I posted my first new article since officially joining Steampunk Journal, and I wanted to make sure you didn’t miss it 🙂 I’d love it if you took a minute to visit my new “home” in internetland and followed along with this next step, but I will leave links here for you all over the next few weeks while we make the transition.
A year ago, I posted about the first amazing Steampunk/Star Wars mash-up, Trial of the Mask. Now, sit back and enjoy the sequel!
This movie has been lurking quietly around for a few years now, but despite its impressive cast, no one seems to have heard of it. Based on Mariah Mundi: The Midas Box by G.P. Taylor, this film chronicles the plight of a pair of brothers. They know their lives aren’t ordinary, but nothing prepares them for the mysterious stranger (Michael Sheen, Underworld, Twilight Saga) who arrives bleeding, joking, and most importantly, carrying an amulet of great power. He passes it to the boys’ mother, but when the agents of power-hungry aristocrat Luger (Sam Neill, Jurassic Park) come to collect, they take Mariah’s parents and he barely escapes with his brother.
As they flee to the mean streets of London in just their pajamas, they discover they each have half of the amulet in their pockets, and a whole mess of trouble on their heals. The little brother is taken during an escape, and Mariah (Aneurin Barnard) must depend on the stranger and his plan to rescue him and keep Luger from getting his hands on the destructive power of The Midas Box.
I enjoyed this movie, and it would be a good choice for any little Steampunks in your life, especially if you need that “family movie” for everyone to watch during down time this holiday season. The adult actors, including Leana Headey (Game of Thrones), were all spot on, and Barnard was perfect, but as is the case with many a teen/tween actor, I didn’t love all of the younger members of the cast. That being said, the settings were interesting and the story was compelling, so don’t let that stop you from checking it out, and the clothes are awesome if you like Victorian style.
I’ve never read the books, but now I’m curious. Has anyone read the books or seen this movie and care to share your thoughts? Feel free as always 🙂
I had a unique opportunity to see this amazing silent film as part of a summer film festival that was being put on by the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor. The theater was built just a year after Metropolis debuted, making it the perfect setting to really experience this early sci-fi classic. I’ve seen it listed before on Steampunk lists, so once I found out it was going to be shown on the big screen with a brand new score, I knew I had to see it.
Many of the films that end up on Steampunk movie lists are there for purely aesthetic reasons, so I was very surprised to see this one there based on the posters. This highly stylized film has a very Art Deco feel, which makes perfect sense for when it came out. So in this case, Metropolis is part of the Steampunk canon, not for how it looks, but for the message it was trying to convey and where that message intersects with issues near and dear to the Victorians, and the echoes of ideas first put forward by H. G. Wells in The Time Machine.
In addition to seeing the film itself, there was also a great lecture by a professor of film studies before it started. After the staggering number of propaganda films leading up to and during WWI, Germany was left with the means to be a real force in the new medium of film. Their major company, Ufa, created a number of big-budget silent films in the hopes of entering the market and to compete with Hollywood. Unfortunately, they overstretched their means and were soon in debt. They turned to Hollywood for financial support which gave rise to a company called Panufamet. They traded away the rights to most of their country’s movie screens for some much-needed cash and a promise of at least one German film in American theaters every year.
When Metropolis was made, it was meant to be the big budget blockbuster of German cinema that year. Due to a funny quirk of the early days of cinema, it was actually cut down from its original 2+ hour run time to only 90 minutes when it came to the states. Movies all had a 30-minute stage show at the beginning in those days, and they didn’t think the public could sit through more than a total of 2 hours of entertainment. During WWII, the original film was lost (likely melted down for the chemicals) and only the cut down version lived on. Luckily for film lovers, in 2008 someone recovered an almost intact 16mm version of the movie and it was restored. There are still a few scenes that are missing, but it more or less back to its original greatness. (If you’ve got Netflix, you can watch the full two and a half hour version)
The film is set in a futuristic and highly industrialized city. The rich and powerful live on the surface and enjoy pleasure gardens and endless leisure, while the majority of people toil deep underground and never see the sun. The movie is based on a play that was written by the director’s wife, Thea von Harbou, but as a Wells’ fan I noted distinct parallels with the future of the human race according his books, as well as derivative works like Morlock Night. According to The Time Machine, at some point the human race becomes divided and evolves into to completely separate species. The Eloi are delicate and childlike, their minds long ago turned to philosophy and issues of the mind. The Morlocks are the workers who were forced to live without the sun, and became monsters afraid of the light. Metropolis paints the picture of the step in between our present and that terrifying future.
The story centers on Freder, one of these elites who doesn’t know anything about the horror going on beneath the city. A young woman named Maria enters the pleasure gardens with dozens of dirty, malnourished children and demands that the frivolous people look at their brothers and sisters. She is kicked out of the garden, but Freder is so taken with her and her message that he follows her deep underground. He sees firsthand what the workers are put through and witnesses a terrible explosion that kills many people.
Meanwhile, his father, who controls all of the factories, goes to see an old rival. The mad scientist has been cooking up something special, and automaton that will herald the ruin of the modern age.
This movie was highly stylized and a wonderful departure from the same old types of movies you’ve watched. The scenes can come off as borderline absurd to our eyes, but considering it is 90 years old I think it stands up really well. The plight of the working man and his transformation into a machine himself at the hands of the oppressive upper class is a struggled that first emerged during the Victorian era, and is presented in a large and impressive scale by the visionaries behind this amazing old film.
A lot of the movies that I put under the umbrella of Steampunk get that title because of more or less aesthetic reasons. The City of Ember, for instance, is technically a post-Apocalyptic future, but the people rely on a level of technology akin to the 1900’s. Cowboys and Aliens falls on the other end of the spectrum. Instead of looking Steampunk, the very essence of the story is an alternate history with a futuristic twist, which makes it qualify in my book. It’s also an awesome mash-up that expertly uses some of Western’s best tropes and integrates horror movie principles flawlessly.
The film opens with sweeping shots of the seemingly empty landscape. Cut to Daniel Craig, dirty, bleeding, and with no memory of how he ended up in the middle of the desert with a funky metal contraption on his arm. Within a few minutes, he establishes his unadulterated badassery and his status as the consummate cowboy – a gruff loner with a quick draw and sledgehammer fists. But all he has are disturbing flashes of the dead eyes of a beautiful woman staring at him to tell him who he is or where he came from.
Enter Harrison Ford, an ex-military man turned cattle rancher who now spends his time bullying the townsfolk. His son takes his shenanigans one step too far and winds up in jail. (You see what I mean about classic Western tropes?) The big showdown between Ford and the sheriff seems imminent and then BOOM! Aliens attack! They blow stuff up and use these wicked grapplers to take hostages and whisk them away. Suddenly, the people who were at each other’s throats are pulled together in their quest to get their people back and retake their little patch of earth from the invaders.
The film is based on a graphic novel by the same title, and the director, Jon Favreau, was committed to both the spectacle of a comic and making a damn good Western. The special effects are great and the gritty realism of the cinematography and acting grounds what may seem like a goofy concept and makes it feel like it really could have happened. This is a great adventure film and I strongly recommend it for fans of science fiction and old movies alike.
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow first appeared as a short story in 1820, and has gone on to be one of the most enduring American ghost stories of all time. In the original short story by Washington Irving, a hapless schoolteacher by the name of Ichabod Crane is pursued by the ghost that haunts his village in the year 1790 in New York state. I remember watching a short film of this story at Halloween every year in elementary school, and compared to its adaptation by director Tim Burton in 1999, that was definitely child’s play.
In the film, the character of Ichabod Crane has been fundamentally altered, except perhaps for still being a bit on the hapless side. Crane (Johnny Depp) is a police constable in 1799 in New York City who is convinced that science and reason are at the heart of solving crimes. To test his claims, his superiors send him to a small town where a rash of mysterious murders has broken out, so he packs his chemistry set and goofy-looking spectacles and head to the beleaguered hamlet of Sleepy Hollow. He meets with the town elders, including many familiar faces from recent films such as Michael Cambon and Richard Griffiths who played Dumbledore and Mr. Dursley in the Harry Potter films, as well as Jeffrey Jones (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) and Ian McDiarmid (Star Wars Episodes 1-3). They assure him the murderer is not only a ghost, but one that takes the heads of his victims with him as a souvenir.
The story goes that the Headless Horseman was once a Hessian soldier during the American Revolution. I’d heard that word lots of times but it was only when I re-watched the film for this review that I finally looked it up. “Hessian” was the nickname given to German mercenary troops hired by the British during a number of conflicts in the late 1700s, most of whom came from the province of Hesse. The unnamed Hessian who haunts the hollow was said to be in the conflict, not for money, but for the love of the kill. His specialty was beheading via horseback and he filed his teeth into points to add to his gruesome visage. And in true Tim Burton fashion, the Horseman (Christopher Walkin) is depicted as the thing that nightmares are scared of.
Crane must set aside his love of reason if he is going to get to the bottom of this string of seemingly unrelated crimes, and with the help of a good-hearted witch (Christina Ricci), he might just succeed before he loses his head.
I really liked this movie as an adult, but I do remember thinking it was really gross when it first came out. Maybe it was just that I hadn’t seen as many gory movies yet, or that later films have gotten that much worse, but it didn’t bug me that much this time around. The gray ambience that generally permeates the town makes the deep crimson of blood really stand out in a way that is actually quite stunning, if a teeny bit tummy churning. Many people die in the course of the film, either in the present or in flashbacks, and not surprisingly, most of them are by decapitation. There is also a weird, twisted tree that bleeds when it is cut and acts as a gateway to Hell.
One of the things that stood out to me the most is that Crane is not a hero, at least, not in a traditional sense. His bookishness aside, he is in fact a coward. He is afraid of spiders, he puts women and children between himself and the danger, and when he finally sees the Horseman himself he becomes a blithering idiot (at least for a little while.) I liked how he was wasn’t a very good rider, and does not win at the end by killing the evil force, rather he returns something that has been lost. The character also says one of my all time favorite quotes, which has been immortalized in a poster at right.
I would definitely recommend this film as both a scary and well-made horror flick, as well as a fun bit of Steampunk. As I discussed at the end of last month, the supernatural has as much claim to the steam era as new technology, and this is an intersection where a person’s science can’t hold up against the greater forces he is facing.
Earlier this month I wrote a about using humor as a tool for exploring the terrible conditions that most people faced during the 19th and early 20th centuries. By taking something that isn’t inherently funny and taking it to a ridiculous extreme can be a way to both grapple with the issue and get a chuckle from your audience. The recent spoof on the classic Western, A Million Ways to Die in the West, is a great example of this. It has everything you’d want in a film about the old West like gun fights, an unambiguously evil bad guy, bar fights and great clothes, but with a central theme that living in that time and place was totally awful. Death truly lies around every corner, yet it is one of the funniest films I have seen in a long time.
In a 2014 interview with co-star Charlize Theron (Mad Max: Fury Road), writer and star of the film, Seth MacFarlane (creator of Family Guy) had this to say:
“The story is a contemporary take on a what is essentially a classic Western. It’s sort of sets out to look at a world that we have romanticized in our culture for many many decades, takes a lot of elements that have become familiar to us, some of which are Hollywood creations and some of which are accurate… In a nutshell it takes a world that we know well through Hollywood and through history, and presents it through a very modern lens.”
For this reason, I feel like this film belongs on a list of Steampunk films. Sure, it doesn’t have weird technology or supernatural elements, but it takes a time and place in history that is contemporary with the Victorian era and punks it. There is even a special name of Steampunk with a Western twist, “Cowpunk”, but I tend to keep everything messing with the steam era all under the same umbrella term of Steampunk.
In the movie, MacFarlane and Theron’s characters are the only people in their little dirty, dangerous corner of the world who “get it”, and they bond over their mutual hatred. Liam Neeson is the local bad guy, and is out for blood when he finds out his wife, Theron, is carousing with another man. There are also several more familiar faces who round out this amazing cast. Neil Patrick Harris makes an appearance as the dandified shopkeeper and even treats the audience to a musical interlude all about the awesome power of mustaches. Sarah Silverman plays a prostitute who is saving herself until marriage and Giovani Ribisi is her patient fiance.
The comedic elements are equal part verbal and visual. There is both witty banter and slapstick ridiculousness which I thoroughly enjoyed, though there was one diarrhea joke that went on too long for my tastes. Other than that, I thought it was extremely well-written and the acting and comedic timing were perfect. This is definitely an adult movie with a lot of f-bombs, so viewer beware if you don’t like swearing.
The television show Wild, Wild West, ran from 1965-1969. I have never seen it, but I did just discover that it is available on YouTube so I will definitely be checking it out soon. The 1999 movie by the same name was one of my absolute favorites in my teens. I’m sure I can’t be the only 30-something out there who can remember boogeying to Will Smith’s theme song at school dances.
Like the TV show, the movie is about two special agents for the US government upholding the law in the heyday for cowboys. Despite the title, the film does not actually take place out West at all (most of the movie is set in New Orleans), but is actually a pun on the name of Will Smith’s character, James West. Under orders from the president, he forms an reluctant alliance with his gadgetly-inclined partner, Artemus Gordon (Kevin Kline) are on the trail of a notorious Civil War general who was responsible for a masacre during the war. West is an impulsive, “shoot first, shoot second, shoot some more and if there is anyone left alive maybe ask a question or two” type of hero, where Gordon is a thinker and tinkerer, so you can imagine they don’t always see eye to eye.
Little do they know that he is cahooting with a brilliant inventor, Arliss Loveless (Kenneth Branaugh), who is bent on revenge against the North. He has kidnapped several scientists to help him complete his work, which brings the lovely songbird Rita (Selma Hayek) into the picture as she tries to rescue one of them by going undercover as part of Loveless’ entourage. With her help, West and Gordon must stop the mad scientist from assassinating President Grant (also Kevin Kline).
I know a lot of people panned this movie when it came out, but I found it thoroughly enjoyable then and now. I think a lot of the criticism came from the fact that people felt it did not live up to Smith’s blockbuster movie a few years earlier, Men in Black, and Agent West and Agent J were almost the same character, just in a different black suit. This is true, but I didn’t really see that as a problem. I loved MIB, and so I loved WWW. Smith of course was not the only actor in the film, and I very much enjoyed Kline and Branaugh’s performances. The gadgetry was fabulous and includes a massive spider-like war machine and train car full of trickery.
I would absolutely recommend this film to Steampunk fans who are looking for some light-hearted fun.