Home > Reviews > STEAMBOY – Steve Jablonsky

STEAMBOY – Steve Jablonsky

steamboyOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

Isn’t it funny how sometimes the best music comes from the most unlikely of places? Steamboy is the latest Anime adventure from legendary director Katsuhiro Otomo, the man who brought the groundbreaking Akira to the world back in 1988. The film follows the adventures of Ray, a young inventor living in the England in the middle of the 19th century. Shortly before the first ever World Expo, an incredible invention called the Steam Ball arrives at his door – a present from his eccentric grandfather in the USA. However, the nefarious Ohara Foundation has discovered the vast power the Steamball contains, and send men from Japan to the Expo to recover the invention from Ray – at any cost.

Based on a classic comic book story by Sadayuki Murai, and made at a cost of $20 million, Steamboy is one of the most anticipated and expensive Anime features ever made. It was released in Japan in the summer of 2004 to great critical acclaim and commercial success, and is scheduled for release in both Europe and the USA either later this year, or in early 2005. One of the most impressive aspects of the production, aside from the astonishingly detailed animation, is Steve Jablonsky’s exhilarating, barnstorming adventure score, which easily stands as one of the finest to be heard this year.

Best known as a member of the Media Ventures team, where he has been based since 1997, Jablonsky wrote additional music for films such as Pearl Harbor, Hannibal and Pirates of the Caribbean, and scored a couple of minor TV projects, before making his ‘proper’ feature debut on the Texas Chainsaw Massacre re-make last year. If Texas Chainsaw Massacre disappointed many people, then Steamboy will redress the balance. It is, quite simply, a remarkable achievement, containing more thematic beauty, stirring action set pieces, and life and energy than one could ever hope to hear in what is, essentially, a sophomore effort.

It’s difficult to know where to begin picking out highlights in Steamboy, because there are simply so many to choose from. The scene is set with a whimsical opening theme in “Manchester 1886”, which undoubtedly paints a lighter picture of the city than it actually was at that time, but nevertheless impresses with its lively woodwind melody and grand phrases. The quirky “Scarlet” introduces a delightful secondary theme, a much sprightlier affair for strings with the added bonus of a dancing cimbalom, and which is recapitulated on a delicate flute in “Crystal Palace Waltz”. The truly gorgeous “London World Exposition” introduces a third theme, written for the string section, which is replete with emotion and wonder.

The action music is, without exception, wholly wonderful, seemingly taking its lead from the masterful sense of freedom and energy heard in scores such as The Rocketeer, Hook and other scores which celebrate the liberating nature of flight. “The Chase” rockets along at a chipper pace in a percussive style not too dissimilar to the additional music he wrote for Pirates of the Caribbean, while other cues such as “Raid by the Airship”, “Ray’s Dilemma” and “The Sortie of Scotland Yard” includes a subtle electronic sound design element into the racing strings, heroic brasses and pounding percussion.

The entire finale, from “Fight in the Exposition Ground” onwards, is a breathless ride, in which Jablonsky puts both the orchestra and audience through their paces with a series of epic action sequences, interspersed with beautiful statements of the themes. An understated choir enters the fray in “Temptation”. “Fly in the Sky” is heroic to the max. The 11-minute finale in “Collapse and Rescue” and “Ray’s Theme” is modern orchestral film music at its absolute best.

Perhaps the most gratifying thing about the action music in Steamboy is the fact that – with apologies to people who are fans of the style – it doesn’t sounds like it came out of Media Ventures. The power anthems are gone, the portentous choir is no more. In its place is simple, good, old-fashioned orchestral through-composing, with plenty of innovation and not a trace of Zimmer-style cliché.

As a child of film music, Jablonsky’s influences occasionally peer though and reveal themselves: some of the action ostinatos are pure Michael Kamen, and some of his moodier textures are quintessential James Horner (listen to “Unexpected Meeting” for an example of this). But, for the most part, this is Jablonsky’s baby, and he admirably avoids falling into the temp-track trap that have befallen other composers of his comparative youth and inexperience.

Many people in the know have heralded Steve Jablonsky as a potential successor to the film music big boys, with the technical knowledge and talent to enjoy a long, successful and healthy career. Having now heard Steamboy, I wholeheartedly agree. If he can emerge from out of the shadow of Hans Zimmer and follow the same successful route as Harry Gregson-Williams, John Powell and others have done, then Steve Jablonsky will certainly be a name to watch in the future.

Rating: *****

Track Listing:

  • Manchester 1866 (5:15)
  • The Chase (5:04)
  • Unexpected Meeting (2:22)
  • Scarlet (1:32)
  • Raid By The Airship (2:29)
  • London World Exposition (3:35)
  • The Atelier of Ray (1:42)
  • Crystal Palace Waltz (2:14)
  • Ray’s Dilemma (5:39)
  • The Sortie of Scotland Yard (1:48)
  • Fight in the Exposition Ground (3:46)
  • Launch! (5:25)
  • Temptation (3:50)
  • Fly in the Sky (1:09)
  • Two Delusions (4:02)
  • Collapse and Rescue (8:26)
  • Ray’s Theme (2:53)

Running Time: 61 minutes 28 seconds

Colosseum CAS 8502-2 (2004)

Music composed by Steve Jablonsky. Conducted by Blake Neely. Orchestrations by Bruce Fowler, Suzette Moriarty, Walter Fowler, Elizabeth Finch and Ladd McIntosh. Recorded and mixed by Alan Meyerson. Edited by Tom Trafalski. Mastered by Louis Teran. Album produced by Steve Jablonsky, Alan Meyerson and Kei Momose.

  1. Edmund Meinerts
    December 1, 2014 at 5:37 pm

    Man, it’s sad reading this review ten years on and thinking about the path that Jablonsky’s career ended up taking. 😦

  2. superultramegaa
    February 18, 2018 at 5:53 am

    Y’know, I get that this is Jablonsky’s best score, and it’s disappointing he didn’t do more like this, but I still think the genius of Steamboy pops up every now and then in Jablonsky scores. If I had to pick his best work outside of this, it’d be D-War, Your Highness, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2, Nightmare on Elm Street, and Transformers 5.

    Those scores, have his unique sound, and they feel like his vision. Nightmare on Elm Street both cleverly homages the original with the main theme being a reworking of the main notes of the ’84 theme, and interesting new material. D-War, and TMNT 2, show his action score capabilities, with both interesting, melodic, and fun action themes, with some heartfelt moments.

    TF5 and Your Highness show his true genius, with TF5 having numerous subtle, Howard Shore-esque building of themes and motifs, and homages to the original TF1 score, and Your Highness, having impressive orchestrations, and a style combining elements of fantasy scores including Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and 70s/80s synth fantasy scores.

    All of these scores have little to no ghost-writers, all of them blend into the style established here, all of them have unique composition, with very little D minor, and all feel like there was real thought and effort put into them.

    • Timothy Snyder
      April 18, 2018 at 9:38 am

      I was very surprised by some of Jablonsky’s cues in TF5. Songs like Sacrifice and Seglass Ni Tonday were quite lovely. And his work on Ninja Turtles is underrated, showing he can go head to head with the likes of Brian Tyler.

      Somehow, I completely missed the fact that he did the Steamboy soundtrack, and listening to it now, I can’t believe this is Steve Jablonsky.

      I like the guy, and I’ve defended him before, but I never thought he had range like this.

      I think it really goes to show you how much a director/studio can dictate the direction that movie music takes. And also, apparently once you get pigeon holed into something, it can be hard to get out.

      I’d love to see him branch out more in the future.

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