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THE IRON GIANT
Blu-ray Signature Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Voices:  Jennifer Aniston, Harry Connick Jr., Eli Marienthal, Christopher McDonald
Director:  Brad Bird
Audio:  DTS HD 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.4:1
Studio:  Warner Bros.
Features:  See Review
Length:  87 Minutes
Release Date: 
September 6, 2016

"You are who you choose to be."

Film ****

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. Ironic, though, that while we in today’s age tend to romanticize the 1950’s as an age of wholesome innocence with shows like “Happy Days” or the idealistic old time programming on TV Land…we tend to forget about the fear of nuclear holocaust being just a button push away.

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.

Video ****

Extraordinary!  This animated film is given a breathtaking, beautiful high definition 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.  I'm truly glad to see this film on Blu-ray!

Audio ****

The uncomressed 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.

Features ****

Warner's new Signature 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 a brand new feature "The Giant's Dream", a detailed documentary on the making of the film.

Summary:

The Iron Giant  is a beautiful, technical marvel of imaginative animation, with a terrific, sweet story at its core.  It manages to be extremely funny, exciting, moving, and moralistic all at the same time.  Its message against hating what we don’t understand is potent and magnificently told.  One can see that even stories like E. T. owe something to this classic fable penned by Britain’s one-time poet laureate.  This is an extraordinary picture on an equally impressive disc, and will appeal to the child and adult equally.  It made my ten best list of 1999, and frankly, there aren't many years where it wouldn't have made it.  In the recent renaissance of animation the world of cinema has been experiencing, this film easily takes a place amongst the shining gems of the medium.  This Signature Edition Blu-ray is a must own.

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