Dirigible Days Review
Thus begins the Steampunk-tinged web series Dirigible Days. For the uninitiated, Steampunk is a modern-day subculture that embraces the futuristic visions of such early science fiction writers as Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. Contemporary devices thus have a Nineteenth Century aesthetics to them within Steampunk culture, and clothing attire likewise resembles that of the past with tiny bits of the future added for good measure. While Dirigible Days exhibits the outward visuals of Steampunk, however, the narrative contained within the web series’ five episodes owes more to the works of George Lucas and Joss Whedon than Verne and Wells, creating a modern day myth out of the remnants of the past in the process.
For starters, the opening narration is recited by actor Anthony Daniels, who portrayed the protocol droid C3PO in Star Wars. Although Daniels’ classic English accent serves as the perfect introduction to the Steampunk-themed universe of Dirigible Days, it also hints that what follows shares similarities to the legendary saga created by George Lucas as well. Santiago Dunbar (James Bragado), for instance, is a Han Solo-like character who captains the dirigible S.S. Beatrix as opposed to the Millennium Falcon. Dunbar is joined by mute pilot Josie Devereaux (Julie Welhelm), whose quiet nature stands in direct contrast to the roars of Chewbacca. In the opening episode of Dirigible Days, the two of them—along with new engineer Hooper Jefferson (Jeff Gruhala)—are blackmailed by bounty hunter Antonio Cornell (Adam Goforth) into transporting a prisoner aboard the S.S. Beatrix named Salazar Strega.
Strega is in effect the Darth Vader of Dirigible Days. As opposed to the helmet-shaped breathing apparatus that keeps Vader alive, Salazar Strega is outfitted with a gas-mask and air tank that gives him overwhelming strength and invincibility. Just as Darth Vader was a Dark Lord of the Sith, meanwhile, Strega is High Priest of the Cult of Cthulu, a terrorist organization who believes that the Earth’s near collision with an asteroid was a sign for their religion to gain control over the remaining population. Strega is also just as merciless in the pursuit of his objectives as Darth Vader, removing the vocal ability of one of his followers as well as the left eye of another potential enemy. His presence aboard the S.S. Beatrix conjures memories for the dirigible’s tiny crew, while Strega’s eventual escape serves as the backbone of the narrative.
Although Dirigible Days shares similarities with Star Wars, its roots likewise extend to the short-lived Joss Whedon television creation Firefly and follow-up big screen motion picture Serenity. Captain Malcolm Reynolds of Firefly, after all, is a Han Solo-like character himself, taking illegal transport jobs in order to make a living on the outskirts of the intergalactic Alliance government. Firefly was also an amalgamation of genres, a science fiction creation that took place five hundred years in the future but in a world that felt like an Old Western. Although Dirigible Days takes place in the year 997 and Firefly in the year 2517, the outward appearances of these two seemingly dissimilar universes are actually very much alike.
In the first episode of Dirigible Days, for instance, Santiago Dunbar visits a local tavern in search of a new engineer, and the pub has the same ambiance as the tavern visited by Malcolm Reynolds at the beginning of the television episode “The Train Job.” Dunbar is initially unimpressed by Hooper Jefferson, meanwhile, until he hears the engineer’s detailed resume. The same could be said of both pilot Wash and engineer Kaylee on Serenity, both of whom ultimately excel at their jobs throughout the course of Firefly. Like Reynolds, Dunbar is also quick to forgive his crew for past digressions, believing in loyalty above all else and seeing the world in shades of grey as opposed to a clear cut black-and-white.
The narrative of Dirigible Days may not be as grandiose as Star Wars or as finely-textured as Firefly, but the web series is able to stand on its own despite any similarities to such vintage science fiction of the past. Star Wars itself was a modern update of ancient myths set “in a galaxy far, far away”—a galaxy that uses lightsabers as swords, features dashing rescues of damsels in distress and contains daring young men of questionable moral character serving as heroes. Firefly, meanwhile, envisions a future world that harkens back to the days of the Wild West, with a rag-tag group of space scavengers serving as protagonists.
Dirigible Days follows in similar footsteps, combining the narrative techniques of both George Lucas and Joss Whedon into a fictional alternative history that is filled with Steampunk aesthetics and sensibilities. The web series may never achieve the same status as Star Wars or Firefly, but Dirigible Days is a successful blending of genres nonetheless, and worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as such classic creations.
Anthony Letizia (January 21, 2013)