“The Iron Giant: Signature Edition” – Polished Classic

Written by Jesse Gelinas October 07, 2015

Hogarth with hie Iron Giant

In today’s film industry with rapidly advancing CGI technology and computer-animated cartoons, the art of hand-drawn animation, sadly, seems to be on its last legs. Luckily for us, one of the great modern classics was recently back in theaters for a one-off screening. Brad Bird’s atomic-age, sci-fi film “The Iron Giant” has been remastered and re-released.Touting a couple brief new scenes, and enhanced visuals, not to mention a hell of a nostalgia kick for me generation, this cartoon definitely deserved its one last blast on the big screen.

*SPOILERS below*

For the uninitiated, “The Iron Giant” centers on young Hogarth Hughes (Eli Marienthal). He’s a smart, if lonely young lad living with his mother (Jennifer Aniston) in 1950s Maine. While the threat of Russian war hangs overhead, an alien object comes crashing to Earth just outside Hogarth’s town of Rockwell. Hogarth soon discovers the object to be a 50-foot tall metal eating robot (Vin Diesel). With a bump on its head, it can’t remember where it’s from, but Hogarth befriends the Giant and with the help of local beatnik, Dean (Harry Connick Jr) manages to keep him fed and hidden from the panicky public. Their efforts are complicated by the arrival of an overzealous G-man (Christopher McDonald) who is terrified the Giant is the harbinger of a massive invasion.

“You are who you choose to be.”

The film itself has always been just a delight. A large portion of its charm is thanks to the unique Cold War setting. The atmosphere of fear and paranoia is quite uncommon in a kids’ film, but it works tremendously. The panic over Russian satellites, the unstoppable G-man from Washington, right down to the hilarious “duck and cover” video shown in Hogarth’s class. It’s a perfect setting for a sci-fi story, and lends itself well to Bird’s themes of tolerance, disarmament, and (one has to imagine) a passionate anti-gun message. Of course the audience still gets an exciting War of the Worlds style action dose when the Iron Giant goes into defense mode, setting off an epic rampage.

The Iron Giant plays Superman

The Giant himself is a wonderful character, and will eventually go down as an all-time classic. He’s a fresh faced outsider, seeing the world for the first time, just trying to find his place in it. The scared townsfolk would call him a monster, when all he wants to do is prove he can be a hero (Superman to be precise). It’s a common and done-to-death trope, but it’s done well. The loving friendship that emerges between the Iron Giant and Hogarth is genuine and engaging, and is the heart of the film.

“Welcome to downtown Coolsville. Population: us.”

“The Iron Giant” is backed with an all-star cast to top it off. Jennifer Aniston at the height of her Rachel phase is pleasant and believable as Hogarth’s overworked mother, Annie. Harry Connick Jr is a perfect artsy beatnik. Vin Diesel (before Fast & Furious fame hit) is the titular Iron Giant, and adds a nice layer of vulnerability and soul to the machine’s voice. The standout though has to be Chrsitopher McDonald’s government spook, Kent Mansley. He gets basically all the best lines, his delivery is unmatched, and he’s a terrific personification of the of the era.

Iron Giant gun

The Signature Edition as it’s now called, is fully remastered, enhancing the already beautiful original hand-drawn visuals. “The Iron Giant” was always a pretty film to look at, but now it’s optimized and well worth an HD home release (already announced). This new edition also carries two new scenes absent from the original version. The first is a brief encounter between Dean and Annie. The second, more significant scene is a dream the Iron Giant has while sleeping in Dean’s scrapyard. The sequence shows an army of identical robots waging war on a distant planet shortly before it explodes. The animation of the dream scene is particularly impressive, and adds a nice menacing tone that wasn’t there before.

“You put a line around a character, but the line is alive.” – Brad Bird

“The Iron Giant: Signature Edition” adds little to the original, but what is added enhances. The film is beloved now for its visuals and setting, but was surprisingly unpopular in its own time. I won’t use the phrase “under-appreciated gem” because I’m not a massive tool, but it certainly did not find its audience in theaters the first time (barely making back half its budget). It won’t break any records on the few screens that screened it last week, but I encourage people of all ages to consider giving “The Iron Giant” another go. The Signature Edition will be getting a proper blu-ray release soon enough.  Nostalgic adults will still love it. Kids will fall in love with it, and everyone can enjoy the timeless tale of a young boy, and his gigantic robot.

My Rating: 9.5/10

The Iron Giant Signature Edition

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About Jesse Gelinas

After years attempting to escape the Matrix, Jesse has accepted his fate as a writer and Senior Editor. Now that's he finished with his film degree, it gives him something to do while waiting for the machines to get careless.

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