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Sony Pictures Home Entertainment presents
Steamboy: Collector's Gift Set (2004)

"From risk comes progress!"
- Dr. Loyd Steam (Patrick Stewart)

Review By: Jeff Wilson  
Published: August 04, 2005

Stars: Anne Suzuki, Katsuo Nakamura, Masane Tsukayama, Kiyoshi Kodama, Anna Paquin, Patrick Stewart, Alfred Molina
Director: Katsuhiro Otomo

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for action violence
Run Time: 02:06:36
Release Date: July 26, 2005
UPC: 043396114067
Genre: animation

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A BB+A- A-

DVD Review

The burden of expectations can be cruel, especially in creative fields like film. I imagine Katsuhiro Otomo felt some of that after he made the iconic 1989 anime feature Akira, based on his manga of the same name. How do you compete with that, a film that even helped open the U.S. to anime? In Otomo's case you do just about anything except produce a new film; Otomo spent the years since Akira producing, writing, and overseeing other films, but not helming a feature of his own, until Steamboy, a project that has taken the best part of a decade to reach theaters, due in part to financing problems. Needless to say, the film failed to live up to the hype, but then how could it? While Steamboy isn't anything especially new in terms of story, it is an exciting, entertaining experience.

Set in an alternate 19th century, the film is chockablock with extraordinary gadgets and intricately detailed machines of all kinds. Gears are constantly turning, literally. Science marches forward, and scientists like the men of the Steam family lead the way. The eldest, Loyd (voiced by Patrick Stewart in the English dub), and his son Eddie (Alfred Molina), have collaborated on a massive project for the O'Hara Foundation, a shadowy American group. The two men, who hail from Manchester, England, see their project explode in their faces, literally, as the movie starts. Loyd sends one of the vital components, a pressurized steam ball, back home, where his teenage grandson, Ray (Anna Paquin), a budding inventor himself, fights to keep it out of the hands of those who would turn it to evil uses.

Otomo wastes little time with set-up, as the chase for the steam ball is on almost immediately, with possession of the precious technology bouncing between parties during the course of the film. The O'Hara Foundation talk up the glories of science, but their interest in the Steam family's work relates mainly to how it can be turned to use in their lines of weaponry. On the other side is Great Britain, which fears falling behind in the international arms race, and wants the steam ball to power their own weapons of war. Left in the middle is Ray, who must decide between helping his father, who wants to see his project through to completion, the British Empire, which claims to only want to protect its people, and his grandfather, who advocates an idealistic approach to science and its applications.

The film features several thrilling set pieces, including the initial chase between Ray and O'Hara operatives, the O'Hara demonstration of their wares on an unsuspecting British police force, and the final, mammoth orgy of destruction when Eddie carries the project to fruition. In the theater, I found the final sequence almost too long; here, in the film's full length Japanese cut, it didn't seem any longer, and I did enjoy it more. That's not to say some judicious editing wouldn't have helped things here and there. This DVD edition, as I said, presents the Japanese cut, which runs 126 minutes, as opposed to the 106 minute American release.

The story beggars belief in some respects; that the O'Hara Foundation would be powerful enough, or foolish enough to bring in foreign military representatives and demonstrate their technology by attacking British forces is ludicrous, and the central concept of the "steam castle" has logistical problems that aren't explained. Otomo makes it clear that neither governments or corporations should be trusted, and the portrayals of both sides are extremely cynical, though I sympathized with his viewpoint. Make sure you watch through the end credits, as the story is continued through still shots showing the characters' actions after the movie ends.

While I normally take a hardline purist stance toward English dubs of anime (i.e. I loathe them), in this case I make an exception. Given that the film is set in England, English voices seem much more normal to listen to than Japanese. The English cast do a fine job, with the main three of Stewart, Molina, and Paquin all quite good. But, if you like, the Japanese track is also available here.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: This release really should have had two discs, as Sony crammed a ton of material on just one. As it stands, the film looks pretty good; the drab earth tones of mid-19th century England don't lend themselves to a naturally gorgeous picture, and that's generally the case here. There are several scenes in low light, and these often look a bit too grainy. It's not terrible, but for a film of such recent vintage, I was expecting something more impressive.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0French, Spanish, Portugueseyes
Dolby Digital
Japanese, Englishyes

Audio Transfer Review: I watched the disc with the English Dolby 5.1 dub, and spot sampled the Japanese 5.1 track. Both sounded fine, with the English track exhibiting nice use of the surrounds. Sony also threw in French, Spanish and Portuguese Dolby 2.0 tracks.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish. Portuguese
8 Other Trailer(s) featuring Final Fantasy VII, The Cave, Metropolis, Astro Boy, Cyborg 009, D.E.B.S., Memories, Mirrormask
1 Documentaries
3 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Exclusive Otomo Illustration Postcard
  2. Production Design Book
  3. Postcard Set
  4. Steamboy Manga
  5. Production Designs
Extras Review: While this release doesn't have nearly the extras of the mammoth Japanese special edition (three discs of bonus material!), there are some decent, if not earth-shattering materials here. On the DVD, we have Re-Voicing Steamboy (18m:36s), looking at the making of the English dub, and including interviews with the three stars and the voice director. It goes on much longer than you would expect this sort of thing to, but it's fairly interesting. Next is a brief (05m:12s) interview with Otomo, which is fairly general in nature. The most substantial extra is the "Multi-screen Landscape Study" (19m:10s), which a text screen tells us was presented as an exhibition feature. Using split screen, the crew discuss a variety of topics about the film, while clips of the film and shots from research trips play. It's informative and a unique way of talking about the film. Following that is text-free end credits (03m:09s); as I mentioned above, the end credits feature a series of generally still shots that continue the story, and this allows the viewer to see them without the distraction of the credits overlaid onto them. Two production-related extras wrap things up: the first is animation onion skins (04m:25s), in which we see how a scene was mapped out, both by hand drawings and computer mapping. The second production extra is a series of production designs (05m:41s), which play in a slide show format with music from the film. Both should be of interest to those with enjoy the nuts and bolts materials of animation. Finally, an "exclusive" Otomo drawing is included in the case. I'm assuming there is only one design, but I could be wrong. The card I viewed had Ray facing several of the armored soldiers of the O'Hara Foundation on the Steam Castle.

If you decide to shell out for the Collector's Gift Set, you get some extra goodies. Housed in an attractive fliptop box, the gift set includes a concept art book, a postcard set, and a Steamboy manga. The concept art book is a thick collection of character and machinery designs, the sort of thing which devoted anime fans will no doubt be familiar with. I would imagine Japan saw a much more elaborate book collecting these, but this is a nice alternative for the budget-minded. The designs are reproduced without English translations of any kind, not that many are needed. The manga is similarly untranslated, and it is presumably included as a taster for the English version that will see release beginning this fall. It features material unrelated to the story in the film. Finally, the ten large postcards reproduce poster art, scenes from the film, and other design work to good effect. None of this material is essential to anyone other than the hardcore fans of the movie, but it's nice to have all the same.

Extras Grade: A-


Final Comments

Though it took something of a beating on release, I found Steamboy to be an entertaining piece of work. Sony's release does a creditable job presenting the film, with a nice array of extras, and a gift box option for those interested.


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