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Trained initially as an animator at Disney, director Brad Bird has been a fixture in the animation realm for the past fifteen years: he was an original director on the groundbreaking show The Simpsons, in addition to consulting on other animated shows such as The Critic and King of the Hill. Most recently Brad Bird wrote and directed the wildly popular Pixar film The Incredibles. Having earned over two hundred million dollars at the box office in just over a month and even earning whispers of an Oscar nomination, Bird’s career is garnishing more and more accolades with each project he touches.

In 1999 Brad Bird wrote and directed The Iron Giant, which was released into theatres to a less than warm response by consumers at the box-office. Despite receiving praise from critics the film performed poorly financially and didn’t even come close to breaking even on its budget. Despite its initial financial shortcomings The Iron Giant gained popularity on the home video market from children and adults alike. Five years after releasing the movie on DVD with few extras, Warner Bros. has issued a special edition to the film.

Iron Giant Special Edition, The
Film
Set in the 1950s in the Cold War climate, The Iron Giant begins mysteriously with the Giant descending rapidly towards the Earth. It’s the next morning when there’s a soft buzz in the local about what a few people saw the previous night, where we are introduced to the majority of the main characters of the film. Annie (voiced by Friends mega-star Jennifer Aniston) is a waitress at the diner, and is also the single mom of Hogarth (voiced by Eli Marienthal, who’s other credits include American Pie and Jack Frost). When Annie has to work a night shift one night, Hogarth meets the Giant after he saves him from electrocution. The two loners become friends as Hogarth teaches the Giant about Earth and human life. With rumours still persistent of a giant falling from the sky with Cold War paranoia rampant, the help of the United States military is enlisted when investigator Kent Mansley (played by renowned ‘bad guy Christopher McDonald, known for his work in Happy Gilmore and Dirty Work). Kent came to the town a sceptic of the situation but soon became determined to capture the Giant, convinced he was a serious threat.

The reveal of what the Giant looks like and what his origin is gradual and in some aspects takes the entire film to develop. The developing friendship between the Giant (voiced by Vin Diesel, known for his roles in xXx and The Fast and the Furious) and Hogarth (who is roughly between the ages of ten and twelve) is quite touching. Hogarth introduces the Giant to comic books with Superman being the character that the Giant takes to. Slowly the Giant learns how to speak, and also in a very touching scene learns about death. After seeing a deer shot by hunters, the Giant becomes confused, which is where Hogarth also talks about guns and violence. The theme of these sequences is clearly about finding one’s place in the world, and it is very effective.

Soon Kent begins to realize that Hogarth has befriended the Giant, and to spy on him goes as far as renting out the vacant room in his house. The banter between Hogarth and Kent is very funny to watch, particularly when Kent’s stomach gets a bit upset after something is slipped into his food. Seeing that he needed a place to hide the Giant, Hogarth befriends a local artist named Dean (voiced by Harry Connick Jr.) to hide the Giant in his scrap metal yard. It is soon discovered that the Giant is actually a massive weapon that was developed for warfare, whose mechanisms are activated when the threat of violence bears down on him. It is heartbreaking to see the Giant commit acts of violence on the town and on his best friend Hogarth because of how well their relationship had been built up at that point. Kent soon calls the military to the town to try and stop the Giant, which leads to a spectacular finale filled with heartwarming moments of love and friendship, and also an ultimate act of heroism.

Iron Giant Special Edition, The
While The Iron Giant featured wonderful voice acting, one thing that really makes this film work from a production standpoint is the fact that director Brad Bird never abandons his personal style while crafting this story. Examples of this are his parodies of the 1950s culture; the ‘duck and cover’ filmstrip shown in Hogarth’s class is a farce on the possibility of a nuclear holocaust that was prevalent at the time, and also the cheesy horror flick that Hogarth watches at night in the beginning is screaming classic B-movie horror film. The art design of the film has a distinct Norman Rockwell quality to it, particularly in scenes in the diner and in the junkyard. This act adds to the 1950s small-town America feel to the film. Veteran composer Michael Kamen (whose highlights include the Die Hard and Lethal Weapon films) delivers a beautiful score that accompanies the story appropriately, and is never overbearing on the film.

Brad Bird, his voice talents, and his talented animation and creative teams have meticulously crafted a timeless family classic in The Iron Giant. The story has themes of friendship and finding identity which permeates to all ages effectively without coming off cheesy. The characters are very likeable with their emotions resonating vividly to the audience. In an age of wildly popular computer animated movies, this may very well be one of the last great hand-drawn animated films. Even more importantly, I wouldn’t be embarrassed to watch The Iron Giant with my family, as the humour is always clean as opposed to the Shrek films, which thrive on crude toilet humour (although they are entertaining). Despite the film not receiving the accolades that it deserved, it will permanently live on as a heart-warming film that you will look forward to showing your children in years to come.

Video
The special edition of The Iron Giant has been granted an all new digital transfer from its original release, and the results are fantastic. Presented in a 2:35:1 aspect ratio, the picture is sharp with no visible technical errors (i.e. haloing from edge enhancement is thankfully absent). Because the transfer is so clear, the picture quality is nothing short of sterling. The colour palette throughout the duration of the entire picture is vivid. There is no bleeding and the colours are generally very stable. The transfer does run into a problem when scenes take place at night. Particularly night scenes that feature a matte painting, the picture tends to be soft. It’s fortunate that this is a rare occurrence in the movie, and is not persistent. Overall this is a supreme video transfer and it far surpasses the transfer of the initial release. I would rate the quality of this transfer as good as The Lion King, and a step above Aladdin. Despite being packed with extras, the quality of the transfer never suffers from compression issues, possibly due to the fact that the feature presentation is only eighty six minutes long.

Iron Giant Special Edition, The
Audio
I was shocked at how great the audio quality is on The Iron Giant. Presented in a 5.1 Dolby Digital treatment, the sound is fantastic. The directional audio is used creatively in not only the big action sequences like the Giant’s arrival to earth, but also in more calm scenes like the in the diner. Because all the channels are used, an engulfing environment is created that puts the audience right in the centre of the story such as in the opening storm sequence. Michael Kamen’s whimsical score resonates crystal clear along with the rest of the sound design. The only problem the audio has is that sometimes the dialogue is drowned out over the music or sound effects. It’s not so much that the rest of the sound is too loud; it’s more that the dialogue is too soft at times. In all this is an exemplary effort on behalf of the DVD producers in that it transcends the efforts on the previous release.

Extras
Even though it took four years for The Iron Giant to garner a proper DVD release, the wait has been worth it. Warner Bros. has coupled a wonderful movie with an excellent array of extras, starting with a full length audio commentary featuring director and writer Brad Bird, story department head Jeff Lynch (credits include the Spider-Man movies and The Simpsons), animation department head Tony Fucile (animated on The Little Mermaid and The Lion King), and Steven Markowski who supervised animation for the Giant. Their commentary was very impressive as they were able to incorporate anecdotes, production notes, and their own opinions throughout the length of the picture. The information was certainly not repetitive of the other extras materials by any means; instead the commentary almost acted as a great lead-in to the rest of the disc. Bird shares a fun story in that the inspiration for what he called the “turbo Twinky” (a Twinky shot full of whipped cream) was one of his favourite childhood snacks. They also noted that the colour scheme in the movie was reflective of the tone of the story, by going from bright colours to darker colours towards the climax. The commentary alone is a remarkable improvement over the original release.

Iron Giant Special Edition, The
Eight deleted scenes are also included on this disc in the form of crude animation; there is no colour in the animation as they are only rough sketches with a temp track or voices. Included in this set of deleted scenes is an alternate opening to the movie. In this version the scene is about two minutes longer with depth being added to the characters involved on the ship caught in the storm. Ultimately this alternate opening was left out for the best, but is worth looking at. One of the better deleted scenes is one that includes Hogarth and Kent at breakfast together, as there are some funny moments scattered in it. Although for pacing purposes I cam see why it was left out, it still is a nice scene. Another seen that was interesting was one where the Giant is shown dreaming with his thoughts appearing on Hogarth’s television. Again it wasn’t necessary in the movie, but fun to look at. These scenes all have short introductions by director Brad Bird and are a great addition to this release.

The featurettes that look at a couple of sequences (“Annie Meets Kent” and “Duck and Cover”) really aren’t anything special, but fans of the film might consider taking a look at them. They feature analysis from Bird and creative consultant Teddy Netwon, and also include early story boards. The featurette which very briefly looks at Vin Diesel’s performance of the voice of the Giant is again very trivial, but it does make you appreciate Diesel’s work on the movie. I feel that a longer making-of documentary would have benefited the release more showing more behind the scenes looks at the animation, but what we are given does suffice.

Rounding out The Iron Giant Special Edition DVD are a stills gallery, trailers, and DVD-ROM material. The production stills are featured on both the regular viewing and on the DVD-ROM, and it is fun to look at the evolution of the production designs. Two trailers are given here: one is a theatrical version, and one is a Twilight Zone-ish version featuring a narration by Brad Bird. The DVD-ROM has a lot of text extras about the cast and making of The Iron Giant. One fun element of the DVD-ROM is a little game that the kids might enjoy. These extras are normal for most releases today, and are done well on this special edition. The kids will like the DVD-ROM material, but the adults can certainly do without it. Overall the extras were handled very well for this release and Warner Bros. yet again coming through with another special edition, capping off a very exceptional year for the studio.

Iron Giant Special Edition, The
Overall
After a long wait Warner Bros. Has finally rewarded fans of The Iron Giant with a DVD release that is up to the quality of the film itself. What separates this release from others that are packed with extras is that this Special Edition has things that a film fan wants: the audio commentary is insightful and isn’t dull, the audio and video are sterling, and the extras are ones that have repeat value. Brad Bird is a director who continues to impress on all levels of film making, and this is no exception; he directs animated films as good as anyone can a live action movie. The Iron Giant is a heart-warming tale of friendship that is appropriate for all ages, and would make a great holiday gift for any film fan.


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