Saturday, March 19, 2005

Steamboy: Rule Brittania!

Went with Mike and a whole gaggle of other friends to see Steamboy at our local Landmark theater. I knew nothing about it going in except that it was of the steampunk genre, which is always interesting, and that it was the latest from director Katsuhiro Otomo, which is even more interesting. I enjoyed it immensely. It was a wonderful film, full of action, adventure, and a bit of comedy. It had a clear but simple message that was well-handled. So I kind of wondered a bit at the somewhat negative reactions the film has been getting from various critics and animation fans. I'm not going to review the film itself- that's for you to do, and I'm hoping all who read this have either seen it or will go to see it- rather, I am going to poke a few holes in some of the sillier arguments I have heard against this film.
Argument One: The message- "Science must be used responsibly."- is old hat.
My Response: In the Victorian Era- the one in our world- humanity was in the middle of a bitter crisis. Ever since the Renaissance, science had been encroaching on the world of the spiritual. By the time of the industrial revolution, science had truly transformed the advanced nations of the world, and certainly not all for the better. The phrase "Dark Satanic Mills" really does sum up the smoke-belching factories that nontheless churned out the gifts of science to the betterment of many, at the expense of many. Beyond the social goods and evils, however, was the nagging philosophical question of whether playing in God's domain was really a good thing to be doing. Science and religion had clashed before, of course... but now, science was obviously winnning, changing the world as it went. We are experiencing the same thing again today, as science explores genetic engineering, genetic manipulation, and cloning. We have gone from being able to harness the forces of nature to being able to change the very nature of our being.
So, not only is the question relevant today... it was THE main philosophical challenge of the era portrayed in the film. For this reason, it is not old hat- it is a lens into the past, a portrayal of the philosophical challenges faced by an earlier generation.
There is a little scene, seemingly a throwaway, where Queen Victoria sits in the Crystal Palace while an Anglican priest says a few words. What the priest says is significant, however- something along the lines of "We lay these offereings of science at the foot of God Almighty and hope for His approval." This kind of thing really happened- there was an obvious discomfort at what was happening to the world, even as humanity rushed headlong into it.
Argument Two: There isn't any character development.
My Response: This one is easy. Steamboy is not a character-driven film. It is a genre film. It's main "character" is the setting. The entertainment comes from the world that is created- the characters exist to show us the world. Not to mention that there was indeed character development... Ray grows up, going from being a boy that follows everyone's orders to being a young scientist with a mind of his own. Scarlett goes from self-centeredness to concern for others and, by fits and starts, concern for humanity as a whole. Ray's father and grandfather change their views on their inventions and the role of science several times during the film when confronted with new experiences and evidence... a sure sign of growth.
Go see it. If nothing else, it's a fun film that will entertain you- I guarantee you won't walk out of the theater feeling you've wasted two hours of your life.

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