From Katsuhiro Otomo, the director of the acclaimed AKIRA, comes STEAMBOY, one of the most visually gratifying animes ever produced. Where most Japanese animates films of this ilk look towards the future, STEAMBOY draws its inspiration from the past, creating the type of science fiction film one would associate with the works of Jules Verne or H.G. Wells. Set in Victorian England, STEAMBOY focuses on three generations of inventors in a single family and the different scientific philosophies the drive them apart. At the center of the story is the youngest family member, James Ray Steam, who carries on the family legacy of harnessing the power of steam began by his grandfather Lloyd and continued by his father Eddie.
The arrival of a package from his long absent grandfather draws Ray into the philosophical battle between his father and grandfather as they grapple with the proper applications for the awesome power of a new form of steam discovered by the two generations of scientists. Where Dr. Lloyd Steam wants to use the new pure form of steam for the benefit of mankind, his son Eddie only sees the military applications for this type of sheer power, which will only benefit the munitions company that funded their research. All of this debate comes to a devastating climax in London at The Great Exhibition, when futuristic steam driven war machines are unleashed upon London; thus turning a demonstration of power into a small war between the munitions company and the British government. The vocal talent on the English dubbed version of STEAMBOY includes Anna Paquin, Alfred Molina and Patrick Stewart.
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has made STEAMBOY available on DVD in a 1.85:1 widescreen presentation that has been enhanced for playback on 16:9 displays. STEAMBOY is an impressive sight to behold with its mixture of traditional cell and 3D animated styles. There is a the sooty gloom of the industrial revolution and Charles Dickens that overshadows the world in which these characters inhabit; so much of STEAMBOY is neither bright nor colorful looking. Still, the presentation renders with excellent detail, which allows one to marvel at the film’s underlying beauty. Colors are generally understated, but there are vibrant moments scattered about. Blacks are accurate, whites appear clean and contrast is quite nice. There are occasional blemishes on the film elements and some mild grain here there. Digital compression artifacts are never bothersome.
Although purists will cringe, I found it too disconcerting to watch a film set in a Victorian England, where everyone spoke Japanese, so I chose to view STEAMBOY with its English dubbed Dolby Digital soundtrack. Considering how potent and well mixed this track is, the language of the dialogue must be the only thing that separates this track from its Japanese 5.1 channel counterpart. STEAMBOY is one of those DVDs that is certain to give one’s home theater system a genuine workout, as the sound design brings to life all of the outlying channels, starting with the film’s opening moments and it doesn’t let up until STEAMBOY is finished unspooling. Fidelity is outstanding for the musical component and sound effect, while the bass channel is full, deep and authoritative. The English dialogue is warmly recorded and fully understandable. French, Spanish and Portuguese language tracks are also encoded onto the DVD, as are English, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles.
Animation and sound serve to enhance the DVD's interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a nice complement of supplements. Re-Voicing Steamboy is an eighteen-minute program featuring the English-speaking cast talking about their experiences working on the film. Interview with Katsuhiro Otomo runs five minutes and is self-explanatory. Multi-Screen Landscape Study runs nineteen minutes and gives one an inkling into the process of creating the film’s complex animation. The Adventure Continues is the film’s three-minute end credit sequence, minus the actual credits, which depicts future exploits for the characters through a series of slightly animated stills. Animation Onion Skins offers one a four-minute look at the various stages of animation. Production Drawings is a five-minute exploration of some of the film’s key artwork. Closing out the supplements is a series of previews for theatrical and video release from Sony Pictures. The Limited Edition Collector’s Gift Set for STEAMBOY also includes 10 Steamboy Collectible Postcards, a Twenty-Two Page Manga and a One Hundred Sixty-Six Page Booklet containing character designs, mecha designs, and selected storyboard sequences.
While the film does have some minor weaknesses, I found myself thoroughly enjoying the visual splendor and concepts of STEAMBOY. Sony’s DVD looks and sounds incredible, making it a worthwhile addition to any anime or animation library. Recommended.
Note: the STEAMBOY Collector’s Gift Set retails for $49.95, while the widescreen movie only edition DVD is $26.95.
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