‘Steamboy’ Review

Steamboy - Image courtesy of Sony Pictures2005. Japan. 106 minutes.
English Dubbed Version.
Screened at Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood.
Directed by Katsuhiro Otomo
With the voices of Anna Paquin, Alfred Molina, Patrick Stewart

What if Germany had won World War II? What if the South had won the Civil War? What if steam power took over the world?

In STEAMBOY, Katsuhiro Otomo (AKIRA, METROPOLIS) creates an alternative history. Victorian England in the year 1866 is dominated by futuristic steam powered technology. The latest invention by Lloyd Steam (voiced by Patrick Stewart), a petite metal ball with hidden powers, causes an explosion in Russian-owned Alaska. The old man ships the invention to his grandson Eddie (voiced by Anna Paquin), living in Manchester, England, but the package is barely opened when trouble comes knocking on the door.

With breakneck speed, Eddie is running for his life, riding a circular bicycle (?!) chased by a mechanical device that looks like a dastardly steam-powered bulldozer. The ensuing chase will involve a runaway train and a murderous zeppelin. The sequence is outrageously unbelievable, but the blistering pace runs down any reservations with a smile.

Then we settle down for a little more set-up, a little more character development, and a lot more sermonizing.

It seems that Eddie’s grandfather is at odds with Eddie’s father, Ray (voiced by Alfred Molina), over the use of steam power to make weapons that will upset the balance of world order. Eventually all the talk about good science versus bad science becomes wearisome, and even the lovely hand-drawn 2-D look of the animation is not enough of a distraction to prop up the plot.

What is refreshing is to see an imaginary world influnced by Jules Verne and H.G. Wells as filtered through the sensibility of an outsider to the culture.

Lovers of finely drawn and shaded animation can rejoice. All others are forewarned.

* English Dubbed Version Notes *

Normally it would be sacrilege for me to speak positively about dubbing a movie into English. Here, though, I must admit it makes perfect sense for a movie set in 19th Century Victorian England. Patrick Stewart gets to do a lot of excited exclaiming (perfect for a British stage-trained actor), and Anna Paquin sounds terribly believable as a young British boy (imagine that).

Less defensible, however, is the clearly commercial decision to cut the movie from the original 126 minutes to 106 minutes.

* Now Playing *

In Los Angeles, the dubbed version is playing at the Arclight Cinemas in Hollywood, Pacific’s Sherman Oaks 5, Laemmle’s One Colorado Cinemas in Pasadena, and Edwards Park Place 10 in Irvine.

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