Steamboy - Katsuhiro Ôtomo - Review

Steamboy has only been released to a limited theater audience. We had to drive an hour, but we were there to see it on the big screen! It was interesting that even on a Saturday afternoon, the audience was 99% men over the age of 21.

To begin with, people looking for blood, gore, fast motorcycles and screams of "TETSUOOOOOOO!" were going to be disappointed. This movie is firmly set in Victorian England in 1866. It is a blend of animation and CGI, with soft humans and crisp, perfect gears. Bringing everything together is the steam - which is gorgeous in its animation.

The story is in essence about a young, precocious boy, his semi-mad father, and his anti-war grandfather. Any other female presences in this movie are either loving-but-clueless (mom and sister) or completely annoying (Scarlett). The boy of course learns valuable life lessons during the movie, and falls in love with Scarlett because she's beautiful even if she is cruel and selfish.

OK, enough complaining about the plot. Sit back and look at the graphics. The big machinery and gear movement is GORGEOUS, and the contraptions are fun to watch. The circle-bike that Ray escapes on in the beginning is really neat. The chase scenes really catch you up in the motion. When the big wheels and gears move, you really do get a sense of the massive energy and motion involved. There is a lot of Leonardo style artwork, from the flyers to the interlocking gears.

There is also a great contrast between those perfect, symmetrical gears and the soft, frail humans. In one scene, Scarlett even peers inside a metallic robot body and says in surprise, "Oh, there's a person in there!" - and the person is broken and dead. While the metal is shiny and new, the grandfather (voiced wonderfully by Patrick Stewart) is old, frail, and usually next to naked.

There are also many references to glass and vision. One great scene has the father focussing in on an object by using a series of lenses. It is a gorgeous piece of animation. In another scene, shards of falling glass offer reflections of the fear and confusion of the humans below.

In the end, humanity of course triumphs over destruction, and hopefully a valuable lesson has been learned by all. However, the movie clearly sets us up for a sequel, and the reminder that those who seek war rarely give up very easily.

Highly recommended!

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