The Iron Giant: Student Review
by Laura Cruz, College Freshman at La Sierra University
Editors Intro: I teach a class on The History of the Moving Image, known on campus as FLTV 118. I have the students watch different films for different decades from theSilent Era up to the early 2000s. And with every film the students must write a review. I don't want research or scholastic analysis. What I'm looking for is the opinion of the student with some thoughtful insight. AKA: Don't tell me you like a film, tell my WHY you like a film. My favorite papers get published on this site. This review is one of them.
The 1999 animated film The Iron Giant was directed by Brad Bird and cast many many stars. Among them Vin Diesel, Jennifer Aniston, Christopher McDonald, Eli Marienthal and Harry Connick, Jr. I pride myself on being able to quickly recognize voices in animations but this one I did not see coming. Like most people my age I have seen Friends multiple times and I only recognized Aniston's voice after rewatching her scenes only because of her mannerism, but not because of the tone of her voice. And Vin Diesel! Perfect for this role, being appealing yet menacing. It is the creative choices in this film that I think make it so effective.
What caught my attention about this movie was its flow. Not only as a story but visually. The film thrives by using match cuts as transitions from one scene to the next. Match cuts using visuals, dialogue, and music. A visual example would be when the giant first lands and the sailor is washed ashore. He sees the lighthouse who’s light hits the camera and turns into a sun. This allows for a smooth transition between night and day which can be tricky to achieve with such different tones to each shot. An example of dialogue would be when the detective is explaining to the president the situation of the "monster", which ends on “so” and we cut to Hogarth explaining to the Giant what he can do with him, which starts on “so”. Last, is a match cut done with music. The Giant is following the boy as we hear his stomping. Music begins to play which matches the pace of the stomps. We then cut into the next scene as the stomp and music continue to match. This allows a smooth transition by creating an audio connection between the two shots.
Another element I enjoyed in this film was the lighting. We don’t tend to see a lot of high exposure in films because they wash out the image and distract from the subject. However, I thought they worked well here. My favorite example of this is when Hogarth goes out at night to find the Giant and his mom goes looking for him. The car lights create these beautiful shadows behind her in the shape of rays. They add a cool movement to the shot. Another moment when I enjoyed the lighting is when Mansley is interrogating Hogarth about the Giant. It’s very film noir-like, but also a bit of an interrogation scene cliché. However, this type of lighting creates beautiful dramatic shadows and reads well because it gives the scene and obvious purpose; to question.
I also noticed the color schemes in the film. Color schemes are important in making the visuals pleasant to look at and gives the image a beautiful aesthetic. The color scheme that stood out to me is in the choice of color for the character of Kent Mansley, the "villian" of the film. When Masley starts becoming persistent with Hogarth he is wearing a green coat, a red tie, against his red hair. This is a complimentary color scheme between red and green. The red denotes anger and violence while the green shows corruption and danger. Our mind subconsciously relates these colors with these emotions which further enhances how we feel about this "evil" character.
Now that we are on the subject of feeling, this film does an incredible job of creating an emotional connection with the audience. I think this is done by having the audience grow a connection along with the growth of the Giant. Having the Giant get to earth with no memory places Hogarth in the position of having to teach him, which makes the audience perceive the Giant as a child. We are in a sense seeing the Giant grow before our eyes as he learns how to speak and tell right from wrong. This connects the audience to the story and creates a feeling of pride and sadness when (SPOILER) the robot ultimately chooses to be Superman.
There were only two things about this film that bothered me a little. First is that the environment always looked flat, like a drawing or painting. Only the characters look actually 3D. Also, when we are looking down from the Giant's perspective there is a bit of distortion. For example, sometimes Hogarth looks like he’s leaning forward when he's talking up to the Giant. These things are minimal and I know are caused by the limitations of animation at the time. Overall, I loved this movie! It was hilarious, it made me angry, and I cried. I found the ending to be incredibly satisfying because of the hopeful tone with which it ended. What more can you want from a good animated movie!