The Entire World Is Waiting For The Power Of Steam – Steamboy

16 11 2016

Steamboy (Sunrise - 2004)

In 2013, animation Director and co-founder of Studio Ghibli; Hayao Miyazaki created a film which he announced was going to be the last before he retired. The film was called The Wind Rises, and it was a film that followed a young man who dreamt of designing the ultimate aircraft, and so the story took us on a history of his young life, career, romantic relation, and a retrospective history of his country, eventually leading the young man to his pivotal moment designing the aircraft of his dreams. There is one slight issue however with the company he works for, being the ones to foot the bills; the only option is to design it to the benefit of a company contract, and at that time in Japan’s history the only contract work for airplane manufacturers (or at least those shown in the film) is to build them for the sake of war. So while the young man does get to design his dream plane, he has to come to the eventual realization of what the plane’s purpose is to be. It is a very interesting idea for a story, looking at great inventors, the things they do; but also what they have to do in order for them to be allowed to build such things!

The Wind Rises (Studio Ghibli - 2013)

Released in 2004 by Toho, produced by Sunrise and Directed by Katsuhiro Otomo; Steamboy is a Steampunk animated action film set in the UK and follows the adventure of a young inventor who has to come to terms with the realities of the world of inventions and of course save the day from threats very close to home. Touted at the time of release as being the most expensive Japanese animated film of all time, Steamboy took 10 years to produce, and is only the second major animated release for Otomo following his milestone film Akira in 1988.

Akira (Toho 1988)

In 1863 in Russian Alaska, inventor Lloyd Steam (Patrick Stewart) and his son Eddie (Alfred Molina) have discovered a pure mineral water, which they believe they can turn into a powerful steam based energy source. During an experiment however, everything goes wrong with Eddie being engulfed in freezing gases, but leaves a strange spherical object being created. Three years later, in Manchester England, great-grandson of Lloyd: Ray Steam (Anna Paquin), a young inventing prodigy receives a strange parcel containing the spherical object plus some designs relating to it. Two men then show up called Alfred (Mark Bramhall) and Jason (David S. Lee) claiming to be from something called the Foundation and who want the ball. Ray refuses to give it to them, and is surprised to see the arrival of his grandfather. Ray makes a run for it, and is eventually chased by a strange steam automotive vehicle, making his escape on his own Monocycle. The chase leads them onto the railway tracks, with the automotive being pushed into a river, and Ray being rescued by Robert Stephenson (Oliver Cotton) and his assistant David (Robin Atkin Downes). Things don’t last long however, as while the train is en route to London, Ray is kidnapped by the Foundation thanks to their Zeppelin.

Ray finds himself in a dining hall, and being introduced to members of the O’Hara Foundation which includes Scarlett O’Hara (Kari Wahlgren), the spoiled granddaughter of the foundation’s chairman, and Archibald Simon (Rick Zieff), a company executive. Ray then meets his father Eddie whose head has been greatly altered by the accident, now with only a few strands of hair and a helmet covering one half of his head, as well as other metal components all along his body. Ray and Scarlett are taken on a tour of the facility dubbed The Steam Castle by Eddie who says he wants to use it to enlighten mankind’s vision of science. Ray is recruited by his father to help finish it off, but when asked to help in assisting to turn off a valve, Ray finds his Grandfather trying to sabotage the whole thing. He tells Ray that the purpose of the castle and the O’Hara’s foundation is to sell weapons to Britain’s enemies at the Great Exhibition the following day and shows Ray evidence of this. The two eventually reach the core of the castle, and pry away a steam ball, one of three used to power the castle, but they are then surrounded. Ray makes an escape but Lloyd is recaptured. Ray manages to run into Robert Stephenson telling him about his father and the steam castle, and hands him the Ball thinking Stephenson can be trusted, but discovers that Stephenson’s motives are near the same; to build an army for the purpose of keeping Britain Great.


At the Great Exhibition, the O’Hara foundation shows off their weapons to generals from around the world, exhibiting their steam-powered soldiers, miniature aircraft and submersible men. At this moment, Stephenson launches an attack on the foundation using his steam battle tanks. With the exhibition now a war zone, Ray steals the ball back from David, and rigs it up to use it as a sort of jet pack. In the foundation’s control room, Eddie, straps himself into the machine and while under powered orders for the castle to launch. The building sheds its skin to show a great behemoth like structure, a big black floating castle, which then engulfs the city of London in a big freeze. The royal navy in vain try to shoot it down, while Stephenson attempts to pull it down with his trains. Ray manages to get on board the castle reuniting with his father and Scarlett, but is too late to stop Lloyd from shooting Eddie. With Eddie having disappeared into the machine, Ray and Scarlett assist Lloyd in getting the castle back over the Thames as the machine is too unstable and likely to explode. At the last-minute, Eddie having deflected the bullet with his metal body decides to lend a hand, revealing Lloyd’s original intention for the Steam Castle: to be used as a giant theme park. Ordered by his family to save Scarlett and leave, Ray makes his way back to the control room, straps on a jet pack and leaves the castle just as it explodes, sparing most of London in the process.


Can a film justify its release if it does not have much of a plot? Steamboy is an interesting film; on the one side it’s very well researched, and is somewhat surprising to see a Japanese animated film set in 19th century England and feature locations such as Manchester and (‘of course’) London, as well as feature great moments of a country’s history such as the Great Exhibition and famous faces like Railway Engineer Robert Stephenson. I am not saying this can’t be done, I am just saying how well and detailed it all is but you would not exactly expect for a film from Japan to be set in this country during that period. Of course, this film does also have big outstanding and unbelievable moments, interesting characters and great themes; much like you would expect from the man who made Akira: or should you? That’s the point though of seeing it isn’t it, or at least most might think so, that because this man-made an iconic film from the 1980’s, one of cinema’s all-time great animated films, that is why we should see it; no other reason right? This film is of course heavily touted for being from Katsuhiro Otomo, the same director of Akira; but is that the reason why we should see this film, or should it be that it’s a happy coincidence, and that this film should really be its own thing. I think that is where this film sort of collapses. There are some good things about this film: It does feature big moments of disbelief, and it features themes and ideas as well as argues the differences between progress and greed as well as the blessings of science, but only a little bit really, as all that gets entrenched in delivering the Akira experience, with big moments, wonders of awe and nothing else really. It has it’s moments, moments of philosophy that intrigue that inspire, and the story develops this a little bit; but possibly under the belief that he had to deliver a 19th century version of Akira rather than explore these ideas and create something that was its own identity, Otomo just sort of skipped all that. Don’t get me wrong, I really like Akira, I would just rather watch Akira rather than something that is not a near carbon copy of it (Force Awakens).


The film’s characters are a real odd bunch and (international released version) are played by some top-notch quality actors. Much like what was stated above, some characters are minor-ly developed and are actually going in the right direction but are lost in what is a rather convoluted and unused plot. The issue that this film has with its characters is that it’s hard at any one point to actually know who is good and who is bad. Ray Steam is obviously the hero of the story, but it’s just obvious if somewhat boring. The character is nicely set up and has reason to explore and discover as he is lost without his heritage and is in a world that he would rather be doing something else in, but other than that there is no real reason for him. He tries to be brave and do the right thing, he is just not a decent enough character to really get behind or enjoy. Someone like Scarlett is a lot more interesting. She actually develops over the film’s timeline, going from a toffee nosed brat to a proper hero and someone worth rooting for. Yes she starts off in a situation where she is horrid and someone you have no affection for, but as the film develops she becomes a good character, so why she couldn’t be the protagonist is beyond me. That is the thing though with this film, there are two solid female characters, Scarlett and Emma (Paula J. Newman), but Emma gets 3 minutes of fame and is never seen again, but she was interesting compared to Ray who is just useless. The issues with good guy bad guy just continue throughout. Yes, the henchmen are bad, but that is their point and Archibald Simon on the other hand is just a pleasant annoyance who can’t stop talking. Robert Stephenson is nicely done, but it’s sad that someone who should be a sort of helper, a guide or assistance in times of such peril turns out just to be as horrid and bad as the somewhat…..Supposed to be…..villains. His assistant David pretty much covers this role with ease, and it would have been more interesting if David per say was the villain out of the two and was something of a manipulator, and so Stephenson could then be the helper, with a villain by his side that needed defeating. Lloyd is of course a good guy but the story does the right thing of teasing his intentions and asking if he is bad or good, and then reveals his intentions correctly and stays that way, I just don’t think the mad professor look really does him any favours. Eddie meanwhile is of course the big bad villain and is voiced brilliantly, and much like Lloyd is teased into his role, but he just keeps changing his mind. His intentions and motives are there as to why he is who he is, but why would the villain suddenly change sides like that at the end. He should be a boss to fight, a hindrance to overcome, not someone who is like: “Oh well, let me give you a hand!”


The voice acting works in some of the film’s favour, and boasts acting talent like Patrick Stewart, Anna Paquin and Alfred Molina, but it’s not fully utilised I feel. Scarlett is voiced nicely and actually sounds and feels real, compared to Anna Paquin whom does a good job in a male voice role, but in the form of the voice that most people believe how British people speak. Speaking as a British person, I do not speak like that, I have actually yet to meet someone who does. Both Alfred Molina and Patrick Stewart are British; and they don’t speak like that; and they’re in this film! It becomes near offensive the more it gets touted. Maybe instead of hiring people to create a generic voice that does not actually exist, maybe they should hire British actors to do the job, because then it would be a lot more realistic (and less offensive). When it comes to the voice overs in this film the only ones that really do anything I feel are those of Patrick Stewart and Alfred Molina. Patrick Stewart’s character is not seen much of to truly enjoy, but it’s still good when he is on-screen, although possibly a bit loopy and mad. Alfred Molina though I feel really carries this film. It’s a voice of reason and passion, and although the character struggles to really find his place in this film, the voice over does the character tremendous and enjoyable levels of entertainment and justice. It’s just a shame about everyone else really.

The film does have its recovery sections, it’s not all collapsing. The animation is nicely done and works well to really capture the beauty and spectacle of 19th century England, especially London. The fleet of vessels on the Thames, the beauty of the city’s iconic buildings and structures, to the animated engineering of its own infrastructure. Add to this the machines and contraptions of the story’s fictional contents like the steam-powered soldiers, the monocycle, and of course the mighty Steam Castle in all its forms and you have this well-made world which has added benefits. I do think the animation style and colouring loses a bit in comparison to the film’s contemporise like the recent works of Studio Ghibli for example, but when close up the details are superb. The film’s soundtrack Composed by Steve Jablonsky) is an additional benefit too as it creates mostly sounds and ambiance rather than pieces of music. The music does have its moments of grandeur like the launch of the steam castle or the chase within, to moments of peace too like Ray’s theme, Scarlett’s theme, and of course the music behind the blessings of science monologue. Now while not insinuated within the soundtrack itself, there is one piece of music though that does come out in relation to the film: That of its theme from the trailer: Full Force; the adventure and steam-driven music that creates and encapsulates moments of awe and wonder, but creates a level of seriousness and tension to shine out loudly.  Although the film does tout some of that wonderful adventure but still steam punk driven piece of music here or there, it’s this piece of music which shines out for the film’s soundtrack, even though it is really non-existent, but it’s iconic and memorable enough for you to remember it in conjunction with this film.

Generally it feels like something of a shame altogether, because I was expecting more. Steamboy has its likable moments and bits to enjoy, but the story is so convoluted and makes more room for big moments rather than a properly developed plot. It’s one of those occasions where the trailer delivers more than the film. Steamboy is something of a quick storyteller; it just dashes from one thing to another, not developing nor explaining, creating interesting moments but not diving into them sacrificing its potential in the process for something else, but no reveal as to what. It comes with great voice talent but does not really use it effectively, it has interesting characters in the wrong roles and it has spectacular ideas that are just ignored. On the plus side the animation is delightfully detailed, and has music that has its occasions which are used well. Yes it has its big moments which are nicely done and very creative, but a film like this should be more than that. It should not be living in the shadow of its legendary predecessor and working hard to live up to be like its bigger brother. It should be blossoming like a flower, being independent and making its own path, then and only then can it have a chance to be on an equal footing and be appreciated the same way, rather than just being a clone in a different setting.


Why A Utopia Wouldn’t Work – Æon Flux

12 02 2014

Aeon Flux (MTV FIlms - 2005)

A perfect life, that’s what everyone thinks of a Utopia as. A place where is no hate, or crime, or murder. It’s the kind of life, and civilization that everyone would want to be a part of (except possibly a dictator). But, how would you know that life is actually like that, how would you know that everything was fine. What is to say that while life would be great, that deep down, in control, the civilisation was being run by a cruel dictatorship, or something else more horrifying was at work, just like in Aeon Flux.


Aeon Flux (or Æon Flux as the poster title reads) is a 2005 film directed by Karyn Kusama, starring Charlize Theron and Marton Csokas. Produced by MTV Films and Lakeshore Entertainment in collaboration with Paramount, the film is based on a series of animated films by Peter Chung from the 1990’s shown on MTV also called Aeon Flux.


The film opens with a setting stating that in 2011 Ninety Nine percent of the world’s population had been killed by a pathogenic virus (It’s now 2014, so I think we’re safe). A cure was later found by scientist Trevor Goodchild. The remains of humanity live in peace on the last city on earth, Bregna and the Goodchild dynasty of scientists, rules for 400 years. The Relico is built; a Giant Zeppelin or Dirigible like thing that travels through the sky of Bregna to pay tribute to those who had died. But life, while idyllic, has problems. People keep disappearing, unexplained, and everyone suffers from bad dreams. Not wanting to be ruled by The Goodchild’s anymore, a resistant group known as the Monicans aim to bring them down. Aeon Flux (Charlize Theron) is one of them. She receives information from The Handler (Frances McDormand) through telepathic technology, and is asked to take down their surveillance equipment, meaning that she can’t have dinner at her sister Una’s (Amelia Warner) house. Aeon takes down the surveillance station with ease before going to her sister’s house, to find her dead, because the police thought she was a Monican.


Aeon is given a new mission, to kill Goodchild. She arrives at the limit of the parliament area and is meth by Sithandra (Sophie Okonedo) who has hands instead of feet. Through great athleticism they are able to bypass the security measures and reach the building. Inside, Aeon creates some metallic pebbles from her ring and places them on the floor around her. In the parliament meanwhile Trevor Goodchild (Marton Csokas) is leading a meeting of those in charge with his brother Oren (Jonny Lee Miller) and someone called Giroux (Paterson Joseph). They discuss the Monican threat before Trevor goes off to prepare a speech. Aeon finds him and is about to kill him, when Trevor calls her Katherine. Aeon stalls before being knocked out. Aeon wakes up in a cell and is met by Trevor. Aeon asks about the name that he called him, and flashbacks come to her of them meeting before somewhere, but she can’t remember it. She is offered some water, but she takes a sample of it before whistling through a hole in the ventilation system, this causes the pebbles she dropped to turn into ball bearings, which go to her cell and blow a hole in the wall. She escapes, but when she goes to see Una’s ex Claudius (Nikolai Kinski) he tells her, that the liquid is a message. Aeon sees the message, it’s from Trevor. She goes to see him, and blames him for her sister’s death, even though he states he knows nothing about it. Memories return to her of him and her, and instead of killing him, makes love to him.


Aeon wakes up to find Trevor gone, she quickly dresses and heads into his study, where she finds some kind of teleportation harness. Using it she finds his Laboratory, and a picture of herself hidden in it. She has a brief encounter with Trevor’s assistant Freya (Caroline Chikezie) before escaping. While listening to Goodchild’s notes that she stole, she hears her sister’s name and says he needs to make a visit to the Relico. Sithandra returns and threatens to kill Aeon for failing in her mission. Aeon, tries talking to her, before knocking her down and tying her up. Aeon goes to the Relico and finds a system of high-tech computers run by some mysterious, ghostly figure known as the Keeper (Pete Postlethwaite) who greets her. Using the system she finds out that her sister Una has been reborn as someone else. Trevor’s fling with Aeon has been discovered and is considered as a criminal, he though finds Aeon at a stranger’s house, whose new baby is actually Una. Trevor tells Aeon that the cure for the disease 400 years previously had a side effect which meant that only one new generation could be born. Since then the entire human race has survived on Cloning. When someone dies, nine months later they are reborn under a new identity and the Relico was built to conceal this from everyone else. However Trevor has tried to cure this problem, all of his other tests were unlucky, but Una became pregnant on her own, but was killed by Oren because he wants to live forever.

The Monicans declare Aeon a traitor and go to rescue Sithandra. Oren kills Claudius and then his soldiers go to attempt to kill Aeon and Trevor. They both manage to flee through the city streets and the underground railway system. Trevor attempts to retrieve his research notes, but his lab is destroyed. Aeon says that they need to destroy the Relico so that humanity can continue. The two of them get cornered in a pincer between the Monicans and Oren’s soldiers. Oren tells Trevor that he wanted to get rid of Aeon’s original DNA to keep his mind on track and says that it was not just Una that got pregnant, but others have outside the test’s and he had them killed to keep the regime going. Aeon convinces the Monicans to ignore the Handler, and they help Aeon. Oren is killed in the action but not before he kills all the Monicans. Trevor is met by Giroux who states that they are not Anarchists and give rule back to Trevor. Aeon goes to the Relico and meets with the keeper who states it was him who kept her DNA, knowing that she was needed. Aeon destroys the Relico, and it crashes into the City wall exposing the city to the plant life beyond instead of the wasteland they people were told of. A final scene shows Aeon and Trevor back before the virus, seeing each other for the last time in Paris before the recent events.


The world of Aeon flux is amazingly and beautifully constructed. The city looks like a modern metropolis with essences of beauty. The lights and colours that are shown, particularly during the night sequences are absolutely beautiful, when you watch this film, you sometimes need to look in the corner of your eye or screen to enjoy them, but it’s worth it. If it was a real city, I would love to visit it. Other areas of the world such as the style of clothing look more like regal dresses from Victorian times; just more advanced in years. The technology of the world is another point as its smaller showing the advancement of technology as time passes, but it still has that appealing look of it, so it’s not alien despite its curiosity. There is also an element of nature about it all, such as the use of raindrops as surveillance, and, trees with pods as turrets.


It is interesting to see how the civilization is run. The government is a group of scientists, so they are taking things seriously as to how they survive and talk with reason (or some where Oren is concerned). It looks a lot like the Ancient Japanese Emperor God system where the leaders of the country were revered by the people, but hardly (if at all) seen. The Relico is a nice touch, it has this curios appeal about it, but as the people are suppressed into what it really is, the mystery evaporates, but you sort of know that there is more to it than that.


Aeon Flux’s cast are a mix of almost hit and misses with some people standing out and others feeling more like fillers. Those that do stand out, and stand out well are brilliant in the parts they play. Paterson Joseph for instance leads a strong part and when he is on-screen, you get a brilliantly played part, which is a character you wish you could see more of. His character is that of more of a voice of reason for the integrity of the society, and while he does have his own strong opinions as to the current situation, he has great respect and understanding for Trevor Goodchild. In a perfect world, it should be him in charge instead of Oren when he takes over. Sithandra meanwhile, is an interesting character as in she is an assassin much like Aeon, but seems to be more wild in her approach if somewhat single-minded. Una, in my opinion, should have had more of a part in the film. While she is necessary to die for the drive of Aeon, there should have been more of an appearance to begin with so that the audience could connect more with both Aeon and Una’s death. It’s also great to see Pete Postlethwaite in action. While his part in this is very odd to say the least, he plays it well and is an example of how diverse an actor he was.

Pete Postlethwaite, Sophie Okonedo, Amelia Warner and Paterson Joseph

Charlize Theron is a great Action Hero. Her part suffers from the death of her sister, but is still able to do her duty. She takes a third person view of the world, seeing it as she sees it and as a result can tell that everything isn’t as it seems, while others would probably not see it. it is due to this that makes her mind vulnerable to Trevor, as she gets repeated flashbacks to him. While the athleticism part of the role can be overdone in some sections, it is different to what others might do such as maybe James Bond who doesn’t have that kind of athleticism, she still has gadgets though. Her dark look is also one of her more key points as it makes her stand out to the viewer as to what she is, she has a dark demeanour but this could be related to something in her past perhaps, something yet to be explored, but is good at keeping it and herself hidden, like a true assassin. I look forward to the possibility of her playing roles like this in the future (maybe a part in a possible sequel to SALT).

Charlize Theron

Marton Csokas is one of the finest and most diverse actors of the last decade, easily one of the best around today. His character is seen by the Monicans as the harsh ruler, but generally he is a nice person with his mind focused on what needs to be done for the world to continue. He can see the problems, and he tries to raise the issue to the others but finds it hard not to be swayed by his brother. His love for Aeon though keeps him going, gives him hope, and that keeps his drive going, the hope that he might see her again. An enjoyable character played by an amazing actor.

Marton Csokas

Aeon Flux’s soundtrack (produced by Graeme Revell) is a bizarre mix of ballads and techno. During some of the faster sequences such as action or a chase, you would have this fast paced techno style of music. The music works for those scenes, but it’s weird that the pieces change from them to these sweeping, sometime romping but pleasant ballads. While some of these rack up the tension as they go, most of the time you don’t notice them, well, until the end of the film during the credits. Some of The Prodigy wouldn’t go a miss though.

While the film does find itself hard to get going in the beginning, once you get to about halfway through, it keeps going at a pace that works well. I do think though that Trevor Goodchild is revealed a bit too soon, and should be first seen when Aeon finds him, gives a sense of surprise as to who he is instead of going behind the scenes. Some of the film also feels a bit rushed going from point A to point G in a short amount of time. If the film was just a little bit longer it could compensate this quite easily meaning that it would be more of an enjoyable experience for everyone, enjoying the scenario, setting and characters that little bit more. One of its more confusing parts is, it’s spread of time, as Una is killed but instead of taking nine months to be born, is born the next day, seemingly. While I have heard people describe this film of being mad, to which it is in some places, it is a thoroughly enjoyable action film with essences of conspiracy throughout, and when these are revealed, it’s only just a scratch, and the amount of chaos that ensues because of this is well presented as in, this is what will most likely happen if Anarchy suddenly ensued in a perfect society. So while to the eye it may look very bizarre, Aeon Flux is an amazing action film, with a good cast, interesting music, and a beautiful setting.


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