29 May 2005 | dbborroughs
A mostly wonderful animated film that pushes the bounds of what can be done on film
This is a review of the English subtitled version of the film and not the English dubbed version A boys own adventure as our young hero fights to keep a steam ball out of the hands of evil corporate profiteers. Set in and around London in the late 1880's this is quite simply one of the most amazing animated films ever made. Odds are you have never seen anything like it on this scale.
As Otomo Katsuhiro pushed the field of animation with his Akira some twenty years ago, he does it again with Steamboy his long in production masterpiece. This is a film so rich and detailed you simply can not truly believe that anyone would have taken the time to do the animation. This is a film to shame most animators working in the field who keep things simple. Nothing is simple here as we get grand battle scenes in London, chases through the English country side, and huge clockwork machines that are mind boggling in their visual complexity. It has to be seen to believed.
The characters here all arc. No one is as they seem at first or second except perhaps for our hero, Roy, who tries desperately to do the right thing with the scientific marvels his father and grandfather have given him but instead finds no one is wholly good nor evil. There is a complexity to everyone that is uncommon for most animation, both Japanese and American.Its refreshing to see that we are given real people to root for and to hiss. What happens to them may move you to tears, it did me.
The film is constructed in essentially two half's. The first is a rollicking adventure as Roy is thrust int the fight against the aforementioned evil corporation, which, like the characters is not as clearly evil as first seems. It his here that there are several set pieces that are some of the finest things I've ever seen on film, in particular the initial chase by the bad guys to get the steam ball. It starts in Roys home, which is trashed and then continues on steam powered vehicles across the countryside before ending up intersecting with a speeding train. Spielberg could learn a great deal for the next Indiana Jones movie. This first half is near perfect in execution.
The second half of the film is a giant set piece that begins as a small scale fight during the London Exhibition and quickly expands into a full scale war in London. Its is here that the film falters, not because its bad, rather because its not fully clear whats happening. Its as if Otomo set in motion this huge machine and didn't know how to control it. I knew over all what was going on in the big picture but I was lost as to the details. This is a damaging flaw to the film that destroys many people ability to enjoy the film. If you can let yourself go and let the film wash over you then you will be more likely to truly appreciate this film for what it is- grand story telling on a huge scale.
I can't recommend this film enough. Certainly one of the best animated films ever made, I'm sure it will be near the top of my best films of the year.
Lastly Stay through the credits. If its not readily apparent the pictures under the credits take the story well past the ending of the film and show you quite clearly what happens to everyone we've come to know. One can only hope that we will one day be treated with the story those pictures tell.