Friday, October 2, 2015

The Iron Giant ★★★★

Image result for The Iron Giant film stills

    "The Iron Giant" is one of those rare films that seems to emit a sense of mysteriousness. I guess this stems from the fact that its initial run at the box-office was less than lucrative (a ramification of what can now be deemed a horrific and somewhat inept marketing campaign by Warner Brothers), and, perhaps, audiences were just not interested in seeing another poorly executed animated production without the accompanying name of Walt Disney. Yet, the film has outlived its original lack of success--which explains why I'm reviewing it some sixteen years later as a redefined 2015 theatrical release--by what seems to be sheer defiance. Although, I'm sure that our main protagonist, a towering iron man with a heart of gold, has something to do with the picture's appeal.  

    To be perfectly honest, there's nothing relatively new or innovative about "The Iron Giant," which simply chronicles the relationship between a young boy, Hogarth, and a peculiar robot from outer space, and yet, it unquestionably lures us in for several reasons: The Cold War setting in a small American town, where gossip spreads like wildfire, is quite the quintessential backdrop for the conveyance of a theme that comments on humanity's scathing attitude when it comes to anything they do not understand; the enjoyable characterizations, some of which are undeniably clichéd and stereotypical to a fault (this is in regard to the bumbling and cynical government official, who essentially becomes our sole antagonist, and to Hogarth's mother, a widow), bring a sense of realism and amusement to the film's structure; lastly, the presence of hand-drawn animation, a lost art form that I will discuss at some length shortly, gives the picture a muted, yet spirited appearance, which is accentuated beautifully by the hues of autumn. (I always have and always will be a sucker for such expressions of color.)

Image result for The Iron Giant film stills

    However, it is the picture's similarity to the timeless Spielberg classic entitled "E.T." and its faithfulness to the children's novel in which it was based that makes it a masterpiece. The parallel between "The Iron Giant" and "E.T." cannot be overlooked, nor should it be ignored. For, both stories center on the relations between an extraterrestrial being and a young adolescent male, and both rely heavily on discovery, fear of loss, and subjects such as death and sadness in an effort to bring these two disparate beings together. And what makes this formula so successful one may ask. Well, it's because it is involving; it hinges on moments fueled by this air of innocence and by childlike intrigue. As Hogarth teaches the Iron Giant these inevitable aspects of life, it is as if we are learning them for the first time as well. I've always been an advocate of the notion that if you are going to borrow some formula or technique from a compeer, then take from the best. I'd prefer an unoriginal product (which "The Iron Giant" surely is not) with a Spielberg dynamic over an original, yet tedious piece any day.

    As an English major, I dare not go without mentioning the work in which this picture is actually based, and that would be the 1968 novel entitled "The Iron Man" written by Ted Hughes--an individual who should be admired and respected for his achievements, which includes a stint as the Poet Laureate of England, and a man who should also be viewed under a lens of skepticism, as his role in the death of Sylvia Plath has never truly been unearthed. (Now, I'm not convicting anyone here, I'm just simply stating that sometimes actions, and, more specifically, infidelity, can have damaging effects on already troubled minds.) Hughes' short, yet riveting children's book touches base on several topics, including a criticism of warfare and inter-human conflict. And, generally speaking, "The Iron Giant" also indulges in such matters, as a blatant anti-gun message permeates the film, and as our ironclad hero must essentially save mankind from his own stupidity. Still, it is a concluding motif aimed at youngsters, who are surely the film's target audience, that truly steals the show. We are told that one can choose to be who they desire, which, in my opinion, has always been an important message for the young men and women of this nation. 

    Much has changed in the world of animation just in the last ten years, and Brad Bird's recorded introduction, which preceded this viewing, alludes to the unfortunate death of hand-drawn animated projects. (Although seemingly a moot point, considering computer graphic imaging was utilized in order to bring the "Iron Giant" to life, it is worthy of discussion.) I will not sit here and condemn CGI inspired pictures, and I will surely not denounce the wonderful sight that is "Toy Story," which arguably changed animation forever. Nevertheless, I believe that hand-drawn work was superseded when, justifiably, there was little reason for change. It is a medium that appears to be more natural, organic, and, quite frankly, more human. I think it would be wise to rediscover this lost art form, but I'm afraid this may be an improbable notion when faced with an ever-evolving technological age.             

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