Saturday 15 October 2016

The Iron Giant: Signature Edition

In 1999, a little animated film came and went with little fanfare. Failing to make back half of its budget, it was considered a failure. But in the years since, this film has gathered a cult following and has become widely regarded as a modern animated classic – as well as one of the best and, dare I say it, smartest children’s films ever made. It is of course The Iron Giant.

In 2015, an extended and remastered version of the film was re-released theatrically to huge interest and hype – and has now found its way to DVD and Blu-ray. Re-watching it now, it is truly shocking to think this masterpiece failed back in ’99. Who is to blame for this box office disaster?

First, let’s talk about the film. I can’t imagine there is anyone out there who hasn’t seen it at least once in the last 17 years, but the plot goes a little something like this. The Iron Giant follows Hogarth Hughes (Eli Marienthal), a nine-year-old boy with a heart of gold who encounters a giant robot (Vin Diesel) in the forest around his hometown of Rockwell in 1957. They form a bond, in the same way Elliot & ET or Pete & his dragon did. It’s all very charming. Until, of course, a deranged government official (Christopher McDonald) get a sniff of it and becomes obsessed with destroying it. With the help of his single mother (Jennifer Aniston) and scrapyard artist Dean (Harry Connick Jr), Hogarth must protect the Iron Giant from a world that just isn’t ready to accept him. The Iron Giant delivers on every level – it’s funny, thrilling and emotionally charged. It’s an absolute classic of the genre.

Revisiting the film now after so many years, the first thing that struck me was just how well the animation has held up. A combination of simple line-drawn animation and CGI, The Iron Giant looks absolutely fantastic even now. This is no surprise, as the film is the directorial debut of Brad Bird – now something of a legend in the animation world, with numerous works for Disney under his belt. The new Blu-ray remaster makes each and every line and shape feel sharp and crisp, giving the entire film a sparkling new feel. The same can be said for the film’s sound mix, crystal clear and booming throughout. An impeccable restoration. 

Narratively, the film still impresses. Sure, the plot itself is very simple – young boy must protect robot from world. But it is the setting of The Iron Giant that stands it out from the crowd. Taking place in Cold War 1957, the film taps into the paranoia and tensions of the era with admirable effect. Going straight over children’s heads – including mine, back in the day – this historical setting is rather unique for a family film. With numerous references to Sputnik and nuclear weapons, this fear creates a new layer to the antagonists’ distrust of the Iron Giant – they see him as a weapon, maybe even sent by the Russians. Genius!

But for some reason, Warner Brothers doomed it to fail back in ’99. Giving it an unusually poor marketing campaign, The Iron Giant made approximately $31 million at the worldwide box office – against a budget placed somewhere between $70 and $80 million. In an interview with IGN, director Brad Bird stated that it was "a mis-marketing campaign of epic proportions at the hands of Warner Bros., they simply didn't realise what they had on their hands”. In the years that followed this fuck-up, Warner Bros revamped their advertising strategy for the film’s home video release and thanks to VHS and DVD sales, combined with TV broadcasts, The Iron Giant has since gathered a cult following. And now, 17 years since its release, we have the final director-approved cut on a must-own Blu-ray release.

So, what makes this ‘Signature Edition’ release so special? Well firstly, you have two cuts of the film that are both stunningly gorgeous in their picture and audio quality. The new cut of the film includes two short scenes that have been newly animated for the release, including a nightmarish sequence that rather poetically shows us the Giant’s past. This scene alone is worth the purchase. But the release also includes a stunning documentary entitled “The Giant’s Dream”, taking us deep into the film’s past and pointing a finger at Warner Bros for the marketing disaster, as well as discussing the creative conflicts throughout the film’s production. A very fascinating and honest feature.

In conclusion, fans of The Iron Giant can rejoice that it has finally received the loving attention it deserves. The restoration is perfect and the film itself is still phenomenal. It is a timeless classic, and there will never be a better way to enjoy it. The film is a true masterpiece of the genre, and it is a crime it has taken so long for it to receive a home release that matches its quality. 5/5


Sam Love

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