Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Vamp or Not? The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello


This short, Oscar nominated, animation was recently on BBC 4. It is available on DVD, but only in Australia and New Zealand as a standalone. That said it is in a compilation DVD (or two) in the US. Regular reader Crabstix mailed me and suggested it was ideal for a ‘Vamp or Not?’ To be honest I vacillated between that or an Honourable Mention. I decided eventually on ‘Vamp or Not?’ as, whether intentional or not, it does do something interesting with the genre. I do not normally give a spoiler warning with ‘Vamp or Not?’ articles as, by their nature, they are rich with spoilers – in this case the animation is so wondrous that I will warn you that spoilers aplenty lie ahead.

The first thing to say about this is steampunk – full out Vernian world presentation. It is also a beautifully presented animation using silhouette techniques and muted colouring schemes with brightness only really appearing in respect of disease and blood. It is my understanding that this short is to be the first of a series, and more power to the producers.

In the city of Gothia, the navigator Jasper Morello (Joel Edgerton) has not flown for three months following an error of one degree that led to the death of a crew member on his last airship. He receives a letter containing an embarkation order – he has been pardoned. Unfortunately the ship he is to report too is the Resolution, skippered by Captain Griswald (Tommy Dysart) – the captain on his fateful voyage.

plague victimThe ship is to place communication beacons on a new trade route that has been opened and Jasper must leave behind his wife, Amelia (Jude Beaumont) who is a nurse in the city. The city has a plague epidemic, wonderfully portrayed in the animation. Also on board is Doctor Claude Belgon (Helmut Bakaitis) who is studying the airmen as they rarely catch the plague – perhaps something to do with altitude gives them immunity.

The HieronymusAt first the voyage proceeds without hitch and whilst Griswald obviously does not like or trust Morello, Jasper finds that he has struck a friendship with Belgon and they have much in common. Then a tempest hits and, blind, they crash into another, larger ship – the Hieronymus. The crash, to Morello, means the end of his career and this is symbolically shown as he drops his compass when they abandon ship.

The crew of the Hieronymus are missing, but investigation finds skulls in the refrigerator unit – along with Piscean carcases (kind of like flying fish type creatures). Morello discovers that they were fishing in uncharted air and Belgon wishes to investigate. Griswald is against it until money is offered. As Morello has lost his compass he must navigate by dead reckoning. He tries to turn the ship around when he discovers that Amelia has the plague but Belgon sedates him.

floating islandEventually they come across a floating island, but not before Morello proves his worth as a navigator or before a crew member becomes ill with the plague himself. They take a landing craft over to the island which, because of volcanic activity, is rich with life. Morello hears a sound in the air and wonders, as he is drawn to it, whether they have found the mythological island of the sirens. He sees a bird but, as he approaches, we see that it is a lure from a large insectoid creature that attacks him.

shooting the beastDespite Belgon’s warnings about needing a live sample, the creature is shot and killed and its carcass is then used as a feast. Morello gives a thin broth of the creature’s blood to the sick crewman, who is miraculously healed. They have found a plague cure. Belgon insists that they find six hatchling pods to take back to Gothia.

feeding the hatchlingUnknown to the crew they begin to hatch. Morello catches the Doctor with the last one as all others died. He accidentally found that the creature can subsist on blood and is feeding it from his wrist. When members of the crew begin to vanish Morello realises that the Doctor cares more for his discovery than he does for their safety. Yet the creature holds the answer to saving Amelia’s life.

blood transfusionOkay this is a natural (in the Morello universe) creature and looks insect like. It does seem to have some natural abilities to draw victims to it – using the song and lure – but these seem naturally developed. The big vampire tell is that it can subsist on blood – to the point that a transfusion system is set up for it. In some respects I was reminded of Queen of Blood. That we class as vampire, but ‘?’ in the film is humanoid and whilst she can lure, she uses hypnosis and not more natural methods.

eating fleshIt must also be said that the creature also eats the flesh of its food. Now the vampire myths do have flesh eating variants – it is true – but over all it is the stealing of precious fluids and/or life energy that seem to be the mainstay. Somehow the eating of the crew member turned me away from declaring vamp and not towards it.

I said this does something interesting with the genre, and it does. I mentioned in the review of Nosferatu the Vampyre that the vampire, traditionally, is often seen to be a plague carrier. In this case the creature is a plague cure. Was this a deliberate switch around or accidental? I tend towards accidental but it is interesting none-the-less.

landing craftIf this could be classed as vampire it would be right on the edge, and to be honest I don’t think that the filmmakers had vampires in mind when they made the short. All in all I would veer towards not – hence considering an Honourable Mention – but it is genre interesting. More than that, it is a fantastic animation that I’d urge all to try to see.

The film has a homepage here.

The imdb page is here.

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