Top Five DieselPunk Movies

Recently we polled active members of The Pandora Society Facebook Group on their favorite DieselPunk movies, and here are the results for the top five . . .

5. Sucker Punch (2011)

sucker-punch-movie-poster-01Close your eyes. Open your mind. You will be unprepared. Sucker Punch is an epic action fantasy that takes us into the vivid imagination of a young girl whose dream world provides the ultimate escape from her darker reality. She has been locked away against her will, but Babydoll (Emily Browning) has not lost her will to survive.

Determined to fight for her freedom, she urges four other young girls to band together and try to escape their terrible fate at the hands of their captors. Led by Babydoll, the girls engage in fantastical warfare against everything from samurais to serpents, with a virtual arsenal at their disposal. Together, they must decide what they are willing to sacrifice in order to stay alive. But with the help of a Wise Man (Scott Glenn), their unbelievable journey-if they succeed-will set them free.

There have been many critics who have dismissed Sucker Punch because of its excessive eye candy that caters to male gamer fantasy . . . hot girls with guns fighting in what strongly resembles a video game. Rotten Tomatoes gives the film 23%, and Bruce Diones of the New Yorker said “The movie spins out of control, until it collapses in a heap, senseless.” There are many plot holes in this film that holds style above content, but many of the visuals sequences contain very well designed DieselPunk iconography.

4. City of Lost Children (1995)

City of Lost Children PosterKrank (Daniel Emilfork), who cannot dream, kidnaps young children to steal their dreams. One (Ron Perlman), a former whale hunter who is as strong as a horse, sets forth to search for Denree, his little brother who was kidnapped by Krank’s men. Helped by young Miette (Judith Vittet), he soon arrives in La Cite des Enfants Perdus (The City of Lost Children).

The film is co-directed by Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet, the latter also being responsible for DelicatessenAlien: Resurrection, Amélie, and other visually stunning films. City of Lost Children revolves around the mad scientist trope with Krank, but also the subplot of the “Cyclops” adds an anachronistic feel to the film, but it is the costuming and time period of the vehicles that appear in the movie that set it in the DieselPunk genre. Unlike typical DieselPunk pieces, the film contains no military iconography, but instead focuses on the carney like freaks that inhabit this dark world that seems to be perpetually nighttime.

American actor Ron Perlman gives at great French language performance as One, the supporting character to the real hero of the story, the girl Miette; later in A Very Long Engagement, Jeunet also succeeds in getting a great French language performance out of American actress Jody Foster.

3. Hellboy (2004)

HellBoy PosterIn the final days of World War II, the Nazis attempt to use black magic to aid their dying cause. The Allies raid the camp where the ceremony is taking place, but not before a demon – Hellboy – has already been conjured. Joining the Allied forces, Hellboy eventually grows to adulthood, serving the cause of good rather than evil.

Adapted from the comic book series and under the directorial helm of Guillermo del Toro, Ron Perlman also stars in the Pandora Society’s third favorite DieselPunk movie, as the title role of Hellboy. Although the main body of the story is set in contemporary times, Hellboy draws a lot of its visuals from the World War II era, where the story begins. Much like Raiders of the Lost Ark, the plot spawns from Adolf Hitler’s obsession with the occult and magical artifacts, but the villain of this film is Rasputin (Karel Roden). It is, however, the ghoulish clockwork SS Nazi Karl Ruprecht Kroenen (Ladislav Beran) who steals a lot of the show being both anachronistic and carrying the 1940’s Nazi iconography into the modern world.

2. The Rocketeer (1991)

220px-RocketeermovieposterStraight from the pages of a pulp comic from a past era, the Rocketeer recreates 1930’s Hollywood, complete with gangsters, Nazi spies, and the growth of the Age of Aviation. Young pilot Cliff Secord (Bill Campbell) stumbles on a top secret rocket-pack and with the help of his mechanic/mentor, Peevee (Alan Arkin), he attempts to save his girl (Jennifer Connelly) and stop the Nazis as The Rocketeer.

A common trope of DieselPunk is technologically advanced Nazis as the villains, something that is central to the plot of The Rocketeer. The film is a “remake” of the classic 1949 serial matinee King of the Rocket Men, which featured Rocket Man battling Nazis, gangsters, and alien invaders; The Rocketeer attempts to capture the nostalgia of that era of Hollywood cinema.

Fresh from his brief tenor as James Bond, Timothy Dalton plays the films villain in the debonair Neville Sinclair who is actually a Nazi spy (a spoiler that is given away by the trailer). In 1991, Dalton was essentially the only “big name” actor in the film, and many attribute the lack of notable actors for the movie’s lack of popularity despite making a $6 million profit at the box office. Although having three other films after Labyrinth, this film was the moment for many to witness that the womanly 21-year-old Jennifer Connelly was indeed no longer the girl who had fought goblins in 1986.

The film has a certain innocence to it that is mostly expressed by the Tom Sawyer like hero’s lack of cynicism; the film is a fun adventure in which there is a clear line that separates the good guys from the bad guys. This film has the most plausible plot setting of these five movies in that the universe of The Rocketeer does not fall into the “alternative history” camp, but instead has more the feel of “hidden history.”

1. Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004)

Sky Captain PosterScience fiction adventure set in the 1930s, New York City reporter Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow) starts to investigate why so many famous scientists are being reported missing. Soon, she gets clues, as strange flying machines and giant robots threaten the city. Luckily, her old flame, aviator Captain Joseph Sullivan aka Sky Captain (Jude Law), is there to battle the bad guys with the Flying Legion, in his Warhawk P-40. Now Polly must fly away with Sky Captain to Nepal to find a crazy scientist, Dr. Totenkopf (Laurence Olivier), who apparently wants to destroy the world!

The film, written and directed by Kerry Conran, began its life as six minute short film. Conran spent four years making a black and white teaser trailer with a bluescreen set up in his living room and using a Macintosh IIci personal computer. He was able to show it to producer Jon Avnet, who was so impressed that he spent two years working with the aspiring filmmaker on his screenplay. No major studio was interested in financing such an unusual film with a first-time director. Avnet convinced Aurelio De Laurentiis to finance Sky Captain without a distribution deal.

Sky Captain cost $70 million to make and lost about $12 million at the box office bringing debut director Kerry Conran’s career to grinding halt, but the film was a pioneer in film making techniques that are now commonly used by both Hollywood and independent film makers. The movie is notable as one of the first major films (along with the earlier spring releases of 2004’s Casshern and Immortal, and 2005’s Sin City) to be shot entirely on a “digital backlot“, blending live actors with computer-generated surroundings.

The presentation of Sky Captain is highly stylized in both its visuals and the performances of the cast. The film unabashedly draws upon cinematic styles of the 1930s serial dramas in shot composition, film noir lighting, and science fiction designs. Visually the movie is stunning, the plot line is steady and somewhat predictable invoking the mad scientist trope, but the common criticism of the film is the way that the stylized performances lend the film a certain lackluster energy, especially with Gwyneth Paltrow’s role as the archetypical investigative reporter.

Despite its undeserved failings, Sky Captain is a great example of DieselPunk and it comes as no surprise that it was the number one pick of the Pandora Society . . .

Unfortunately you can no longer join the resistance at www.skycaptain.com, but it will forward you to the latest movies by Paramount Studios.

Was your favorite DieselPunk film not on the list? If so, please leave a comment at the end of this page about your favorite DieselPunk film and maybe even a link to the trailer.

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