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Thursday, May 31, 2007


I just got home from seeing the "film" Spider-man 3. In case you don't know, I put "film" in quotes like that because quotes indicate sarcasm in writing. Yes, Spider-man 3 was indeed on cellulose (or whatever movie makers use these days) but that doesn't mean it deserves the prestige of being referred to as a film. I've had a run of bad luck lately with movies, going from bad to worse: Children of Men, 40 Year Old Virgin, Borat, Pan's Labyrinth, several minutes of How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (just like being in black hole, this movie will make its viewer feel as though seconds are years), and just now, Spider-man 3. "But," you'll say, "you titled today's post, 'Steamboy.' What gives?"

What gives, as they say, is that Steamboy has been the only home run of any of the movies I've seen in the past week. Indeed, it is the most visually stunning animated film I've ever seen, other than maybe Akira. A fitting comparison because both were created by the same writer/director, Katsuhiro Otomo. His first feature film, the masterful Akira, was then the most expensive animated film ever made and was a perfect example of the Cyberpunk genre. It has remained at the top of the list for my favorite animated movies due to its scope, its epicness, its dystopian yet technologically advanced future Tokyo, and the afformentioned animation quality. It had its disturbing moments, but I was so taken with the story and the atmosphere that I couldn't help but get drawn into the animated world (forgive the pun). Steamboy retained the breathtaking visuals, the imaginative technology, the intricate detail, but it dispensed with the depressing and "punk" elements that drag down most Cyberpunk and Steampunk stories. Steamboy, of course, was a Steampunk story, so it did have the ever prevalent "science will save us" attitude at the forefront. To be fair, there were moments in the movie when that was called into question by some of the characters, but in the end, they decided science alone will save fallen mankind.

But, I digress.

I don't expect any Japanese cartoons I see, especially ones from a predominantly Cyberpunk writer, to take a Christian worldview, but the "man is its own savior" philosophy has been failing us for hundreds and thousands of years.

But, I digress more.

Steamboy captured me the way no film has in a long time. I miss hand drawn films, so this was a breath of fresh air. Yes, there were bits of CGI thrown in, but it was still mostly traditional animation. Akira was completely drawn by hand, which is why I still feel that it edges out Steamboy ever so slightly. Akira achieved its incredible visuals through ink and cel, no computers in sight. That said, Steamboy is a marvel of moving art, and I'd be hard pressed to think of a film I'd rather sit and stare at.

For some, incredibly realistic animation is pointless. John Kricfalusi, for example, decries animation that copies reality because it removes inherent strengths from the medium. He points the finger at Disney, claiming that since animators started copying his style, animation has been reduced to mimickry. Well, I for one love animation but have difficulty watching overly cartoony motions accompanied by silly sound effects. I adore Bob Clampett, but I would have great difficulty watching Sleeping Beauty in the Clampett style. I see no reason why both styles can't coexist. To me, watching a Disney film is watching moving paintings. Imagine watching a Rembrandt in motion. Besides, animation still affords those working in the medium plenty of opportunities to make things that are impossible in real life. Steamboy or Akira would probably have reached $300 million if they were live action. In fact, the effects in those movies would have been nearly impossible 20 years ago. The epic and the grandiose is a huge strength to animation because there are virtually no limits to what the medium can portray. If I wanted to feature a mile high room in my movie, there would be no way to build that. Call up any architect or set designer and he'll hang up. However, if my movie is animated, it's a matter of including said room in the storyboard and telling the animators what the room looks like. In animation, a character can be 200 feet tall or an inch tall. In animation, the characters can throw lightning bolts from their hands. No expensive special effects, no make up, just ink and imagination.

Steamboy features advanced Victorian era technology (hence the Steampunk designation) that meets all expectations for fans of Katsuhiro Otomo's reputation for detail and gigantism. I put it to you that if you are a fan of the Steampunk genre and good animation, you will not find a more satisfying example. So, please do yourself a favor; stop going to see "Knocked Up" and "Disturbia." Treat yourself to a visual feast.


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