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In the small town of Rockwell, Maine, Annie Hughes (Jennifer Aniston) has her hands full with her son, Hogarth (Eli Marienthal) – a headstrong and imaginative lad that is always on the lookout for the latest attempted takeover by mutant aliens or subversive invaders. So, when a local fisherman comes into the diner with a tall tale about a huge metal man falling into the sea, the only one to pay him much attention is Hogarth, who sets out exploring to find the enormous robot. What he does find is a 50-foot giant with an insatiable appetite for metal and a childlike curiosity about its new world. Rumors of everything from an alien invasion to a Russian secret weapon bent on destroying Rockwell soon spread through the small town, prompting the arrival of government agent Kent Mansley (Christopher McDonald). Keeping one step ahead of Mansley, Hogarth convinces his beatnik friend, Dean (Harry Connick, Jr.), to hide the Iron Giant (Vin Diesel) in Dean’s junkyard. But it isn’t long before the rumors turn into paranoia. The situation escalates and the possible destruction of Rockwell looms. (From Warner Bros.’ official Signature Edition synopsis)

 Iron Giant: Signature Collection, The
Following an underwhelming theatrical release during the busy, Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace and Disney’s Tarzan-dominated summer of 1999, Brad Bird’s The Iron Giant evolved from a scrappy underdog into a highly acclaimed and influential modern classic of children’s cinema. Despite being a lower-budgeted animated film (about $70-$80 million, as opposed to Tarzan’s reported $130 million) and being greeted by near-universal critical acclaim, the film lost money at the box office. Word of mouth spread, however, and the relatively new advent of DVD video (which, in addition to supplying audiences with better picture and audio quality than VHS, allowed consumers to skip the still-typical rental-only period and purchase a movie as soon as it was available to the home video public) helped push The Iron Giant into cult status and, thanks to syndicated broadcasts on Cartoon Network during holidays and an updated special edition DVD, The Iron Giant outlasted the popular reputations of The Phantom Menace, Tarzan, Stephen Sommers’ The Mummy, and a number of 1999’s other ‘family-friendly’ hits. Arguably even M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense, the film that buried The Iron Giant the week after its debut, has soured in comparison to Bird’s emotionally-charged and super-charming cartoon (perhaps only Pixar’s Toy Story 2, released the following Thanksgiving, has exhibited stronger endurance among 1999 kids movies).

Tim McCanlies’ screenplay is based on Ted Hughes’ 1968 children’s book, entitled The Iron Man (the title was changed for obvious reasons), which was also the basis for a 1985 episode of the ‘60s BBC series, Jackanory (the story was read by former Who Doctor Tom Baker), and a 1989 rock opera by Who guitarist/songwriter, Pete Townshend ( The Iron Man: A Musical). McCanlies, working from Bird’s treatment only used the general ideas of Hughes’ story as a basis for an updated version of a ‘50s era B-sci-fi movie, in which the US government’s anti-Communist fear-mongering and weapons proliferation draws the ire of a peaceful, but powerful alien being. The writer and director pulled obvious tonal influence from popular family films, specifically the pulp-inspired family movies of the ‘70s and ‘80s ( Star Wars, E.T., et cetera), Superman’s oft-repeated alien mythos, and Japan’s killer kaiju movies (there are visual references to the original Godzilla, 1950, and thematic references to Gojira-Minira-Gabara: Ōru Kaijū Daishingeki, aka: All Monsters Attack, 1969). But the key thematic influence is probably Robert Wise’s The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), based on the novel Farewell to the Master by Harry Bates (1940). In Wise’s film, an alien named Klaatu comes to Earth seeking peaceful accord with world leaders, but his plans are foiled by fearful, trigger-happy humans. Klaatu evades capture and learns to respect humanity as a secret refugee, but must get back to his ship, or else his giant robotic war machine, Gort, will destroy the planet. Bird’s film sort of imagines what might happen had Gort become lost on Earth without the moral guidance of Klaatu-like leader. Scott Derrickson attempted to reimagine Wise’s film for adults in the post-9/11 world, but The Iron Giant makes the bigger dramatic impact.

 Iron Giant: Signature Collection, The
Bird found outrageous success while working for Pixar ( The Incredibles, 2004; Ratatouille, 2007), then graduated to success ( Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, 2011) and failure ( Tomorrowland, 2015) in live-action movies, but The Iron Giant was his first shot as a feature director. Warner Bros. hand-picked Bird due to his reputation as a creative ‘crunch time’ writer/director/animator/storyboarder on The Simpsons, The Critic, King of the Hill, and Family Dog. His penchant for cultivating nostalgia and pulling heart-strings without reductive sentimentality is apparent even at this early point in his career, as are his skills planning punchy, impactful action (something that has served him in his non-animated work, too). Iron Giant has a more refined and mature moral center than his later work (save perhaps Ratatouille) that avoids the unpleasant objectivist slants of The Incredibles and Tomorrowland. The (admittedly brief) action sequences are spectacularly staged with a structure and scale that outshine many of the biggest modern sci-fi/superhero blockbusters. Yet, the violence is also shaded by danger and melancholy that serve the film’s central message – as opposed to the vast majority of anti-war movies that muddle their messages with obvious reverence for violence.

 Iron Giant: Signature Collection, The

Video


As I mentioned, The Iron Giant found its audience on home video and syndication (including HD broadcasts). Warner Bros. released standard edition anamorphic discs in multiple territories in 1999, then again on special edition anamorphic discs in 2004. Unfortunately for fans, no one saw fit to release a Blu-ray version in any country – until now. This 2.39:1 (a faux-CinemaScope aspect ratio that was very uncommon for a US animated release in 1999), 1080p transfer was taken from the same remastered source as the Signature Edition that was released briefly in theaters last year. The Signature Edition, which adds two newly animated sequences and runs about two minutes longer (89:58 vs. 86:39), is also included. This transfer may not be as razor-sharp as some fans are expecting, but, based on the 35mm source, the majority hand-drawn animation (like most animation in the era, there were CG elements produced to match the hand-drawn look), and other attempts at making the original material look like a moodier version of a classic era Disney classic, I’d say it looks nearly perfect. The high definition upgrade reveals charmingly rough pen-and-ink outlines as well as a slight sheen of film-based grain. The animation team opted for harder gradations in most cases, so the separation of tones tends to be relatively sharp – though the subtler lighting reveals some pretty soft blends. The prevalent darkness of some scenes is absolutely intended and contrasts beautifully with the more vibrant colours. Overall, this is a significant upgrade over the already nice-looking DVD releases.

Audio


The Iron Giant’s original 5.1 sound mix is presented in uncompressed digital audio for the first time, more specifically in DTS-HD Master Audio. It isn’t the most consistently aggressive animated feature, but there’s a whole lot of dynamic range between dialogue-driven and action-driven sequences. The most expressive moments revolve around the Giant, from his booming voice, his creaking metal body, and LFE-vibrating footsteps, to the laser beams and missiles of his war-machine freak-out during the climax. The quieter moments tend to defer to musical cues over environmental ambience. Composer Michael Kamen (known in some circles for arranging orchestral parts for Pink Floyd, David Bowie, and Metallica songs) partially based his score around the Bernard Herrmann sci-fi soundtracks that Bird had temp-scored the movie with during editing. The rest is sweet-natured and bouncy family movie stuff – the sort of thing that Thomas Newman and John Williams excel at.

 Iron Giant: Signature Collection, The

Extras


  • Commentary with director Brad Bird, head of animation Tony Fucile, story department head Jeff Lynch, and storyboard artist Steven Markowski – This is the same commentary that accompanied the 2004 special edition.
  • Signature Edition commentary – Bird also recorded new commentary for the extended and altered sequences. With this option selected, the original commentary will play during the rest of the movie.
  • The Giant’s Dream (55:47, HD) – This brand new, stylishly-produced documentary traces the making of The Iron Giant. Bird begins by discussing his childhood love of animation, his internship with the famous ‘Nine Old Men’ animation team, leaving Disney in frustration after graduating from CalArts, his sister’s untimely death, failed theatrical projects, and his work on The Simpsons, his pitch to WB for an adaptation of Hughes’ book, assembling a crew of ‘rebellious’ animators/artists, design processes, the production’s groundbreaking use of Adobe After Effects to ‘animate’ the storyboards, battles with WB, casting the voice cast, the good and bad consequences of Quest for Camelot bombing at the box-office, terrible marketing, the disappointing profits, and enduring legacy. It includes footage from his childhood film, The Tortoise and the Hare, animation tests he made for a failed project based on Will Eisner’s The Spirit, Pete Townshend’s unfinished CG musical, and video from behind-the-scenes.
  • Six additional scenes, including alternate opening with optional introductions by Brad Bird (15:16, SD)
  • Teddy Newton: The X Factor (5:38, SD) – The crew talks about the contributions of storyboard designer/character designer/visual development artist Teddy Newton.
  • Duck and Cover Sequence (2:23, SD) – Newton talks about creating the ‘duck and cover’ PSA that Hogarth watches at school.
  • The Voices of The Iron Giant (8:16, SD) – Five voice actor featurettes, hosted by Vin Diesel
  • The Score (4:49, SD) – Three featurettes about the film’s music.
  • Behind the Armor (17:31, SD) – Behind-the-scenes featurettes concerning the logo design, character concepts, the origin of the film at WB, the Giant’s digital design/animation, storyboarding, and producing the climatic battle sequences.
  • Motion gallery slideshow set to the film’s music (4:22, SD)
  • Brad Bird’s unused trailer concept (1:30, SD)
  • A personal letter from director Brad Bird
  • Signature Edition trailer
  • The Making of The Iron Giant (22:05, SD) – The original making-of featurette, including some interviews not featured with The Giant’s Dream.
  • Vintage Easter egg collection (1:48, SD) – All of the DVD’s Easter eggs in one place.
  • The Salt Mines (7:06, HD) – A mini-movie about collecting of the original production art from beneath a literal salt mine in Kansas.
  • Hand Drawn (1:40, HD) – Brad Bird laments the disappearance of hand-drawn animation against footage of animators and their creations.


 Iron Giant: Signature Collection, The

Overall


The odds are that anyone reading this has already pre-ordered this disc or is at least planning a trip to their local store to pick it up. The Iron Giant has moved beyond its cult status to become a fundamental part of many home video libraries. The real question is: does this long-awaited Blu-ray live up to expectations? The short answer is “yes” – the A/V is solid and true to the original film’s stylistic origins and the extras are pretty extensive. A longer answer can be read above.

 Iron Giant: Signature Collection, The

 Iron Giant: Signature Collection, The
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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