City of Lost Children (Movie Review)

left: French (original) version, right: English (extra-crispy) version.

Who’s in it that I’d recognize?

City of Lost Children is written and directed by Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet of previous hit “Delicatessen” and upcoming release “Micmacs.” Actor Ron Perlman (that guy who narrates Fallout, and did a few other things…) Actor Dominique Pinon (the French version of Ron Perlman, apparently.) Everyone else is someone you’ve probably never seen before and probably will never see again, unless you watch a lot of obscure French films and TV shows.

What’s it about?

Krank is a mad scientist, afflicted with an inability to dream, which is making him age faster than normal. While attempting to cure this with science, he developed a machine capable of placing him within the dreams of children. Unfortunately, the dream always turns into a nightmare, and he shares in the terror of the child.

"I dreamt the director was UWE BOLL!!!"

Krank’s test subjects are children kidnapped by the dreaded Cyclops Gang, a cult that has each replaced their eyes with a techno-monocle called “The Third Eye” that lets them see sound.

The premium channels were extra.

Krank is assisted by a Fellini-esque combination of an evil female midget, a disembodied brain, and a half-dozen dimwitted narcoleptic clones.

Worst. Birthday. Ever.

When the little brother of a Circus Strongman named One is abducted, One seeks him out, but is abducted by Miette, a little girl who leads the local thieves guild, and the two of them team up with an amnesiac diver to visit The City of Lost Children, an abandoned oil rig serving as Krank’s fortress/laboratory. Along the way, they are chased by demented circus folk.


How Steampunk is it?

Absolute Steampunk. Whether intentional or not, from start to finish, the movie never breaks genre. Its dark, dystopian alternate world is both strange and familiar. It’s a past that’s not the past, a future that’s not the future. From the huge overly intricate devices, the (presumably) German mad scientist, the bubbling vats of chemicals, the Victorian materials, the early French 1900’s style of dress, the techno-goggles and monocles, to copper and brass dive suit, everything about the movie seamlessly blends one aspect of Steampunk into another. If you have never been exposed to Steampunk before, and want a movie that will give a solid sampling of the genre, this is the one to watch. City of Lost Children is to Steampunk what Akira is to Anime, what Seven Samurai is to Samurai movies, what Shane is to Westerns, what Casablanca is to Romances, and what Star Wars (4-6) are to Space Operas. It is THE quintessential Steampunk film.

And these things do what, exactly?

But is it any good?

As with any movie, it depends upon your tastes. If you enjoy out there, oddball movies, like the sort that Terry Gilliam or David Lynch make, then you will love it. It’s French, artistic, and weird, which will often be the case with Steampunk movies. Both the Active and Passive visual effects are stunning, at times disturbing, and constantly engulfing you with Sensawunda. There are too many jaw-dropping scenes in the movie to count. The humor is oftentimes subtle and French, which might make the jokes a bit more inaccessible to the more low-brow crowd. The acting is, unfortunately, of the same wooden caliber that plagues most French films, but do not let that dissuade you from watching it. This is not a film where you expect Michael Caine and Dame Judi Dench to quote Shakespeare, it is a film for the visual rollercoaster it takes you on. At the end of the film you will fall into one of two categories: you either get it and immediately want to watch it again to see what you missed the first time around, or you don’t get it and wonder what the hell just happened.

Here’s the trailer. It should give you an idea of what you’re in for.

Is it safe for kids?

This one is a tough call. It technically has an “R” Rating, but keep in mind this is by the incredibly inconsistent standards of 1985. It has mild violence, and some sexually suggestive scenes, but these days would probably only score a PG-13 rating at worst, or possibly even PG. The movie doesn’t even contain anything you couldn’t find on network television before 8pm on a weekday. That said, there are some images that may be very disturbing to a child, but again, it depends on the child. Some may just think it was awesome. Think “Nickelodeon Yes — Nick Jr. No.” For best results, do what any good parent would do in these circumstances: watch the entire movie first, then judge for yourself if it is appropriate for your child to see.

Introducing our newest tool, the Steam-O-Meter!

All told, this film gets a well-deserved 280 out of 300 on the Steam-O-Meter. Despite the fact it is the quintessential Steampunk Film, it fails to achieve perfection on account of the occasionally wooden acting. Otherwise, “Full Steam Ahead!”


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