|The Iron Giant|
Promotional poster for The Iron Giant
|Directed by||Brad Bird|
|Produced by||Pete Townshend
|Written by||The Iron Man:
Harry Connick, Jr.
|Music by||Michael Kamen|
|Editing by||Darren T. Holmes|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros. Pictures|
|Release date(s)||August 6, 1999|
|Running time||86 min.|
The Iron Giant is a 1999 animated science fiction film produced by Warner Bros. Animation, based on the 1968 novel The Iron Man by Ted Hughes. Brad Bird directed the film, which stars a voice cast of Eli Marienthal as Hogarth Hughes, as well as Jennifer Aniston, Harry Connick, Jr., Vin Diesel, Christopher McDonald and John Mahoney. The film tells the story of a lonely boy raised by his widowed mother, discovering a giant iron man which fell from space. Hogarth, with the help of a beatnik named Dean, has to stop the U.S. military and a federal agent from finding and destroying the Giant. The Iron Giant takes place during the height of the Cold War (1957).
Development phase for the film started around 1994, though the project finally started taking root once Bird signed on as director, and Bird's hiring of Tim McCanlies to write the screenplay in 1996. The script was given approval by Ted Hughes, author of the original novel, and production struggled through difficulties (Bird even enlisted the aid of a group of students from CalArts). The Iron Giant was released with high critical praise (scoring a 97 percent approval rating from Rotten Tomatoes), when released by Warner Bros. in the summer of 1999. It was nominated for awards that most notably included the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation and the Nebula Award from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.
In October 1957 (the month in which the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1), a giant humanoid robot crashes off the shore of the fictional town of Rockwell, Maine, and eventually makes its way into the nearby forest the next day. Nine-year-old Hogarth Hughes, following the trail of destruction in the forest, discovers the robot as it gets entangled in the wires of a power station, and shuts off the station's power. The robot, on recovery, disappears into the forest, eluding Hogarth. The following day, Hogarth is discovered in the forest by the robot, showing him the power switch he pulled as a means of communication. Hogarth spends time with the robot, but when he tries to return home, the robot follows him, eventually causing a train to collide with its head. The robot demonstrates it is self-repairing, with parts dislodged by the collision drawn back towards the robot. Hogarth instructs the robot to follow him to his home and hides it from his single mother Annie in their barn. Hogarth teaches the robot about life, and shares his comic books with him, including one featuring Superman and another with Atomo, a villainous metal robot. Hogarth assures the robot that it is not like Atomo and that the robot is what it chooses to be.
Meanwhile, reports from the robot's damage have led Kent Mansley, an egotistical and paranoid U.S. Government agent, to investigate the sightings. Kent soon discovers evidence that Hogarth has made contact with the robot, and interrogates the boy, threatening to separate Hogarth from his mother if he doesn't talk. Hogarth manages to take the robot to the junkyard of the beatnik artist, Dean, to keep him hidden from Kent and the forces of the U.S. Army under command of General Rogard; Dean is able to pass the robot off as a work of art when the military snoops around his yard. After the military leaves, Dean saves Hogarth from a deadly energy blast shot at the child by the robot, and orders the robot away. However, Dean discovers the robot was acting in automatically programmed self-defense when Hogarth pointed a toy gun at it, and he and Hogarth quickly race after the robot before he is caught by the Army.
In town, the robot arrives in time to save two boys that were falling from a roof. As the town gathers in amazement of the apparently friendly robot, Kent and the Army arrive, and open fire on it. The robot attempts to protect itself when attacked by F-86 Sabre fighting jets; the attack causes Hogarth, having just arrived, to fall unconscious. The robot mistakes this for Hogarth's death, and, enraged, turns into a lethal machine, destroying many of the Army vehicles. The General, upon Kent's suggestion, orders the preparation of a nuclear missile launch from the offshore USS Nautilus to destroy the robot. Hogarth recovers and is able to talk to the robot, calming it down and reverting it to its gentler form. Before the General can stand down the launch, a panicking Kent grabs the radio and orders its launch, unaware that no one in the town including the Army will have time enough to reach safe distance before impact; when Kent attempts to flee, he is stopped by the robot and arrested by the Army. Hogarth gravely explains the situation to the robot, and after saying its goodbyes, the robot takes off into the sky to intercept the missile. Recalling the discussion with Hogarth about heroes and villains, the Giant asserts itself as Superman. The Giant collides at full speed with the missile, while Hogarth witnesses the explosion back on Earth; while the town is thankful to be saved, they, particularly Hogarth, are mournful over the loss of the robot.
Sometime later, a memorial to the robot has been created in town, and Dean and Annie have begun a romantic relationship while Hogarth has become closer friends with other children in town. A package sent by General Rogard to Hogarth contains the only piece of debris they found from the explosion, a jaw bolt. That night, the bolt starts to move on its own accord, and remembering seeing the robot repair itself before, Hogarth lets the bolt roll into the countryside. A camera pan shows many other robot parts moving towards the Langjökull glacier in Iceland, where the robot's head suddenly opens its eyes and smiles.
In 1986, rock musician Pete Townshend became interested in writing "a modern song-cycle in the manner of Tommy", and chose Ted Hughes’ The Iron Man as his subject. Three years later, The Iron Man: A Musical album was released. The same year Pete Townshend produced a short film set to the album single "A Friend is a Friend" featuring The Iron Man in a mix of stop frame animation and live action directed by Matt Forrest. In 1993, a stage version was mounted at London’s Old Vic. Des McAnuff, who had adapted the Tony Award-winning Tommy with Townshend for the stage, believed that The Iron Man could translate to the screen, and the project was ultimately acquired by Warner Bros.
Towards the end of 1996, while the project was working its way through development, the studio saw the film as a perfect vehicle for Brad Bird, who at the time was working for Turner Feature Animation. Turner Entertainment had recently merged with Warner Bros. parent company Time Warner, and Bird was allowed to transfer to the Warner Bros. Animation studio to direct The Iron Giant. After reading the original Iron Man book by Hughes, Bird was impressed with the mythology of the story and in addition, was given an unusual amount of creative control by Warner Bros. Bird decided to have the story set to take place in the 1950s as he felt the time period "presented a wholesome surface, yet beneath the wholesome surface was this incredible paranoia. We were all going to die in a freak-out."
Tim McCanlies was hired to write the script, though Bird was somewhat displeased with having another writer on board, as he himself wanted to write the screenplay. He later changed his mind after reading McCanlies' unproduced screenplay for Secondhand Lions. In Bird's original story treatment, America and the USSR were at war at the end, with the Giant dying. McCanlies decided to have a brief scene displaying his survival, quoting "You can't kill E.T. and then not bring him back." McCanlies finished the script within two months, and was surprised once Bird convinced the studio not to use Townshend's songs. Townshend did not care either way, quoting "Well, whatever, I got paid." McCanlies was given a three month schedule to complete a script, and it was by way of the film's tight schedule that Warner Bros. "didn't have time to mess with us" as McCanlies said.
Hughes himself was sent a copy of McCanlies' script and sent a letter back, saying how pleased he was with the version. In the letter, Hughes stated, "I want to tell you how much I like what Brad Bird has done. He’s made something all of a piece, with terrific sinister gathering momentum and the ending came to me as a glorious piece of amazement. He’s made a terrific dramatic situation out of the way he’s developed The Iron Giant. I can’t stop thinking about it."
It was decided to animate the Giant using computer-generated imagery as the various animators working on the film found it hard "drawing a metal object in a fluid-like manner." A new computer program was created for this task, while the art of Norman Rockwell, Edward Hopper and N.C. Wyeth inspired the design. Bird brought in students from CalArts to assist in minor animation work due to the film's busy schedule. The Giant's voice was originally to be electronically modulated but the filmmakers decided they "needed a deep, resonant and expressive voice to start with" and Vin Diesel was hired.
The film is set in the late 1950s, during a period of the Cold War characterized by escalation in tension between the United States and the Soviet Union. In 1957, Sputnik was launched, raising the possibility of nuclear attack from space. Anti-communism and the potential threat of nuclear destruction cultivated an atmosphere of fear and paranoia which also led to a proliferation of films about alien invasion. In one scene, Hogarth's class is seen watching an animated film named Atomic Holocaust, based on Duck and Cover, an actual film that offered advice on how to survive if The USSR bombed the USA. The movie also has an anti-gun message in it. When the Iron Giant sees a deer get killed by hunters, the Iron Giant notices two rifles discarded by the deer's body. The Iron Giant's eyes turn red showing hostility to any gun. It is repeated throughout the film, "Guns kill." and "You're not a gun."
Writer Tim McCanlies addressed Hogarth's message to the giant, "You are who you choose to be" played a pivotal role in the film. "At a certain point, there are deciding moments when we pick who we want to be. And that plays out for the rest of your life" citing that he wanted to get a sense between right and wrong. In addition, this turning point was to make the audience feel as if they are an important part of humanity.
|"We had toy people and all of that kind of material ready to go, but all of that takes a year! Burger King and the like wanted to be involved. In April we showed them the movie, and we were on time. They said, "You'll never be ready on time." No, we were ready on time. We showed it to them in April and they said, "We'll put it out in a couple of months." That's a major studio, they have 30 movies a year, and they just throw them off the dock and see if they either sink or swim, because they've got the next one in right behind it. After they saw the reviews they [Warner Bros.] were a little shamefaced."|
|— Writer Tim McCanlies on Warner Bros.' marketing approach|
The Iron Giant opened on August 6, 1999 in the United States in 2,179 theaters, accumulating $5,732,614 over its opening weekend. The film went on to gross $23,159,305 domestically, making it a bomb in the US, but did end up grossing $103 million worldwide, making it a success from there. Analysts at IGN feel it "was a mis-marketing campaign of epic proportions at the hands of Warner Bros, they simply didn't realize what they had on their hands." Tim McCanlies said, "I wish that Warner had known how to release it."
Lorenzo di Bonaventura, president of Warner Bros. at the time, explained, "People always say to me, 'Why don't you make smarter family movies?' The lesson is, Every time you do, you get slaughtered." Stung by criticism that it mounted an ineffective marketing campaign for its theatrical release, Warner Bros. revamped its ad strategy for the video release of the film, including tie-ins with Honey Nut Cheerios, AOL and General Motors and secured the backing of three U.S. congressmen (Ed Markey, Mark Foley and Howard Berman).
The film had met with universal critical acclaim. Based on 110 reviews collected by Rotten Tomatoes, The Iron Giant received an overall 97% "Certified Fresh" approval rating. With the 30 critics on Rotten Tomatoes' "Cream of the Crop", which consists of popular and notable critics from the top newspapers, websites, television and radio programs, still averaging a 97% "Certified Fresh" approval rating. By comparison, Metacritic calculated an average score of 85 (out of 100) from the 27 reviews it collected. The film has since then gathered a cult following. The Nostalgia Critic placed the film as #6 on his list of The Top 11 Underrated Nostalgia Classics.
Roger Ebert very much liked the Cold War setting, feeling "that's the decade when science fiction seemed most preoccupied with nuclear holocaust and invaders from outer space." In addition he was impressed with parallels seen in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and quoted, "[The Iron Giant] is not just a cute romp but an involving story that has something to say." In response to the E.T. parallels, Bird quoted, "E.T. doesn't go kicking ass. He doesn't make the Army pay. Certainly you risk having your hip credentials taken away if you want to evoke anything sad or genuinely heartfelt."
Peter Stack of the San Francisco Chronicle agreed that the storytelling was far superior to other animated films, and cited the characters as plausible and noted the richness of moral themes. Jeff Millar of the Houston Chronicle agreed with the basic techniques as well, and concluded the voice cast being excelled with a great script by Tim McCanlies.
The Hugo Awards nominated The Iron Giant for Best Dramatic Presentation, while the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America honored Brad Bird and Tim McCanlies with the Nebula Award nomination. The British Academy of Film and Television Arts gave the film a Children's Award as Best Feature Film. In addition The Iron Giant won nine Annie Awards and was nominated for another six categories, with another nomination for Best Home Video Release at The Saturn Awards. IGN ranked The Iron Giant as the tenth favourite animated film of all time in a list published in 2008, and the second greatest animated movie of all time on another list .
In an interview with WorstPreviews.com, Bird announced that there was an "outside chance" that a limited theatrical rerelease would be planned for sometime in 2009, to mark the film's tenth anniversary, as of now, Warner Bros. has yet to release any announcement for any kind of 10th anniversary release.