Reviews by Alan Jones

selected from Starburst #256

Just one part of Starburst's monthly Reviews section.

In every issue: a TV View, from the US or UK: our popular Bookshelf section on the latest Sci-Fi/Fantasy novels and writers, plus new Soundtracks releases, games and websites in Cybertech, home entertainment in Videofile and DVD File, and John Brosnan's It's Only A Movie

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The Iron Giant
USA – August 6
Britain – December
Starburst Rating 10 out of 10

The Iron Giant picture copyright Warner Bros.
Feature © Visual Imagination 1999. Not for reproduction

86 mins • Cert G / U

Jennifer Aniston
Harry Connick Jr
Vin Diesel
James Gammon
Cloris Leachman
Christopher McDonald
John Mahoney
Eli Marienthal
M Emmet Walsh

Production Producers •
Allison Abate
Des McAnuff
Executive producer • Pete Townshend
Director & Screen
story •
Brad Bird
Screenplay •
Tim McCanlies
based on the book by Ted Hughes
Music •
Michael Kamen
The Iron Giant is an astonishingly redefined fairy tale and a first class achievement in animated virtuosity’

Hot on the heels of South Park comes another fabulous animation treat from Warner Bros. With Disney stuck in the ‘Two Worlds One Family’ values syndrome, it has taken the rather unusual duo of The Who’s Pete Townshend and ‘Tommy’ stage producer Des McAnuff (collaborators on a 1993 Old Vic theatrical version of British Poet Laureate Ted Hughes’ 1968 children’s book) to breathe further exciting life into the animation art form, adding thrilling depth and substance along the magical way.

The Iron Giant covers every base you could possibly imagine without being sentimental, stridently politically correct or awash in cute animals spouting one-liners. Kids will adore its electric visual look, liberally borrowing images from Fifties comic book art. Anyone older will respond to its touching and charming Heavy Metal invention. And Science Fiction lovers will adore the witty debts it pays to every creature feature, alien invasion adventure and Red Menace parable from the Golden Era of George Pal and Jack Arnold. So steel yourself for a riveting cast iron classic.

Cleverly set in 1957, with American Graffiti hits and a pastel ultra-lounge look instantly setting the scene, a quick thumbnail sketch of life in the coastal town of Rockwell, Maine, is expertly etched. There, in the local diner, single mother Annie Hughes (voiced by Jennifer Aniston) works as a waitress, often staying late, to the disappointment of her nine year-old outsider son Hogarth (Eli Marienthal). He copes by passing the time watching bad black and white SF movies on television. One night, the TV aerial goes wonky, and when he investigates, Hogarth spies a massive iron robot stomping through the woods eating any metal it can lay its bolted hands on. Following it to a power plant, Hogarth saves the Iron Giant (Vin Diesel) from electrical overload and they strike up an initially uneasy friendship.

Soon becoming fiercely protective of his new pal, Hogarth hides him in the scrap metal yard owned by beatnik artist Dean McCoppin (Harry Connick Jr). But the Iron Giant’s crashed spaceship has aroused FBI attention and commie-hating agent Kent Mansley (Christopher McDonald) arrives to quiz the small-town inhabitants while renting one of Annie’s spare rooms. As Mansley closes in on his unexplainable target, with the US Army poised waiting for his emergency call, Hogarth finds out that the Iron Giant is only programmed to strike defensively and poses no threat to mankind unless provoked. Which is exactly what the paranoid Mansley does when he goes against the rule book and aims an atomic bomb at his ferric foe in the spectacular and heart-tugging conclusion.

Having an upstanding government citizen as the bad guy is just one of the many subversive twists in director Brad Bird’s superlative creation. Political allegory is woven thoughtfully throughout the compelling plot, taking in Cold War ideology, McCarthy witch-hunting and the current hot potato of gun legislation, to brilliant and timely effect. However, it’s the outstanding use of B movie conventions from the diverse range of Invaders from Mars, Kronos, The Day the Earth Stood Still and A Bucket of Blood that ensures Bird’s funny, appealing and potently crafted first feature will strike a communication chord with everybody reading this review. Nostalgia-inducing, loving renditions of ‘Duck and Cover’ nuclear warnings and Mamie Van Doren schlock horrors hit the right spot too.

None of the above gets in the way of the core ET hook effectively exploring the poignant relationship between a wide-eyed innocent David and his Goliath alien counterpart. Whether giving his own personal walking Meccano set a lesson in comic super hero behaviour or teaching him how to have fun at the lake (the latter providing a literal tidal wave of mirth), The Iron Giant is both an astonishingly redefined fairy tale for the modern age and a first class achievement in animated virtuosity as computer graphics seamlessly integrate with more old school techniques. Finally, Disney get the competition they need to spur them on to greater cartoon glory.

Absolutely essential viewing. And if you don’t have a tear in your eye when the Iron Giant utters his final word as he jets into the cosmos, then you don’t deserve to have seen it.

Read Alan Jones' reviews for
The Blair Witch Project • and the anniversary release of Night of the Living Dead
in Starburst #256

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