by Donald Melanson
| Steamboy was one of the most anticipated anime
films in recent memory it was, after all, the first feature
film by Katsuhiro Otomo since his legendary Akira (1988).
But as with many other wildly anticipated follow-ups, it's nearly
impossible to live up to everyone's expectations, and Steamboy
is a bit of a letdown when compared to Otomo's previous work.
But if you can forget that movie for a minute (I know, not an
easy thing), Steamboy is still quite a good film, although
one with its fair share of faults.
In a marked departure from Otomo's prior work, Steamboy
is set in Victorian England and centers on a young boy, Ray,
who's father and grandfather have made significant advances in
steam technology (and also happened to be named "Steam") and are
now at odds over how the technology should be used intrigue
and adventure ensue.
The animation, as you'd expect, is superb, creating a rich
and detailed world that Jules Verne would be proud of. Unfortunately,
it's the narrative and the characters where the film falls short.
This is the same complaint many critics had with the hacked-up
theatrical release I can't comment on that version since
I haven't seen it, but judging from the complete director's cut
on this DVD, it appears the film has some deeper problems than
simply bad editing.
The broad strokes are there, with the conflict over the course
of technological progress embodied in Ray's father and grandfather,
but the plot seems to serve more as an excuse for big action sequences
than for examining big ideas.
Sony Pictures has released Steamboy on DVD in a couple
of different versions, including a regular single
disc release, a deluxe
gift set, and as a double
feature with the wonderful anime Memories. Unless you're
big on collectable sets, the last one is definitely the way to
Memories is a collection of three shorts based on stories
by Katsuhiro Otomo including "Magnetic Rose" directed by Koji
Morimoto, "Stink Bomb" directed by Tensai Okamura, and "Cannon
Fodder" directed by Otomo himself. Of the three, "Magnetic Rose"
is far and away my favorite, a thoughtful work of science fiction
in the tradition of Solaris and 2001.
The Steamboy DVD itself is the same in all
three editions, with a nice looking transfer and both English
and Japanese language tracks in 5.1 DD surround. Compared to most
dubs, the English track is actually pretty decent, featuring performances
by Anna Paquin, Alfred Molina and Patrick Stewart. It also feautres
quite a bit more dialogue than the subtitles, and the British
accents do fit the setting, although anime purists will likely
want to stick with the original audio. Extras are otherwise a
bit lightweight, with a featurette on "re-voicing Steamboy",
an interview with Otomo, and various features showcasing the film's
artwork and animation.
Melanson is the editor-in-chief of Mindjack and a freelance
writer for hire.
In addition to Mindjack, his work has appeared in The
Globe & Mail, Engadget,
and MovieMaker Magazine.