The Iron Giant (1999)

2016 #86
Brad Bird | 83 mins | DVD | 2.35:1 | USA / English | U / PG

Adapted (loosely) from Ted Hughes’ children’s novel The Iron Man, the feature debut of director Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Ratatouille, now live-action stuff) relocates the book’s story to ’50s America and mixes in some Cold War elements. The film was somewhat verboten in our household when it came out, because the book was beloved and the film looked so different, but its reputation has only grown in the ensuing decade-and-a-half — and Hughes approved of it anyway.

This version sees the titular robot (voiced by Vin Diesel) crash to Earth near Maine in late 1957, the home of nine-year-old Hogarth Hughes (Eli Marienthal) and his mom Annie (Jennifer Aniston). After the giant eats the Hughes’ TV aerial, Hogarth tracks it to take a photo, and ends up saving it from electrocution when it tries to eat a power station. As the giant sneaks around the countryside eating cars and causing train crashes, it attracts the attention of government agent Fox Mulder from the FBI’s X Files Kent Mansley from the Bureau of Unexplained Phenomena (Christopher McDonald), who’s intent on uncovering and destroying the giant. Hogarth tries to hide the friendly creature with the help of artist Dean (Harry Connick Jr.), but could it be Mansley isn’t so wrong about the threat it poses?

The story, as reconstructed by Bird and screenwriter Tim McCanlies, integrates influences from ’50s B-movies (very apt for a giant robot ‘monster’) and Cold War/Space Race paranoia for a potent storyline that has a different emphasis from the novel’s “world peace” finale, but nonetheless is promoting understanding of alien/foreign powers and, y’know, deep stuff like that. Alternatively — or, rather, concurrently — it’s an E.T.-esque tale of a boy and his quirky alien friend. Bird was keen to emphasise character over action and mindless spectacle, and that’s really where the film’s strengths lie.

Well, that and the technical aspects. The animation is stunningly well done, exhibiting exceptional fluidity and detail in its character animation, in particular. That’s in spite of the film having a reduced budget and time schedule thanks to the box office failure of previous animations by the studio — in Bird’s words, they had “one-third of the money of a Disney or DreamWorks film, and half of the production schedule”, but that meant greater production freedom (so long as they managed that budget). I guess that’s why the film’s ended up only growing in stature since its first release — because it’s able to be committed to its creators’ vision, rather than being battered into homogeneity by a studio desperate for a return on considerable investment.

Beautifully animated and affectingly told, with a style that nicely homages classic sci-fi movies, The Iron Giant is a film that deserves the reputation it has gradually amassed — and which only continues to grow, I think. Last year saw the release of an extended Signature Edition, with a couple of short scenes added, which comes to US Blu-ray (alongside the original version) later this year. Just from reading about those new scenes, I’m not convinced they’ll improve the experience, but it’ll certainly be worth finding out.

5 out of 5

The Iron Giant was viewed as part of my What Do You Mean You Haven’t Seen…? 2016 project, which you can read more about here.

This review is also part of 1999 Week.

Blindspot: What Do You Mean You Haven’t Seen…? 2016

If you read enough blogs, you’ve probably seen Blind Spot lists/projects/whatever manifesting on them over the last week. For readers who don’t know what this Blindspot* thing is, it’s essentially “What Do You Mean You Haven’t Seen” by another name. For readers who don’t know what “What Do You Mean You Haven’t Seen” is, it’s essentially Blindspot with a more idiosyncratic name.

And if you have no idea what any of these words mean, I shall explain: you pick 12 films you’ve never seen but really want to / feel you should have / etc, then spend the next year watching one per month.

First: my 12 picks, in order of must-see-ness. Then, a few interesting (maybe) facts about them. After that, I’ll tell you how I picked them.


One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest




Grave of the Fireflies





The Pianist





12 Years a Slave





Barry Lyndon





Ben-Hur





The Maltese Falcon





Snatch.





The Sting





The Iron Giant





The Deer Hunter





Howl’s Moving Castle




A few facts about this year’s 12:

  • There’s a spread of 72 years between the oldest (The Maltese Falcon, 1941) and newest (12 Years a Slave, 2013). The latter is the most recent film I’ve yet included on WDYMYHS.
  • The 1970s make up 33% of the list. The 2000s are next with 25%. There’s one film apiece from the 1940s, 1950s, 1980s, 1990s, and 2010s.
  • The total listed running time is 27 hours and 3 minutes, making the average length of a film 2 hours and 15 minutes.
  • 58% of the list are over 2 hours long; 25% are over 3 hours! Only two are under 90 minutes.
  • The shortest is The Iron Giant (86 minutes), the longest is Ben-Hur (212 minutes).
  • Just one film this year is in black & white (it was 50/50 last year).
  • Just two aren’t originally in English… but as they’re anime, there’s a 50/50 chance I’ll watch them with the English dub anyhow.
  • This year features only the third animated film to make it in to WDYMYHS… and the fourth… and the fifth. Previously animation has made up 5.6% of WDYMYHS titles. This year it’s 25%.

Whereas other people just seem to choose their films, I have to turn it into A System. (I’m the guy who posts 3,000 words of statistics about his own viewing every year — what did you expect?) I must admit that I was feeling a bit uninspired this year though, so my system is nothing like as complicated as the last two years (which you can read about here and here, if you like).

Essentially, I decided I fancied achieving some more awards on iCheckMovies. So I looked at all the lists I was getting close on — “close” in this case being any with 12 or fewer films to the next award (because of the 12 films on this list, y’see). That came to 43 lists. 43! Going through them, I noted down any unseen films that I own or have ready access to. That came to 209 films, of which 110 were on more than one list. Even with 43 lists, the most prolific film (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) was on just 9, which I guess is testament to the randomness and wide-ranging spread of lists I was using.

Such low ‘scores’ meant the films were all ranked quite close together, so I also threw in that grand arbiter of film quality popularity, the IMDb Top 250, to see if it shook out a top 12. And, with the implementation of some familiar WDYMYHS rules, it did. Said rules were: no repeat directors (ta-ra, Amadeus and Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind!), and that a WDYMYHS film I failed to see isn’t allowed on the next year’s list (cheerio, Princess Mononoke and City of God!)

At first I wasn’t quite sure about these selections, but having sat with them for a bit I feel better about them. As a whole group, they’re perhaps a bit more… mainstream (for want of a better word), and less quirky (for want of a better word), than my systems have generated in the past few years. Maybe that’s just a matter of perspective, though: there are two anime movies on there, and, though they’re both Studio Ghibli, I don’t know that we can call anime “mainstream” even now.

Anyway, there they are. Hopefully I’ll do better than 75% this year. Even if I don’t, getting round to seeing some of these is better than not getting round to any.


* No one can seem to agree if it’s one word or two. Regular readers will know how much this bugs me. ^