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2022: The Year in Movies and TV

Saturday, December 31, 2022

When it comes to movies and TV series with steampunk appeal, 2022 was a decidedly mixed bag. The year saw its share of notable releases, including The Gilded Age on HBO and several from Netflix: 1899, Enola Holmes 2, and Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio, to name a few. But it was also a year of turmoil for some of the top streaming services, which have become major sources of steampunk-related entertainment.

What do we mean when we use terms like “steampunk appeal” or “steampunk related”? Occasionally you’ll find movies like The City of Lost Children and The League of Extraordinary Gentleman that clearly fall within the steampunk realm, but those are rare. Far more common are movies or shows that might not be “steampunk” in a strict sense, but incorporate elements likely to appeal to steampunk enthusiasts.

Front and center are fantasy, horror, or science fiction tales set in the 19th or early 20th centuries, or in alternate worlds that resemble those times. But often a straight period drama will catch the fancy of steampunk fans, especially if it features lavish costumes (The Gilded Age) or has an element of mystery (Enola Holmes 2).

With that in mind, here’s a look at the highlights – and lowlights – of the past year.

Stumbles in the Streaming World

The past few years have represented a sort of Golden Age among streaming services, including the launch of platforms like Disney+ and HBO Max, along with a huge increase in overall viewership during the Covid-19 pandemic. But now these services are facing new business challenges that have led to budget cutbacks, price hikes, and more reliance on advertising as an alternative to subscription revenue.

One major factor is the sheer proliferation of streaming services, forcing price-conscious consumers to be choosier with their subscription dollars.

Netflix logo

Netflix, the behemoth of the streaming world – and home to one of the largest libraries of steampunk-related programming – was among the first to signal this new reality. In April, the company reported that it had lost nearly 200,000 subscribers in the first quarter of the year, its first loss of customers in a decade.

The decline was tiny fraction of the service’s 221 million global subscribers, but Netflix also reported that it expected to lose even more customers in Q2. After years of spectacular growth, this was enough to cause a 35 percent drop in the company’s stock price.

Subscriber numbers eventually improved, but the company still made some dramatic changes. In November, Netflix launched an ad-supported subscription tier priced at just $6.99 per month in the U.S. It’s limited to 720p resolution and doesn’t include a handful of titles licensed from third parties, but it’s far cheaper than the $15.49-per-month ad-free Standard plan.

The company also announced an initiative to crack down on the common practice of households sharing passwords with users outside their homes.

Disney+ made a major move of its own in December when it launched an ad-supported subscription tier for $7.99 per month in the U.S., while raising the monthly price of the ad-free plan from $7.99 to $10.99.

HBO Bids Farewell to The Nevers

The changes at Netflix and Disney were small potatoes compared with what happened at Warner Bros. Discovery (WBD), the new parent company of HBO and HBO Max. WBD was formed earlier this year from the merger of WarnerMedia, previously an AT&T subsidiary, and Discovery, best known for documentaries and reality programming.

The new company is helmed largely by executives from Discovery, including CEO David Zaslav. In addition to HBO and Discovery-owned cable channels, its media properties include CNN, DC Entertainment, Turner Networks, and Warner Bros. film and TV studios.

Facing enormous debt brought on by the merger, Zaslav and his team have embarked on a controversial effort to cut more than $3 billion in costs. Those cuts fell heavily on HBO, the cable channel, and HBO Max, its sibling streaming service, which also offers titles from other WBD properties. Both services began cancelling productions, and HBO Max even removed some existing HBO content from its library.

The Nevers
Photo: HBO/Keith Bernstein

The bad news for steampunk fans came in December, when HBO cancelled The Nevers, the sci-fi series set in Victorian-era London. Even worse, HBO Max pulled the series from its streaming library along with Westworld, which was cancelled after four seasons. Also gone is the HBO Max original series Raised By Wolves and HBO’s The Time Traveler’s Wife.

HBO and HBO Max aired six episodes of The Nevers in 2021, representing the first half of Season One. The season’s remaining episodes have been completed but now they won’t appear on either service. WBD said it plans to license The Nevers, Westworld, Raised By Wolves, and other series to free ad-supported streaming services, but it’s not clear when this will happen or which services will carry the shows.

HBO Max is still home to a large content library, including Game of Thrones, House of the Dragon, Lovecraft Country, and Watchmen. Notable titles for steampunk fans include Carnivale, The Gilded Age, and His Dark Materials. The third and final season of the latter series, based on the Philip Pullman novels, premiered Dec. 5.

In the U.S., HBO Max is also the exclusive home of the Studio Ghibli library of animated films. But it’s one of the pricier streaming services, at $9.99 per month with ads or $14.99 per month without ads in the U.S.

WBD has announced plans to merge HBO Max with its Discovery+ streaming service next year, likely with a price hike. Discovery+ consists primarily of documentaries, docuseries, and reality programming, including shows from Discovery-owned cable channels.

Fellowes Goes to The Gilded Age

The Gilded Age
Photo: Alison Cohen Rosa/HBO

One series spared the axe at HBO was The Gilded Age, a new period drama from Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes. Set in 1880s New York City, it tells the story of conflict between two wealthy families, one from the city’s old elite and the other representing the nouveau riche.

The ensemble cast includes Christine Baranski, Cynthia Nixon, Carrie Coon, Morgan Spector, Denée Benton, and Louisa Jacobson. Most characters are fictional, but the series features some real historical figures, including newspaper publisher Timothy Thomas Fortune, heiress and socialite Carrie Astor Wilson, architect Stanford White, and American Red Cross founder Clara Barton.

The series received largely positive reviews, and though it contains no fantasy elements, it became a favorite among many steampunk fans. It’s been renewed for a second season slated to premiere in 2023.

Fellowes also found time to write the screenplay for Downton Abbey: A New Era, the second movie sequel to the beloved TV series. Once again, it portrays the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants, but moves the timeline ahead to 1928.

The story takes some of the Crawleys and their entourage to the South of France, where the Dowager Countess has inherited a villa under mysterious circumstances. Meanwhile, a director wants to make a “moving picture” at Downton. The movie is now streaming on Amazon’s Prime Video.

Adventures of a “Gentleman Pirate”

Our Flag Means Death
Rhys Darby in Our Flag Means Death. Photo courtesy of HBO Max.

Another highlight for HBO Max was Our Flag Means Death, a comedy loosely based on the life of aristocrat-turned-buccaneer Stede Bonnet (1689-1718). The series has been described as both a pirate comedy and as a workplace comedy that happens to take place aboard a pirate ship.

The series, an HBO Max Original, stars New Zealand actor/comedian Rhys Darby as “Gentleman Pirate” Bonnet. It was created by David Jenkins, best known for the TBS sci-fi comedy series People of Earth, but also bears the mark of Taika Waititi, who co-stars as Blackbeard and serves as an executive producer and director.

The series was well received by critics and has been renewed for a second season.

Netflix Scores with New Releases

Despite its troubles on the business side, Netflix once again offered an impressive slate of steampunk-friendly programming, including a pair of movies – Enola Holmes 2 and Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio – plus several series.

In Enola Holmes 2, Millie Bobby Brown returned as Sherlock Holmes’ crime-solving younger sister, this time in search of a missing girl. This leads her to a larger conspiracy based on a real historical event. The cast also features Henry Cavill as Sherlock, Helena Bonham Carter as matriarch Eudoria Holmes, and David Thewlis as Grail, a police superintendent.

Netflix releases
Images courtesy of Netflix

Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is a stop-motion animated musical fantasy loosely based on the classic children’s tale. In the director’s retelling, the story is set in Italy prior to World War II and is far darker than the classic 1940 Disney adaptation. The voice cast features child actor Gregory Mann in the title role along with David Bradley, Ewan McGregor, Christoph Waltz, Tilda Swinton, Ron Perlman, Cate Blanchett, Burn Gorman, John Turturro, and Tim Blake Nelson.

The film has received almost universal praise, plus a slew of film critics’ awards and nominations, including Golden Globe nominations for Best Animated Feature Film, Best Original Score, and Best Original Song.

That stands in contrast to another Pinocchio adaptation released in 2022, this one on Disney+. The new live-action remake starred Tom Hanks as Geppetto and was directed by Robert Zemeckis, best known for Forrest Gump and the Back to the Future trilogy. But it scored poorly with critics despite the impressive pedigree.

del Toro was also the guiding force behind Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities, a Netflix Original horror anthology series consisting of eight episodes. They include two episodes based on stories by del Toro, two based on stories by H.P. Lovecraft (“Pickman’s Model” and “The Dreams in the Witch House”), and one based on Henry Kuttner’s “The Graveyard Rats.”

Other highlights from Netflix this year:

1899 – This mind-bending mystery/horror/sci-fi series is set aboard an ocean liner carrying European migrants to New York. Strange happenings ensue after the crew discovers another migrant ship adrift in the ocean. The series was created by Baran bo Odar and Jantje Friese, the German writer/producers best known for the critically acclaimed sci-fi thriller Dark.

Update: Odar and Friese revealed on Jan. 2 that Netflix has cancelled the series. The news came despite positive reviews and what appeared to be solid audience numbers on the streaming service.

Disenchantment – Netflix released Part 4 of the animated series from Matt Groening, which is set primarily in the medieval fantasy world of Dreamland. But once again, protagonist Princess Bean deals with intrigue involving the steampunk city-state known as Steamland.

The Sandman – This new live-action series was adapted from the bestselling comic books by Neil Gaiman, who serves as an executive producer and writer. Combining contemporary and historical elements, it stars Tom Sturridge as Morpheus, the Dream King, who returns to his kingdom of dreams after decades of captivity by a British aristocrat. It’s received mostly positive reviews and has been renewed for a second season.

Wednesday – Jenna Ortega had a breakthrough role as a teenage Wednesday Addams in this Addams Family spinoff. It follows her adventures as a student at Nevermore Academy in New England, a school for outcasts with special abilities. Tim Burton directed half of the eight episodes in addition to serving as an executive producer. The series premiered in November and has become one of the streamer’s biggest hits.

Fullmetal Alchemist: The Revenge of Scar and Fullmetal Alchemist: The Final Alchemy – These live-action movies, released in August and September respectively, are follow-ups to the 2017 Fullmetal Alchemist feature film. Produced in Japan, the films were adapted from the popular steampunk-infused manga and anime series.

New Home for Steampunk Anime

Big news for anime fans came in March when Funimation Global Group announced that it would merge its subscription streaming services, including Funimation and Crunchyroll, into a single offering under the Crunchyroll brand. The company, a Sony subsidiary, acquired Crunchyroll from WarnerMedia in 2021.

Crunchyroll has a streaming library of more than 1000 anime titles, including these steampunk-related series: The Case Study of Vanitas, Code: Realize − Guardian of Rebirth, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress, Kino’s Journey, and Trigun. It’s available as a premium ad-free subscription service with a free ad-supported version.

Other Notable Releases

Strange World – Disney’s animated film draws much of its inspiration from old-time sci-fi movies and pulp magazines, as well as the Jules Verne classic Journey to the Center of the Earth. Set in a mysterious fantasy world, it tells the story of a family of adventurers who go on an underground journey to save an unusual energy source.

The voice cast includes Jake Gyllenhaal, Dennis Quaid, Lucy Liu, and Alan Tudyk.

Released in theaters on Nov. 23, the film received mostly positive reviews but scored poorly at the box office. It’s now streaming on Disney+.

Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore – The third entry in the Fantastic Beasts series takes place in the early 1930s as a young Albus Dumbledore recruits a team of witches and wizards—plus one muggle—to foil the plans of dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald for world domination. The cast features Jude Law as Dumbledore, Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander, and Mads Mikkelsen as Grindelwald.

The film received mixed reviews, but generally scored better than its predecessor, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.

The Essex Serpent – This six-part series on Apple TV+ stars Claire Daines as a widow from Victorian-era London who investigates reports of a mythical creature in a seaside village. There, she forms an unlikely bond with a local vicar portrayed by Tom Hiddleston. The series was adapted from Sarah Perry’s bestselling novel.

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power – This Prime Video original series is set in the Second Age of Middle-earth, thousands of years before the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Amazon plans five seasons, the first of which began streaming in September. It’s reportedly the most expensive TV production of all time. Reviews of the first season have been mostly positive.

New Doctor(s) in the House

At least on screen, this was a relatively quiet year for Doctor Who, as the BBC aired three specials featuring 13th Doctor Jodie Whittaker, but not a full series. However, changes are afoot as Scottish actor Ncuti Gatwa is set to become the 15th Doctor. He’ll first appear in a November 2023 special, followed by the 14th series in 2024.

The BBC announced the casting of Gatwa in May. His arrival coincides with the return of Russell T. Davies as showrunner, replacing Chris Chibnall. Davies led the revival of the series in 2005.

So what about the 14th Doctor? That would be a spoiler for anyone who missed “The Power of the Doctor,” the third 2022 special.

When the show returns next year, it will have a new home in many countries, as the BBC and Disney revealed that future episodes will air exclusively on Disney+ outside the UK and Ireland.

Looking Ahead

Along with the year’s film and TV releases came news of future productions that should interest steampunk fans.

Twentieth Century Studios, now owned by Disney, is planning a reboot of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. The original comic book series by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill is considered a steampunk classic, but a 2003 film adaptation starring Sean Connery was panned by critics and drew swipes from the two creators. The new adaptation is slated for Hulu, the U.S. streaming service co-owned by Disney.

And Netflix plans to produce a live-action movie based on BioShock, the popular video game franchise. The original game, released in 2007, is a first-person shooter set in a large underwater dystopian city built in the 1940s. It spawned two sequels, BioShock 2 and BioShock Infinite. All three have steampunk elements, but BioShock Infinite is set in 1912 and is widely regarded as one of the all-time best steampunk games.

There’s no word yet on casting or release dates for either production. Meanwhile, production continues on Nautilus, a forthcoming Disney+ series that tells the origin story of Captain Nemo from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. It began filming in February in Queensland, Australia with Shazad Latif in the lead role.

This story was updated to reflect the cancellation of 1899.

More year in review coverage: The Year in Pictures | Board Games and RPGs | Books and Comics | Kickstarters | Music | Video Games

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