Steampunk Q&A – Part 6

So, after seven months, I’m finally back to finish up this Q&A series. For reference, here is the rest of it:

Part 1 – What is steampunk, broadly? How does steampunk romance differ from other romances? What attracts me to the genre? Why do your books remind me of Victorian crime novels?

Part 2 – Is the language/voice similar to your Guardian series? Are people in steampunk worlds open-minded?

Part 3 – Can it be steampunk if it’s not Victorian? How do cyberpunk and dieselpunk all fit?

Part 4 – Can you explain the “punk” part? Why aren’t steampunk books more diverse/LGBT-friendly? Does it have to be in Britain/in the 19th century? Did Wells and Verne write steampunk novels?

Part 5 – What’s the difference between steampunk & gaslight fantasy? Does historical accuracy matter? What’s the difference between a steampunk romance and a steampunk novel? What websites would you recommend?

For Part 6, there’s this question from Maili:

h)Which films would you recommend for us who need to see what steampunk is like before we could read a steampunk romance/novel?

Oh, boy. Maili and I have talked about this several times (she has much more knowledge of films than I do) and I have to say, this is one of the greatest challenges when it comes to explaining “What is steampunk?”

Because there’s really nothing to point at that’s popular enough and recognizable enough that people automatically have the moment of: “Oh, yes!” So I often resort to picking out little bits and pieces from movies … like, for example, the device at the end of the recent Sherlock Holmes film (the first one). Or the airships in the recent The Three Musketeers (which I just watched today and enjoyed quite a bit, because it’s just as campy and fun as Maili said it was.)

But here’s the problem with pointing to things like Sherlock Holmes or The Three Musketeers — we *have* to stress that it is the film versions (and only pieces of those films) that resemble steampunk because the source material is in no way steampunk. There’s nothing “punk” about them.

After all, what does Sherlock Holmes do? He restores law and order, he restores the status quo. An unsolved mystery is the world thrown out of whack — perhaps not on the scale of toppling Queen and Country, but God knows it could go that way — and so Sherlock is there to put the world back on a smooth, familiar, comfortable course.

Which is not to say that steampunk ought to be full of unsolved mysteries — that’s not my point at all. But he’s also not about changing the world or criticizing it (except for the parts that are out of whack); he’s just putting it all back the way it’s supposed to be, and the way it’s always been.

Now, the filmmakers can act much like steampunk writers and do the “looking backward” thing I mentioned in Part 4 of the Q&A (and in today’s Romance University post). So they might add airships or new technology that looks like historical technology, just as steampunk writers do. They might even twist the source material a bit to add more punk or to present a more modern viewpoint.

Three Musketeers
from the recent Three Musketeers film -- two airships over Paris

So, the clockworks in Hugo? If there were a lot of them in a world, that would be a bit more steampunk-ish.

The airships and fun gadgets that Milady has in The Three Musketeers movie? If those were a bit more common in the fictional world, that would be more steampunk-ish.

Do you remember Brisco County, Jr. or Wild Wild West? The part where Ash builds his mechanical hand in Army of Darkness? The parts of The Prestige where [trying to avoid spoilers] Tesla’s invention made copies of certain things? Can you imagine Howl’s Moving Castle without the magic? That would be more steampunk. And then there’s Steamboy or Castle in the Sky or The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

There’s a theme here you probably notice: a bit of this, a part of that. That’s because, with few exceptions, there really isn’t a steampunk world being shown. These devices are not part of everyday life for most people — they are anomaly within the world rather than a part of it — and it’s really difficult to say that something is steampunk when, really, just a tiny bit of it is.

This is Maili’s list from the comments on my last blog post (I haven’t seen City of Lost Children (movie trailer), but of those I have seen, I’m nodding along.)

When one needs a film to imagine what a steampunk-based world might be like, I now usually suggest:

The City of Lost Children (1995)
The League Of Extraodinary Gentlemen (2003) (gaslight adventure)
Van Helsing (2004) (gaslight adventure)
The Prestige (2006)
The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec (2010) (borderline gaslight adventure/fantasy)
The Three Musketeers (2011)

Most aren’t “100% steampunk”, but the ideas and elements are there.

Here’s a silly little short that I often use when I’m trying to give readers some idea kind of what steampunk is, but I always forget the important part — it’s not just that they are using two giant robots to fight this duel. It’s also because no one in this film bats an eyelash when those two giant robots show up. Maybe not everyone in this world has a robot, but it’s a world where robots aren’t unexpected. That’s more of a steampunk world — a world where the advanced technology isn’t a strange, out-of-place thing, or a single invention, but is integrated into the lives of the people.

Here’s a longer (26 minutes) film that also demonstrates this (and thanks to Maili for the following links, because I almost never think to go to YouTube to find stuff to help explain this.) It’s a darker film, but is a great example of steampunk — not what it has to be, but what it can be.

(This one is also in the same animation style as Jasper Morello (but shorter)):

Then there’s this — especially the bits where it shows the “future” as imagined by people in 1854:

Okay, I’m not going to overload the post with videos (though that might be fun.) I think that one of the challenges of a steampunk live-action film is always, always going to be the budget. Unless a property ends up with some major backing, I think we’ll probably see an animated steampunk film before we see a live-action movie with full steampunk worldbuilding. I just hope it’s good.