I find it difficult to write about my all-time favorite films because I don’t know where to begin. I don’t know where to start with a movie that I love as much as Brad Bird’s The Iron Giant, a film that stirs my heart and moves me to tears every time I see it. Perhaps it’s that the movie goes for lighthearted fun just as easily as it goes for an anti-war sentiment and promoting self-determination. It certainly doesn’t hurt that Bird ingeniously wrapped his story in the mold of a “boy-and-his-dog” narrative, and it all comes together beautifully—the animation, the humor, and the affection for 1950s sci-fi. The new “Signature Edition” includes a new scene that doesn’t add or detract from the overall film, which continues to be as funny, heartwarming, and powerful as it was when it was released over fifteen years ago.
In 1957, an object from outer space crashes off the shore of Rockwell, Maine. The object turns out to be a 50-foot-tell metallic alien (Vin Diesel) who feasts on metal. When lonely local boy Hogarth Hughes (Eli Marienthal) discovers the alien creature, the giant accidentally falls into a power station and gets a bump on his head, forgetting why he landed on Earth. The two strike up a friendship, but Hogarth struggles to keep the Iron Giant a secret from aggressive, paranoid government agent Kent Mansley (Christopher McDonald). Along the way, the Iron Giant learns about humanity and tries to rebel against what he was designed for.
The big difference between the original theatrical cut and the “signature edition” is the inclusion of “The Giant’s Dream”, which provides some background on the giant’s origin. Brief spoilers ahead for those who don’t want to know the particulars of the scene.
In the scene, the giant has just come to understand mortality, and has a dream/flash that’s broadcast on Dean’s (Harry Connick Jr.) TV, which shows that the Giant is part of an invading force of robots. While the original cut makes it clear that the Giant is a weapon, this new scene raises more questions than it answers. The flashback shows the Giant marching with other Giants, so did he leave them behind? Is he the first of an invading force or did he already make the choice not to be a gun and just land in the Atlantic Ocean? He doesn’t attack anyone unprovoked and it’s never indicated that other giants are coming, so the scene is a bit of an outlier, and all it concretely does is give Dean a bit of a heads up that the Giant may be dangerous.
[Brief spoilers over]
There’s a reason the movie already worked beautifully without this scene, but thankfully, it doesn’t hurt the picture either. It’s a short scene (about two minutes tops), and while the exposition muddies the Giant’s backstory where previously everything was already cleverly implied, the fact that the Giant can dream further reinforces that he has a soul and that he views his violent past as nightmarish. It also bolsters the movie’s strong anti-war, anti-violence, and anti-gun sentiments.
I love that Bird didn’t shy away from making a staunchly peace-loving movie that features a killer robot from outer space and then took it a step further by making that hero avoid violence. The movie almost relishes the Iron Giant’s toys too much, but it ultiately refutes weapons to show that spectacle and joy can transcend firepower. Bird also darkly observes that with the advent of nuclear weapons, everything else is pretty much pointless. You may as well duck under your desk because we’ve doomed the world to hell anyway.
The question comes to how do you depict and personify peace and love in the face of war and hate, and the film’s conclusion is absolutely beautiful from start to finish. Even though he’s only learned a few lessons during his time on Earth, spending time with Hogarth shows the Giant the value of life to where he’s willing to sacrifice his own life to save humanity.* The total love and earnestness invested into that scene absolutely sells it. I tear up every single time the Giant says “Superman…” as he flies into the nuclear missile, and I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve seen this movie.
The Iron Giant has everything I want from a movie. It’s humorous, it’s heartwarming, its gorgeous, and it’s got a beautiful message at its center that continues to resonate and, in a bittersweet irony, will continue to resonate because we’re all so flawed. It’s absolutely beautiful, and while the Signature Edition doesn’t improve upon perfection, it doesn’t pick away it either. Instead, it adds a lovely visual polish to a film that flopped when it was released but has found the love it so richly deserves over the years. “Souls don’t die,” the Giant muses. Neither will this astounding picture.
*One could cynically argue that it’s not really a sacrifice since the Giant knows he can heal, but the look on the Giant’s face indicates that he’s serenely accepting death and sacrificing his life. That he lives at the end is a nice pick-me-up. The Iron Giant isn’t meant to be a downer, and the Giant should get to live on.
Click here for all of our TIFF 2015 coverage thus far or peruse links to our reviews below:
- 45 Years
- Black Mass
- The Danish Girl
- Green Room
- I Smile Back
- Kill Your Friends
- The Lobster
- The Martian