6 Essential Dieselpunk Movies

Hopping on the list bandwagon. There doesn’t seem to actually be that many people out there doing much of this stuff; it seems to be all Steampunk these days. So here’s my favourite movies in the setting of Steampunk’s grittier younger brother, Dieselpunk.

The Book of Eli – Post Apocalyptic Dystopia – check. Mafia lord ruling over the general populace – check. Ok, so the story is a bit simple, and the theme hits you over the head with a monkey wrench, but when they rolled that Gatling gun out of the back of the truck, the little girl that went to air shows with her dad that lives inside me went *squee!!!*

Waterworld – Post Apocalytic Dystopia- check. Mafia lord ruling over the general populace – check. Kind of a classic, despite the Kevin Kostner detractors. Complete with distopically rusty jetskis.

Final Fantasy Advent Children – Ok, granted, to really properly appreciate this movie, you have to have played the game, or you’d probably have no clue what’s up with the random girl in the pink dress. Or who the bad guys are at all, or why the main bad guy turns into a different guy in the end. But if you *have* played the game, you get to point at the screen and say “OMG, Bahamut’s doing Mega-flare!”

Indiana Jones – I’m my father’s daughter. I cut my teeth on these movies as soon as I was old enough to stay up long enough to watch the grown-up movie my dad would rent for after the cartoon movie. Indiana Jones is just awesome and requires no justification. Fourth movie notwithstanding. Though, I don’t have a problem with the Indiana Jones had a kid bit, especially since they got the old actress. After all, the third one brought in his father, and that was great. The monkey scene was a bit much though. But it’s got all the tech level of dieselpunk, and the dustiness, without having to be post apocalyptic.

Sucker Punch – Sureal sort of a movie – some people have tried to say that it’s about female empowerment, but it’s really not at all. People try to say that about any movie that has girls looking hot and carrying around assault rifles and katanas. It’s not about female empowerment at all, it’s about the tragedy of how women are sexualized and cast off and forced to sacrifice themselves for the sake of those around them when things get hard. How women are expected to be everything and how they can fight so hard, and get so little in return in the end, and they’re supposed to be satisfied with martyrdom. But there’s steam powered zombie nazis, and that was cool.

Tank Girl – Post Apocalytic Dystopia- check. Mafia lord ruling over the general populace – check. And come on. Girl with attitude + Tank = awesome. Not sure about the kangaroo guys, but we’ll run with it. But – tank? Come on, how can you go wrong? Re-watched this recently, and it’s way more over the top than I remember (I don’t remember the cabaret number at all!) Warning though, contains alcohol abuse. (They run out of ammo and have to load up cans of beer into the main gun.)

By the way, I’m classifying Sky Captain and the world of tomorrow as very much non-essential Dieselpunk, because, quite frankly, it sucked. I cannot describe my disappointment in that movie. The main character was set up to be this awesome guy that the world revolves and depends on, but I saw no compelling reason that should be so. And there was no plot. Unless you consider evil scientist out to destroy the world, a plot. Do you consider that a plot? I don’t. It’s a premise. Not a plot.

That one aside, anyone else have any movies I missed?

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Steampunk vs Dieselpunk

Dieselpunk

Full disclosure: The reason I thought to write this is one of the search terms that brings the most random traffic to my site is “Steampunk vs Dieselpunk”. So apparently there is an audience for such a post.

Short version: Steampunk is Victorian/Edwardian level tech with mainly steam powered engines, and Deiselpunk is allowed to have internal combustion. You don’t use Victorian slang, you use WWI/WWII slang. “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” is Steampunk, “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow” (terrible movie that it is, don’t watch it) is Dieselpunk. “The Book of Eli” is Post Apocalyptic Dieselpunk.

That’s really all it is. But from there, you extrapolate what effect that tech level has on your society. At that point, war is mechanized, you’re looking at WWI and WWII level tech, with planes, tanks and machine guns. And machines guns were one of the reasons the first great war was so frelling bloody. People have more ways of killing larger numbers of people faster than ever had before, and this tends to mean that Dieselpunk is less often about discovery and invention, and more often about social struggle.

Also, the tech in Steampunk is more often a new thing, or if not new, something wonderous that few people have access to, while in Dieselpunk, the tech is frequently ever-present, and the average person is likely to have ridden on some form of mass transit at some point in their lives. The technology is no longer new, and mass production increases accessibility. You have trams and subways, trains, and other public transportation. You can have cars and motorcycles, and snowmobiles, and jetskis (“Waterworld”) if you want. The horse has been, or is in the process of being replaced in all but the most, shall we say, traditional communities.

That last one’s pretty huge. The horse has been around as transportation for a long time, and that shift is a major turning point in history.

Post Apocalyptic stuff is often Dieselpunk, and I can tell you why it usually ends up Dieselpunk and not Steampunk. It’s because why would we get thrown back to steam level tech, if we had internal combustion? If there’s a loss of tech, it’s likely to go back to the last level where the average person had access to the technology and could do routine maintenance on it, and find someone who can fix it if it breaks down. Computers, it’s completely plausible that computers wouldn’t make it far into a Post Apocalyptic world. That processor – if it burns out – and they burn out eventually, and not infrequently either – the average person can’t fix it, and can’t produce a replacement without sophisticated equipment.

Here, I’m defining sophisticated as anything that the average person has no understanding of, and no picture of what it looks like or how it works. I have a mental picture of a monkey wrench, and an idea of how it’s used. I’ve seen a car jacked up to replace the brake pads – that’s not that complex, and looking at the actual brake mechanism, it makes sense. I do technical support for computers, so I have a general idea of what most computer parts look like – I’ve replaced parts in my computers and my husband’s, and done it myself, without having to take it in to a computer surgeon. But I could not have created the replacement, or, in the case of a broken part as opposed to an upgrade, I could not have repaired the part, or found anyone locally who could.

And I think that’s part of the fascination with Dieselpunk. The technology level is assumed to be around that last level where you can take your vehicle in to a local shop to have it fixed, and not need to have parts shipped in from someplace else in the world where they make new parts. Granted, sometimes these days we do still have to have parts shipped in for our cars, but that’s because we’re moving away from that local based ability to maintain our technology. I had the opportunity to talk to S. M. Sterling at Keycon, a few years ago, and he said the best places to find information on how to build things, is the encyclopedias from those years, because, unlike the encyclopedias these days, they had full instructions on how to build anything you wanted.

That’s all I can think of right now, though. I hope this is helpful to those googling “Steampunk vs Dieselpunk.”