These are three mainstream movies that say “Steampunk” to Burgandy and I. I am sure there are purists who (possibly angrily) disagree. But, for the sake of argument, I am going to say that we had a steampunk marathon this weekend and watched Sherlock Holmes, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen / LXG, and Van Helsing. It was a chance to introduce the little one to a few properties that we hope to get her actually reading soon.
I greatly enjoyed all three of these movies upon first viewing, and even saw Van Helsing and LXG in the theater twice (I let myself get scared away from Sherlock Holmes by bad word of mouth / the zany trailer, which is quite unfortunate). So, with that in mind, the immediate judgment – how did they hold up? Well, I thought Van Helsing and Sherlock Holmes both held up – this is somewhat unfair, almost, because Van Helsing is definitely a special effects blockbuster type and Sherlock Holmes is not as ambitious, but they both looked great. LXG, on the other hand, aged horribly – the Nautilus looked almost Roger Rabbit-esque, way too big for what it was supposed to be and not at all real. Likewise with the somewhat choppy action sequences.
I think Sherlock Holmes had the best acting – I loved the Holmes, Watson, and Adler here. They were a bit modernized (though, as Burgandy’s post pointed out, not as much as you may think) but still evocative of the characters. Van Helsing was a bit more questionable Hugh Jackman wasn’t super-engaging at first (though he doesn’t have a lot to work with, as Van Helsing starts with basically no personality and gradually gets better). Kate Beckinsale’s Anna has a silly accent and some horrible lines (“I have never been to the sea”) but the character is a lot of fun and you get used to it (it doesn’t hurt that she looks great in this movie). David Wenham is actually quite hilarious as Carl, the friar. Both Dracula (VH) and Blackwood (SH) are great villains, too.
LXG is not so good – the first time I watched it I was just so amused by the ‘JLA of Victorian England’ schtick that I missed how much Sean Connery is phoning it in, or how silly Nemo’s beard looks. The smaller roles are better – I still really liked the foppish-but-deadly Dorian and generally enjoyed the more-vampiric-than-the-comic Mina. Dr. Jekyll / Hyde was a great performance, actually, really enjoyed it. As you watch this movie, you see the actors trying to progress things (Jekyll’s personalities integrate, Mina is less repressed, Nemo and Quartermain are nicer) but with the big cast and the movie’s lack of focus it all sort of ends up being out of nowhere. The bad guy, the Phantom, is a bit of a dud. Silly costume, sillier accent.
Plot-wise, I thought Sherlock Holmes had a great mystery and good interaction between the characters. Van Helsing had a sweeping, sometimes confusing story that added to a video-game-like feel the movie had at times (I love video games, so this isn’t necessarily something awful, but it did seem a bit strange). LXG was just plain weird – things happen that really don’t make sense if you think about them too much like outracing an earthquake in a car, then stopping with a missile or Mr. Hyde somehow knowing exactly how to drain the Nautilus when it is taking on water.
So, the verdict. The best movie has to be Sherlock Holmes, I think – everything just comes together, albeit in a way that sends rage through the minds of traditionalists. Second best – Van Helsing. I can forgive a lot of incoherency and video-game-ness when it’s helped along by Hugh Jackman in superhero mode, a scenery-chewing Dracula, a hilarious sidekick, and a badass Kate Beckinsale in a corset and leather pants. Third – LXG. My only thought on this one is that my brain was so blown by the premise the first time that I just forgave everything. Now it barely seemed to make sense, the effects looked awful, and the action sequences were choppy and nonsensical. It was still sort of fun, though, and I think it will prompt the little one to read Invisible Man and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (and me to read King Solomon’s Mines) so it can not be all bad!