Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Steamboy (2004)

In an alternate steampunk history of 1866, James Steam’s father and grandfather have developed a device called a “steam ball”. It contains high-pressure, high density pure water, and is capable of delivering power at a rate unrivalled by any other power source, and there are quite a few people out to use the steam ball for their own nefarious ends. The activities concerning the steamball take place in the lead-up to London’s Science Fair of 1866.

Steamboy is an animated feature, and the animation itself is stunning. It’s apparently quite technically-advanced for an animated movie, but I’m not experienced enough to comment. All I can say is that it appears that quite a lot of effort has went into every single part of this movie – the characters, the machinery, the backgrounds (quite definitely the backgrounds). I know that I say that the animation is excellent for every Japanese animated film that I have reviewed on here, but the simple sketches by American animators cannot compare to the detail and artistry displayed by Japanese animation so far. Perhaps it is because only the best-selling anime gets an English translation, but I can still appreciate the difference in the skill between the two styles.

The plot itself is not overly complex. It’s a contest between two different parties whom want the steam ball for their own uses, and the personal progression of James, who learns something of the world during the film. There’s an extremely interesting debate on the ethics, proper use and direction of science and scientific research, and plenty of good steampunk-based technology. I wish I could discuss what I liked (particularly the major steampunk creation of focus of the movie), but I don’t want to be the one that spoils the movie for those whom haven’t watched it. Considered in a less high-brow manner, there’s the huge steampunk creation that I don’t want to ruin for those whom haven’t seen it yet, and quite a variety of action scenes, including a huge battle that manages to destroy half of London, the Tower Bridge, and the massive glass building of the Science Fair. Nice.

There are a few niggles with the movie that I could point out. I didn’t really like the heiress Scarlett. She acts far too dim-witted and helpless for my liking. Yes, it’s the 19th century, and women were taught to behave in such a deplorable manner, but I still don’t have to like seeing it in a movie. Although the end of the movie addressed what happens as a result of the revelation of the steampunk-based inventions, and attempts to extrapolate the future from this, I didn’t think that the ending of the movie was explicit enough about the fate of Scarlett or James. There are some minor coincidences and inconsistencies that I will ignore. But all of those aspects are trivial complaints, and quite easily glossed over considering how much I enjoyed the rest of the movie.

“Steamboy” is an excellent animated movie. Actually, it’s an excellent movie, regardless of the fact that it is animated or not – don’t think I am making any allowances on the method used to create the movie at all. There’s quite a lot of action, some great ideas on the developments of steampunk technology, and an excellent debate on the morality of scientific research here. I highly recommended “Steamboy”. 5/5.

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