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Mortal Engines and Steam Punk

Posted by THEPOGG on Dec 12, 2018

This week will see the release of what Universal Pictures will be hoping is the next huge Hollywood franchise. From where I’m sitting it is difficult to see how “Mortal Engines” could possibly fail to fill the gap left behind after Katniss Everdeen’s departure. All the ingredients that made “The Hunger Games” such a huge hit are in place and ready to be unleashed on the public at the end of the week.

Firstly, from what the trailer has shown me, the film looks like it will be a visual delight for all movie goers. Given that we have the much of the crew responsible for bringing us “The Lord of the Rings” and “Hobbit” films, it is hardly surprising that this is likely to be a work of cinematographic art. “Mortal Engines” could not have been made 10 years ago, but such are the advancements in CGI technology that giant, blundering, carnivorous cities can bring to life the pages of Philip Reeve’s, immensely popular series.

The quartet of novels cut its way into the market back at the start of the century, at a time when “Harry Potter”, “The Hunger Games” and “Twilight” had proven, that despite the rise of the console, teenagers wanted new material to read and what they wanted more than anything was a huge series of novels to lose themselves in.

Key to all of those series of books (although I will confess to knowing nothing about Twilight) are the young protagonists who find themselves at odds with the hypocrisy and greed of an adult world that cares only about its own established wealth and power.

Expectations

You can expect your heroes to be reckless, but brave enough to face off against odds that should be procuring all of their deaths and shortening your reading time by around 20 hours or so. You can expect them to be skilled in ways that have been whispered in prophesies, spoken by the downtrodden as they warm their skinny, dirty hands around fires. They will shoot from the hip and will need to be pulled back from the edge by an old cynic, carrying the scars of their own youthful exuberance. The contrast between enthusiasm and apathy will balance the two out and make each of our heroes better people as a result. But above all else, what you can expect to discover is something you probably didn’t see coming. Key to all of these stories are the twists, the hidden depths; getting to the top of that tallest mountain so that you can look back at the previous peaks and troughs you have experienced along the way, with nothing obstructing your view, a clear view of how everything was meticulously pieced together.

What Mortal Engines cannot be, is “The Golden Compass”. Philip Pullman’s classic has to be considered an example of what Hollywood should never do to a book series. Part of what makes a successful book series for teenagers is realising that they are actually young adults. With that comes the realisation that are ready for certain adult themes. “The Hunger Games” dealt with extreme violence, sexual awakening and alluded to acts of severe child exploitation. Most of that is translated into the films and is part of the reason that they became a success. “The Golden Compass” should have dealt with children dying, anti-religious sentiment, and violence. The fact that it didn’t meant that the film could not hold true to the books and was cancelled after the first installment. I don’t know how gritty or controversial the Mortal Engines series is, but what I do know is that if there are punches to be thrown then Peter Jackson and co cannot pull them if they want this franchise to be a success.

The Exposition

The film is set a thousand years into future, a dystopian version of our world where humanity has destroyed itself in something known as the “60 Minute War”, a single hour where everything is annihilated. For hundreds of years following the “60 Minute War” dark clouds, caused by nuclear weapons fill the skies, block the sun and define what became known as the “The Dark Centuries”.

Almost 2 thousand years from now a new era is born from the ashes and out of “The Dark Centuries” begins an age known as “The Traction Era”. In this new world, humanity (apparently enough survived) raises old cities from the ground and mobilises them into giant citadels of destruction. Those “Mortal Engines” seek out what resources are left in the world and lock together in combat. By the time we sit down and begin watching “Mortal Engines” we are in the 1000th year of Traction, floating cities have been built, London has consumed Paris and the “Anti -Traction League” is on the rise.

“Mortal Engines” is about as epic as teenage fiction comes. The concept is vast, complex and holds all the potential needed to engage a modern audience but to be a success we’ll need to believe in that world and care about those characters, just as much as we will be awed by the visual spectacle that director Christian Rivers brings to life on our cinema screens.

Amongst the vastness that 3 thousand years of lore brings will come twists and turns, as sub plots become the main plot and the mortal engines become a vehicle for the story and our characters to mould themselves around.

Steam Punk

The film marries the old with the new, in a style, perhaps even a genre, that is now commonly referred to as steampunk.

The term steampunk was first coined in 1987 by American science fiction and horror author K.W. Jeter in reference to his own 1979 novel, Morlock Night. The novel takes the Morlocks (those weird green cannibalistic people who have evolved underground over thousands of years) from H.G. Wells’ “Time Machine” and sees them travel back to the Victorian England that Wells himself occupied. In a letter to science fiction and fantasy magazine “Locus” Jeter wrote:

“Dear Locus:

Enclosed is a copy of my 1979 novel “Morlock Night”; I’d appreciate your being so good as to route it to Faren Miller, as it’s a prime piece of evidence in the great debate as to who in “the Powers/Blaylock/Jeter fantasy triumvirate” was writing in the “gonzo-historical manner” first. Though of course, I did find her review in the March Locus to be quite flattering.

Personally, I think Victorian fantasies are going to be the next big thing, as long as we can come up with a fitting collective for Powers, Blaylock and myself. Something based on the appropriate technology of that era; like “steampunks,” perhaps….

–K.W. Jeter”

This is all fine and well, but is steampunk?

I had a look online for a clean, succinct definition and without being able to determine the author this is what I found:

“Steampunk is a pseudo-Victorian melange of ideas, notions and possibilities intersecting a neo-apocalyptic dystopian future wherein the occupants reside within a quasitopian, retro-technological and Ideological society. Generally while fighting Cthulu from airships, while wearing corsets and goggles.”

Say waaa…?

Imagine that we held onto the technology of the Industrial Revolution and married it with technology from a science fiction future. You have huge chunks of steel, powered by steam and burling cogs, with some laser beams thrown in for that sci fi twist. Think of steampunk as a past that could have been if we had really invested in steam (minus all the smog and pollution).

Add to that the attire of Victorian England and America towards the end of the 19th century, throw in lots of brass, especially goggles, and you’re starting to get the picture.

If you need a frame of reference look no further than 1999’s overblown Will Smith spectacular, “Wild Wild West”. It’s all there and if you want to be clever about it had been there for much longer as the 90s film was based on a 60s TV show .

However, like Fred Durst and enormous trousers, steampunk came and went with a bang at the end of 90s. But unlike Fred, steampunk is making its way back to the big time. We’ve shaken off that Wicky Wicky shame and have seen relative successes within the genre with “Firefly”, “Hugo” and “Oz, the Great and the Powerful”.

Slots

Such is the popularity of the genre, one that will rise with the release of “Mortal Engines”, that slots developers have jumped on the steam train and are riding it to profit town (sorry). We are now going to take a look at a few of the better steampunk games that you can play.

Steamtower:

The aim of this game is to get yourself to the top of the giant steam tower. You work your way up to the top under billows of boiling hot steam that you are handed when you land certain wins. You play a top hatted, bushy tashed fella with a terrifying harpoon that you get to unleash on a dragon, the inclusion of which would have confused me if I hadn’t just dispensed my disbelief and embraced the steam. This game looks great and has some excellent features to keep you engaged as you play.

Play the game for here for free

Steampunk Heroes:

More of a solid effort than an excellent one, Steampunk Heroes has all the brass trappings you’d expect from a steampunk offering. The game looks good, but you could argue that the symbols are a little busy. The game has more in common with the trash and dieselpunk that was brought to us in the Mad Max series. However, it has steampunk in the title so it more than meets the brief.

Play the game for here for free

Golden Colts:

Play ‘N Go’s Golden Colts likes to mix a little bit of the undead into it’s Wild West theme. Strictly speaking, this isn’t a steampunk game, but it does hold enough similarities for us to get away with its inclusion and there is an episode of the 60s TV show called “The Night of the Undead” that spares us any guilty feelings. The game looks great and is filled with excellent features, making this well worth a look.

Play the game for here for free

Fortunium:

Fortunium the most steampunky looking game on our list. You’ve got steam; you’ve got saloons; you’ve got impressive facial hair, corsets and a whole pile of shiny brass. Add to that some airships and some laser guns and you will find yourself in steampunk heaven. There are some interesting features here to explore as well.

Play the game for here for free

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