In this animated tale that's as riveting as it is retro, genius teen inventor Ray Steam receives a strange spherical device containing a mind-boggling new form of energy that can power a whole country. Soon, two ominous gents turn up looking to get their hands on the gadget; the next thing you know, Ray is caught in a battle between the Yanks and the Brits, who'll do anything to obtain the priceless orb.

Scott Hardie: “It ruled.”

Forget ponderous philosophical ruminations on the blurring line between technology and people: This old-fashioned adventure movie pays a few lines of lip service to its overwritten anime brethren, then gets on with the spectacle. This is exhilarating entertainment at full throttle, much like the nonstop-action formula that served Indiana Jones so well, as 1866 London becomes a battleground between the grandest machines of war that Katsuhiro Ôtomo can devise. It actually earned a stunned "wow!" in my living room as one astounding sight topped another. Ôtomo is a master animator, crafting unparalleled detail into every shot, and here his work is successfully enhanced by CGI trickery that allows his rooms to spin on an axis and his 2-D characters to encircle each other in three dimensions. I'm glad that I saw "Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence" only a week before this: That movie made it look impossible to combine traditional anime and 3-D CGI, but "Steamboy" makes it look easy. Ôtomo's skill at animation is the very best thing about this feature and it deserves to be widely seen.

I wish the rest of the movie was as easy to recommend: It drags in the second half as the action becomes unremitting (the subtitled version that I watched is 20 minutes longer; both versions are on the DVD). And for large portions of the film, there's not much color either, as the characters explore the drab, shadowy bowels of a massive machine world. But if you still want to enjoy a firecracker of an adventure movie with breathtaking visual detail, you can't go wrong with this film. It's one of the best pure entertainments of the year.

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