Monday, June 17, 2013

Movie Monday: Films that tried to be Steampunk and failed

The list of purely Steampunk movies in this world is a very short list.  The list of movies that attempt to use an aspect of Steampunk (or merely gussied-up Victoriana) to exoticize themselves is a long list.  Some of them do passable homage to the aesthetic and mood of Steampunk, and some fall laughably short, despite making a valiant effort.  Here are just a few in the latter category:

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen:  let's put aside the fact that this is nothing like the comics.  That's another battle altogether.  Neither the comic books not the film are entirely Steampunk, but the comics do get closer to the spirit of Steampunk.  The film tries to rest on Sean Connery's waning star power, and throws some monumental CGI Steampunk accessories into the mix to flesh out the life and death situations.  The problem?  That big fancy machinery isn't really what Steampunk is about.  It's part of it, but it's the independent, ingenious, creative mindset that is missing here.  Not even a sexy vampire can save this wreck.  I will say one good thing for this movie:  the Invisible Man is an intriguing character and I'd like to see more of him in another setting, no pun intended.  Result: one star for effort, and one star for fairly good CGI.  No Stars for Steampunk.  **OOO

Van Helsing:  What can I say?  Is there a more hated attempt at putting Steampunk on the big screen out there?  Poor Van Helsing.  I personally like the film.  Well actually, I only like it for Hugh Jackman's muscles.  (Can you blame me?)  Now the gadgets in this are pretty cool and took a certain amount of ingenuity and creativity to think up (well ok, not that much), and they (and Kate Beckinsale's costumes) are the only Steampunk elements here.  So perhaps on a Steampunk front this is a mild success.  But a confusing or perhaps completely absent plot and a hero who we never learn anything about (is he the archangel Gabriel?  why is he on earth and is he immortal?) make this a failure.  Rotten Tomatoes agrees.  Result: one star for Steampunk gadgets, and one star for really gorgeous eye-candy.  **OOO

The Brothers Grimm:  This movie I can watch over and over.  I watch it purely for Lena Headly.  I have a huge crush on her.  I also sometimes enjoy the brotherly chemistry between Damon and Ledger, and the gritty, dirty, appropriately Victorian-Germany-feel is well done.  I don't really see how this is a Steampunk movie though.  There are some gadgets and interesting costumes, but they don't try to be obviously Steampunk.  Is it Ledger's brainy character or Headly's pre-feminist moxie that makes this Steampunk, or maybe just the time-period?  Or maybe the sumptuous scenery and color palette that fits with the crowded, complex Steampunk aesthetic.  Who knows...  Result: 2 stars for interesting characters and 2 stars for great, intricate setting.  No stars for Steampunk.  ****O

Sleepy Hollow:  This, as with all Tim Burton's films, is wonderful!  But on the Steampunk front it is depressing.  The only bit of Steampunk is the forensic kit of Johnny Depp's character, which is much too modern for its time and would be quite at home in a Steampunk alternate universe.  But other than that, the film fits very well into the historical fiction/fantasy-horror genre.  In fact, the advanced investigation methods of Depp's character can be quite distracting at times, since they are more contemporary than Victorian and don't fit with his frail, neurotic portrayal of Ichabod Crane.  I'd much prefer this movie without that little bit of Steampunk.  Result: four stars for uniquely Tim Burton awesomeness, and one star for fabulous acting on the part of the whole cast, but no stars for Steampunk.  *****

Wild Wild West:  HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.  Ok, I'm done now.  I don't even know what to say here...  This is certainly a fun movie, if you're looking for two hours of balls-out brainless entertainment.  I've watched it a few times when I need to kill a few brain cells.  But the acting's horrible and embarrassing, the plot's ridiculous, and the ludicrous Steampunk gadgetry is overkill.  Not even the always-lovable genius Kevin Kline can save this fiasco from crashing and burning, though he does give a good effort.  I'll give them some credit for the creativity of the machinery, but not much.  Result: one star for sheer fun, one star for Kevin Kline, and one star for Steampunk.  ***OO

The Three Musketeers:  This movie is an all-out embarassment to everyone involved.  If you want to see a movie that does justice to Dumas, watch this and this (in order, please).  I thought I was going to enjoy this re-imagining of the musketeers, but I was cringing through the film as much as Dumas was surely rolling over in his grave and the spirits of Steampunk were bemoaning the bastardization of their subculture.  Now there are some good actors in this; whatever possessed them to sign on to the film is a mystery.  And the gadgetry and airships are a valiant effort at Steampunking-up the 1600s, but again, Steampunk is more than gadgets and pseudo-feminist kick-ass women.  This movie is all about the explosions and fights; there is no creativity or subtlety or intrigue.  It's pretty darn predictable, and the Steampunk elements fall flat.  Result: one star for great fight sequences, one star for lovely airships, and one star for great scenery and costumes.  ***OO

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters:  This is probably going to be my favorite movie of 2013, despite the facts that it has an abysmal script, a confusing mix of accents, and there are so many more fabulous movies slated to come out this year.  But Hansel and Gretel has charm.  It knows it's crap, and it embraces its folly.  You can tell the actors are having the time of their lives.  It doesn't hurt that the leads are gorgeous.  This movie aims to be a piece of modern schlok on the campy level of the B horror movies of the 80s and it has wild success in this arena.  The characters are 2-dimensional but a joy to behold, and the gore is well done.  (I hate horror movies, as a general rule, so it's saying a lot when I approve of gore.)  The weapons... they are awesome.  They have been called Steampunk in that they are before their time and display the sort of creative mechanical genius that Steampunk requires.  The best elements of modernity in the gritty past, so to speak.  Other than that, this is fantasy/horror.  Result:  one star for Steampunky gadgets, 3 stars for sheer fun (and another half-a-star for eye-candy).  ****O

Now there are plenty of other pseudo-Steampunk movies out there for your viewing pleasure, and I'd recommend googling a list just for fun.  A lot of movies use Steampunk elements, like Hugo, A Series of Unfortunate Events, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, City of Ember, The Golden Compass, and The Secret of Moonacre (not to mention the film adaptations of any Jules Verne or H. P. Lovecraft works, which tend towards Steampunk almost more than towards fantasy/sci-fi).  Watch a few and see what you think.  And keep a lookout for Steampunk-ish movies on the horizon, like Lone Ranger, the new Riddick, The Boxtrolls, and Bioshock (yes, it's going to be a movie).  If you know of any more, let us know in the comments!

(Yes, I'm aware that I left the debacle that is Jonah Hex off this list.  I just can't talk about it.  The wounds are still fresh.)

The Lonely Alchemist

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