Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Steampunk Backgrounds: Dinotopia


The city of Chandara

Turning on the television on Saturday evening, I happened upon the middle of the Dinotopia mini-series on the Sci Fi network. I had seen parts with younger members of my family, but never seriously watched it in any manner. Much to my surprise, it was "chock full" of Steampunk type influences.
The city of Bilgewater, constructed from the hulks of shipwrecks

The first realization of Steampunk in the series was the frequent use of Art Nouveau designs in the architectural design, from stain-glass doors, to small furniture details. Next, a good number of mechanical devises for practical purposes exist – not essential to the story line, but they do articulate a certain common usage that would easily fit in the genre. Some examples of this technology are brass pedometers so large dinosaurs can gage how much they traveled, a "speaking amplifier" in the shape of a huge sea shell, and a "clockwork" map that shows the continents flowing apart when a crank is turned.
A mechanical submersible, in the shape of a metallic sea creature

Similarities to the classic Steampunk genres (in my opinion) are:
1) Use of an alternate source of power (usually its steam in Steampunk, but in Dinotopia, they use "sunstones", a type of mineral that provide power. It seems to be focused in a Heliograph-type way for the residents of the city).
2) A multitude of mechanical devices (as previously mentioned).
3) An odd social juxtaposition (e.g. sentient dinosaurs living with humans isolated from the rest of humanity).
4) "Balloon Airships" for travel (in addition to dinosaurs, I assume – have to have airships).
Exploring the seas in the submersible

Although there are numerous issues with the mini-series (e.g. mediocre acting, Hollywood-ized aging [things that are made to look old, but frankly don’t look old]), and the fact that the series was made for children (e.g. plot complexity or character development does not appear to be a concern of the director), it is still an enjoyable experience to watch.
The "Palace in the Clouds" (with a nice airship!)

The beautifully illustrated Dinotopia book series consists of:
Dinotopia – A Land Apart from Time: This first book provides the basis of the series
Dinotopia – The World Beneath: Subterranean exploration of the land
Dinotopia – First Flight: A plot with dinosaurs and an old empire (haven’t read this one yet)
Dinotopia – Journey to Chandra: A trip to the ancient empire of Chandra (published in 2007)
The journals of Dinotopia

Also, ABC made the aformentioned mini-series about Dinotopia. It isn’t bad, and probably a good way to impress young minds about the fun and enjoyable virtues of Steampunk (/me rubs hands together evilly)…
More dinos and humans

And the artist who penned the series’ blog:
http://gurneyjourney.blogspot.com/

On a final note, the series has won numerous award for its creativeness, but one recommendation about it stand out to me, by one of the greatest science fiction authors…

"Dinotopia is pure magic — and also a work of great wisdom. It gives a renewed respect for the most magnificent and successful creatures who ever lived on planet Earth." —Arthur C. Clarke
The "Saurian Steps"

3 comments:

Sara said...

This is a wonderful find, indeed.

Dr. Rafael Fabre said...

tyvm, Miss Sara

katarinanavane said...

Please tell me that your first exposure to dinotopia wasn't the miniseries! Do yourself a favour, Read the books! They're fantastic, and far more steamy than the series. They take place in the right era, for starters, and the second book has lifesize clockwork/steam powered dinosaur robots.
*read them a lot as a kid*