The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello
2005Director: Anthony Lucas
Cast: Joel Edgerton, Helmut Bakiatis
he lack of funding available for full length features in Australia may be a subject for much rueful debate but an unexpected bonus in recent years has been the proliferation of excellent short films, perhaps no bad thing considering the imaginative opportunities and vital experience such a medium provides. After all, a string of highly creative and popular shorts have successfully forged the careers of high-flying cultists Tim Burton, Spike Jonze, and Michel Gondry. In this respect Anthony Lucas is perhaps exhibiting a shrewdness sadly absent in many other overly-ambitious directors.
In twenty-six minutes Lucas stakes his claim as the new gun in town. Based around the largely neglected technique of 18th Century silhouette paper cutting, The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello is billed as ‘a steampunk journey into the heart of man.’ In the year 1276, the society of Gothia lives entirely in the air, landmasses float with no explanation and transport is composed of huge wrought-iron dirigibles, powered by steam and primitive computers. It is the thirteenth century as designed by Jules Verne, where noble men of science and career airmen exist to explore the boundaries of their realm and their own abilities. Jasper Morello is a navigator who bears the guilt of a crewman’s death on his hands, a one-degree error that almost cost him his career and his soul. His chance at redemption comes when he and the crew of his latest voyage are forced to abandon ship and transfer to a ghost vessel, the Hieronymous, found drifting in uncharted air. Whilst investigating the disappearance of her crew, Doctor Claude Belgon persuades the gruff Captain to explore a hidden island filled with horrors but also containing the secret cure to the Plague which riddles their society, and Jasper’s wife.
Verne’s well-documented reverence for Edgar Allen Poe is never more evident than in writer Mark Shirref’s menacing script. The iron airships defy physics, much as the Nautilus appeared to seamen in Verne’s books and the horror elements of the damned voyage are a direct nod to Poe’s sole full-length novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. Verne’s perennial theme of man’s imposition of science upon nature provides juicy pickings for Lucas and Shirref, with the eloquent Doctor Belgon proving to be a monster worse than what the crew find on the uncharted island. All of which is a refreshing wonder to behold, the greatest mystery being why no-one has delved so literally into this rich material before.
Unheralded Australian actor Joel Edgerton, who has appeared as fine support alongside big name colleagues Guy Pearce and Heath Ledger in major commercial films, as well as cameoing briefly as Uncle Owen in the latest Star Wars fiascos here provides the voice for Jasper Morello, a textured, polite, melancholic performance so completely in tune with the animation that we are left in no doubt as to how deeply committed he was to the character, showing what a difference a good actor can make to an animated feature.
The blend of animation techniques separated by over 200 years is startling and highly effective, lending Jasper Morello a unique, modern look, the cloudy monochrome spattered with occasional color reminiscent of Rumble Fish and Sin City (Mickey Rourke’s two finest performances?) alongside which it sits admirably. It is little wonder that the film has been so applauded at festivals across the globe, awarded best short animation at the Australian Film Institute awards and the Flickerfest International Short Film Festival this year.
This is the first in a mooted trilogy of Jasper Morello adventures, certain to cement the director’s reputation as a talent to be reckoned with, whilst sending Lucas himself on a journey into the dark heart of film-making. As is beautifully illustrated on the jaspermorello.com site, this complete world of an imaginary past is indeed a glimpse into a mouth-watering celluloid future.
By: Chris Flynn
Published on: 2005-12-15