Steamboy: A story of family and ethics that keeps you engaged.

Apr 22, 2008 (Updated Jun 15, 2009)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Beautiful, great pacing, entertaining

Cons:Not appropriate for small children.

The Bottom Line: A great movie for older children and fans of anime.


This is a movie by the famed Katsuhiro Otomo, who is highly acclaimed for his masterpiece called Akira. This is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing in that people know who you are, a curse in that it will be nearly impossible to live up to that movie. This is one of those latter cases in which I have read many reviews where people have blasted this movie because it did not live up to Akira. But not one of those looked at this movie as just a good animated movie and compared it to other anime. That ticked me off a little because I think this is a really good movie worthy of being on my top ten list.

The story is well written. You follow a boy name Ray Steam. Yes his last name is steam and the movie is all about steam powered devices, go figure. It is in England and most of the movie takes place at the 1866 London World Exposition. Without giving key bits of the story away, lets just say that Ray’s father and grandfather (Dr. Eddie Steam and Dr. Lloyd Steam respectively) discovered a new way to capture steam and everyone wants in on the action. Eddie and Lloyd have taken opposing viewpoints and it is up to Eddie to decide who is morally right. What the “correct” decision is. The morality of science.

The movie takes place in another universe, this did not and could not happen in our time line. So with that in mind, you can consider this a sci-fi movie even though it happened in the past. Katsuhiro Otomo has a lot of fun coming up with some of the devices seen in the movie, including some flying devices run on steam. Ya I know it’s impossible but I did say they found a new way to harvest steam. You just have to see the movie and pretend to be a kid again.

The pacing is good. It starts out introducing you with the conflict of the father and son and as well as the back story. This immediately draws you into the movie and leaves you wanting more. From there you go to Manchester and are on another whirlwind of adventure with another member of the Steam family, and it just does not stop. I love movies like this. There is constantly something going one. Either another piece of the story, character building, or some darn good action sequences.
You could argue that there is a slow part in one of the exhibitions but I disagree, I find that part beautiful, captivating, and necessary for building up 2 of the main characters. Others have said that the end is rather boring, I also disagree with that statement.

The character building is not perfect but better than average. I think if he did add more character building it would have slowed down the film too much so I am fine with where it is at. Ray’s character is developed the most, in fact Ray’s character also grows in the story too because he needs to answer the moral question poised by his father and grandfather. The character building of Eddie and Lloyd is descent with Lloyd getting the most. But you never quite know which one of these guys is sane, or if either is.
Scarlett’s development was subtle yet fascinating. She is the heiress to the foundation, and money, the paid for all of the research that Eddie and Lloyd conducted. She can be looked on as a symbol of America (rich and clueless, or at least that is how some countries view us.) Most of her development was subtle and cleverly shaded.

The animation is absolutely breath taking. You almost believe that this is a real world, not an animated feature. Like in Akira, you see the immenseness of London. The scale and detail is just incredible.
The animation was aided with computer graphics but you probably won’t notice it. One of the things that the computer allowed the animators to do is have the camera move around in a 3D environment just like a real camera man would in a live action film.

The English voice acting is pretty good. For the most part I’m pleased with it. Anna Paquin (Rogue in X-Men) played the voice of Ray steam, the boy and main character of the story. I had no idea it was her until I watch the featurette on the DVD. She played the voice with emotion, curiosity, energy, and passion; the character really came alive through her.

Alfred Molina played the father, Eddie Steam. He did ok on the part but was the least impressive of the three main male characters. He has a great voice and it has power, but I just did not think he stretch himself enough.

Patrick Stewart (Capt. Picard) has done several anime voice acting jobs to date and has done a wonderful job with each one. This movie is no exception. He really makes the emotions and passion of Dr. Lloyd Steam come out. You really feel for him and I think that is mostly due to the voice.

With all of the English voice acting, the mouth movements (for the most part) matched up with the voices in the English voice actors. If you weren’t watching closely enough you wouldn’t be able to tell that it was originally in Japanese.

For those of you that are purists, there is the Japanese 5.1 also with English subtitles on the DVD.

The criticism
I’ve heard some people really criticized this movie and I really wasn’t sure why. Well I did a little bit a looking around and I have a couple of ideas. First, there are two versions of this movie. One release is the directors cut, and another that was dubbed and released in U.S. theatres. The latter was shortened quite a bit and apparently edited down quite a bit. Not sure who’s idea that was but it certainly was a bad one. The greatest criticism (I think) came from people that saw this shortened version.

The second group of people complained that the 3rd act was just full of action. And yes they are partially right, there is a lot of action. But included in that is watching our hero save the day. Some people called it boring or pointless, I completely disagree. I found that the action sequences were exciting and fun to watch. They were drawn beautifully, captivating, and makes you wish you were the boy in the story. I love action films and this one delivered in my opinion.

The third act also had a message through its action. It basically talked about the horrors of war, greed, and power. This message came across best through action, not words. In fact I cannot see how Mr. Otomo could have gotten this message across any other way. To take away the third act takes away part of the soul of this movie.

Does it live up to Akira?
No, fraid not. Whatever you do, please do not hold this to the same standard. But do hold this to the standard of other anime out there, it definitely holds its own.
Akira is in its own category and it will be some time until another of its caliber comes out.

Is this acceptable for children?
Mature children. It is rated PG-13. There is quite a few animated deaths. I have a 6 and 4 year old and I haven't shown it to them as of this posting due to the graphic violence and the number of deaths (seen and implied).

Should you buy it?
I think so if you're an anime fan. It is definitely worth renting no matter what type of movie fan you are.

Ratings
Yahoo users: C+
Yahoo’s list of critics: B-
Keep in mind that there are two versions.

The Key Players
Director: Katsuhiro Otomo
Screen play: Sadayuki Murai, Katsuhiro Otomo
Music: Steve Jablonsky

Rating: PG-13

DVD Extras
Featurettes
-Featurette about the English voice over
-Interview with Katsuhiro Otomo
Animation onion skins- Show how the traditional and CG animations work together
Production drawings

Summary
A fun, action driven Anime, with a message. Gorgeous visuals, great voice acting, and plenty of action. One of my top ten anime.

Other reviews.
My 10 favorite anime movies
Akira
My 50 favorite movies reviewed


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