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The Iron Giant: Special Edition

If the dismal $23 million box-office for 1999's The Iron Giant tells us anything, it's that the general public, awash in a world of bad films, unfunny television, and tabloid news, is incapable of recognizing a brilliant work of art when it's put right in front of their noses — or worse, refuses to give up their time for it because they fear that, well, it's art. While some have said that Warner Brothers' misguided marketing strategy for this animated masterpiece was at fault for the low revenues, The Iron Giant got the best free publicity that any film could ever want: not one major critic hated it. In fact, virtually all of them raved about it, and in countless reviews they implored every American to put the movie at the top of their "must-see" list. Perhaps this, above all things, caused The Iron Giant to leave the big screen far too soon. Most people fear films that have a "meaning," probably because they suspect they will be too stupid to understand it (in many cases, they are probably right). So while Disney's entertaining Tarzan offered saccharine songs by Phil Collins and snared more than $170 million at the '99 summer box-office, the thoughtful Iron Giant was summarily prepared for home video release in the hopes of recovering the rest of its $48 million budget. It was an unfortunate fate for what is certainly one of the greatest animated features in history. Based on Ted Hughes' 1968 novella The Iron Man, the story concerns Hogarth Hughes, an adventurous young boy in 1957 Maine who lives with his widowed mother. Since she works long hours as a waitress in a local diner, Hogarth often spends time with only himself and his imagination, which is sent to dizzying heights when he discovers that a mysterious 100-foot robot is hiding in the forest behind his house with a big dent on his head and no clue as to what (or who) it is. After a thrilling first encounter, Hogarth and the robot become friends (Hogarth regards it as sort of an oversized pet), but when government agent Kent Mansley sniffs out the robot's trail, suspecting it to be a super-weapon from a foreign country, Hogarth must hide his immense pal in the scrap-yard of local beatnik artist Dean McCoppin until the final, inevitable confrontation. Directed by Brad Bird from a screenplay by Tim McCanlies, The Iron Giant isn't only a moving story for all ages, but it's also a refreshing change of pace from the ubiquitous Disney mold. Rather than follow Disney's lead with more and more ambitious animation (as DreamWorks has done), Baird actually harkens back to the classic years of Warner, presenting his viewers with unmistakably cartoonish figures that simply but effectively convey a wide range of emotions. And yet the production has its innovations, as the robot is a computer-generated image, while the rest of the characters are classically hand-drawn. The overall effect is so seamless that you might not suspect it if somebody hadn't told you. Featuring the voices of Jennifer Aniston, Eli Marienthal, Harry Connick Jr., Vin Diesel, Christopher McDonald, James Gammon, Cloris Leachman, John Mahoney, M. Emmet Walsh, Earl Stutz, and Mary Kay Bergman. Executive produced by Pete Townshend (who also released an album in 1989 based on Hughes' book).

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Warner Home Video's second release of The Iron Giant is a much-anticipated 2004 Special Edition that replaces the scant original DVD from 1999 with an all-new digital transfer. Gone are the 22-min. "making-of" documentary hosted by Vin Diesel and a music video, but the new supplemental material will delight fans of this overlooked classic. Director Brad Bird, head of animation Tony Fucile, story department head Jeff Lynch, and storyboard artist Steven Markowski chime in on a detailed commentary track. Also new are eight deleted scenes, the storyboard featurette "Teddy Newton: The X-Factor" (5 min.), a look at the "Duck and Cover Sequence" (2 min.), "The Voice of the Giant" with Vin Diesel (2 min.), a "Motion Gallery" (4 min.), two trailers, and updated cast-and-crew notes. Also on board are "on-the-fly" links during the film to various supplemental features. Keep-case.

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