I have read the opinion many times, in many different forums, that there are no “good” steampunk movies. I would certainly dispute this idea. There are many mainstream, high budget, Hollywood movies that include elements of the steampunk aesthetic that I found quite enjoyable. However, the word “good” is a subjective term. What I find to be “good” may be something that another person abhors. Simply bring up the Wild Wild West, Van Helsing, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and/or Sky Captain & The World of Tomorrow among steampunk fans and expect a lively debate.
That is the nature of opinion and everyone is entitled to his/her own. But it is also in many people’s natures to talk about what they like and want to share with others. Attend any type of Science Fiction/Steampunk convention, Cosplay event, or Renaissance fair to see how deeply this idea to share an experience is ingrained with fans. At these events people not only celebrate the genre they love, but also the spirit of creativity displayed by the participants.
Steampunk is an aesthetic, which means in part that it is visual. The outfits worn at conventions reflect this. The brown, tan, and sepia colors, the brass and copper buttons, frills, lace, ruffles, goggles, top hats, pearl beads, lockets, pocket watches, gears, corsets, bloomers, petticoats, breeches, flight caps, gloves, parasols, and western attire are all part-and-parcel of the experience. The gadgets, the machines, and the other paraphernalia displayed all add to the ambiance.
It is not simply the visual display that is being celebrated, however. The appreciation also applies to the craftsmanship being exhibited. People enjoy making their own outfits and designing their own characters. If they purchase something from a vendor, they can generally tell you designed it. Some enthusiasts will even have a business card or website information on hand to share with those who ask because they truly appreciate the artistry and the workmanship of the creators. This is not mass-market “stuff”—these are handcrafted items created with care and personal attention to detail.
Perhaps this is why a lot of steampunk enthusiasts do not enjoy the mainstream Hollywood movies. The “handcrafted” element that is part of the steampunk aesthetic is missing. Studios design blockbuster movies to appeal to the masses and thus fail to connect with the fans. Even though it is a genre that we enjoy, the individual effort inherent in all of the other steampunk works of literature, art, design, and fashion is missing.
There are alternatives, however, to the mainstream Hollywood movies—short films. These types of movies are often screened at local, national, or international film festivals and, more recently, have been appearing on sites like YouTube. They are made by independent filmmakers, usually with very little budget, and generally with the help of friends and family.
I offer the following list of steampunk-themed movie shorts for your consideration . . .
Invention of Love
This clocks in at just over 9 ½ minutes. The writer/director Andrev Shushkov made it using a variety of computer programs, including Anime Studio, Photoshop, and Final Cut, for his graduation project. It is a haunting love story told through images of silhouettes and shadows.
This short film is just over two minutes long and visually stunning. It is a steampunk time-travel story with just a touch of horror written by Martyn Deakin and directed by Ben Jacobson. This is the work of more than one person and does show how a live action steampunk film can be created with actual props, machines, and mechanisms rather than with computer generated images.
The Alchemist’s Letter
This final short film is just over 5 ½ minutes long. It stars 2 time Academy Award nominee John Hurt and Eloise Webb and is directed by Carlos Andre Stevens. The story centers on the life of an alchemist named Nicolas who invents a gold-making machine, but pays a terrible price for his success. Through the power of the machine his son, Veridian, explores the contents of the Alchemist’s most precious memories as his father attempts to give him one last life lesson.
I consider these three “shorts” to be “good” steampunk movies. The stories are compelling and I enjoy the artistry/craftsmanship of the filmmakers.
What do you think? Let the debate begin . . .