THE IRON GIANT
Review by Michael Jacobson
Jennifer Aniston, Harry Connick Jr., Eli Marienthal, Christopher McDonald
Director: Brad Bird
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: See Review
Length: 87 Minutes
Release Date: November 17, 2004
"You are who you choose to be."
Ted Hughes’ book The
Iron Man is as classic a story to British children as The Wizard of Oz is to ours. For
nearly forty years, his tale about a gentle, misunderstood giant man of metal
has not only captured imaginations, but won hearts with its sweet story and
strong moral lesson about the dangers of paranoia and intolerance.
Unfortunately, it’s a classic tale that has remained largely unknown in
this country, save for the rock songs it inspired by artists like Black Sabbath
and Pete Townshend.
As such, Warner Bros.’ amazing animated film The
Iron Giant, while garnering much praise and critical acclaim, didn’t find
the audience it deserved at the box office.
Disney always succeeded in choosing popular fables or well-known stories
for their films, but sadly for Warner, the lack of familiarity American
audiences had for this British tale may have kept the mildly curious at bay.
But at least now, with this quality special edition DVD offering, fans young and old
alike can get a second chance to see just what a remarkable, fresh, funny and
moving film this is.
The story takes place in 1957, when a paranoid Western
civilization turned a fearful eye toward that little blip in the sky called
Sputnik…a rather innocuous little satellite that nonetheless had good people
living in fear of the “Red Menace”, and of technology in general.
And our government wasn’t much help in calming those fears, unloading
ridiculous propaganda films about “duck and cover” (which this movie spoofs
beautifully at one point), trying to make sane people believe that nuclear war
didn’t have to be considered such a scary thing.
It is into that version
of the 1950s that the title character inexplicably falls.
In a spectacular sequence, the giant arrives from the sky in a giant
fireball, landing right in the middle of a terrible hurricane, where the first
sightings of him are dismissed as imagination.
The big creature seems hurt, and struck with some kind of amnesia.
He can’t recall what he is, where he came from, or why he exists.
A 50 foot tall metal crunching robot is enough to instill
fear into the heart of most, but young Hogarth, an imaginative boy weaned on
science fiction, sees the gentle side of the creature.
The two become friends, but their fun together is doomed to be short
lived, when an ambitious government agent gets wind of the iron giant, and
senses an opportunity to further his own career by hunting it down and
destroying it. “We didn’t make
it,” he snidely remarks at one point, “and that’s reason enough to blow it
to Kingdom Come.”
And in a none-too-subtle but extremely powerful way, we
begin to see the destructiveness of hating something or someone just because we
don’t understand them. It turns
out, the big fellow is really an awesome instrument of war, who fights back in
terrible and amazing ways when attacked. It’s
ironic that he doesn’t remember at all that he has those capabilities, but the
onslaught of hatred and violence directed toward him awakens that buried trait,
and unleashes in it self-defense.
But such behavior is against the giant’s gentleness, and
soon, with the aid of Hogarth, he realizes that even a big machine can chose not
to be an instrument of destruction. The
question is, whether his choice against defending himself will mean his own destruction.
Warner spared no expense in creating this amazing
modern classic of animation. Everything
from the overall look of the picture, with its rich array of 50’s style pastel
colors, to the wonderful character designs, to the funny and touching script
make this a picture that deserves to be contemplated as a film, rather than a
cartoon. And kudos to the cast,
most of whom had not done voice over work before, but who shine in this
picture…particularly Harry Connick Jr., who’s cool, friendly demeanor shines
from the screen…and who obviously provided a bit of inspiration for his
animated character’s looks, too.
In the end, the film addresses what sadly seems to be
imbedded in human nature…the instinct to fear and feel prejudice against what
we don’t easily understand. Many
fables throughout history have tried to drive this point home, and it seems like
many more films like The Iron Giant will
have to be made, until hopefully, some day we all get the point, and realize,
like the giant, that just because it may be in our nature to behave a certain
way, we still do have a choice in the matter.
Extraordinary! This animated film is given a breathtaking, beautiful anamorphic transfer from Warner. It was a visual treat all the way. As mentioned, the movie draws from a palette of warm, bright pastel colors, and they all render gloriously on this disc, with no bleeding or distortion. Images are always clean, clear, and sharp, and even with many darker and night time settings, the picture never loses clarity or exhibits grain or break-up.
The 5.1 soundtrack is every bit the equal of the video
transfer, and one of the best I've ever heard for an animated film. The
audio is powerful and dynamic throughout, with excellent use of the subwoofer
for added strength and bottom end and skillful balance and crossover between
full front and rear channels. Even better, this is an animated film with
no bombastic pop ballads or cute kiddie tunes to help sell a soundtrack.
This is as real an audio track as any film you're likely to see. Combine
the excellence of the video and audio presentations here, and you have a solid
reference quality disc.
Warner's new special edition release has plenty of goodies, starting with a new commentary track from director Brad Bird and his crew...an enjoyable listen. You can also choose to watch the film with the "Behind the Armor" feature activated...whenever the icon comes up, you can access one of 13 branching mini documentary sequences for the movie!
There are 8 deleted scenes with introduction by Bird, including an alternate opening and the Giant's dream sequence, featurettes on the storyboarding of the "Annie Meets Kent" and "Duck and Cover" bits (funny stuff!), plus a look at Vin Diesel as the voice of the Giant.
Rounding out are an original trailer and Brad Bird's own trailer design, animated storyboards, stills galleries, cast filmographies, and DVD ROM content. And don't miss a couple of easy-to-find Easter eggs...one is a short but funny pencil-test gag, and the other is a copy of a letter from author Ted Hughes to the producer of the film!