A Guest Post by Sara Reine

Good morning, children. I am ever so thrilled to be with you today. Please bring out your slates, because it’s time for our history lesson.

Despite being such a popular subculture that we could simply describe it as “culture,” steampunk remains distant enough from the mainstream that bringing uneducated minds current on the subject is a difficult task.

We may find the origins of the steampunk genre early in the 1800’s century with the fine works of Jules Verne, but many modern men are miscreants with no time for literature, and we must find some other point of reference in the genre to establish a platform for discussion.

Instead, we shall take a romp through cinematic history to find the origins of steampunk likely to be known by beslubbering, barely-literate rascals. Many ignorant of the genre may be surprised to find themselves to already be aficionados!

As we all should know, “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” marks the earliest appearance of steampunk in film. Although the term had yet been invented, all the beloved hallmarks of the genre were present: our hero and inventor, Caractacus Potts, spent much of the movie adorned by goggles; a vintage race car soars through the sky under its own power; and elaborate machinery is constructed to accomplish menial tasks.

Although “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” was poorly received by critics upon its release, it paved the way for modern steampunk films with even poorer reviews. “Wild Wild West,” despite featuring several of our generation’s finest actors, also included repeated jokes about parts of a woman’s anatomy that are best undiscussed in polite society, as well as a plot that could only be described as feeble on the best of days.

Of course, we do have “Wild Wild West” to thank for the marvelous steam-spider. Perhaps critics simply don’t have the maturity of taste to appreciate a steam-powered wheelchair and jokes about slavery.

Further proof that a compelling genre and excellent actors do not make for well-received movies is “Van Helsing,” which takes our beloved steampunk away from England or the American West into Transylvania. “Van Helsing” gave us an appropriately steampunk Frankenstein’s monster, as well as a good deal of anachronistically advanced technology, but alas, it could not provide a coherent storyline.

One must question whether a coherent storyline is truly necessary when Kate Beckinsale is given yet another opportunity to display her assets in snug leather and corsets– but I digress.

After film’s several fumbling attempts to capture the magic of steampunk (including “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,” which I prefer to scour from the annals of my memory), a filmmaker had to get it right at some point, and who better than Terry Gilliam? “The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus” captured the mystery and wonder of steampunk excellently with a clever storyline and the most star-studded cast of any of the aforementioned films.

All three people who saw the movie praised it as one of the best films of a steampunk sensibility to date, which says very little indeed.

We can also look forward to steampunk movies of the future such as “The Three Musketeers,” which include impressive (if inaccurate) technology and Milla Jovovich flaunting her… skill. Indeed, this is only the beginning of steampunk’s hopefully lengthy relationship with mainstream cinema!

The ignorant schoolchild with no time for 19th century French literature will surely recognize at least one of these motion pictures, and once we have educated him on the history of the genre, we can move forward– perhaps even to picking up “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” (although I hate to be too forward in suggesting one might take the time to read a book!).

SM Reine is the author of dark fantasy for adult and teen audiences. Her steampunk adventure novella, ‘The 19 Dragons,’ has been praised as ‘Gaiman-esque’ and ‘the best book of 2011.’ It can be purchased for only 99 cents on Kindle and Nook.