Review: The Iron Giant (Don HARLOW)

Enkomputiligis Don HARLOW

The Iron Giant

Movie by Tim McCANLIES and Brad BIRD

reviewed by Don HARLOW

   I came out of this film thinking, "You have to have lived through America in the fifties to understand it" -- but then, upon reflection, I decided that wasn't true. After all, the forces that drove America in the fifties -- among them, fear of the unknown -- weren't all that unusual in mankind's history, and they continue to bedevil us today.

   It is late 1957 at the start of this Warner Bros. animation, and Sputnik is orbiting the earth once every ninety minutes, its relentless beep-beep-beep scaring the bejeesus out of an America already terrified of an armed and hostile Soviet Union over there on the other side of the world, where pitiless ogres await their chance to erase us from the planet -- an America where kids spend time in school learning to duck under their desks to protect them from the atomic flash, and where parents spent their hard-earned money building bomb shelters under their homes. But there's more out there than Sputnik, and something plunges into the north Atlantic off the coast of Maine, swamping a fishing boat and inspiring its captain, once he reaches shore, to phone Washington and let the authorities there know that something has arrived and is now wandering through the Maine forests, taking bites out of cars and electric-power substations.

   There are several main characters in the film. There is Hogarth Hughes (voice of Eli Marienthal), a young boy who befriends and attempts to hide the giant alien robot. There is his mother Annie, who essentially has a bit part. There is Hogarth's nemesis, handsome, granite-jawed government agent Kent Mansley (Christopher McDonald), an early Fox Mulder but far more sinister and far more humorless than the X-Files character. There is beatnik junk dealer and part-time metal sculptor Dean McCoppin (Harry Connick, Jr.), who mostly just wants to be left alone but at least is not ready to assume the worst of anyone on first sight. And, of course, there is the Giant (Vin Diesel), who does not really know what he is here for -- he landed rather hard, and on his head -- but who is sure that his purpose is benevolent, though it's possible that his makers had other intentions. And, facing him, there is an entire society that finds alien creatures with benevolent purposes very, very hard to believe in.

   And, as another reviewer put it with some glee, there are no songs and no funny animal friends...

   I certainly found this to be one of the most enjoyable -- though far from humorous -- animations that I've seen in quite a while.