Sunday, December 29, 2013

Prodigal Son: Inspirational Films for Space 1889

                                                                    Part Twenty One

    I’ve been thinking a lot about various roleplaying games recently, particularly about cinematic inspiration in relation to games.  I’ve already written a few articles about this, tackling player character groups, as well as specifically Call of Cthulhu and Ars Magica.  I thought this time I’d branch out a bit and do a slightly more obscure game, but one I like the setting for quite a bit.  This time around, I’m going to look at ten inspirational movies for the game Space 1889, a ground breaking early example of what would become Steampunk.

10.  Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959):  An excellent cast of characters goes on a wild adventure into the heart of our own world, discovering strange secrets, hints of ancient civilizations, weird pre-historic creatures, and dangers undreamed.  Victorian morality, self-motivated adventure, and hints of deeper history make this an especially charming tale.  (See also; At the Earth’s Core).

9.  The Jungle Book (1994):  British Colonialism meets native life in this classic tale of West meets East in India.  This film could be translated almost directly to one of the canal cities of Mars.  The British officers, their relationships with the locals, even the plot would all work.  In many ways, though the weather is different, Mars is the India of Space 1889.  (See also; Gunga-din).

8.  The Time Machine:  The Victorians were all about exploring and inventing.  In this tale of an inventor who rockets himself into the future, we see the perils of war and the potentials of Darwin’s dangerous idea.  The Time Traveler is a perfect character for Space 1889, even if he can’t get that particular machine to work (and goodness, what if he could).  (See also; The Golden Compass).

7.  The Prestige:  The darker side of invention and the wild showmanship that really came into its own during this time.  Mad science, mysticism, and the obsessions of driven men.  Plus, Tesla.  Thomas Edison plays a large role in Space 1889, but what if Tesla was luckier or craftier?  What if Tesla and Edison became epic and powerful rivals?  What would Tesla be doing in space?  (See also; The Illusionist).

6.  Sherlock Holmes (2009):  This more earthy, grimy rendition of Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic mad genius is my favorite cinematic version, and just behind the Jeremy Brett TV version for all time favorite.  Here we see the world of the late 1800s in all its dingy, ugly glory.  Fast paced adventure that recaptures the pulpy aspect of Doyle’s work that has generally been lost in previous film versions, and excellent renditions of the various characters make for a very charming whole.  The Holmes-Watson relationship is one of the best, most honest friendships I’ve seen on screen, and the fact that Watson’s fiancé isn’t  relegated to nagging harpy was a pleasant surprise.  She’s got all the pluck (if not the screentime) of a good heroine.  (See also; The Wolfman [2010]).

5.  20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954):  This action packed adaptation of the Verne novel features an excellent cast and amazing production design.  Once again, the issues presented could translate either directly to Earthly seas of Space 1889, or with very little work, into some area of the solar system.  Captain Nemo might be a disenfranchised native of Mars who flies an advanced ship through the either, blasting other ships in a protest against England’s continued expansion of influence.  (See also; Atlantis The Lost Kingdom).

4.  John Carter:  Though it fails to capture much more than the barest fraction of the magic of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ novels, this film still visualizes some of the things that were obviously influences on Space 1889, including the Barsoom air ships.  Mars itself has a lot of the right look and feel, if you just put more fins and bat features on the Red Men, they’d make pretty good Martians.  The deep history implied in the film captures some of that ambiance, too.  (See also; First Men in the Moon).

3.  The Ghost and the Darkness:  Life on the frontier, building outposts of civilization can be difficult and dangerous.  It takes people with a lot of nerve and maybe too little smarts.  Capturing some of the societal situations of the day, this historically inspired yarn of killer lions also cranks up the mystery and horror.  (See also; The Mountains of the Moon).

2.  The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello:  A creepy animated story of plague and lost love, this film feels more like the tales told by children in the slums than an actual Space 1889 story.  But don’t those tales usually have a grain of truth in them?  A very creepy and dreamy film.  (See also; City of Ember).

1.  The Man Who Would be King:  Daniel and Peachy are fantastic Space 1889 characters; men ready to take on the world, looking to make their fortune, and just about mad enough to pull it off.  A beautiful epic of two mad bastards putting their mark on a mysterious land.  (See also; She).

    There have also been a few TV shows over the years that capture at least something of the spirit of the game.  The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne was deeply, deeply flawed, but did have some cool elements.  The Adventures of Brisco County Jr., as well as the original Wild, Wild West give the American West a steampunk vibe that works pretty well with Space 1889.  The Amazing Screw-On Head was the pilot for what could have been a great show.  And the Sherlock Holmes TV series starring Jeremy Brett is quite excellent.


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