What if a gun had a soul?
The Iron Giant, while no giant at the box office, can easily stand as one of the finest examples of animation and all-ages entertainment produced by Hollywood in many years.
The Iron Giant came and went from theatres in the summer of 1999 without making many friends. It opened the same weekend as The Sixth Sense, Mystery Men, and The Thomas Crown Affair, and it got lost in the shuffle. I did not end up seeing it until October, when it moved to the bargain theatre. I walked out of the theatre that afternoon feeling like I had just experienced the most joyous movie I had ever had the pleasure of seeing. In a year filled with soulless blockbusters that crowds flocked to, this was a movie with spirit and heart that no one saw.
The Iron Giant is set in the United States of the 1950s. The animation and characterization capture this world perfectly. It is set in a small working-class town during a time when the perils of the atomic age have everyone worried that Russian satellites are going to destroy them from the sky. Into this world drops a 50-foot tall metal man from outer space. A fisherman first encounters it when his boat crashes into the robot during a storm. The locals do not believe his tale, but a young boy, Hogarth Hughes, suspects that there may be something to it. Late that night, Hogarth goes into the woods to investigate, and finds the giant at a power station. He saves the giant’s life, and a bond is formed between the two. However, a meddling government agent comes to town to investigate the reports, and the military is soon called to destroy the alien visitor. It is at that point that the giant reveals his true nature, but also discovers that he can choose his destiny.
The Iron Giant was directed by Brad Bird, who has worked on great television animated series such as The Simpsons, King of the Hill, and The Critic. He assembled a fine cast of voice talent, including Jennifer Aniston (Office Space, Picture Perfect, TV’s Friends), Harry Connick Jr. (Independence Day, Copycat, Hope Floats), and Vin Diesel (Saving Private Ryan, the upcoming Pitch Black). Bird’s animation team used computer-generated 3D models to animate the giant, but it matches seamlessly with the traditional hand-drawn cels and hand-painted backgrounds. As I remarked earlier, the animation captures the era flawlessly and down to the last detail. This results in an animated film that, unlike Disney’s recent animated fare, feels very much like it is taking place in the real world. Add to that characters who have character and behave realistically, and you have the best animated movie produced in the United States in decades.
The DVD offers the movie in full-frame and 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen on opposite sides of the disc. While I’m sure this goes without saying, the movie needs to be viewed in widescreen to appreciate the animation. The characters and scenes were blocked very much like a well-filmed live-action movie, and it loses much of its impact when viewed full-frame. Digital artifacts are also visible in full-screen that are not visible in the widescreen version. My poor-man’s setup doesn’t leave me much room to speak about the sound mix, but that leads me to one of my complaints. In certain scenes, the dialogue sounds muffled and lost in the mix, particularly toward the beginning. However, those with subwoofers will surely enjoy some very neighbor-annoying rumbles when the giant is in action. The disc’s menus feature an animated introduction highlighting scenes from the movie. Special features are somewhat lacking (I’ll discuss my theory why in the next section). Cast and crew bios, a music video, the theatrical trailer, and a 22-minute making-of featurette are included, along with English subtitles. The making-of featurette was originally aired on the WB Network. It’s mostly a fluff piece, and you won’t learn much about the making of the movie from it.
Warner Brothers treated The Iron Giant more or less how you would expect them to treat an animated movie: like it was a kiddie flick. It is far from that. So, my theory is that they gave this DVD release the bare-bones features that a family audience would care about, rather than things that videophiles would desire like a commentary track. It’s too bad, because Brad Bird had a lot of passion for this project, and his comments would have been much appreciated.
The numerical rating below does not do the movie justice, thanks to Warner Brothers. If you have not experienced this movie, I would recommend it as a rental if your local Blockbuster found it in their good graces to stock it. If you have seen it…why don’t you own it yet?