What is Steam-Punk?-Book Of Eli Movie Review

April 1, 2010

artwork author unknown

Despite my resistance to seeing religiously themed movies and documentaries concerning social change I loosened the purse strings and went in with the Hughes brothers latest Book of Eli.  I reasoned that if I didn’t like the story I would be down for some senseless killings on the big screen!  Aside from loving the surprisingly tangible plotline I loved the style of the film as well.  I went in expecting it would be an updated version of the wasteland flics we were fascinated by in the latter part of the last century so to speak.  The story and look of Eli got me thinking about the steampunk genre there has been so much rumble about recently.

Although the setting of Eli is defineltly post-apocalypse(as there is an aftermath in the beginning of the film), it seems to fall into this category we so lovingly toss around called steampunk.  The almighty wiki defines steampunk as a story which is defined by a conflict which has elements from the Victorian era where steam power is still the major means of powering objects.  Not an exact quote but you get the idea   However, that definition is obsolete by cinematic standards since the industry has released so little material matching that criteria.  Eli tests the limits of this definition absolutely, preferring modern fashion over Elizabethan or Victorian, and casts it’s characters into meager means.  The Earth still has a sense of unity and historical resilience and is not visibly tribalized.(see externally shoulderpads for more wasteland info).

artwork author unknown

Taken literally, the words “steam” and “punk” combined describe Eli more or less.  Perhaps this is the first truly steam-punk film. Nonetheless, we know this is not the case.  Other films such as the Rocketeer, or the Postman, would certainly qualify as steampunk films.  Even Sky Captain of Tomorrow seems to have been intentionally hand crafted to suit the tastes of the hungry steamers.  The relevant aspects of the genre extracted from it’s true literary format  seem to be a retelling, revamping, or re-imagined version of some historic event in an environment that seems archaic in comparison to the concerns of the characters.  The story my be futurism trapped in the past, or a decidedly retrofitted society living in future times.  In either case, past or future, there always seems to be a familiar disagreement which can be  traced back to classic human error; slavery, facism, religion ect.

What impressed me about Eli was the fact that it’s use of visual real estate was judicious.  Most of the time the better part of the screen was competely white or black.  Like a peice of paper with characters drawn onto the page.  The characters were realistic with motives evolved from the way we live today.  Steampunk in film, although at times fills our eyes with the wonders of the technologically outdated mode, abandons pious roots, asking only heroism in the face of familiar adversity.  Eli quickly sheds the stigma of the wasteland genre and lets the action of the characters lay the foundation for what might someday truly become steampunk.


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