THE IRON GIANT (film)
THE IRON GIANT. Brad Bird, dir., script (with Tim McCanlies). USA: Warner, 1999. Based on Ted Hughes's The Iron Man (vt The Iron Giant). Pete Townshend, Des McAnuff, exec. prod. 86 min. Jennifer Aniston, Harry Connick Jr., Cloris Leachman, M. Emmet Walsh, featured voices.
Animated feature, shifting the setting from Hughes's England to what Drew McWeeny presented in pre-release coverage as "a storybook perfect 1950s America where Hogarth, the Giant's young friend is weaned on sci-fi movies and TV" (McWeeny 16). In that year of Sputnik and paranoia, 1957, a metal-eating giant robot from space lands off the coast of Maine and comes ashore near a small town. The robot has amnesia, but it becomes clear it is programmed to destroy weapons attacking it and must learn that he can choose not to be a "gun," a weapon of war. With the love of a small boy and the help of the boy's mother and a local beatnik artist, the robot learns—making the robot more flexible than the villain, an obsessive agent of the US government, and the message of the film that intelligent beings can learn to act in peace. Cf. and contrast themes of children and the destruction of weapons in The Space Children (Jack Arnold, 1958 [discussed in Sobchack, Screening Space, ch. 2]). See under Music, Pete Townshend et al., The Iron Man: The Musical; see under Fiction, T. Hughes's Iron Man. Students of the image of the robot in children's literature should see M. Esmonde's essay "From Little Buddy to Big Brother . . ." in TMG and note carefully the configuration of the Iron Giant as he transforms from his friendly, very big buddy mode to take on a military threat. Note motif of transformation itself, plus the hiding of the Giant's comic jaw and the appearance of cobra-like weapons replacing the Giant's head: cf. Martian flying machines in WAR OF THE WORLDS (1953). The Giant is able to pull himself together when his various parts are scattered, for a kind of resurrection on a glacier at the end of the film (cf. and contrast the deaths on the ice in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein). For the parts coming together cf. and contrast the organic slime-mold imagery in the "protean polyp," a renewing and disintegrating "colony of independent creatures," in A. C. Clarke's The City and the Stars, ch. 12. Since one of the pieces of the robot looks rather spider-like, the imagery may reinforce the idea that what appears threatening (or just ickey) may be part of something friendly and exciting. The film is gentle propaganda about understanding, the human costs of the cold war even in a small town, and how even a programmed robot might choose not to kill. See Drew McWeeny, Cinefantastique 31.7 (August 1999): 16-. On robotic choice as a most rigorous proof for the ability of sentient beings to learn and change, cf. TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY (q.v. this section).