Why Martyn Pedler adores… THE IRON GIANT

22 Apr

Welcome back to WHY I ADORE!  Been receiving some brilliant submissions this week, which we’ll have in store for you soon, so please keep ’em coming! Send your love letter to any filmic or televisual objet j’adore to whyiadore@gmail.com!

This week’s Adorer is writer MARTYN PEDLER, who is the comic book columnist for Bookslut, film critic for Triple J magazine, currently in the midst of a Ph.D on superhero stories and screenwriter of the upcoming feature film EXIT. Find his thoughts and reviews at his website or his ever-eloquent and interesting tweets over at Twitter. The film he chooses to adore today marked the feature debut of one of the world’s finest writer/directors of animation, and gave one of the last decade’s most famous action film stars his greatest role… albeit, off-screen…

Jean-Luc Godard said that all you need is a girl and a gun. Most of the time, I’m convinced movies only really require the latter. I love Peckinpah stand-offs and John Woo double-handed slow motion firefights and the early explosions of Michael Bay – and yet one of my all-time favourite films thinks there’s nothing more insulting than being called a gun.

The Iron Giant (1999) was the first feature film for Brad Bird, who’s since gone on to fame as the director of Pixar hits The Incredibles and Ratatouille. It was inspired by the Ted Hughes book The Iron Man, and even lets its hero share the name: Hogarth Hughes. Hogarth’s a nine-year-old boy living through the 1957’s Cold War, sneakily staying up to watch horror movies on TV and playing soldier in the woods near his house. One night, he stumbles across a 100-foot-tall robot from outer space.

The ‘50s-inspired animation, combining hand drawn and CGI art, is gorgeous from the first frame, and there’s plenty of visual slapstick generated by the dissonance of a giant robot and a small town. The movie’s first moment of magic, though, comes after Hogarth leaves the mysterious, mute robot for the first time. In the distance, taller than the trees, we see the Giant tilt his head slightly to one side. It’s immediately curious and compassionate; it’s alive. That’s all it takes.

Hogarth befriends the Giant, hiding it as best he can. The army – in the form of smarmy, paranoid investigator Kent Mansley – is determined to first find proof of the Giant’s existence, and then put a stop to his inevitable rampage. Maybe they’re right. When Hogarth brings the Giant comic books to read, aren’t all the robots in them villains? The Giant, however, wants to be a hero. Just like Superman.

I’m not doing justice to how flat-out funny much of The Iron Giant is, or how it perfectly captures that Spielbergian sense of the wonder and terror of adolescence. Hogarth’s near-psychotic joy when he realises he now has his own giant robot is perfectly played, and the threat of nuclear war is a genuine, palpable threat.

And yet the real risk taken by The Iron Giant is how it refuses to let you enjoy its destructive spectacle. It’s a movie about a boy and his robot, for god’s sake! Who doesn’t want to see the Giant cut loose with high explosives and disintegration rays? But the Giant has already learned about life, death, and friendship – so when he’s forced into unwilling violence, it’s painful to watch.

While all the voice acting is fantastic – from Eli Marienthal, Harry Connick Jr., Christopher McDonald, and Jennifer Aniston – remember that it’s Vin Diesel who provides the reluctant voice of the Giant. Feel free to point it out whenever someone says he’s never been in a decent film. (Well, this and his cameo in Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, anyway.)

And that’s the point. Stories for children often wear their moral lessons on their well-meaning sleeves, and those lessons often end up transmitting terrible, terrible advice. Be kind? Sure. Be honest? Okay. But ‘be true to yourself’? If we look deep inside, will we find perfect little angel-winged versions of ourselves? I doubt it. We’re humans – not robots, giant or otherwise – and we’re regularly cruel and miserable, self-obsessed and violent. As Joss Whedon once said: “Remember to always be yourself – unless you suck.”

The Iron Giant was originally pitched by Brad Bird with this question: “What if a gun had a soul?” And, in the end, Hogarth answers it. “You are who you choose to be,” he says. “So choose.”

That’s exactly what the Giant does. It doesn’t say much during the film, but I’ll never forget how, hurt and proud in equal measure, it announces: “I am not a gun”.

– Martyn Pedler


2 Responses to “Why Martyn Pedler adores… THE IRON GIANT”

  1. Chris June 4, 2013 at 8:09 am #

    I am 34 years old and The Iron Giant is my all time Best Animation movie-Classic

  2. taylor kicklighter May 21, 2014 at 12:40 am #

    should anybody watch iron giant right now

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