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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.
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.
Pier 1 is definitely not somewhere I was expecting to be blogging about, but I found some really charming metal sculptures that were shaped liked bicycles. I took the pictures a few weeks ago so you can probably still find them in stores, and definitely at the Pier 1’s website.
There were also some lovely antiqued clocks that were probably 2 feet in diameter that looked like giant pocket watches, but those pictures were on my mother’s cell phone instead 🙂
Have you ever fun across something that reminds you of Steampunk in an unexpected place?
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The Hellboy movies are in that category of films that skirt Steampunk without it being the main focus. In both Hellboy (2004) and Hellboy 2: The Golden Army (2008) you can find steamy fodder for your punked out imaginings. Plus, those filed-down horns sure look like goggles!
Some fun facts and context
۞ Hellboy first came onto the comic book scene in 1993. Since then there have been dozens of comics and collections, as well as two major motion pictures, two video games and two animated short films called Hellboy: Sword of Storms and Hellboy: Blood and Iron. You can watch both animated films in their entirety under the gallery of photos below.
۞ I also found a bonus “animated comic” in the special features of Hellboy 2 called the “Zinco Epilogue” where (in my opinion) the creepiest villain of all time, Kroenen, is shown being revived by a man called Mr. Zinco and his team of scientists.
۞ The world of Hellboy was created by Mike Mignola, who wrote another awesome Steampunk book, The Amazing Screw-On Head (2002) which tells the tale of an American Civil War-era spy. In 2006, a pilot was aired on scifi.com in a contest to see if it would be made into a show, but it didn’t make the cut. The 22-minute pilot was released on DVD in 2007, but you can watch it by clicking here.
۞ But it was the dark and spooky director Guillermo Del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, Pacific Rim) who brought these characters to life on the silver screen. With the assist by Peter Briggs of Alien vs. Predator fame, Del Toro wrote both feature length movies and was a creative producer on the animated films. You can see a kindred spirit to the style of Pan’s Labyrinth in the visage of death in Hellboy 2.
۞ “Hellboy” is the name that was given to the little red demon discovered by Alliance soldiers when he was “born” in the wake of WWII in 1944. It is revealed during Hellboy (2004) that his “true” name is Anung un Rama which loosely means “and upon his brow is set a crown of flame.” During the movie, a many-times-resurrected Rasputin (Karl Roden) forces Hellboy to accept his role in the rise of the Ogdru Jahad, a phylum of Cthulu-like monsters that would make H.P. Lovecraft proud. One of Hellboy’s special features is a giant arm made of stone, which can act as the key to open the Ogdru Jahad’s crystal prison in another realm. Luckily for humanity, Hellboy stops (most of) the creatures from entering our world and thwarts Rasputin’s nefarious plot.
۞ This supernatural detective love cats and enjoys big guns and fine cigars. He was raised like an ordinary boy by Professor “Broom” Bruttenholm, a founding member of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense (BPRD). Hellboy’s aging process is described as “reverse dog years,” so Broom knows that Hellboy will outlive him and worries about his future. Prof. Broom is played by John Hurt, who also lends his voice to the animated films. It took me awhile to realize that I was I was looking at the actor who played Mr. Ollivander from the Harry Potter films, as well as the villain from another wonderful comic-turned-movie, V for Vendetta.
۞ Hellboy is joined in both movies by his buddy and fellow freak, Abraham Sapiens. Abe is a fish-person a la the creature from the Black Lagoon, and was actually portrayed by multiple actors. Doug Jones is the one who had to crawl into the prolific prosthetics, but the voice of Abe in the first movie was actually done by actor David Hyde Pierce who goes uncredited.
۞ Hellboy’s lady love is Liz Sherman, a reluctant pyrokinetic agent for the BPRD. In the movies and animated shorts she is played by Selma Blair. Belief in psychic abilities and clairvoyance (ie, communicating with spirits from the “other side”) reached their pinnacle of popularity during the Victorian era. If you are looking for an absolutely amazing non-fiction book about what happens after we die, check out Mary Roach’s hilarious and poignant Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife. You can read a description here.
So where is the Steampunk in all of this?
In the first movie, Hellboy has an enemy named Karl Ruprecht Kroenen. In the comics he is just another Nazi in a gas mask, but Del Toro creates a truly creepy new backstory about a man obsessed with surgeries. His fetish has left him without things most of us take for granted, like eye lids, lips, etc. (you know, the little things.) In return, his research has also given him preternaturally long life do to a body filled with saw dust and clockwork. I have a feeling it is this guy’s cringe-worthy visage that boosts the movie from a PG to a PG-13. [Shudders]
But it is a Victorian-era villain who directs the action. Grigori Rasputin (played by Karl Roden) was born in 1869, and was living high on the proverbial hog off the Russian nobility during the early 1900s as a royal physician. According to the movie, he has been resurrected in 1944 and is there at the beginning of Hellboy’s life. His terrible plot continues to unravel 60 years later (give or take a resurrection and some minions) he attempts to use Hellboy to bring the world to its knees.
If we move on to the enemies and allies of Hellby 2: The Golden Army, we need not look any further than the title. The Golden Army was built by a goblin blacksmith to end the war between humans and supernatural beings like trolls, fairies and elves. The King of the elfs, Balor, tries to make it so the army can never be awakened, but thousands of years later and in the hills of Ireland the clockwork army lays dormant. Don’t be fooled by their egg-like appearance, these “seventy times seventy soldiers” pack a wallop as big as Hellboy and they put themselves back together seemingly without end.
There is a gorgeous animated prologue to the movie that tells the whole story and you can watch it below.
Luckily for Hellboy, he does have some Steampunk fighting on his side, too. Johann Krauss is an agent for the BPRD, but he and Hellboy do not cross paths in the comics. According to the books, Krauss suffered an accident in 2002, but in the second installment of Del Toro’s Hellboy movies his suit definitely looks like it is from the turn of the 20th century. He no longer has a body, so the suit contains his ectoplasm, another popular trope in the Spiritualist movements of the early 1900s.
Check out more videos and photos from the movies below, as well as steamy homages to Hellboy and his buddies I found online.
This is the prologue from the second Hellboy movie. It tells the origin of the Golden Army and it has tons of machinery and gears.
I honestly can’t remember any other time this has happened to me, but I think the movie is actually BETTER than the books it is based on! It takes the best elements of Volume 1 a smidge from Volume 2, but the plot is totally different from either in the end.
Allan Quartermain (Sean Connery) if the first recruit after armed men attack him in Africa. Though he is on shaky ground with queen and country he answers the call and finds himself in London face-to-face with a mysterious agent for the crown known only as “M” (Richard Roxburgh). He meets the other members so far assembled like Captain Nemo (Naseeruddin Shah), Mina Harker (aka Mina Murray, played by Peta Wilson) and Rodney Skinner (Tony Curran), who is this version of the League’s Invisible Man.
They set off together to bring a reluctant Dorian Gray (Stuart Townsend) into the fold, where they are ambushed by The Phantom and his men. Luckily, Tom Sawyer (Shane West) of the CIA had infiltrated the henchmen and saves our heroes with his sharp shooting. After Quartermain and Sawyer capture Mr. Hyde/Dr. Jekyll (Jason Flemyng) in Paris the League is complete, and M sends them to Venice to save a group diplomats at a peace summit. The plot thickens when they find out there is a traitor in their midst, and the string of explosions bringing Venice down around them is only the beginning.
This movie is really fun and I love watching it. The effects are special and the action is well-paced. It doesn’t break a whole lot of new ground and besides Nemo’s car it doesn’t really have as many gadgets as one might like to see in their Steampunk, but I love seeing a world where all of these literary heroes (and anti-heroes) get to team up.
There are a few very important differences from the books to the film, some of which were brilliant and some were disappointing. First, Dr. Jekyll gets to play a much larger role in the movie than in the books, and with the addition of Gray and Sawyer the League feels bigger and more complete. Mina is given both a larger and smaller role at the same time, because in the books she is the clear leader of the League but in the movie she is not only a scientist but force to be reckoned with on the battlefield. I think she was subsumed as leader mostly because of the desire for a Sean Connery type to play the part of Quartermain. The League didn’t have quite enough “flash” to it for the big screen, so they needed a more dynamic male lead to be opposite Mina (especially if they had hopes to pursue a romantic storyline in a sequel). There aren’t that many silver fox action heroes out there, so I think they took advantage of having the right actor for that kind of part rather than keeping to the book’s portrayal of Allan as a skinny, wrinkly drug addict.
All in all, I would say the changes that they made helped the movie to feel full and rich in a short amount of time when they didn’t have two books to work with.
Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm released the first volume of their collection of folktales “Kinder- und Hausmärchen” (Children’s and House Tales) in 1812. The first edition included 70 different stories, but after numerous editions the count eventually reached somewhere over 200 (different sources said different things in my research, but mostly between 209-211). If you are looking for the specific fairy tale references, check my Brothers Grimm Fairy Tale Guide.
If you have never read any of the original Grimm fairy tales they are an interesting read. I took a class in college called “Twice Told Tales” and we spent about half of a semester just studying the story of Little Red Riding Hood (Rotkäppchen in the Grimm’s first edition, but actually published first in the 17th century in French by Charles Perault as La Petit Chaperon Rouge). It was fascinating to see what details changed or were added over the centuries (Spoiler: in the original Red is an accidental cannibal and she dies in the end), and believe me when I tell you that any picture-book version you read as a kid was very watered down. I would only recommend reading the originals to children if you want them to have nightmares. You can access English translations of many early fairy tale compilations through the University of Pittsburgh here.
So, now on to the film. I am a big fan of Terry Gilliam (who wrote and directed Monty Python and the Holy Grail, among other things) and he definitely does not disappoint in this, his first PG13 movie. He actually rewrote much of the Brothers Grimm screenplay, but did not receive credit. If you like to be awed by visual effects and have your heart warmed by a good story, check out another Gilliam creation, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009). Like Van Helsing, Brothers Grimm was filmed in the Czech Republic, both on sound stages and on location.
The story opens with a young Wilhelm Grimm comforting his mother and ailing sister with the promise that his brother Jacob would return soon after selling the family cow. Jacob (who is erroneously portrayed in the film as the younger brother) brings back a handful of beans rather than the much needed cash.
Next, we see the brothers as adults. Wilhelm is played by Matt Damon and Jacob by the late, great Heath Ledger. (Fun fact, they were originally cast in opposite roles because Gilliam wanted Johnny Depp to play Jacob but thought Depp wouldn’t be a big enough box office draw. This was before Pirates of the Caribbean came out, remember.) The city of Karlstadt is in need heroes to fight a witch that is terrorizing their town and the Grimm brothers arrive to save the day. Too bad for the townsfolk that the witch is a hoax and the brothers are scam artists. Jacob has spent his life collecting folk tales, but Wilhelm is an avid skeptic and is only out to make a buck (or Deutschmark, or whatever).
Soon, the brothers are forcibly recruited by an Italian torturer named Cavaldi (a surprisingly funny character played by Peter Stormare) who is employed by the French. During the Napoleonic Wars, Germany was occupied by French forces, who are led by General Delatombe (Jonathan Pryce) in the movie. He tell the brothers of a town called Marbaden and the 10 children who have disappeared. The peasants believe that the children have been taken by a supernatural force living in the dark forest near their homes, but Delatombe believes it is another con artist like the Grimms. He sends them to expose the fake and help bring in an Age of Reason to the foolish bumpkins.
When they arrive in Marbaden (accompanied by Cavaldi and a cavalcade of French soldiers) they are told that in order to enter the foreboding forest they need a guide. The only person who can help them is “the cursed one,” Angelika (who is a super bad-ass huntswoman played by Lena Headey). They call her this because her father and sisters have all gone missing and let’s face it, probably because she wears pants and hunts with a bow, and this is the beginning of the 19th century after all.
Reluctantly, she takes the men deep into the woods which is populated by trees that can move and reveals to them a tall tower with no doors and but a single window at the top. To save the missing children (and their own skins from the French) they must defeat the immortal witch/evil queen (Monica Belluci) who lives there and hope for a happily ever after.
I totally love this movie. Steampunk fans that feel the genre is defined by technology will be disappointed because most of this movie takes place in small, rural villages, but the time period is on the early verge for the genre and fairy tales were certainly read to children in Victorian nurseries. The chemistry between the characters and their development is really compelling (you even end up rooting for the torturer in the end, which is no mean feat!) and the sets and costumes make you feel like you’ve been transported back to the early 1800’s. I don’t usually get nightmares from movies, but there is a scene with a horse that is terrifying, so think hard before watching it with kids under 10 (it is rated PG13 for a reason). The crooked houses and spooky forest set the stage for this fun and sometimes downright frightening film.
Check out some more pics from the film and concept art below, and feel free to leave a comment if you’ve seen this movie or read any really gruesome fairy tales.
While researching for my Van Helsing Mixes Monsters for Movie Magic post I found out that there was a cartoon short released in conjunction with the major motion picture. Van Helsing: The London Assignment tells the story of what Van Helsing is doing in the days leading up to the start of the film.
Van Helsing is on the trail of a vicious London-based murderer who not only kills his lovely female victims, but leaves their bodies twisted and mummified. But even after this string of heinous crimes, the order to which Van Helsing belongs demands that he try to capture the fiend and save his soul from damnation.
He soon meets the monster, none other than the giant Mr. Hyde who helps Hugh Jackman open the live-action movie. In an interesting twist, Dr. Jekyll is every bit as evil (or even eviler) than his alter ego, but he is doing all in the name of love.
Years earlier his eyes met those of the young and beautiful Queen Victoria and he believes to that day that she fell in love with him in the same instance. Jekyll uses a potion concocted of the souls of his victims to grant her a new lease on life and with the help of his hellish minions he absconds with her to his fiery layer deep below the city. How will Van Helsing (and Carl the monk, of course) rescue the queen and save the day?
I called this 30 minute short a “diamond in the rough” because a lot of the animation is jerky and reminiscent of Hanna Barbara cartoons (no offense Scooby Doo!) with intermittent flashes of brilliance. The action sequences clearly got more love (or maybe just a bigger budget) than other scenes, which is to be expected, but it was kind of distractingly lopsided. That being said, it is a fun story that made me alternatingly chuckle and say “whoa!” It really felt like a noir comic book come to life, which was cool to see.
There is a nice documentary in the special features about the making of the live-action movie which is really cool. I learned that both Kate Beckingsale and Hugh Jackman did most if not all of their own amazing stunts.
You can watch the full cartoon through youtube below!