The Iron Giant takes the viewer back to rural Maine circa 1957, a time when the cold war was raging and the military was strong and affluent. One night, a huge metal machine crash lands from outer space, creating quite a stir with a small fishing boat. In town wild tales are told, but none are believed. Later the next day, nine-year-old Hogarth Hughes goes outside to check the rooftop TV antenna after his favorite television program suddenly cuts out. Only to find it missing and a huge path of destruction leading away into a dark forest. Setting off he follows the trail and discovers a huge robot making a quick meal of the local power station’s metallic structure, but it becomes caught up in the high-voltage lines and electrocuted. Frightened, Hogarth takes off towards home, but the giant’s loud cries of pain bring him back to disable the station.
Soon, Hogarth and the giant learn to communicate and become friends, the giant having lost his memory after the incident. After witnessing a hunter kill a deer, Hogarth teaches the giant that killing – and thus guns – are wrong. But while playing in a scrap yard much to the giant’s own surprise and dismay, they learn that it has a deeper defensive programming. The giant, who wholeheartedly wants to do only right, refuses to believe that it could possibly be a "gun". But when the army comes to town the giant will have to struggle both emotionally and physically to control its’ darker half.
The Iron Giant is an emotional tale based on the works of British poet Ted Hughes. The exquisitely detailed neo-50’s animation is delicately colored, smoothly rendered and a pleasure to watch when seamlessly combined with the totally computer-generated giant. Overall, the film will appeal to both children on a simple level and to adults on a somewhat deeper basis. Plus it isn’t a musical – what more could you ask for! Warner is trying hard to capture some of the fire from Disney’s animation department – and if they can keep up this level of quality they’re sure to succeed. Unfortunately, The Iron Giant was a bit of a disappointment in terms of box office turnout, so Warner is hoping this DVD will revive part of the film’s lost momentum.
As is typical of Warner, the DVD release is fantastic. The video is shown in the theatrical 2.35:1 (Scope) widescreen format – and is anamorphically enhanced. The animation style used involves a lot of fine black lines, all of which are captured and reproduced beautifully. The colors are soft and somewhat pastel, however all are reproduced accurately in a warm and comfortable manner. No dirt, compression artifacts, noise or unwanted film grain can be seen. Black levels and brightness are both very good. The film is divided into 30 chapters and is contained on a single layer. The double-sided DVD also features a mostly pointless full-screen presentation on the other side. Alas, it loses almost half of the detailed animation when compared to the widescreen presentation, upsetting the artistically composed scenery. Also included on the disc are English subtitles.
The audio is presented solely in Dolby Digital 5.1 – and that’s a good thing! The film combines an original orchestral score by Michael Kamen with classic 50’s pieces, all in stunning clarity. The rear channels are used often and effectively, creating a seamless surround environment. The dialogue channel is clear without any background noise, as one would expect on an animation film, but in many scenes voices appeared somewhat muffled. It didn’t make them any less easy to understand, but I still found it distracting. Otherwise, The Iron Giant’s subwoofer track is impressively active especially when the giant itself is on screen. No alternate language soundtracks are included.
Not billed as a special edition, Warner nevertheless packaged more extras than is the norm. First and most importantly is a 22-minute "making of" documentary that was originally aired on television and gives a lot of behind-the-scenes detail. It is hosted by Vin Diesel, the voice of the giant, who doesn’t seem well suited for this purpose. Next is the "Cha Hua Hua" music video/animation montage set to Eddie Platt’s 1958 song in mono audio. Also available are cast/crew filmographies, the original theatrical trailer in 2.35:1 anamorphic video and stereo sound, minuscule scene selection screens and a bit of DVD-ROM content including the original theatrical web site.
Altogether this is an excellent movie presented on a great DVD with a reasonable list price. Recommended for animation fans of all ages.
- Reviewed by Daniel Tonks on November 29, 1999.
1-Poor 2-Fair 3-Good 4-Excellent
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