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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 11/14/99

The Iron Giant
1999 (1999) - Warner Bros.

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

The Iron Giant Film Rating: A+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/B+/C+

Specs and Features

87 minutes, PG, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, full frame (1.33:1), dual-sided, single- layered, Snapper case packaging, theatrical trailer, The Making of The Iron Giant featurette, Cha-Hua-Hua music video by Eddie Platt, cast & crew bios, DVD-ROM features (weblinks, chat room and special event access), animated film-themed menus with sound effects and music, scene access (30 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1), subtitles: English, Close Captioned

Until recently, feature-length animated films from Hollywood have suffered from a sort of cookie-cutter syndrome. With the exception of The Prince of Egypt, much of what I've seen on the big screen just really hasn't held much interest for me. In fact, the most interesting animation I've seen in the last few years, has been Warner's work for television, with their stylized Batman and Superman animated series. So I'm not surprised that Warner should be responsible for The Iron Giant.

The Iron Giant recently won 9 Annie Awards (for excellence in animation), including Best Picture, and deservedly so. It is, hands down, the coolest Hollywood studio animated film I've seen in a LONG time. Adapted from a novel (and play) by Ted Hughes, The Iron Giant perfectly captures the strange atmosphere of the 1950, which was a time of unprecedented prosperity and innocence in the United States, and yet was marked by ever growing fear and paranoia - witness the Red Scare, McCarthyism, the Cold War and the threat of nuclear annihilation. Its story is simple. Hogarth Hughes is a typical young boy, living with his single mother Annie (voiced by Jennifer Aniston) in the idyllic little town of Rockwell, Maine. One night, after hearing a local fisherman describe seeing "invaders from outer space", Hogarth is watching scary movies on TV, when the reception goes out. He climbs onto the roof of his house, only to discover that the TV antenna is gone, and that a trail of destruction leads away from the house into the woods. Never one to shy away from an adventure, and with his imagination running wild, Hogarth grabs his trusty B. B. gun and heads off in pursuit. What he discovers will change his life forever - a 50-foot-tall iron giant with a huge appetite for metal, and a heart to match. But Hogarth isn't the only one looking for the giant - a government agent named Kent Mansley (from the Bureau of Unexplained Phenomena) is hot on his trail as well. So Hogarth must ask for the help of a beatnik junk dealer, named Dean McCoppin (played delightfully by Harry Connick, Jr.), to help keep his new friend a secret.

The Iron Giant is engaging and quite funny, but in a very sly way. There are a number of great little in jokes. Take a look at the movie the kids are watching in the classroom scene - it's a deft spoof on the naiveté of the, "duck and cover" civil defense films of the time. There's also a sly poke at the typical 1950s "alien invader" movies (you know the type - where the aliens are not-so-subtle stand-ins for Communists, and where the good-looking scientist always saves the day). What I'm talking about is the movie Hogarth's not supposed to be watching on TV early in chapter 3 ("Oh darn - a perfectly good brain wasted."). The animation in The Iron Giant is stylized and impressive, recalling in some instances the retro look of the old Max Fleischer Superman cartoons. All of the characters are animated traditionally in 2D, except the giant himself, who has been rendered in 3D by computer, and then colored traditionally to match the style of the rest of the film. There are tons nice little touches in the animation too. Notice again, for example, the B&W television that Hogarth is watching in chapter 3 - you can see faint scan lines floating slowly down the screen. And the cast of voice talent is filled with surprising and effective choices. Jennifer Aniston and Harry Connick, Jr. are wonderful in their respective roles, as is young Eli Marienthal (as Hogarth). Christopher McDonald is absolutely perfect as Mansley. And the supporting cast is equally well chosen, featuring M. Emmet Walsh, John Mahoney, Vin Diesel and Cloris Leachman.

On DVD, The Iron Giant really looks wonderful, in full anamorphic widescreen (full frame is also provided on the flip side of the disc for those who prefer it). The color is gorgeous, with very good contrast and excellent detail. The picture is only marred by very light edge enhancement (but it's not at all distracting), and very minor artifacting at the beginning of the film, during the rainstorm at sea. One thing I'm very happy to see here, is clean looking video footage behind the menu screens. Recent Warner DVDs have also featured full-motion video in the menus, but compressed for DVD at a VERY low bitrate, resulting in some really mediocre-looking menu imagery, despite cool animated transitions (The Matrix and The Wizard of Oz, surprisingly, come to mind). The audio is also good on this DVD, with mostly clear dialogue (there are a few exceptions), solid bass, and excellent (if often subtle) use of the rear channels. Listen to chapter 19, as the robot jumps into the lake. You can hear his footsteps storming in from the right, and when the splash happens, the bass kicks in hard - this is fun 5.1 sound. And the soundtrack features a good original score by Michael Kamen, and some great 50s tunes as well.

Unfortunately, this disc isn't exactly loaded with extras, but what you do get is enough I suppose. Included is a 22-minute "making of" featurette (originally produced for the WB network), a music video for Eddie Platt's Cha-Hua-Hua, a theatrical trailer, and bios of the cast and crew. They're all fine, but I definitely wanted more - how about some of that production art, and those concept design sketches you see in the featurette? How about a commentary track with the director or the cast? The Iron Giant is a film that really got lost in theaters, for being sadly under-promoted by the studio, and it certainly deserved more attention on DVD. To be fair, the disc DOES also include weblinks, access to online events, and other DVD-ROM fluff. But I'm not a big fan of ROM extras (other than, say, including the film's original screenplay), so I don't much care. I would much rather have a special edition DVD of this title (with all of the content on the video side), than an SE of something like Wild Wild West, but what can you do?

That said, I still highly recommend this DVD, extras or not. The video and audio quality of this presentation is excellent. But above all, the film is stylish, engrossing and completely entertaining for all ages. The Iron Giant is definitely a must-see animated movie, and DVD is the perfect way to experience it. Get it as soon as you can, and I think you'll be glad you did.

Bill Hunt
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