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Steamboy

Steamboy Soundtrack (Steve Jablonsky) - CD cover
Composer: Steve Jablonsky
Released: 2005 (Film release: 2004)
Label: Domo Records (0794017304526)
Type: Movie
Listen: Amazon.com MP3
Format: CD, Download
Reviewers (8.33/10)
Members (8.55/10) (11 votes)
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1. Manchester 1866 (5:12)
2. The Chase (5:00)
3. Unexpected Meeting (2:18)
4. Scarlet (1:29)
5. Raid By The Airship (2:37)
6. London World Exposition (3:31)
7. The Atelier of Ray (1:40)
8. Crystal Palace Waltz (2:11)
9. Ray's Dilemma (5:36)
10. The Sortie of Scotland Yard (1:44)
11. Fight in the Exposition Ground (3:43)
12. Launch! (5:21)
13. Temptation (3:46)
14. Fly in the Sky (1:06)
15. Two Delusions (3:58)
16. Collapse and Rescue (8:23)
17. Ray's Theme (2:53)

Total duration: 60 minutes
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Review of Edmund Meinerts, submitted at , score: 10/10
Talk about tantalizing.

I discovered Steve Jablonsky in the same manner as most of his fan(boys). Back in 2007, I thoroughly enjoyed the Transformers score in the context of the movie. I actually thought to myself, “Hans Zimmer’s done it again,” before being thoroughly surprised to see Jablonsky’s name roll up on the credits. Upon acquiring the Transformers score, I judged it a work very much derivative of Zimmer, but enjoyable nonetheless. In a nutshell, it was a typical sort of above-average Media Ventures score, and I slightly wrote off all hope of this Steve Jablonsky character ever truly impressing me with originality or style. But newcomer Klaus Badelt had provided a strong un-Media-Ventures score for The Time Machine back in 2002, the beginning of a very hit-and-miss career – maybe there was a similar hidden gem hidden somewhere for Jablonsky.

I decided to look a bit further into this composer – who, I suddenly noticed, appears on the credits of all sorts of scores, from Armageddon to Hannibal to Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl. I repeatedly came across forum comments that dismissed Jablonsky as yet another Media Ventures hack – EXCEPT, many of them added, for his little-known 2004 score to the anime film Steamboy. So I decided to check this Steamboy out for myself – and I was NOT disappointed. Steamboy is an almost entirely orchestral, adventurous, fast-paced, spirited action romp that perfectly toes the magic line between Jablonsky’s Media Ventures sensibilities and a fresh, individual flair that is quite obviously missing from any of Jablonsky’s other scores.

The first two tracks showcase this perfectly, and set the tone for the rest of the album. “Manchester 1866” is a lovely track of light drama and adventure, hailing back to Jablonsky’s days on Desperate Housewives, and foreshadowing his later music for The Sims 3 (yes, I did my homework!). Jablonsky’s huge array of various percussion is introduced right away – from the suspenseful click-clicking woodblock sound heard in Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, to sharp snares and medium drums employed in the action cues. Unlike almost any other score from the Media Ventures/Remote Control studio, these drums are not further enhanced by synthesizers, drum pads or muddy, bass-heavy mixing. It is unbelievable what a refreshing difference Steamboy’s mix alone makes when compared to the studio’s usual output.

Track two, “The Chase,” is an early highlight, and is the first of many top-notch action tracks that this album boasts. In style, it again employs a skillful blend of Media Ventures tactics – chopping, fast-paced strings, for example, as well as a few neo-classical, Hans Zimmer-inspired progressions – and Jablonsky’s own flair, heard especially in the complex – and yet not looped – percussive rhythms that pound resolvedly throughout the track and score. Deep piano strikes augment these rhythms effectively. Also, at times, a marimba comes in to accompany the various string ostinati, giving the action music an adventurous touch even during its most frantic moments. All these traits are carried forth consistently in the other action tracks.

Even more than the action, though, Steamboy’s strength is the truly touching material Jablonsky composed for the film’s lighter scenes. “Scarlet,” for example, a lively, playful theme for that character performed on solo pan flute and accompanied by a piano and cembalom. But the score soon moves back into string-, piano- and percussion-driven action in “Raid by the Airship,” before the album’s arguably most memorable theme is introduced in the second half of “London World Exposition.” It’s a sombre string melody that builds on neo-classical chords. People who really know their Jablonsky will understand me when I say it sounds something like his contributions to Tears of the Sun .

“The Atelier of Ray” and “Crystal Palace Waltz” offer more of that lighter side of this score, welcome breathing moments between the action tracks. The latter track especially, featuring the same theme and the same lightweight instrumentation we heard in “Scarlet,” perfectly balances between playful and poignant.

Almost the entire second half of the album, from “Ray’s Dilemma” to the penultimate track, “Collapse and Rescue”, is one long action extravaganza, and not a second of it is boring. Jablonsky’s knack for coming up with inventive rhythms is on excellent display here – that at least was carried forth into his weaker The Island and Transformers scores, albeit in the form of obnoxious drum loops.

“Fly in the Sky” stands out from the rest of these action tracks, because of its upbeat, soaring, almost swashbuckling nature. A theme hinted at subtly in “Manchester 1866” and “The Atelier of Ray” is performed energetically on a brass section over racing string arpeggios and percussion. Unfortunately, the track ends almost before it has begun, but the next two tracks also do not disappoint.

“Two Delusions” states the same sombre melody we heard in “London World Exposition”, but this time, the idea is allowed to build into a massive choral and orchestral crescendo over moving string lines (if there’s one film scoring technique I’m a huge sucker for, it’s moving string lines, which Media Ventures employ very regularly). The first thing that came to mind was the music for Cutler Beckett’s death scene in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, though this predates that score by three years.

“Collapse and Rescue” is the album’s longest track by far, almost eight-and-a-half minutes long, and it is all anybody could possibly wish for a climactic track like this. It has swelling crescendos, soaring strings, the omnipresent percussion and a wonderful, swashbuckling brass theme – a continuation of “Fly in the Sky” is stated at about five minutes in, accompanied by light chorus.

This same brass theme is given a fuller development in the last track, “Ray’s Theme,” beginning on a solo piano and swelling into an excellent, upbeat and highly adventurous way to complete this hidden gem of an album.

It is very difficult to say exactly what it is I love so much about Steamboy. It doesn’t have any truly knock-out moments – for that matter, it doesn’t actually have any totally memorable themes (the only aspect where Transformers is superior to this score, though Zimmer-style power anthems are always easy to remember). And yet, Steamboy is such a downright lovable score, so energetic and full of adventurous spirit that I can’t help but lap up every second of it. It doesn’t hurt that there are next to none of the typical electronics or synths one would expect in a Media Ventures score – this score’s organic nature only adds to its endless appeal.

The action music – which sounds in places like Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, only far superior – is definitely the highlight of the album, and there is certainly a generous amount of it here. For enthusiasts of strong, complex, rhythmic percussion work and plenty of string ostinati, Steamboy is a dream come true, and worthy of standing alongside my big two favorite albums, PotC: AWE and Alan Silvestri’s Van Helsing .

As a big – I mean BIG – fan of Hans Zimmer, I have to take this opportunity to address those who criticize Zimmer’s style of having several ghostwriters on call to help him with a score. How else, do I ask, would a budding young composer such as Jablonsky gain the talent and experience to suddenly leap into solo flight with such a resounding bang The Texas Chainsaw Massacre aside)? For example, Jablonsky’s work on PotC 1 was a big influence and help with this score. Now that I have heard Steamboy, I can safely say that the track “Blood Ritual” on the PotC 1 album was probably his baby, as it is very similar in style to this score. But, unlike PotC 1, nobody can argue that Steamboy is a derivative Media Ventures score – Zimmer is a better teacher than most give him credit for, and Jablonsky has proven it.

Finally. I cannot help but point out rather an oddity: the music here sounds almost NOTHING like Jablonsky’s work for The Island or his infinitely more popular Transformers scores. There is an extremely logical explanation for this inconsistency: Steamboy is the ONLY film Jablonsky has worked on without the dubious influence of Michael Bay as producer and/or director. Transformers was enjoyable, yes, but it sounded too much like a thinly-veiled adaptation of a Hans Zimmer-heavy temp track. Which is exactly what Bay asked for, of course. As a film music enthusiast, though, I beg of you, Mr. Jablonsky – find yourself a decent action-adventure film helmed by a director who will allow you to employ your considerable creativity, and use the opportunity to provide us with another Steamboy! It’s tantalizing and immensely frustrating to know Jablonsky posesses the talent to write a score like this – and yet he hasn’t done anything but churn out recycled Zimitation scores in the five years following. It’s high time to shake the shackles of Media Ventures and Michael Bay, and show the world that Steve Jablonsky is a musical force to be reckoned with!

Read other recent reviews by Edmund Meinerts: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, Johnny English Reborn

Review of Tom Daish, submitted at , score: 7/10
Steve Jablonsky still has a fairly limited CV with most of his major credits being spelt 'Hans Zimmer', such as his fine contribution to Tears of the Sun and easy to spot due to the strangely loopy track titles. His first big solo effort for the trashy Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake had only a few moments that made it worth a listen on disc, but still a cut above the usual level of crud horror scoring. At the other end of the opportunities spectrum, animated films can often provide the composer vastly more scope - the chance to big it up and go larger than life are plentiful, especially when it's from one of Japan's finest animation directors, Katsuhiro Otomo, most famous for the 80's classic Akira. However, Steamboy is set in 19th Century England and features plenty of Jules Verne style steam powered machines and the expected doses of adventure and brain exploding visuals.
As was the case with Harry Gregson-Williams' solid, but generally somewhat unimaginative score to the animated Sinbad, the glowing praise that Steamboy has attracted seems just a touch hyperbolic. In truth, Steamboy has more variety and a stronger dramatic flow that Gregson-Williams' effort, no doubt as a result of having a better film to work with. However, compared to the handful of scores for other animé efforts to which I have become acquainted - notably those of Joe Hisaishi and Toshiyuki Honda - Jablonsky's score still seems a little average Hollywood. True, Hisaishi's work does have plenty of traditional Hollywood scoring flourishes, but his melodic talents are considerably stronger and the variety within each score is greater. This is not to say that Steamboy is a bad score, but it simply isn't a knock you sideways kind of album.

The score starts strongly with Manchester 1866, introducing the moderately memorable main themes and The Chase is a pretty decent action outing, setting the tone early for action, although later outings become rather similar and consequently less inspiring. It may be disingenuous to compare and contrast scores from a specific genre of film, but after the dazzling invention of Honda's action in Metropolis, Jablonsky's chopping strings, percussion and brass punctuation seems very old hat and is only infrequently enlivened by anything more substantial. However, Fly in the Sky is a high water mark, featuring the kind of up and away flying music that is always a joy, but the dramatic finale to the eight minutes of Collapse and Rescue is dramatically solid and blends from the rather less inspiring material earlier in the cue.

It's worth pointing out that Steamboy is a score I desperately wanted to really like and if the above seems a bit harsh, then it's possibly my disappointment spilling over. At around an hour, the album is just a bit long and Jablonsky wastes a little of the personality he brings to the earlier tracks on more routine material in some of the middle and later stages. True, the end of Collapse and Rescue is good, but only with Ray's Theme is it apparent just how much more engaging the melodic material could be and how disengaging it has become. However, for a relative newcomer, it is still a fine accomplishment and the album moves along with plenty of gusto. Jablonsky is definitely a name to watch.

Read other recent reviews by Tom Daish: The Snow Files: The Film Music of Mark Snow, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, Andromeda

Review of Andreas Lindahl, submitted at , score: 8/10
I love when scores take me completely by surprise. When I started listening to film scores that seemed to happen every time I popped a new CD into my player, but rarely anymore, for some reason. Probably because it's harder to get impressed when you've heard hundreds, if not thousands, of different scores. It's something I really miss, anyway.

Enter Steamboy. Steve Jablonsky's score for this animated film from Japan is one of the best hidden gems of 2004, so far. Only released in Japan, and now also in Europe, this is a score the normal hype has passed by. Until now, I hope. Composed for large orchestra, with some subtle electronics thrown in to the mix, Steamboy is a fun ride from start to finish, dominated by action music that will make you smile. It's a fun ride, with lots of quick string ostinatos, ticking - creating a sense of urgency and race against time - percussion and sharp brass. Tracks like "The Chase", "Raid by the Airship", "Fight in the Exposition Ground" and the eight minutes long "Collapse and Rescue" are absolute highlights, even if the many string ostinatos can get a little too repetetive at times. But it's effective. And lots of fun. And there's practically no Media Ventures action music to be found in the score, even if some cues gets a little close at times - "Fly in the Sky", for example, with its powerful brass.

Add to this some more gentle music and some incredibly charming themes and you'll get one of the best scores of the year. The opening "Manchester 1866" opens with a statement of the score's main theme - Ray's Theme - performed by light woodwinds and soft French horn, supported by subtle percussion and strings, soon getting more intense and exciting. The one and a half minute long "Scarlet" is the score's most charming cue, with a lovely statement of another major theme, performed by strings, marimba and woodwinds. "London World Exposition" adds some more beauty to the score, and a sense of wonder, while "The Atalier of Ray" is yet another lovely and charming rendition of Ray's theme, performed by a muted French horn and strings. Scarlet's theme returns in the equally lovely "Crystal Palace Waltz". Closing the CD is a longer, and very nice, version of Ray's theme. A perfect ending to a very, very strong score. Take the trouble to hunt down a copy.

Read other recent reviews by Andreas Lindahl: The Rock, The Phantom of the Opera, Peter Pan

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The music of this soundtrack was used in:

Steamboy (Trailer)

This soundtrack trailer contains music of:

Full Force - Directors Cut Library, John Powell (Trailer)
Steamboy (2005), Steve Jablonsky (Movie)


See also: All trailers
Other releases of Steamboy (2004):

Steamboy (2004) Steamboy (2004) Steamboy (2004)

Soundtracks from the collection: Animation

Madagascar (2005) Cricket on the Hearth (1967) Mickey - Donald - Goofy (2004) Superman: Doomsday (2007) Lord of the Rings, The (1991) Lupin III (2007) Mondes Engloutis, Les (2011) Brave (2012) FernGully: The Last Rainforest (1992) Lion King 3 - Hakuna Matata, The (2006)

Soundtracks from the collection: Kids

Jungle Book 2, The (2003) 風の谷のナウシカ (1993) Smurfs, The (2011) Lilo & Stitch (2002) Nightmare Before Christmas, The (1993) Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (2012) That Darn Cat (1997) Jumanji (1995) Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D, The (2005) Little Princess, A (1995)

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