The Iron Giant – Signature Edition (Blu-ray Review)

Iron-GiantIts a good thing that films aren’t always dead on arrival.  Some just take longer to resonate or to reach their appreciative audiences.  Today, we are here celebrating the 17th anniversary and debut on Blu-ray of the much beloved animated film, The Iron Giant.  Its not that it hasn’t always been beloved (The film was well reviewed back in 1999), but it took a while to spread that love.  It pretty much bombed or disappointed at the box office in 1999, which was a big let down considering how good the film was.  However, as the years have gone on, many were able to right their wrong and be able to see it via VHS, DVD or television and now its rightfully placed on a mantle of one of the greatest animated films.  Its also the launching point of the once flawless Brad Bird, and has a nice footnote of international action superstar Vin Diesel voicing the titular character.  Here, on Warner Bros first Blu-ray release, you not only get all the old bonus content, but a new documentary and the “Signature Edition” featuring Bird’s preferred version of the film.

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Shortly after the launch of Sputnik in October 1957, nine-year-old Hogarth Hughes of the fictional town of Rockwell, Maine spots a meteorite crash into a nearby forest. Investigating, he finds a giant robot being electrocuted as it tries to eat the transmission lines of an electrical substation. Hogarth turns off the station, and the robot runs off. Hogarth tracks down and befriends the robot, finding it docile and curious. Meanwhile, the government rolls into town on the trailer whatever it was that came from the meteorite.

Brad Bird’s feature debut is the kind of things that many things are trying to be nowadays, but don’t quite grasp how to do it.  The Iron Giant very much feels a piece of a loving nostalgia for an animation style and science fiction story of 50s atomic yesteryear.  However, Bird is smarter than most and doesn’t just aim at the warm and fuzzy idea of just replicating “the feels”, the look and the name dropping.  His vision is of its own complete mind, lays its own tracks and keeps to its own story.

Speaking of the animation style, its a shame that this movie hasn’t had a 3-D rerelease or isn’t coming in the 3-D Blu-ray format.  It really opens itself up to the look in 2-D.  There are many scenes that you can just imagine working like gangbusters in terms of depth, roundedness and things flying by you close up without looking incredibly gimmicky.  Its hand drawn, but I don’t think that really could have held it back from looking impressive in the end.

Another strength of Iron Giant comes in its voice cast.  We all know Vin Diesel has been sung praises for his part in this movie.  But, really, the A+ MVP of the film is Christopher McDonald.  Which in 1999, kind of closes out a decade where he owned play villains and yuppie assholes.  Here, he’s all in with a crazed performance that builds and build til it explodes in insanity at the end.  McDonald possibly gives one of the Top 5 performances of his career in the film.  It really changes the film and brings the level of villainy, suspense and intensity that the film needs.  Its a more reserved role, but I do want to note that Jennifer Aniston is very good here, too in a very un-Aniston like performance that you might not recognize her if you didn’t know.

Roger Ebert noted in his review in 1999 that the film was brand new, but with one look at it you just felt is was already an all-time classic.  And it really is.  The film just keeps simple and plays its story to let all the characters do their work while a message floats easily to the surface.  Looking back, this is a real treasure as its one of the best and last of the hand drawn movies as 2000 would really start pushing out more CG things or meshing the two formats frequently.  The film works wonders for all ages, and still to this day remains one of the best film to not hit big at the box office.

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Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1

Clarity/Detail:  The Iron Giant looks rather terrific in its Blu-ray debut.  This might be the best its ever going to look.  Colors appear natural to their intended state and detail is pretty clear.  I wonder if this animation style just doesn’t lend itself to a sharper image.  Either way, I don’t think people will be disappointed with this.

Depth:  As mentioned above, this one looks really sweet.  Almost 3-D in its appearance.  Great spacing, free movement and distancing in this transfer.

Black Levels:  Blacks are deep, dark and provide good outlines, shading and coloring.  No crushing.

Color Reproduction:  Colors here play in a simple palette.  Nothing is overly complex.  They all look strong, bold and as popped as they need to be.  Nothing is every striking except for the sci fi rays and electricity that occur at times.

Flesh Tones:  N/A

Noise/Artifacts:  Pretty clean, a little grain here and there.


Audio Format(s): English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, French 5.1 Dolby Digital, German 5.1 Dolby Digital, Spanish (Castilian) 5.1 Dolby Digital, Spanish (Latino) 5.1 Dolby Digital, Portuguese 5.1 Dolby Digital, Thai 5.1 Dolby Digital, Japanese 5.1 Dolby Digital

Subtitles: English SDH, French, German SDH, Portuguese, Spanish, Czech, Korean, Romanian, Thai

Dynamics:  Wow!  The Iron Giant is a big giant of a 5.1 DTS-HD MA track.  This thing packs a wallop.  The action is huge, loud and truly feels like a movie theater in your living room.  Foley effects are outstanding with crisp clarity and depth.  There is a great balance of the vocals, music and effects woven throughout.  One of the year’s best 5.1 tracks.

Low Frequency Extension:  Every time the Giant takes a step you are rumbling in your room.  Ditto for car crashes, chomping, explosions, tanks rolling and things slamming.  Amazing subwoofer input here.

Surround Sound Presentation:  Plenty of things flying around in the rear speakers when the army patrols in.  Many scenes also feature a good ambiance with unique sounds, especially the diner.  Movement and character/object placement for sound is also well done in the front channels.

Dialogue Reproduction: Crisp, audible and clear with most diction picked up tit for tat.

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Audio Commentary

  • With Director Brad Bird, head of animation Tony Fucile, story department head Jeff Lynch and animation supervisor Steven Markowski

The Giant’s Dream (HD, 55:47) – This impressive, lengthy bit of a documentary focuses on a sort of dual entity as its the history of Brad Bird leading up to and making The Iron Giant while also becoming a much more richer flushed out Making Of Iron Giant.

Deleted Scenes With Introduction By Brad Bird (HD, 15:16)

Teddy Newton: The X-Factor (SD, 5:38) – Focuses on crew member Teddy Newton.

Duck and Cover Sequence (SD, 2:23) – Teddy Newton talks about the film that is featured in the actual movie.

The Voices of The Iron Giant (SD, 8:16) – Brad Bird, the animators and Vin Diesel go over the voice acting process for the movie.

The Score (SD, 4:49) – A little piece on the composer going over his score (RIP Michael Kamen).

Behind The Armor (SD, 17:31) – Little pieces that ultimately form a different “Making Of” feature.

Motion Gallery (SD, 4:22) – Sort of a storyboard to screen presentation, with animatics and sketches.

“Brad Bird” Trailer (SD, 1:29) 

Signature Edition Trailer (HD, 2:32)

The Making Of The Iron Giant (SD, 22:05) – A television special that aired for when the movie was coming out featuring narration by Dominic Torretto.

Vintage Easter Eggs (SD, 1:44)

The Salt Mines (HD, 7:06) – One of the crew member pays a visit to the salt mine in Kansas where all the drawings for the film are being kept and preserved.

Hand Drawn (HD, 1:40) – Brad Bird praises and holds onto hand drawn animation and talks its importance and preference over CGI.

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Brad Bird’s The Iron Giant finally makes its way to Blu-ray, and honestly, you could not have asked for a better presentation.  Its got very good video as well as a killer audio mix.  Then, you’re thrown all the older goodies from previous DVD releases as well as a new definitive documentary and 2 cuts of the film.  I’m not one to tell you how to spend your money, but this is worth your dollars if you’re a fan of the film.


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