Tag Archives: Victorian LIterature

Steampunk Trifecta – Sherlock Holmes, LXG, and Van Helsing

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!

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Sherlock Holmes (2009) – A review

As you can tell, I put off seeing this movie for a long time. I am a big fan of Robert Downey Jr. I’m also a big fan of Sherlock Holmes, having read every Holmes story I could get my hands on in grade school before moving on to Hitchcock and Agatha Christie. I am not a fan of attempts to “modernize” classic works to make them more palatable to an audience that doesn’t have time for that reading nonsense. Which is what I expected this film to be, especially since many reviews insisted this was a revisionist Holmes that took great liberties with the character. That isn’t the film I found myself watching.

I mean, yes, it takes liberties with the timeline, but I can appreciate why they did it. Rather than just filming the same famous Holmes stories that have been filmed a thousand times over, the movie is a mash up of a handful of Holmes stories and set smack in the middle of an era during which Holmes is traditionally dead, because he’s already fought Moriarty, Irene Adler has been reduced to “the Woman” and  Watson has already been married. But I’m okay with that. Because they captured something much more important to me – they captured the essence of Holmes, not as he has become in urban legend, formed by a thousand movies of a neat and business like Holmes in a deer hunter hat, but the Holmes (and Watson for that matter) from the original stories. This is a Holmes that can beat the tar out of his adversaries as well as best them with his astounding intellect. This is a Holmes that is more than a little… eccentric, and has some chemical dependency issues to boot. This is a Watson that can hold his own with Holmes, instead of being the bumbling side kick he has become in most recent incarnations. This is the Holmes I remember. (Heck, most of the things in the movie deemed most outlandish were taking directly from Holmes stories, from Holmes shooting up a “VR” in a wall to him training bees with a violin to his little underground boxing match. Holmes was a martial artist before it was cool for action heroes to be martial artists. This was the guy they based Batman on!)

And befittingly so. One of the reasons I think Steampunk and the Neo-Victorian movement have been so popular is that Victorian characters are fun. They were the superheroes of their day. This was the era of mad geniuses – when men of keen intellect and odd habits were called “eccentric” rather than being labeled “ADD” or “Manic Depressive” and given a bunch of prozac before they could hurt themselves. We’re talking about an era where cocaine was legal and even real life geniuses were pretty much insane (Go read about Nikola Tesla sometime. That man was like a comic book villain of epic proportions).

So, yes… it messes with the timeline to tell an original story and it reintroduces all those “messy” details from the Sherlock Holmes stories like that he knew Bartitsu, or that he sometimes traded fisticuffs with his adversaries and always won, or that he had a drug… issue. But then maybe if more people spent time reading Sherlock Holmes stories than just watching stuff British movies with their safe, tall, skinny, “refined” Holmes, they’d know that.

Anyhow, enjoyed the movie quite a bit, laughed out loud in parts (not surprisingly, most of the best dialogue is actually lifted directly from the Holmes stories), and am looking forward the sequel coming out in a few months time.


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