Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective, Sherlock Holmes existed in a time that is rife with steampunk possibility, but the basis of the original Holmes stories is that Holmes investigated crimes that seemed supernatural or fantastical in origin and gave them perfectly plausible mundane resolutions. When the Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes movie came out, owing to its time period and gritty atmosphere, it of course got erroneously labeled steampunk. However, since there aren’t any actual supernatural elements and the only science fiction or anachronism is a minor element that does not truly affect the plot, it really doesn’t qualify. I have not yet seen the second one, but from what I hear the only possibility of steampunk is that some of the guns are slightly too early.
Essentially if stories based on Doyle’s Holmes are following canon, then they won’t be steampunk because there won’t be any actual science fiction/fantasy, supernatural or anachronistic elements in the plot. So are there any Holmes stories that are steampunk? When thinking about this I tried to remember if Young Sherlock Holmes had any of those elements. I sought out a copy and tried to rewatch it. I have to admit that my memory was a lot kinder to the film than it actually deserved. While the film is interesting and well cast, it suffered from some very heavy handed directing, abysmal CGI (even for its time) and an jarring soundtrack. It also does not have any of the requisite steampunk elements. As a side note, I think that it would be a great candidate for a remake.
Fear not however, there is at least one truly steampunk Sherlock Holmes movie out there. The other night I happened to record an interesting Sherlock Holmes film that my husband had been trying to find. It‘s called, obliquely enough, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. It was made by Asylum Films. It came out in 2009 at the same general time as the Ritchie Holmes film, so it went straight to video. It starts out feeling much like any other Holmes story, and even the reports of a giant octopus attack and a dinosaur killing seem like elements that Holmes could explain away. Even when Holmes and Watson get chased by the T Rex, there is still an anticipation of the usual Holmes plot mechanisms. It isn’t until the whole world gets turned on its head by a mechanical suit, a clockwork woman, a mechanical dragon and Holmes in a hot air balloon that you finally realize that this movie was completely mistitled. This is definitely NOT Doyles’ Holmes. It is a bit low budget, and the writing and acting are not great, but if you manage to keep watching until about an hour in, you will be rewarded with full on, over the top steampunk. I really wish that the film had more to recommend it in the beginning, but pacing and storytelling are not its best qualities. It is notable entirely for the fact that is unmistakably steampunk.
One new project that bears a look is Steampunk Holmes written by P.C. Martin. It’s a mash up of Holmes and many other literary works from that era. A series of interactive books are planned with stunning art by Daniel Cortes. The first one is Steampunk Holmes: Legacy of the Nautilus with a cover by John Coulthart.
The beloved sleuth is obviously of the right time frame for the genre and given the current penchant for mashups and remakes, there was little doubt that steampunk inspired Sherlock Holmes stories and films were due to appear. I suspect that I’ve missed a few that happened before now, and as the floodgates are opening, I am sure I will intentionally miss many that will happen hence. I do see a potential for some good stories, but Sturgeon’s law will out and a goodly portion of what is created won’t be good.