Monday, July 14, 2008

RetroFuturism, SteamPunk, And All That Goodness

So recently I got to rewatched Gargoyles and scooped out this movie called Mutant Chronicles. And got a surprise - they both existed in a world that is called the "Retro Future."

Retro Futurism is a fantastic genre. You take a past age or decade and you place its spirit in technology or a future age. The result is flying ships decorated in mod; Sherlock Holmes looking characters riding on horseless chariots to solve crimes on a distant world; Mayans or Egyptians zooming around in awesome technology. The possibilities are endless when it comes to Retro Futurism and you can reinterpret any age and make a retro future with it.

You take take Retro Futurism in two directions. The first is is taking certain aspects, the soul, of an age and giving it futuristic technology during its time period or in a separate future (the far future after an apocalypse) or dimension. The next is speculative fiction produced during a time period. An example of the first would be something like say Porco Russo. Here you have circa 1940's air pirate. It is somewhat of an alternative history. The technology is not high or very futuristic, but it is taking the spirit of that age and putting a spin on it with the air pirates. Another, but better example would be say Vampire Hunter D. This takes sampling of the 1700's and it's styles during the age of enlightenment and mixes with some styles from the mid 1800's. Amid all of this you have iron machine horse, spaceships, and laser weapons. Very cool. An example of the second would be say Metropolis. Here you have the future as envision by people from the 1920's with robots and super cities. Another example would be 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea with its Captain Nemo and his submarine. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen plays off of this piece of fiction. Alan Moore takes speculative fiction from the late 1800's early 1900's and weaves it together to form a tale of famous literary characters who wield fantastic technologies not of their age.

Have I made this thoroughly confusing for you yet? lol. There are many genres of Retro Futurism. Let's take a look at a few:

SteamPunk/Foglight: This takes everything from the Age of steam engines and uses it to craft the future. H.G. Wells is a huge inspiration. You get a lot of early science fiction from this age that can be taken to inspire tales from modern writers as it did with Alan Moore.

1900 - early 1960's: You know, aliens on every planet; jet packs; bubble shaped space helmets this is everything before man actually went to the moon and developed more powerful probes and telescopes.

1900 - Now: Each decade is marked with a certain soul that is ripe territory for Retro Futurism. Let us look at the soul of our decade: Terrorism. This has shaped our decade in a monumental way. Cellular technology has expanded and gotten smaller and smaller (120 gig ipods); internet is growing bigger with blogs, while dot coms have died; space exploration and other technologies have leveled off; environment is in peril; and bioplague haunts our every corner. Right now is a very social time as the earth goes from turning outwards to inwards. We won't really feel the spirit of this age until ten to twenty years down the road.

Above I mentioned Gargoyles. This cartoon takes place during the early to mid 90's and has futuristic technology that meshes with the time. Side by side with great flying machines, robot battle suits, cyborgs, and cloned beasts and genetically spliced humans you have boom boxes, mullets, rat tails, 90's lingo, disks, and heavy computers. The show represents 90's retro futurism in its glory. But you can find examples of such throughout the 90's in many of its scifi offerings.

With Mutant Chronicles you have a steam/ironpunk lover's wet dream. In it you get future technologies and early 1900's circa WWI wrapped into a delish package. They even throw in trench warfare to wet our tongues. The style of wear, the ship design, the buildings, the workings of technology everything is wonderfully steampunk. The movie is pretty bad, but for its genre it is very appropriate and you can only appreciate the attention paid to making the film as true to steampunk as possible.

You can argue that given some time any scifi can be Retro Futuristic. This is true because we are only humans and can only envision the past and future with perspective to our place in time and society. Retro Futurism is based so much on where and when. If I were living in some other part of the world, my idea of a spirit of an age would be totally different from now. The whole genre could even fail in some areas. Then again, it is all up to the imagination of the fiction creator. Retro Futurism is very Western.

Here are a list of movies that are out right retro futurism:

Vampire Hunter D
Time Machine
League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
Escape From New York
The Day the Earth Stood Still
Back to the Future II
Star Gate (Egyptian space aliens)
Howl's Moving Castle
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow
Mutant Chronicles

Sigh ... I will expand this list as more flicks come to me because there are tons more out there which begs for attention. Best to explore and be aware that retro futurism is present in so many films. Also check out the wikipedia entry on this fun genre.

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