Published Mar 01, 2005It took eight long years to bring Katsuhiro Otomo's anime epic to the screen, with a financing history that makes Apocalypse Now look like a Roger Corman quickie. I'd like to say it was worth the time and the heartache, but it turns out to be no big deal at best.
Set in Victorian England, it deals with the trials of young Ray Steam (voice of Anna Paquin), son and grandson of scientists experimenting with super-concentrated steam power. When grandfather (Patrick Stewart) sends the boy a package containing a crucial piece of technology, it starts a mad dash by dodgy types to claim its immense power, including the boy's Darth Vader-ish father (Alfred Molina), who wishes to use it to energise his massive steam castle and armoury.
The film occasionally stumbles over tantalising ideas, as when it questions the motives of those who power trip on technology without considering its possible negative impact, but mostly it's a child-is-the-father-of-man romp straight out of the Lucas/Spielberg playbook. Ray is the by-the-numbers courageous youngster who's supposed to be reattaching some honorific family link broken by the baddie daddy; in case we miss the patriarchal point, there's a bratty young girl named Scarlett introduced for belittlement and comic relief.
I suppose this is icing on the cake: the film is largely a showcase for beautiful animation and insanely detailed techno-design. And one has to admit that on the level of gorgeous eyewash and things going boom it completely blows the doors off. Still, it lacks the nerve-touching anguish of Otomo's cult classic Akira, and ardent admirers of that film holding their breath for a worthy follow-up will be waiting a good while longer. (Columbia/Sony)