[Join your host, John Holliday, in the review column "A Movie A Week" as he shares his spoiler-free thoughts on our collection of DVD / Blu-ray titles.]
Animation isn't reserved for just humor and children's slapstick. It can be a serious and dramatic medium that tells a tale for all ages, just like the movie I'm featuring in this review. The traditional art form that's nearly lost in American studios (outside of Disney) gave an excellent temporary farewell performance back in 1999. Before it was the cool thing in Hollywood to do voice-over work and before animation was dumbed down for audiences, there was the story of a boy and his robot.
The Iron Giant is a sci-fi movie set in 1957 and based on the 1968 novel, 'The Iron Man', by Ted Hughes. It begins with the crash-landing from outer space of a mysterious object into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Maine. Theories around the small town of Rockwell range from Russian satellites to invaders from Mars which intrigues the young Hogarth Hughes (Eli Marienthal). Hogarth's mother has to work the late shift at the diner one night, leaving him home alone and free to watch scary movies and eat junk food despite her explicit directions not to. After getting his mind worked up on the late-night B-movie, the antenna goes out leaving him with static. Up on the roof, Hogarth discovers the antenna has been torn from it's perch accompanied by a massive path of destruction leading into the woods.
Hogarth's boyhood instincts send him into the night to investigate near the power substation. It is here that he first spots the Iron Giant (Vin Diesel) as it gets caught in the power lines. The skyscraper sized robot malfunctions and is nearly fried by the time Hogarth flips off the switch, saving it's mechanized life. Later, Hogarth learns that the giant recognized what he had done for it and it befriends him. He even manages to teach the robot a couple of guttural noises that resemble words. Now that he's living out every 50's boy's dream, playing with the creations only seen in comic books, something has to go terribly wrong. Of course the U.S. Government has caught word of the robot and Hogarth will eventually have to face the fact that you can't hide an iron giant for long.
Jennifer Aniston and Vin Diesel fans should get your fix now because this could easily be the only movie of theirs that we ever feature. Aniston is nearly unrecognizable as the voice of Annie, Hogarth's mother. This is mostly due to her small role which still isn't near as small as Vin Diesel's as the Iron Giant. He barely utters a few noises that are processed heavily to sound more robotic. Harry Connick Jr. does a well enough job as the beatnik who helps keep the giant's secret on several occasions. I wish his character had more purpose and encompasses my only issue with the movie. I'm left wanting a little more of everything. Just a little more character development, just a little more emotional attachment, just a little more.
The simplistic plot and universal theme make you feel like you've already experienced all that's missing. It's like your brain automatically fills in the gaps based on familiarity with the childlike wonder and friendship and that makes it okay. The real draw is the way director Brad Bird orchestrates the whole thing. He makes perfect use of the light beacon eyes of the robot in a couple of scenes as well as key points that put you in the mindset of Hogarth. That's exactly how this movie should be viewed, through the eyes of a child. That's why I give The Iron Giant:
What movie would you like to see John review next week? Your suggestions are always welcome at: firstname.lastname@example.org