The Mysterious Geographical Adventures of Jasper Morello

English Title: The Mysterious Geographical Adventures of Jasper Morello

Country of Origin: Australia

Director: Anthony Lucas

Producer(s): Julia Lucas, Anthony Lucas

Screenplay: Mark Shirrefs

Editor: David Tait

Runtime: 26 minutes

Genre: Science fiction, Short

Starring/Cast: Joel Edgerton, Tommy Dysart, Jude Beaumont, Helmut Bakaitis

Year: 2005

Volume: Australasian

Jasper Morello is an aerial navigator in a world of steam powered airships and mechanical computers, but he lives in disgrace after a terrible accident caused by an error in judgement. A terrible plague is ravaging his city, Gothia, and Morello's wife becomes infected.

On a mission to distribute weather beacons, Morello's airship, the Resolution, is wrecked in a collision with an abandoned airship, the Hieronymous. The crew is able to take over the Hieronymous, but when one of the crew is discovered to have the plague, the captain decides to head home. It is now that they discover a levitating island. On this island the crew of the airship discovers a species of creature that lures people in to traps in order to drain their blood.

Morello is very nearly killed by one of the creatures, but another of the crew arrives just in time and shoots it dead. The crew feast on the body, then discover that the cooked flesh has the power to cure the plague. Pupal young of the creatures are taken aboard the airship. Only one of the pupae survives, but it hatches and thrives.

On a nightmare voyage back to civilization, Morello discovers that the ship's scientist, Dr Belgon, is feeding the crew to the growing creature. With everyone else dead, Belgon dies in a struggle with Morello. The navigator is now left with the prospect of feeding his own blood to the creature in order to get it back to his country, so that he can stop the plague and save his wife.

While there have been plenty of Australian Academy Award nominees (and even a few winners) for their contributions to science fiction and fantasy films, The Mysterious Geographical Adventures of Jasper Morello was the first - and so far only - such film to receive a nomination in its own right. In terms of plot, this is effectively a feature length film presented in less than half an hour. In addition, an astonishing depth of characterisation is achieved, and an entire world is also displayed.
There is a definite feeling of the Victorian Gothic revival about this film. The dark and shadowy silhouette animation suggests the same brooding gloom of such nineteenth century works as Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Dracula and Frankenstein. This impression is reinforced by the mechanistic technology, floating architecture, and pervasive iron lace and gears. The iron airship technology parallels that of the oceangoing nineteenth century steamships. This is a world where islands defy gravity as easily as the unlikely airships, yet it is not hard to suspend disbelief and accept this.
The central theme concerns the value of human life. The vampire-creatures need to be nourished with blood, and on the voyage home there is only human blood available. Thus some must be sacrificed if many are to live. For Dr Belgon there is no moral conflict, and the crewmen are no more than feedstock as far as he is concerned.
Morello by contrast has the role of everyman: he has a stronger sense of morality, but this makes his dilemma more intense. Saving people is clearly good. Sacrificing people is clearly bad. Sacrificing some people to save others is a very difficult call. Oddly enough, by the end of the film Jasper is in a much more clear cut position. He is the only survivor in the ship, so he only has to decide whether or not to sacrifice himself. His blood can keep the vampire-creature alive long enough to save his wife and many others.
In our own society we are witnessing the beginnings of a parallel situation. Factory workers are exposed to toxins in order to produce consumer goods more cheaply. Not good, but we generally buy the goods and try not to think why they are so cheap. Pharmaceuticals are priced out of the reach of some so that others may have a higher return on investment. The temptation to buy shares in the pharmaceutical company is strong. You donate a kidney so that your child may live. That is a personal decision. You need a liver transplant and a black market liver is available. Did someone die so that you may live?
Like Dark City (Alex Proyas, 1998), The Mysterious Geographical Adventures of Jasper Morello is a stunning but isolated achievement in Australian cinema. The talent to make many more such films exists. As yet, the backing does not.

Author of this review: Sean McMullen