The Iron Giant

The Iron Giant (1999)
Warner Home Video
Extras: Documentary, Music Video, Theatrical Trailers

It is good to see that DVD is finally also viewed upon as a valid platform for family entertainment. While during the medium’s early adopter phase animated movies would have bombed like there’s no tomorrow, with DVD rapidly making its way into more and more common households, the demand for quality family movies is higher than ever. After "Quest For Camelot", and "The King And I", Warner Home Video is now presenting another one of their animated feature films – "The Iron Giant", the surprise family hit of the summer that packed everything that is good and beloved in animated movies into a colorful and energetic spectacle.

"The Iron Giant" tells the heartwarming story of young Hogarth Hughes who witnesses a star falling from the sky one night during the ‘50s. During a time when the Russian satellite Sputnik was considered the public enemy number one and the end of free living, the 9-year old boy’s innocence is still intact. He goes out to check out the site where the meteor came down and eventually finds out that it was not a star that fell to Earth, but a 50-foot-tall robot made of steel. To Hogarth the giant is nothing but a friend. The gentle robot always has time to play with him and Hogarth is fascinated by the idea of owning the coolest toy in the world. The falling star has also attracted the attention of a government agent, who starts snooping around the area. Implicitly paranoid, the agent suspects an invasion from outer space and is determined to hunt down the invader – if need be even with military force.

Although a rather simple story at its core, "The Iron Giant" is a great educational lesson, touching upon many issues surrounding our society. It is a story of adventure, owning a cool pet, having a giant robot as a friend, defeating evil people, being on top of the world – short, a story every boy is dreaming of. From the obvious problems of growing up as a child without a father, Hogarth is also facing a number of challenges we all had to go through one day or another. Commitment, devotion, friendship and ultimately the essence of humanity is what the movie touches upon, and as such it is a triumphant celebration of children’s innocence and their own little world. These elements and the way they are presented in the film make "The Iron Giant" very accessible for younger audiences who see themselves in the adventurous and misunderstood character of Hogarth.

At the same time the film is highly reminiscent to classic B-horror and science fiction movies of the ‘50s like Jack Arnold’s "It Came From Outer Space" or "Forbidden Planet", which is incidentally featured on numerous occasions throughout the film in animated form. It adds an undeniable low-tech charm to the film that makes it immediately intriguing with grown-ups who fondly remember the classic films "The Iron Giant" is paying homage to. Due to these elements and the added layer of sophistication, the film is also highly entertaining for adults, which is essential for any family movie to be successful. "The Iron Giant" wraps it all up nicely in a parable that sparks with excitement.

Much of the movie’s charm also comes from the great cast that carries the characters. Especially Eli Marienthal as Hogarth has a very open and energetic approach to the part, giving Hogarth the innocence he requires and the cleverness he needs to ultimately live up to the challenge. Vin Diesel lent his voice to the gentle giant and although he is not actually saying very much in the film, the guttural noises he makes ultimately turn the robot into a thinking and emotional character that learns humanity. Combined with the skillful animation found in this film, director Brad Bird manages to breathe life into the drawings of this film that let you forget they are animated. You will find yourself exhilarated, excited and touched by the film’s events, which is the ultimate goal of all animated movies.

Warner Home Video presents "The Iron Giant" on this disc in a <$PS,pan & scan> transfer, as well as an <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> transfer that restores the movie’s original theatrical 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The <$PS,pan & scan> version crops the image on both sides, oftentimes removing some vital information from the carefully composed images. Without a doubt, the <$PS,widescreen> version much better represents the film’s original vision. The image quality of the DVD is very good without noticeable defects from the film print. No noise or grain is evident in the transfer and the compression on this disc is good throughout, although some slight ringing artifacts are evident throughout the film. Colors are bold and well saturated, recreating the colorful experience the movie is, without distracting from it. Every hue and shade is nicely transferred to this disc.

"The Iron Giant" features a <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> soundtrack that is very active throughout. Bass extension is also very good, which helps adding to the enormous size of the titular giant. His stomping and roaring is making good use of the format’s subwoofer channel. Surrounds are also very active, oftentimes creating a slightly exaggerated sound field that nicely adds to the film and makes it an engrossing experience. The film’s soundtrack is well presented and dialogues are well centered and always understandable.

This release from Warner Home Video contains a few extras, including some DVD-ROM features, although these features are limited to links to the Internet. The release’s DVD Video supplements are quite entertaining and contain Eddie Platt’s "Cha-Hua-Hua" music video over footage from the film, filmographies, the movie’s theatrical trailer and a 20-minute "Making Of" documentary. The documentary replays much of the footage form the film, but also features interviews with director Brad bird and cast members. While it gives some insight into the production in general, it is mostly a publicity piece that is supposed to help sell the movie, rather than really take people behind the scenes to learn what it takes to make a full blown animated feature film.

"The Iron Giant" is a top notch animated movie. It is whimsical and oftentimes furiously paced. Lighthearted at times, but always with a morale. Without musical numbers or cute animals, "The Iron Giant" is a serious animated movie with a moralistic message that is nonetheless easily accessible and most of all greatly enjoyable. The story of young Hogarth, who feel he is alone in the world with his giant friend, is a character we can all associate with. We all have been frustrated because our parents wouldn’t believe a thing of what we said. "The Iron Giant" takes these childhood feelings and turns the table, creating a highly enjoyable film that has found a splendid home on this DVD from Warner Home Video.