Steamboy: Director's Cut (2004)
Main Menu Introduction
Main Menu Audio & Animation
Dolby Digital Trailer
Trailer-Astroboy, Cyborg 009, Memories, Osamu Tezuka's Metropolis
Featurette-The Voyage Of Steamboy
Interviews-Crew-Katsuhiro Otomo (Director)
Featurette-Multi-Screen Lanscape Study
Credits-The Adventure Continues (End Credits Without Text)
Gallery-Montage - Production Drawings
Gallery-Animation Onion Skins
|Year Of Production||2004|
|Running Time||127:44 (Case: 126)|
|RSDL / Flipper||
Dual Disc Set
|Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||2,4,5||Directed By||Katsuhiro Otomo|
Sony Pictures Home Entertain
Robin Atkin Downes
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||None||
Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English dts 5.1 (768Kb/s)
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||1.85:1|
|Video Format||576i (PAL)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||1.85:1||Miscellaneous|
English for the Hearing Impaired
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||Yes, the story continues.|
Steamboy is an entertaining and adventurous fantasy tale set in England during the industrial revolution of the nineteenth century. Directed by Katsuhiro Otomo, the man behind such groundbreaking animated films as Akira and Metropolis, Steamboy represents nearly ten years of development and production.
Our story follows three generations of the Steam family; the youngest, Ray, his father Eddy and grandfather Lloyd. They are literally steam by name and steam by trade. Lloyd and Eddy are in business together, travelling the world and researching methods to contain extreme steam pressure in the volume of a small ball-shaped vessel. Ray is your typical youngster hurtling towards his teenage years but he has a natural talent for steam related innovations, occupying himself by inventing steam powered paraphernalia and maintaining industrial boilers in nearby Manchester. One day he receives a mysterious package from his grandfather Lloyd, accompanied by a letter that specifically warns him of the O'Hara foundation's plan to seize the parcel's contents: a Steam Ball, the product of his father's research. Soon the foundation's heavy-handed representatives are knocking on the door and Ray is on the run.
The O'Hara family are the financiers of the Steam project, with plans to showcase their research at the London exhibition. With the British Government, the O'Hara Foundation and Ray's own family vying for the power of the steam ball, Ray has to decide which party intends to use the power for good, and which for destruction. This is an epic tale of man versus technology and father versus son.
My expectations for this film were very high, having been a fan of Otomo's previous work and the considerable build-up of anticipation this production has generated. After all, it has been so many years in production you would think that they have had plenty of time to develop likeable characters and iron out any potential shortcomings. Well, to say I'm disappointed would be an understatement. Firstly, the character names. Why did they have to call them the "Steam" family? Their family business is established in the opening minutes of the film and sure, years ago people were named after their occupation - but the use of it here isn't quaint, it's just cringe-inducing. Likewise with the characters Scarlet O'Hara and Robert (Louis) Stevenson. Give me a break! In addition to this, the film itself is much too long and suffers from numerous pacing issues. Some scenes seem to drag on forever, particularly the finale which is a never-ending myriad of explosions, I keep looking at the clock waiting for the last half hour to come to some kind of resolution.
Although the film's original language is Japanese, the English cast are excellent and include Alfred Molina as Eddy, an instantly recognisable Patrick Stewart as Lloyd and a surprisingly realistic Anna Paquin as Ray.
I was greatly impressed by the design and animation in this film - the detailed gadgetry and settings are wonderful to watch. It's just a shame an equal amount of effort couldn't be put into the story and characters.
Steamboy is a fun bit of escapism with some genuinely human messages to deliver. Unfortunately the film is let down by a lack of likeable characters, questionable scripting and excessive length. Perhaps the non-director's cut would be more coherent?
Although the film is comprised of cel and digital animation, this video transfer has been derived from a film source. Reviews of Region 1 and 2 NTSC releases of this film list the runtime as 126 minutes, which leads me to suspect we may have received an NTSC-PAL conversion. I did not detect any obvious interleaving or conversion artefacting present in the transfer, however more details will be posted here when more conclusive evidence comes to light.
I'm happy to report that the film has been transferred to DVD in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1, complete with 16x9 enhancement.
The picture is moderately sharp and in comparison to other recent animated films it lacks clarity and vibrancy. The issue about whether this is a directorial or artistic decision is not touched upon in the extra material. Many scenes include steam and mists with fine detail and these are carried adequately. There is a decent amount of depth evident in the darker scenes of the film, with plenty of strong blacks. There was no low level noise evident in the transfer.
The film's colour scheme is noticeably muted, with an appearance that borders on sepia at times. Generally speaking, the picture is dark and bleak, probably intended to match the tone of the early industrial era. There are a few examples of bright colouring in the outfits worn by Scarlet O'Hara, but that's about it.
Retail copies of this disc list a Superbit Transfer among the special features. While this may be true (and would explain my difficulty in finding the layer change), I would argue that a higher than normal bitrate is required for animated films regardless. Compared to other Superbit discs in my collection, this transfer has the lowest variable bitrate. That said, I didn't notice any MPEG compression artefacting. The MPEG encoding is variable, with an average of 6.1Mb/s and a couple of peaks toward 10Mb/s, but never drops below 5Mb/s. Film artefacts can be seen throughout in the form of tiny specks of dust and dirt that aren't likely to offend the average viewer. Some minor telecine wobble is visible in the film's opening minutes but doesn't extend to the remainder of the transfer at all. A little film grain can be seen on occasion, but is similarly minor.
English subtitle streams are available in hearing impaired or standard formats, both of which are well timed and easy to read. It's nice to see some effort has gone into their production; at 99:20 the subtitles move up to the top of the frame in order to avoid obscuring text on screen, so they are certainly well timed.
This disc is dual layered, however the layer transition was completely transparent on my system. I attempted to locate its placement on my PC without success, but I'm certain it must be there somewhere.
There are three soundtracks accompanying this film on DVD in Region 4. The default soundtrack is English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s). The other soundtracks are Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s) and an English dts stream encoded at 768Kb/s. I listened to the default English and the Japanese soundtracks in their entirety and sampled the dts soundtrack on many occasions for comparison.
Obviously, this film's original language is Japanese. Ordinarily I wouldn't recommend the English alternative, but in this case I am more than comfortable to do so. This is a film set in the U.K. with western characters and a great English cast, so viewing the film in English felt natural to me. I know purists will disapprove of my saying this, but as far as lip sync goes neither the Japanese nor English are absolutely perfect. Dialogue in both languages is crystal clear and never drowned out by effects or score. Although I don't understand much Japanese it was easy to differentiate between characters.
The surround channels are used effectively for all manner of effects and mechanical sounds. The film's early scenes contain a great example of this as machine belts snap at 5:50 and fly about the viewer. Surround activity remains fairly consistent throughout the film but is never overused or out of place. Voices are generally confined to the frontal soundstage.
In comparing the audio tracks I found the Japanese nicely balanced with plenty of bottom end. The English Dolby Digital stream is mastered at a slightly lower level, but when this is compensated for the depth of the two Dolby Digital options is similar. I found the English dts alternative to be noticeably brighter in most respects and a little more immersive than the other two.
The score is orchestral and grand, with many tense, percussive moments. The themes have an adventurous quality that correspond to the film well.
The LFE channel augments a range of effects, from explosions and fireworks to loud mechanical sounds and crashes - all of which are deep and smooth without being overpowering.
|Surround Channel Use|
This is a good range of extra features, all interesting and pertinent to the film. All of the featurettes are presented in full frame unless otherwise noted and offer English subtitles.
The menu systems are 16x9 enhanced and include some great animation, as well as familiar musical themes from the film.
Trailers are included for four other CTHE titles; Astroboy, Cyborg 009, Memories and the awesome Metropolis by Osamu Tezuka. None are 16x9 enhanced.
This lengthy featurette replays the opening scenes of the film, followed by a visit to the Steamboy Studio in Tokyo. We see art and production staff in action and get a couple of insights into what it's like working on such an ambitious project. In what is apparently a rarity for animation, the entire staff were contained in the same building to make production easier. You'd think that this would translate to a faster turnover for the film since production actually began in 1994! Anyhow, we are also treated to some comments from the production staff and Japanese vocal talent and also a quick look at the director's other work.
How does a 22-year-old woman from New Zealand (Anna Paquin) manage to provide the voice for a 13-year-old boy from Manchester? This is where you'll find out! The primary English cast and voice director Rick Zieff explain the challenges involved in the revoicing process and how this differs from normal ADR. Patrick Stewart is the most intriguing contributor here, explaining the challenge in finding a balance between lip sync and accurate translation.
This brief interview touches upon the director's creative process, his hopes for the film and his expectations of the sequel, which will be made by the Steamboy staff. This interview is presented in 1.78:1 with 16x9 enhancement.
This promotional piece was originally shown as a three screen presentation at a Steamboy exhibition. Excerpts from the film are played between interviews with the director and crew members.
The story continues in the film's closing credits with a series of stills that include a little subtle animation. The montage is presented here without obstruction and makes for an interesting finale. This sequence is 16x9 enhanced and accompanied by the film's closing theme.
An interesting montage of backgrounds and conceptual art from the film. These are 16x9 enhanced and an audio clip from the film's score is included.
Five scenes from the film are presented in various stages of development. There is no 16x9 enhancement and no audio.
This is quite a good trailer that gives a quick overview of the film and some of the more tense moments that can be found. This trailer is presented in 1.85:1, without 16x9 enhancement.
Region 2 Japan have several Steamboy releases, firstly a Starter Kit which was released before the film's theatrical run. It includes:
First pressings of the Japanese Region 2 Steamboy Standard Edition included a bonus disc of highlights from the Steamboy Memorial Box, detailed below:
Reviews I have read do not indicate the inclusion of any English subtitles on the Japanese release. I've seen it retailing for around US$90.00 and if you're a Japanese speaker it would certainly be the way to go.
The video transfer is average for an animated film.
The audio transfer is excellent.
The extras are worthwhile.
|DVD||Denon DVD-3910, using DVI output|
|Display||Sanyo PLV-Z2 WXGA projector. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Digital Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 720p.|
|Audio Decoder||Built in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Digital Video Essentials.|
|Amplification||Denon AVR-2802 Dolby EX/DTS ES Discrete|
|Speakers||Orpheus Aurora lll Mains (bi-wired), Rears, Centre Rear. Orpheus Centaurus .5 Front Centre. Mirage 10 inch sub.|