).
In the 2013 movie’s version of events, the kids are left in the forest by their parents for an unknown reason, and they still defeat their “hostess of the grossest” but the story doesn’t end there. They discover during their struggle they should “1. never go into a house made of candy and 2. if you are going to kill a witch, set her ass on fire,” but also that they are immune to witch’s spells. They go on to become professional witch hunters and are called to the town of Augsburg to investigate a spate of disappearances. It turns out the local witches are a-brewing a plot to make themselves immune to fire, and they need 12 kids as well as another secret ingredient to do it. In order to find out what really happened to their parents, the siblings must face the Grand Witch Muriel (Famke Janssen) and defeat her before she can carry out her dastardly plot.
In my head I put this movie into the same dark-but-fun category as Van Helsing and Brothers Grimm, but it definitely has a higher gore-factor and earns its R-rating for violence. So if you are squeamish when it comes to blood, you might want to give this one a pass. Of course, that is part of what makes it a perfect movie for your Halloween fright fest 🙂
That’s right, there was another Sherlock Holmes movie that came out around the same time as the Robert Downey Jr. movie I reviewed last week. Didn’t hear about it? I am not at all surprised.
I am a huge fan of what I call “shitty-good” movies (pardon my language, but it is utterly appropriate!) These are films that you can’t help but laugh at even though they are not meant to be comedies. The Mister and I spend a lot our time wading through the sea of crappy movies out there giving them the old Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment. That is to say, we crack wise throughout at the terrible special effects, mediocre writing, atrocious acting and blatant continuity errors, often aided by a glass or two of our favorite adult beverages. (If you aren’t familiar with MST3K but you also enjoy terrible old movies, you MUST find them on youtube. They were shot near my hometown in MN and aired until 1999.)
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, which is the first role for Ben Syder (“Robert” Sherlock Holmes. Yes, you read right, apparently his name is really Robert) and also features Torchwoods’ Ianto Jones (Gareth David-Lloyd) as Watson, is just such a movie. It falls firmly into both the mockbuster (a low-budget film piggy-backing the publicity of a better-known movie) and Steampunk camps. I decided to watch it as part of my Halloween Extravaganza this month, both because I am working on my Sherlock Holmes article for Steam Tour: An American Steampunk in London and because it promised me a plot full of monsters. As a Sherlock Holmes film it pretty much failed miserably, but as a movie centered on futuristic technology in the Victorian era it deserves a mention.
The story begins when a sailing ship is taken out by a Kraken-like tentacled monster. In the next scene, we get to see a dinosaur inexplicably interrupt a rendezvous with a lady of the night. So monsters, check. Sherlock is tortured by the fate that befell his brother Thorpe (yep, they didn’t even bother to get his brother’s name right), who became paralyzed after he was shot while trying to foil a bank robbery several years earlier. So ‘punking’ literature, check. After some watered-down deductions, Holmes and Watson (in the least well-fitting waistcoat of all time) find their way to a country estate where they discover the monsters are actually automatons crafted by a thoroughly ticked off Thorpe (Dominic Keating), who is bent on revenge against London, the city that forgot him, and his former partner, Inspector Lestrade. He uses his (okay, pretty awesome) mechanical dragon to wreak havoc on the masses while another automaton delivers a bomb straight to the gates of Buckingham palace. Oh yeah, and there is totally a hot air balloon/helicopter hybrid vs. mechadragon fight scene.
As I said before, this is not a “good” movie by any stretch, but it is a campy movie with undeniably Steampunk tendencies. This is definitely a popcorn movie, that is, if the shaky camera work they use to signify an action sequence doesn’t make you seasick first.
It is currently available on American Netflix, but can anyone tell me if you can get it in Britain?
That’s right folks, it’s time for a monster mash. One popular way to “punk your steam” is to add elements of the supernatural to the tales from history, offering explanations that incorporate ghouls such as vampires and werewolves rather than what the history books say, as well creating brand new narratives where monsters play a role. Also, the Victorian era saw the birth of Spiritualism, the belief that spirits of the dead could and often did communicate with the living. All Hallows Eve, which has now been shortened to Halloween, celebrates the creepy and costume, and Steampunk seamstresses and seamsters, make-up artists and makers the world over use it as a chance to showcase their talents and share their knowledge.
Halloween has always held a special place in my heart, and in fact I launched this blog on October 31, 2013, so October is also my countdown the my first blogging birthday. Join me all month long for reviews of Steampunk movies and books that feature monsters and witches, costume construction tips from the sessions I attended at Weekend at the Asylum, LARP-ing games to give you an excuse to dust off your costume early, and other spooky fun surrounding the history of ghost stories and the practices of Spiritualism.
Do you have a scary or supernatural Steampunk story or photos of your Halloween creations that you would like to see appear on this blog? Send them my way at ForWhomTheGearTurns@Gmail.com. I can’t guarantee that I will post everything I receive, but I would love to get some submissions from readers. Make sure that you include the name you would like your creation attributed to as part of your email.
My blogger buddy Bia Helvetti just pointed out this amazing movie-in-the-making and I couldn’t wait to share. According to the website for Adventures of Victoria Clarke:
“Stylistically, “Victoria Clarke” borrows heavily from the world of Steampunk, and its sub-culture sometimes referred to as Dieselpunk. Unlike traditional steampunk, which is Victorian-based, we are rooted in the pre-WWII world of Hollywood, and so borrow technology from World War I and Art Deco design influences. However, because Victoria’s family is solidly rooted in Victorian London, fanciful technologies, the designs of Edison and Tesla, and the writings of HG Wells and Jules Verne heavily influence both the design aesthetic and story elements.
The story is based in history, yet features fantastical machines, characters and events that only exist in the alternative reality of our created world. The tone is fun, retro and sexy, and punctuated with periods of intense comic book style action.”
The film was partially funded through a crowdsource website called Indiegogo, but they were short of their goal so proceeding has been slow. The website was last updated in June though and reports progress on the screenplay as well as the amazing images above. The plan is to make not only the movie, but a graphic novel series as well. I really hope to see more progress on this enterprise, it looks amazing and the character of Victoria sounds really interesting. Here is another blurb from the site about how she is more than just a pretty face:
I have seen several adaptations of R. L. Stevenson’s novella, including an amazing British series called Jekyll that follows one of the not-so-good doctor’s progeny in modern times. One of the amazing parts of the story of this book is how it immediately caught the imaginations of the public and was adapted for the stage within a year of its publication. But I realize recently that I had never actually read the slender tome myself.
Unfortunately, the big reveal that Henry Jekyll (properly pronounced JEE-kill, I recently learned) and Edward Hyde are one and the same is the one part of the tale that is always consistent across all adaptations, so it is impossible for the story to titillate and surprise in the same way it would have been for readers in the 1880s. The idea of a split-personality has long been linked to this piece of literature, and the names of the title characters are part of our vernacular.
BUT, this doesn’t mean the book isn’t worth reading. I really enjoyed Stevenson’s prose, and it is always interesting to return to the source. I surprised to find that in the original that nature of Jekyll’s original “sins” that lead him to want to extricate his two halves from each other are never mentioned, and the details of Hyde’s antics are equally left to the imagination. In order to stretch the story into a full-fledged play or movie the adapters have had to fill in some of these details, which can really alter the tone and nature of Hyde. For instance, in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Hyde reveals to Mina that Jekyll occasionally had ‘impure thoughts’ about boys, and his overwrought Christian guilt made him consider himself a great and terrible sinner when really he was a pretty boring and upright citizen.
In the foreword to the collected works of Stevenson in which I read the mere 60-page novella, Claire Harman recounts a story of Stevenson seeing a theatrical adaptation in 1887. He is all but horrified to see Hyde depicted as “an unbridled womanizer” because, as Stevenson wrote to John Paul Bocock, “The hypocrite [Jekyll] let out the beast in Hyde… who is the essence of cruelty & malice… these are the diabolical in man– not his poor wish to love a woman.”
I found the ambiguity in the story itself very intriguing, and it seems ripe for someone to explore not only the exploits of Hyde during his short life, but Jekyll’s past and his other experiments that are only hinted at in the original. I was also surprised to see that the Hyde of the original story is nothing like the huge monster versions in Van Helsing and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, but a tiny, young and underdeveloped man who does not have amazing strength, but unbridled passions.
If you are a Sci-Fi fan then you must have heard of Doctor Who. But just in case you haven’t, the Doctor is an altruistic alien who can go anywhere in time and space, but seems to have an affinity for jolly old England all the same 🙂
Did you know that there are lots of episodes that could serve for Steampunk inspiration?
The Doctor and Rose Tyler team up with Charles Dickens to solve a ghost story in 1869.
In 1879 The Doctor lands in Scotland and Queen Victoria is in danger from a werewolf attack.
This episode would probably most accurately be called “clockpunk” because it features space-clockwork and 18th Century France.
The Doctor meets, well, The Doctor, or at least someone who claims to be, at Christmastime in 1851. The cybermen are at it again and together the Doctors must save Christmas.
Vincent and the Doctor (Episode 210, 11th Doctor)
The Doctor takes Amy Pond to visit a Vincent Van Gogh exhibit, and they spy something in a painting that doesn’t belong there. So they head to 1890 to find out the origin of the terrible face in the window.
The Doctor must take a page out of Dickens’ book and soften the soul of a miser to save Amy and Rory.
When the Doctor stumbles upon a becalmed pirate ship, he discovers a sinister force at work picking off the crew members one by one.
Ok, this one isn’t exactly Steampunk but it is my favorite episode and the old-meets-new vibe plus the junkyard in which it takes place appeals to my Steampunk side. Plus, it was written by my all-time favorite author, Neil Gaiman.
This space-western fusion episode features a cyborg and the Doctor as sheriff of a small town.
It’s just snow, right? Wrong! In 1892 the snow comes to life and sinister snowmen are on the loose.
The Pasternoster Gang are called upon to investigate a string of mysterious deaths in 1893. When they examine an optogram (ie, the supposed image left on the retina at the moment of death) reveals the Doctor so they bring him into the mix.
In A Good Man Goes to War (Episode 218), the Doctor calls upon compatriots from across time and space to aid him in rescuing Amy Pond from Demon’s Run. Among they are Vastra, a Silurian (reptilian predecessors to the human race asleep in the center of the Earth), her maid/lover/badass Jenny Flint and a Sontaran (whom I call “the Mr. Potato heads of space”) named Commander Strax. In Victorian times they join forces and fight crime, sometimes alongside the Doctor.
In addition to A Good Man Goes to War, they also make appearances in The Snowmen, The Crimson Horror, and The Name of the Doctor (Episode 239).
I haven’t seen any of the original Doctor Who series, so I didn’t include them in this sourcebook. If you are a fan and you want to recommend an episode, please leave me a comment below!
Thanks to Josh Stanton and Andrew Knighton both for recommending this movie! This is my third French movie in the Steampunk ouevre, and before I started my quest to watch and review any movie that anyone has called Steampunk I wouldn’t have guessed there was going to be a lot to find in French. I absolutely loved all three, Lost Portals: The Chronicles of Vidoqc (dark, gritty, adult), City of Lost Children (clever, strange and entertaining) and now The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec.
Adele is a comic book hero who was created in the 1970s by Jacque Tardi. She started out as a foil for a different female lead character, but Tardi decided he liked writing Adele better and made her the star instead. The most recent graphic novel was released in 2007, and a film directed by Luc Besson followed in 2010. I know Besson best for his part in penning my personal gateway into Sci-Fi, The Fifth Element, but he has created characters like Nikita (La Femme Nikita) and has been a part of the Transporter series of films. Originally, Besson said there would be at least three Adele films, but so far no sequels have been announced.
The books were recently re-released in hardcover form and are available in English as well as the original French. The film draws heavily from volume 1, Pterror over Paris, (for the pterodactyl, get it?) which you can get on Amazon.com.
And now on to the movie. We first meet Adele on an expedition to Egypt. Her male compatriots try to ditch her but she soon proves she is the most capable one there and leads them deep into the mummy’s tomb. But Adele is not on a search for riches, she has her heart set on a certain mummy who she hopes can be revived and called upon to save the life of Adele’s catatonic sister. I know, it doesn’t sound like the most practical of plans, but Adele knows a man who has been honing his psychic abilities for just such an occasion.
While Professor Espérandieu is flexing his psychic muscles back in Paris he inadvertently connects to the dormant life inside a dinosaur egg and suddenly a baby pterodactyl is set loose into the skies above the City of Lights. The professor is accused of the “crimes” that result and he is put on death row when no one believes his ramblings about the dinosaur. Louise Bourgoin makes an absolutely charming Adele and her many attempts to free him are hilarious. Thwarted at every turn, she appeals to the President of France, but his hopes all rest on a bumbling big game hunter to bring the beastie down. The professor is still psychically linked to the pterodactyl so if it dies so does the professor, as well as all of Adele’s hopes for her saving her sister.
I totally loved this movie and I highly recommend it if you need something to put a smile on your face. Bourgoin sometimes talks a mile a minute so I am sure it would have been even funnier if I could have watched it dubbed in English instead of reading the subtitles, but I thoroughly enjoyed the characters, action and story. Ancient stuff was all the rage at the turn of the 20th century, especially ancient Egyptian stuff, so even the anachronisms felt like they were just an extension of the period, and I liked the whimsical brush used to paint even the direst of events in the plot.
Do you know of any other foreign-language movies that could be considered Steampunk? I’d love to see them!
You can’t help but get swept up in this beautiful and tragic love story. Without words, Director Andrey Shuskov weaves the tale a woman who is torn between her love for her husband and her loathing for the clockwork world they inhabit.
This hauntingly beautiful sojourn to an island in the sky is not for the fainthearted. It tells the tale of Jasper Morello, who embarks on an airship expedition and finds himself an unwilling cog in a mad scientist’s plot. It was directed by Anthony Lucas.
I wanted to make my Steampunk movie and TV reviews more accessible, as well as make a place to recommend titles that I haven’t had a chance yet to review. So check out the new static page with my recommendations for movies, TV and short films by clicking on Steampunk Movies and TV in the menu.
I have also put enough art on the web now that I created a gallery of my creations. You can see the gallery in slideshow or tiled mosaic form by clicking on the Original Artwork link in the menu.
So, usually when I do a movie review I start by writing a synopsis, but this film was so kooky I actually had trouble following the plot while I was watching. And I was even watching it dubbed in English rather than the original French! It reminded me in some ways of Dark Portals: The Chronicles of Vidoqc, but Vidoqc was made later so the sets and special effects were even better.
But, and this is a strong but, that does not mean that it is not worth seeing. There are some absolutely fabulous scenes and moments, like watching a pair Siamese twins cooking who are so in sync one tastes the food and the other seasons it. There are definitely times I said “huh?” but just as many times that I laughed or said “wow!” instead. A combination huh?/wow! was when I realized the main character, a Lenny-like circus strongman on the hunt for his little brother, was played by Ron Perlman who also played Hellboy. Small world! I have no idea what he was doing in a French movie in the 90’s, and when I looked up his career on IMDB I found out he was also in the 1996 production of The Island of Doctor Moreau that I have been trying to get on Netflix to no avail.
So here is a short synopsis, and then I encourage you to see for yourself. One, which is the only name the strongman ever goes by, has his 4-year-old adopted brother stolen in the night by strange men who are blind without their clockwork eyes. One meets a band of street urchins and befriends a little girl named Miette. Keep in mind while you are watching that the strongman is dumb but innocent and kindly. So the times that he touches Miette that might make you raise your eyebrow (he rubs her foot at one point for example) he is really like a big sad puppy dog giving her a slobber and know that nothing weird ever happens.
The child-stealers (a la the Gobblers in the Golden Compass) are taking the children to be part of an experiment. There was a scientist who was manipulating genes and growing humans in his laboratory, but he has gone and left his creations behind. The de facto leader of the creations is Krank, who suffers from a defect because the experiment that made him left him incomplete: he cannot dream. And his inability to dream has accelerated his aging process, so he is using his “father’s” machines to steal dreams from others. But alas, the children are so afraid that they give him only nightmares. Until he meets One’s little brother, that is…
Other characters include a set of at least 8 identical twins/clones, the aforementioned Siamese twins who want Miette dead, an assassin who uses fleas to deploy a deadly poison and a talking brain in a fish tank.
Have you ever been watching a pirate movie and said to yourself, “Gee, what this really needs is some aliens!” Then this is the movie for you.
But seriously, it is a really cool re-imagining of the tale of young Jim’s adventure, which originally ran as a serial in a boys magazine in the 1880’s. There have been tons renditions of this story; plays, movies, comics, you name it. But this is the first one I have seen that really does anything to ‘punk’ it. Well, besides the Muppets of course, but even that was a pretty straight (if more kid-friendly) version of events.
Here is what is the same: Jim, the son a tavern-keeper, has big dreams for his future, but feels doomed to sweep up after sailors his whole life. A treasure map falls into his lap, and with the help of financial backer he sets off on a journey to find buried treasure. Jim (voiced by the adorable and talented Joseph Gordon-Levitt) befriends the cook, who turns out to be the leader of the mutinous band of pirates who make up the hastily conceived venture.
Here’s what’s different: They are freaking space pirates! They travel in ships that resemble the beautiful wooden pirate ships of old , but the sails glitter with electricity and ports perch precariously on a crescent moon.
There are aliens galore, including the catlike Captain Amelia (Emma Thompson) who is a woman in this version of the story. I love places like the Star Trek universe where no one seems to balk at how anyone else appears or acts pretty much ever, they are totally open-minded.
The whole movie is an interesting intersection of the old and new. John Silver (Brian Murray) is in fact both an alien AND a cyborg and it is his metal leg that gives him John’s iconic limp. The “map” that Jim encounters gets a nice spacey make over as a metal sphere that only he figures out how to open.
Once they reach the Treasure Planet, Jim meets a robot who has literally lost his mind (Martin Short). There is a vital part of his memory bank that is missing, but that doesn’t keep him from helping out however he can and adding fun along the way.
I thought this was a really fun movie and definitely worth watching on a big television. Too bad I missed this one in the theaters! The animation is absolutely gorgeous and is a combination of hand drawn 2D laid over 3D computer graphics.
Kids and adults will really enjoy this movie. There are clever jokes that kids won’t get but parents will appreciate. Moreso than in the book, this film really puts Silver into the role of surrogate father for Jim and explores that relationship more.
Who are your favorite spaceship and airship pirates?