The Iron Giant (1999)


Introduction

The Iron Giant is a 1999 American animated science fiction action film produced by Warner Bros. Feature Animation and directed by Brad Bird in his directorial debut.

It is based on the 1968 novel The Iron Man by Ted Hughes (which was published in the United States as The Iron Giant) and was scripted by Tim McCanlies from a story treatment by Bird.

The film stars the voices of Vin Diesel (voicing the titular character), Eli Marienthal, Jennifer Aniston, Harry Connick Jr., Christopher McDonald and John Mahoney.

Set during the Cold War in 1957, the film centres on a young boy named Hogarth Hughes, who discovers and befriends a gigantic metallic robot who fell from outer space. With the help of a beatnik artist named Dean McCoppin, Hogarth attempts to prevent the US military and Kent Mansley, a paranoid federal agent, from finding and destroying the Giant.

A documentary, The Giant’s Dream: The Making of The Iron Giant, was released in 2016.

Outline

During the Cold War, shortly after the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1 in October 1957, an object from space crashes in the ocean just off the coast of Maine and then enters the forest near the town of Rockwell. The following night, 11-year-old Hogarth Hughes investigates and finds the object, a 100-foot tall alien robot attempting to eat the transmission lines of an electrical substation. Hogarth eventually befriends the Giant, finding him docile and curious. When he eats railroad tracks in the path of an oncoming train, the train collides with him and derails; Hogarth leads the Giant away from the scene, discovering that he can self-repair. While there, Hogarth shows the Giant comic books chronicling the adventures of Superman.

The incidents lead a xenophobic US government agent named Kent Mansley to Rockwell. He suspects Hogarth’s involvement after talking with him and his widowed mother Annie (Hogarth’s father was a U.S. Air Force pilot who died during the Korean War), and rents a room in their house to keep watch on him. Hogarth evades Mansley and moves the Giant to a junkyard owned by beatnik artist Dean McCoppin, who reluctantly agrees to keep him. Hogarth enjoys his time with the Giant, but is compelled to explain “death” after witnessing hunters killing a deer.

That night, Hogarth is interrogated by Mansley when he discovers evidence of the Giant after finding a photo of him next to Hogarth and brings a U.S. Army contingent led by General Shannon Rogard to the scrapyard to prove the Giant’s existence, but Dean (having been warned by Hogarth earlier) tricks them by pretending the Giant is one of his art pieces. Angered by the apparent false alarm, Rogard prepares to leave with his forces after berating Mansley for his antics. Hogarth then continues to have fun with the Giant by playing with a toy gun, but inadvertently activates the Giant’s defensive system and Dean orders it away for Hogarth’s safety with Hogarth giving chase. Dean realises the Giant was only acting in self-defence and catches up to Hogarth as they follow the Giant.

The Giant saves two boys falling from a roof when he arrives, winning over the townspeople. Mansley jabbers wildly at Rogard to return to Rockwell when he spots the Giant in the town while leaving Rockwell; the Army attacks the Giant after he had picked up Hogarth, forcing the two to flee together. They initially evade the military by using the Giant’s flight system, but the Giant is then shot down and crashes to the ground. Hogarth is knocked unconscious, but the Giant, thinking Hogarth is dead and the military are responsible, transforms into a war machine in a fit of grief and retaliates, forcing its way back to Rockwell. Mansley then convinces Rogard to prepare a nuclear missile launch from the USS Nautilus, as conventional weapons prove ineffective.

Hogarth then wakes up and returns in time to calm the Giant while Dean clarifies the situation to Rogard. The General is ready to stand down when Mansley impulsively orders the missile launch, causing the missile to head towards Rockwell where it will kill everyone upon impact. Mansley attempts to escape, but the Giant stops him and Rogard has him arrested for his actions. In order to save the town, the Giant bids farewell to Hogarth and flies off to intercept the missile. As he soars directly into the path of the missile, the Giant remembers Hogarth’s words “You are who you choose to be”, smiles contentedly and says “Superman” as he collides with the weapon. The missile explodes in the atmosphere, saving Rockwell, its population and the military forces nearby but seemingly at the cost of the Giant himself, leaving Hogarth devastated.

Months later, a memorial of the Giant stands in Rockwell and Dean and Annie begin a relationship. Hogarth is given a package from Rogard, containing a screw from the Giant which is the only remnant found. That night, Hogarth finds the screw trying to move on its own and, remembering the Giant’s ability to self-repair, happily allows the screw to leave. The screw joins many other parts as they converge on the Giant’s head on the Langjökull glacier in Iceland, and the Giant smiles as he begins reassembling himself.

Cast

  • Eli Marienthal as Hogarth Hughes (named for illustrator Burne Hogarth), an intelligent, energetic and curious 9-year-old boy with an active imagination. Marienthal’s performances were videotaped and given to animators to work with, which helped develop expressions and acting for the character.
  • Jennifer Aniston as Annie Hughes, Hogarth’s mother, the widow of a military pilot, and a diner waitress.
  • Harry Connick Jr. as Dean McCoppin, a beatnik artist and junkyard owner. Bird felt it appropriate to make the character a member of the beat generation, as they were viewed as mildly threatening to small-town values during that time. An outsider himself, he is among the first to recognise the Giant as no threat.
  • Vin Diesel as The Iron Giant, a 50-foot, metal-eating robot. Of unknown origin and created for an unknown purpose, the Giant involuntarily reacts defensively if he recognises anything as a weapon, immediately attempting to destroy it. The Giant’s voice was originally going to be electronically modulated but the filmmakers decided they “needed a deep, resonant and expressive voice to start with,” so they hired Diesel.
  • James Gammon as Foreman Marv Loach, a power station employee who follows the robot’s trail after it destroys the station.
  • Gammon also voices Floyd Toubeaux.
  • Cloris Leachman as Mrs. Tensedge, Hogarth’s schoolteacher.
  • Christopher McDonald as Kent Mansley, a paranoid federal government agent sent to investigate sightings of the Iron Giant. The logo on his official government car says he is from the “Bureau of Unexplained Phenomena”.
  • John Mahoney as General Shannon Rogard, an experienced and level-headed military leader in Washington, D.C. who strongly dislikes Mansley.
  • M. Emmet Walsh as Earl Stutz, a sailor and the first man to see the robot.

Trivia

  • The film was nominated for several awards, winning nine Annie Awards out of 15 nominations.
  • Through home video releases and television syndication, the film gathered a cult following and is widely regarded as a modern animated classic.
  • In 2015, an extended, remastered version of the film was re-released theatrically, which saw a home video release the following year.
  • The Iron Giant appeared in Steven Spielberg’s 2018 film Ready Player One, replacing Ultraman from the book due to licensing issues, where he fights alongside the RX-78-2 Gundam against Mechagodzilla.
  • The inclusion of the Iron Giant in the film sparked controversy as the character was depicted using his arms as guns in a battle sequence, despite the original 1999 film establishing that the character resists violence.
  • A remastered and extended cut of the film, named the Signature Edition, was shown in one-off screenings across the United States and Canada on 30 September 2015 and 04 October 2015.
  • The edition is approximately two minutes longer than the original cut, and features a brief scene with Annie and Dean and the sequence of the Giant’s dream.

Production & Filming Details

  • Director(s): Brad Bird.
  • Producer(s): Allison Abbate and Des McAnuff.
  • Writer(s): Tim McCanlies and Brad Bird.
  • Music: Michael Kamen.
  • Cinematography: Steven Wilzbach.
  • Editor(s): Darren T. Holmes.
  • Production: Warner Bros. Feature Animation.
  • Distributor(s): Warner Bros.
  • Release Date: 31 July 1999 (Mann’s Chinese Theatre) and 06 August 1999 (US general release).
  • Running Time: 87 minutes.
  • Country: US.
  • Language: English.

 

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