Scifi Movies Finally Catching Up to Novels and Going Steampunk

Illustration for article titled Scifi Movies Finally Catching Up to Novels and Going Steampunk

There's usually a 10-year lag between what's popular in science fiction writing and what's popular in films, and the steampunk craze is no exception. Authors and artists have been steaming things up for decades, creating breathtaking clockwork worlds, industrial-era alien planets, alternate nineteenth centuries, and retro-analog mechanisms. Now Hollywood's finally caught in the gears of steampunk too: A whole slate of new projects coming out over the next several years are trying to get all steamy in the look-and-feel department. But will they succeed? Below, we rate seven upcoming flicks for steaminess using our special brass mechanism that's covered in cool knobs and cranks.


City of Ember
Based on a series of novels about a post-apocalyptic underground city that's running down, the movie focuses on two adolescent heroes who discover the world above ground. The movie comes out Oct. 10.
Steampunk levels:
The underground city, Ember, has an industrial feel. Expect a lot of giant pipes and huge generators. But the movie is set in the future, and there's no Victorian sensibility to it. On a scale of one to steamy, it isn't even wearing goggles.

Mutant Chronicles
Set 700 years in the future, the Earth is ruled by feudal corporations and has depleted most of its natural resources. During a war between two corporations, a machine unleashes mutants on the world and our heroes must destroy it to save the world. The movie comes out later this year.
Steampunk levels:
Steam power is all that's left in this future, and the feudal corporate governments are reminiscent of nineteenth century industrial companies that pretty much owned their workers. But there are also shades of medieval society here too. On a scale of one to steamy, it's condensed steam on brass.


Here Be Monsters!
Set in an alternate 1850s London, this is the tale of a boy who emerges from an underground city of monsters to live the life of a human. Based on a novel. No release date yet.
Steampunk levels:
Set in the Victorian era, complete with subterranean world of dreamy crawlies. On a scale of one to steamy, it's a burnished gear.

Set in an alternate nineteenth century which includes extensive space travel, this flick is being directed by period movie master Shekhar "Elizabeth: The Golden Age" Kapur. Our heroes must travel in their Victorian spaceships to fight pirates. No release date yet.
Steampunk levels:
We've got the Victorian era crossed with the era of space flight, which is a classic steampunk mashup move. There are also pirates. On a scale of one to steamy, this flick is scalding hot.

The Diamond Age
Last year, the SciFi Channel announced they'd be doing a miniseries based on Neal Stephenson's classic retro-nano-corporate novel about (in part) a group of people called the neo-Victorians. No word on what's happening with the production, though last year George Clooney was attached as producer.
Steampunk levels:
There are neo-Victorians who borrow their fashions, social mores, and styles from Victorian England. But they use nanotech and computer science, not steam and industrial machines. On a scale of one to steamy, this miniseries is an iPhone tucked into a tophat.

Based on the popular videogame about a failed underwater Utopian community, Bioshock is set to be directed by Gore "Pirates of the Carribean" Verbinski, who told Variety that he's taking his concept design cues from Jules Verne and Ayn Rand (whose work inspired the game).
Steampunk levels:
You've got the Verne influence, and you've got an underwater city. Plus if the visuals in the game are preserved, there's a lot of brass and Victoriana, mingled with a strange 1950s feeling. Really, the city in Bioshock is a kind of historical hodgepodge. On a scale of one to steamy, this movie is unpolished brass.


The Adventures of Luther Arkwright
Based on a series of comic books, the story follows multiverse rift-tripper Luther Arkwright when he finds himself in an alternate reality where the British Empire never fell.
Steampunk levels:
Alternate reality that includes the British Empire, plus cross-dimensional travel. Expect a lot of swashbuckling and lovely scifi mumbo-jumbo about timelines. On a scale of one to steamy, it's screaming like a teakettle on the boil.

Additional research by Lauren Davis.


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what's scifi about an outdated fairly useless technology.

Science fiction, in whatever form, is about the way technology and society shape each other. It's about the relationships we form with the tools we use to interact with the world.

Modern technology has its advantages, but has the disadvantage that almost none of us understand how it works, or could have any hope of fixing it or modifying it beyond the limits set for us by developers. Steampunk turns that on its head by transporting the idea of certain technologies in an era where technology was a lot less mysterious, where it was something you could work on with a wrench and a mallet. And a lot of people take that to the next step, which is why there's so much DIY-type steampunk projects and cosplay involved. (And, practically, it's easier to build the technology of the past than of the future.)

If it doesn't appeal to you, that's fine. But if you've ever lamented the demise of the days when you could work on a car or fix a furnace without a degree in computer science and an EEPROM programmer, then you have a sense of what the steampunk community finds so appealing.

I dunno, I think it's fun.