by Lee Cumberland
The true roots of the modern steampunk movement in film, music and art stem largely from Hollywood’s fascination with the original sources, the great literary works of the Victorian era. Jules Vern and H.G. Wells dominate the field in terms of introducing futuristic devices and technology to tales of adventure and discovery, but it is also important to acknowledge the enigmatic characters created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Oscar Wilde and Robert Louis Stevenson.
In some of these tales, science borderlines on the occult. The characters in possession of superior intelligence are often depicted as both superhuman and mad. They are geniuses and philosophers out of time and place, looking forward to a world far more intellectually and technologically advanced than the one they live in.
And in the end, the irony of the whole steampunk movement is that it looks to the past for inspiration, but always with on eye on the future.
10. Around the World in 80 Days (1956) The sort of action packed high adventure that would come to influence globe-trotting epics, treasure hunting thrillers and daring escapes for years to come. Certainly, this could very well have been a primary inspiration for the Indiana Jones series.
9. The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959) Sherlock Holmes is the ultimate Victorian superhero, the perfect embodiment of cunning intuition, physical prowess and gentlemanly demeanor.
8. The Invisible Man (1933) H.G. Wells most infamous mad scientist, a brilliant and honourable man twisted and corrupted by the power his discovery grants him. The Invisible Man would be a prototype for hundreds of misguided geniuses to come.
7. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931) More villainous and despicable than the Invisible Man, another misguided man of science who’s crimes are violent and cruel without reason. He is the menacing dark cloaked, cane-wielding figure, almost a reference to Jack the Ripper , that recurs so frequently in modern steampunk art and literature.
6. The Picture of Dorian Grey (1945) Oscar Wilde’s only novel provides us with ample scandalous and outrageous philosophies of how to live one’s life to the fullest in the darker corners of Victorian London nightlife. It could be argued that the true villain in this tail is not the title character, but the almost Luciferian enabler and all round bad influence, Lord Henry Wotton.
5. First Men in the Moon (1964) Space travel in the late 19th century is made possible with another socially maladjusted man of science, though this time he is no villain. The method by which he achieves space travel is truly ingenious, and his space craft is equally fantastic.
4. Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959) The most wonderful thing about this famous film adaptation on Jules Vern’s exploration epic is the strong female presence (well, as strong as 1959 would allow in a movie based on events that were supposed to have occered in th 19th century). Of all the Victorian adventure tales to be committed to film, this remains one of the most gripping and engaging.
3. Master of the World (1961) Of all Jules Vern’s imaginative industrial age vehicles, none is so iconic as the Albatross. In this film we are given the prototype for every fantastic Victorian airship for years to come.
2. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954) Although “Around the World in 80 Days” can claim blockbuster success and boasts a record budget for the era in which it was filmed, 20 000 Leagues Under the Sea wins in the department of incredible set design. The attention to detail in all the antique devices and instruments aboard the Nautilus is pure steampunk eye candy.
1. The Time Machine (1960) Completely deserving of its’ cult status, this film has absolutely everything. The genius scientist here is a perfect gentleman rather then a madman, and the charming introduction where he unveils his invention to his friends on New Years Eve 1899 sets the time and place so well that the you have no choice but to believe that his outlandish and ornate time travelling vehicle really does work.
Feel free to comment if you’ve seen any or all these films!
Xerxes Horde of the New Jacobin Club helped compile this list, being a rabid film collector himself. And speaking of ancient devices and instruments with a futuristic twist, the NJC employs electric cello, theremin and organ in a lot of their music. If you haven’t heard hem yet, you get 3 free songs by clicking the banner below!
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