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Brad Bird
Jennifer Aniston, Harry Connick Jr., Vin Diesel, James Gammon, Cloris Leachman, Christopher McDonald, John Mahoney, Eli Marienthal, M. Emmet Walsh
Writing Credits:
Ted Hughes (book, "The Iron Man"), Brad Bird, Tim McCanlies

It came from outer space!

Based on poet Ted Hughes' 1968 children's book, former Simpsons producer Brad Bird's adaptation proves to be a work of art the family can enjoy together - simple and visually captivating enough for kids and sharp and touching enough for adults. Hogarth is a young boy in 1950s Maine. When he finds a kind and very large robot (of unknown origin), a strong bond of friendship is formed between the two. It isn't long, however, until a government agent is on their trail, wanting to destory the robot. A beautifully rendered fable.

Box Office:
$48 million.
Opening Weekend
$5.732 million on 2179 screens.
Domestic Gross
$23.159 million.

Rated PG

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1

Runtime: 87 min.
Price: $19.96
Release Date: 11/16/2004

• Audio Commentary with Director Brad Bird, Head of Animation Tony Fucile, Story Department Head Jeff Lynch and Storyboard Artist Steven Markowski
• Additional Scenes
• 13 Branching Mini-Documentary Segments
• “Teddy Newton: The X-Factor” Featurette
• Duck & Cover Sequence
• “The Voice of the Giant” Featurette
• Cast & Crew
• Motion Gallery
• Trailers


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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The Iron Giant: Special Edition (1999)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 2, 2004)

Early word on 1999’s The Iron Giant - an adaptation of Ted Hughes' 1968 novel - said it was terrific, and when it hit the screens, the critics agreed. 1999 offered a lot of well-received animated movies, but Giant got some of the best notices of them all. Toy Story 2 may actually have surpassed its critical approval, though.

Unfortunately, audiences didn't notice the plaudits for Giant and it suffered an ignominious fate. Despite all the glowing reviews and the ecstatic word of mouth, nothing could save the film at the box office. After an anemic gross of about $23 million, the movie disappeared from theaters.

Gone, but not forgotten, as Giant maintains an avid fan base who continue to proselytize about the movie. I don't know how it's done on home video, but I'd guess fairly well, and I'd be surprised if it hasn't fared better than would expect from such a box office bomb.

One problem created by all the raves is that they set up the viewer for an experience that the film itself may not be able to match. That's the danger of hype, and although it was small-scale for Giant, the film received a lot of secondary buildup nonetheless.

That was my position when I saw the movie theatrically. As a result, while I enjoyed the film, I couldn't help but wonder why it received such acclaim. It was a well-executed picture but I didn't think it was anything special.

On subsequent viewings, my opinion hasn't changed radically, but I definitely liked the movie more. It still isn't one of the all-time great animated films, but it is a charming, fast-paced, witty and moving little offering.

One interesting aspect of the film is that it possesses many parallels with E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Normally I'd scream "rip-off!" and leave it at that, but this situation is a little more complicated since Giant adapts the 1968 book. As such, that story predates E.T. by 14 years, so it's altogether entirely possible that the Spielberg classic stole ideas from the book. I haven't read the original text, so I don't know this. Suffice it to say that whichever came first, the 1999 movie of Giant presents a lot of scenes that are strongly reminiscent of those in E.T.

Even if Giant does steal from the earlier alien-related film, it still offers enough of its own to make it enjoyable. For one, I thought the voice acting in Giant was just terrific. The cast includes a nice complement of different folks who all add up to one terrific bunch. We get Jennifer Aniston playing against type as the mother of our protagonist Hogarth, plus Harry Connick Jr. working with type - but still effectively - as beatnik artist Dean, Christopher McDonald as government heavy Kent Mansley, and John Mahoney as military not-so-heavy General Rogarde. All are splendid.

Best of the cast, however, are our two main characters, Hogarth and the Iron Giant himself. Vin Diesel plays the Giant, and although I thought his vocals were heavily affected by electronic tampering, a viewing of the DVD's extras disavowed me of that notion quickly. Oh, there's definitely been some sweetening, but I was shocked to hear how effectively Diesel could do the metallic, gravelly voice without help. It's a great performance that adds a lot of charm and character to the Giant.

Also fantastic is Eli Marienthal's work as Hogarth. The kid's absolutely amazing in this key role; he makes Hogarth much more intelligent, charming, witty and clever than we have any right to expect from a youngster. It's a tour de force, and really allows the film to become much more effective than it otherwise might have been. (Marienthal also offers another funny - though much smaller - turn as Stifler's brother in American Pie.)

The animation in The Iron Giant isn't the best you'll see, but it's very good in its minimalist style. It serves the piece nicely and creates a somewhat unique atmosphere. Some of the best aspects of the animation regard the Giant himself. For one, I thought his character design was marvelous; all at once, he can be adorable, ominous and intelligent, which can be quite hard to pull off as a combination. Additionally, the Giant is one of the best-integrated pieces of computer animation I've seen. Many largely traditionally animated films feature CGI that stands out like a sore thumb; Prince of Egypt suffered from this, and even Tarzan presented some backdrops that just don't blend all that well with the rest of the action.

Such a problem does not affect the Giant. Really, I thought the character - who apparently was completely computer-drawn - melded flawlessly with the rest of the cel-based animation. If I didn't know computers did the Giant, I wouldn't guess it from the way he so neatly matches the rest of the art.

(Another potentially interesting trivia note: if you're wondering, yes, the "Pete Townshend" listed as executive producer is the Pete Townshend. Why is he involved in such a project? Pete has close ties to the story, and actually produced an album in 1989 based on the book, though the record was called The Iron Man.)

Despite my initial misgivings, I ultimately find The Iron Giant to be a very satisfying and enjoyable little film. I have to join the chorus of folks who don't understand why it did so badly at the box office; the movie's a treat.

The DVD Grades: Picture A-/ Audio B-/ Bonus B

The Iron Giant appears in both an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Across the board, the movie looked great.

Sharpness seemed consistently strong. Only a sliver of softness interfered on a couple of occasions. 99 percent of the time, the film remained concise and well-defined. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and I also noticed no edge enhancement. Print flaws remained absent, as the movie failed to display any specks, marks, or other concerns.

Giant featured a broad and mildly rustic palette that highlighted reds and oranges. Along with the occasional glimpse of “futuristic” blues, we got forest greens, and the colors always appeared excellent. The hues always came across as firm and dynamic. Blacks looked deep and dense, while low-light situations appeared smooth and well-delineated. Overall, I thought Giant offered an excellent transfer.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of The Iron Giant succeeded in general, but it suffered from one huge flaw: the dialogue. I can't recall another modern film with such muffled speech. At times it seemed relatively distinct and clear, but for the most part, I thought dialogue sounded really flat and dull. I understood what the characters said, but the poor quality made it much harder to buy the illusion of the animation; the entire presentation seemed "off" and the audio really distracted me at times. This became especially noticeable during louder scenes. During those instances, the muddy speech was very hard to hear.

Otherwise, the sound seemed very good. The forward soundstage was well-defined and audio appeared neatly placed. Some smooth panning could be heard, and the entire package blended well. The track didn’t use the surrounds relentlessly, but they added some useful auditory information and meshed well with the entire proceedings.

Except for the dialogue, audio quality was positive. The music fared well, for Michael Kamen's score came across as clear and crisp. Effects were nicely realistic and detailed, and they presented some deep bass. Low-end was tight and distinctive. It’s a shame that the speech problems occurred, for they caused the mix’s only real problems. Without them, this could have been an “A”-level track, but as it stood, I didn’t think it merited anything above a “B-“.

How did the picture and sound of this special edition compare to those of the original 1999 DVD? Both seemed virtually identical. I expected the two discs to sound alike, but the visual comparisons surprised me. I thought the new DVD might offer stronger picture quality, but instead, I found them to look very much the same.

Whereas the old version of The Iron Giant included a smattering of extras, the new special edition packs a better roster, almost none of which repeat from the prior release. The Giant special edition starts with an audio commentary from director Brad Bird, head of animation Tony Fucile, story department head Jeff Lynch and storyboard artist Steven Markowski, all of whom sit together for this running, screen-specific piece. Bird takes the helm here and dominates the discussion. The commentary covers topics such as visual design, influences and inspirations, characters and cast, animation challenges, story issues, and cuts and alterations made to the original plans.

Given the personnel involved, one might expect a technical bent to the track, and one would assume correctly. However, the piece doesn’t become dry or stiff. It moves briskly enough and goes over a lot of interesting issues. It’s not one of the best animation commentaries I’ve heard, but it explores appropriate topics nicely and proves useful.

Behind the Armor offers a branching video option that runs during the movie. Whenever a certain icon appears onscreen, hit “enter” to watch any of 13 clips. The pieces run between 60 seconds and four minutes, 53 seconds for a total of 25 minutes and 43 seconds. These include remarks from Bird, Fucile, Lynch, animatic artist Andrew Jimenez, composer Michael Kamen, producers Allison Abbate and Des MacAnuff, designer Joe Johnston, production designer Mark Whiting, screenwriter Tim McCanlies, animator James van der Keyl, storyboard artists Mark Andrews and Kevin O’Brien, and animator Dean Wellins. They chat about the film’s new Warner Animation logo, aspects of the score, the development and design of Hogarth, the Giant, Kent, Dean, and Annie, the book’s path to the screen and changes along the way, bringing personality to the Giant, storyboards and animatics, and creating the battle sequence and limitations involved.

Across the board, these components present good information. They tell us many neat notes about the movie’s various elements and almost always prove compelling. However, the format bites. Who wants to split off from the film for a few minutes of information? It’s a distraction that was unnecessary, as the DVD’s producers easily could have linked these together to make a nice little documentary.

For those who don’t want to sit through the whole flick to find the branching elements, a solution exists. Go to title 19 for the first segment, and the rest follow on titles 20 through 31. On my player, I found it easy to flip from one to another. I’d still prefer a more connected presentation, though.

Inside Cast & Crew, we find very rudimentary biographies for actors Jennifer Aniston, Harry Connick Jr., Vin Diesel, James Gammon, Cloris Leachman, Christopher McDonald, John Mahoney, Eli Marienthal, and M. Emmet Walsh plus director Bird, producers Allison Abbate and Des McAnuff, executive producer Pete Townshend, author Ted Hughes, screenwriter Tim McCanlies, production designer Mark Whiting, art director Alan Bodner, head of animation Fucile, and composer Kamen. Note that none of these include information on completed projects finished after 2002, which leads me to believe this DVD sat on the shelf for a while.

Eight Additional Scenes appear. These come with introductions from Bird; storyboard artist Kevin O’Brien and story department head Jeffrey Lynch also chime in during the final clip. Including those intros, the “Additional Scenes” last 18 minutes and 34 seconds. Most come in the form of animatics, though a few feature rough pencil animation. Some nice sequences appear that flesh out the characters and situations. None of them seem revelatory, but they’re fun to see. The intros add some useful production notes, though Bird doesn’t always tell us why the snippets failed to make the final film.

A featurette about Teddy Newton of the storyboard department, The X Factor fills five minutes and 33 seconds. We get notes from Lynch and Bird as they talk of Newton’s talents, and we then see an example of a blind date story reel he created. It’s very odd and doesn’t connect to the final movie at all. It’s entertaining, though, and an interesting extra.

Next we get a little information about the Duck and Cover Sequence. It runs two minutes, 20 seconds and presents comments from Newton. He tells us his inspirations and aims for the little film within the film. We see the original story reel as well in this brief but nice piece.

In The Voice of the Giant, we get a short featurette about actor Vin Diesel. It goes for two minutes, 35 seconds, and includes remarks from Bird and actor Vin Diesel. We learn a little about his casting and some vocal challenges. It doesn’t tell us much, but I like the shots of Diesel in the studio.

Titled The Motion Gallery, this four-minute and 20-second feature mostly presents filmed versions of stills. Some movie snippets pop up as well, and those differentiate it from a standard static gallery. Mostly we see various forms of preparatory art, from character sketches to storyboards to backgrounds. Some rough animation and animatics appear as well, and the movie snippets allow us to compare the final product to the early renditions. Plenty of cool material shows up here, but the presentation doesn’t work for me. It gives us the art in a disjointed manner.

Finally, the disc includes two trailers. We get the movie’s theatrical clip plus the “Brad Bird” trailer. The DVD doesn’t explain this feature, but we can assume it’s an ad assembled by the director himself.

Note that this new DVD loses two extras from the original disc. That release presented a music video and a promotional documentary. I can’t really say I miss either, but I think it’s nonsensical they failed to appear here. Why cut existing materials?

The Iron Giant is a delightful and charming film that seems certain to stand up to repeated screenings. Picture quality appears excellent, but poorly-recorded speech mars the audio. The supplements don’t offer an exhaustive look at the film, but they present a mix of useful facts and elements. The Iron Giant is a DVD well worth your time and money.

That’s definitely the case if you don’t already own the 1999 release of Giant. Should the folks who do possess that platter double-dip? Only if they’re really interested in the supplements. I didn’t see any picture or sound improvements in the new release, so the only difference comes from the extras.

Because of that, I don’t think Giant merits a second purchase. The supplements are nice but not so amazing that they’re worth a double-dip. Maybe if you can sell your old copy and find the special edition cheap, but otherwise, stick with the original disc.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.2142 Stars Number of Votes: 28
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