It’s hard when your first feature-length movie as a director becomes famous. Director Katsuhiro Ôtomo was known for having directed Akira, said by some to have ushered in modern anime. In 2004, Steamboy was released, which took Ôtomo over a decade to make.
The movie takes place in England back in 1866. The story focuses on Ray Steam, a boy who likes to invent things. Both his father (Dr. Eddie Steam) and grandfather (Dr. Lloyd Steam) are also inventors. Both work for a mysterious foundation. (Ray lives with his mother.) One day, Ray gets a package from his grandfather. The package contains a strange metal ball and the blueprints. Before he can wrap his head around it, two men knock on the door asking about it.
Lloyd Steam shows up right behind them, telling Ray to take the ball and blueprints and get as far away as possible. He doesn’t want the ball going back to the foundation. So Ray runs, eventually coming across the two men he’s supposed to give it to. Someone from the foundation is right behind him. Unfortunately, they get both Ray and the ball.
It was Lloyd Steam’s intention that the steam ball not be used for weapons, but Eddie Steam had a different idea. Eddie felt that the technology could be used to defend England. Ray is put in the middle, having to decide who is right.
I will say right off the bat that this movie is nothing like Akira. If you’ve seen Akira, you should come in to this movie not having any expectations. This isn’t to say that Steamboy is any better or worse. It’s just that when you look at a movie through the lens of a director’s previous work, it greatly affects what you see. If you’re expecting another Akira, you’ll be disappointed.
The movie does well on moral grounds, at least for the first half of the movie. Ray is presented with two philosophies. Lloyd is more idealistic in that he wants the technology used for the benefit of all mankind. Eddie is a little more war-minded, realizing that England has enemies. Something this powerful would aid the country greatly. The truth lies somewhere in the middle. It’s up to Ray to decide exactly where.
The problem with the morality aspect is that it’s only presented during the first half of the movie. During the second half, it becomes more of an action movie. Usually, when you have some moral issue presented to one character by several others, at least one of those characters undergoes some experience that affects how they think about the subject. Instead, Ray is simply charged with the task of getting out of harm’s way.
The only character that I really saw change at all was a character named Scarlett O’Hara. (So far as I know, there’s no relationship to the character in Gone With the Wind.) She starts out as a spoiled brat and eventually comes to realize that there’s a world around her and that other people weren’t necessarily put there to serve her. I started out not liking her very much. By the end, she had changed to the point where she wasn’t as bad.
The problem with the story is that the story tends to fall flat towards the end. Once I got out of the first half hour, it started to drag. By the second half, I was wondering if it was really going to last 126 minutes. This isn’t a good thing for a movie.
The one thing I liked was the animation. It looked like there was some parts that were drawn by hand, but most of it seemed to be animated by computer. I think for that alone, most people would be impressed. Still, you need a solid story to last the whole way through and I don’t think that the movie properly blended the issues with the action very well. If you can rent it through NetFlix or catch it on demand, go for it. Otherwise, don’t worry about it.
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Viewing Format: DVD