UPDATE: I’ve decided to split this review into two, one of each movie.
Okay, originally this was just gonna be a review of Ridley Scott’s new film The Martian, but after seeing the re-release of The Iron Giant in theatres there was no way it wasn’t going to get its own review. So, while The Martian will be spoiler free, Iron Giant won’t.
Also, I just found out that My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 comes out the same weekend as Batman v Superman. Perfect! Now I have something to watch that weekend instead!
So then, first things first…
WARNING: SPOILERS FOR THE IRON GIANT
Backstory time. I don’t remember much of my feelings about movies and tv shows as a kid other than I had a large preference towards animation with the sole exceptions being Mary Poppins and Power Rangers. I do, however, have fond memories of The Iron Giant, it being one of the few non Disney and non TV tie in movies I owned, at a time where my favourite movie was a tie somewhere between Sleeping Beauty and Peter Pan (or Beauty and the Beast if my mother’s to be believed). I don’t think it ever registered for me that the film took place in anything besides modern day. Maybe I thought some of the technology looked different, but as someone who never really learned about the Cold War until middle school (or maybe high school) it was just a film about a kid who befriends a giant robot, stuff blew up, the bad government guy was funny, and the ending made me cry. That’s what I got.
Then we stopped using my VCR for about half a decade (because someone forgot to plug it in) and I just sort of forgot about the film other than the fact that I owned a copy of it. So imagine my surprise when in high school I became more engulfed in internet culture and discovered the film has a large fanbase, at least cult status sized. I couldn’t believe it. But, even when we started using my VCR again I still didn’t rewatch Iron Giant. Not sure why, just didn’t. Then I watched SF Debris’s review of the film, which you can watch here. That is what got me interested again, especially when I found out about the remastered re-release with additional scenes so I quickly snatched up a ticket and two months later here I am writing about it.
Okay, what’s it about? Well, a boy named Hogarth Hughes, played by Eli Marienthal, lives with his widowed waitress mother Annie, played by Jennifer Aniston, in a small town called Rockwell, Maine in the year 1957, during the height of the Sputnik Crisis. One night he discovers a giant alien robot in the woods who eats metal. After saving him from being electrified, he starts to befriend the Giant, played by Vin Diesel, who has lost his memory thanks to the accident. When a man from the government named Kent Mansley, played by Christopher McDonald, shows up, he enlists the help of a beatnik artist named Dean McCoppin, played by Harry Connick, Jr., to hide his new friend and keep him safe.
The film in its initial run received terrific reviews from both critics and audiences, but didn’t do well at the box office due to Warner Bros’s poor marketing following the failure of Quest for Camelot. It’s done wonderfully on DVD and TV reruns thanks mostly to being run on Cartoon Network every Thanksgiving Day in the early 2000s, gaining a cult status.
The remastered film looks much better than I remember on my old VHS (part of the reason being it’s in widescreen as opposed to full), the colours just pop and the shadows are fantastic. Not to mention the flight scenes, the character designs, backgrounds, it’s just an amazing piece of 2D animation that I wish more people would do outside Japan. I’m not the biggest fan of CGI as an animation technique because I feel it’s been taking over from 2D animation and giving it a ‘for kiddies’ reputation (which makes no sense) and just to see a 2D animated film in theatres again is wonderful. Yes, there’s some CGI in it, mostly with the Giant, but I don’t notice it all well as in other films.
This was Brad Bird’s first work and honestly, I’d say it’s his best. Not that I don’t love The Incredibles and Ratatouille, which I do, but to see this much love and heart into a film at a time where even Disney wasn’t doing as well as Pixar (pre Disney buyout)…it’s just beautiful. Also, there’s gonna be an Incredibles 2. Yay!
The voice work is great, all of the character sound wonderful and appropriate. They’re likeable (except Mansley, he’s a turd, but a well written turd), they all have distinct personalities and motivations, and they all have unique relationships with each other and other characters. Also, yes, the Giant is kinda Proto-Groot, in the same way Elphaba from Wicked is kinda Proto-Elsa.
While the film has the military in a negative light because they’re the bad guys, all of them (except Mansley) are redeemable. Most films I see either shower too much praise on the military (see every Michael Bay film ever) or they demonise it. This film doesn’t. These soldiers are in the Cold War, they’re responding to a situation that appears to be a threat, but their leader, General Rogard, has the good sense to listen to reason and is rational. Mansley is the Cold War paranoia taken to the extreme, reflecting the fears we had about anything not American, mainly Sputnik which had just gone up at the time. His fears are understandable, but since he’s the villain this doesn’t redeem him and he ultimately turns out to be a coward at heart, willing to sacrifice others in order to end his fear.
War has a tendency to make people’s fears and paranoia grow exponentially. We’ve seen it in World War 2 with the Japanese internment camps, we’ve seen it in the Cold War with the McCarthy era and the Red Scare, and, sadly, we’re still seeing it today with the War on Terror and the hatred against Muslims since 9/11. I’m not saying these fears aren’t understandable, but they’re also not fair. You can’t blame an entire population of people for the actions of one group or one government. Similarly, you can’t take everything different as a threat. And with our current debate about gun safety and police shootings, this film is especially prevalent today with its anti-war and anti-gun messages. We’re still afraid, we’re still shooting or running in fear instead of asking questions. Innocents are still getting hurt. This was really the perfect time to re-release this movie.
Included in the re-releases where the additional scenes. I know there were two, but really I only noticed the last one, which looked like two different scenes. The night after Hogarth and the Giant find the deer they saw dead, he tries to comfort his metal friend about how, while people die, their souls, something everything good has, live on. This is a really touching moment and I’m glad it was included. The only reason I can see that this was cut was for time as it explains why the Giant is fine the next day after seeing death for the first time. The next part I understand why they cut it. It goes into the Giant’s backstory in the form of his dream broadcasted through Dean’s television later that night where an army of giants destroys a planet. By adding it, it takes out the mystery of the Giant’s origins and shows us his Weapon form before the climax and while I am glad to get to closure on where he’s from after all this time, this was probably always best as a deleted scene DVD extra.
If there’s one thing I know after watching this version, it’s that I need a copy of this film. One that’s better than my old VHS. Go buy this film. It needs to be on your shelf. Watch it with your kids, watch it with your partner (about half the people I saw watching this movie were couples), just watch it! Buy it! Make this film popular again! It deserves it.
(Photo via Warner Bros. Animation)