The Iron Giant (1999)
Directed by: Brad Bird
The Scene: “Hogarth and the Giant Meet”
The Iron Giant is one of my favourite films of all time, and so I don’t know why I held it off so long to write about, although it was difficult to pick out the best scene.
The scene follows the events of Hogarth’s first terrifying encounter with the Giant as he seeks the ‘Invader from Mars’ in the woods at night. Only spurred on by his close encounter with the monster, Hogarth sets out to get proof of the existence of the Giant. However, a long day searching for the Giant, Hogarth becomes tired and falls asleep. When Hogarth awakes, the Giant is staring down at him, having observed him silently for the entire day, undetected. In a mad panic, Hogarth tries to escape from this giant metal monster, but ends up being hitting a low branch, stopping him in his tracks. What follows is the scene in which Hogarth meets the ‘other’ side of the Iron Giant, an innocent, curious being, so far from the B-movie monster we were first introduced to.
In the previous ‘meeting’ scenes, the Giant takes in the appearance of an ‘Invader from Mars’ or ‘Alien weapon’. The care and attention taken to set the mood of a B-movie monster, through scale, styling, lighting and sound design make the Giant imposing, dark, threatening and scary. The cinematography used to scale the Giant is particularly impressive, low angles, coupled with the Giant’s triangular shape lend to his overall colossal stature.
In the real meeting scene, however, we are presented with the main contrast of the film, and introduced to a very different Giant, his innocence and childlike curiosity. The moment where Hogarth and this friendly giant meet is simply fantastic. The movie, again, plays with the sense of scale impressively, when the Giant mirrors Hogarth’s movements it introduces a brilliant humour to the film. When teaching the Giant about words for “tree” and “rock”, and seeing the Giant pluck fully grown trees and massive boulders to learn, gives a real sense of his scale and power, but changes these characteristics from imposing and terrifying to humorous and charming. I can’t praise the use of scale in this film enough. When the Giant raises himself up from a seated position, as he sees Hogarth getting up to, the animation and ‘camera angle’ just lend so much to the scene. Seeing this massive character, lean his face right forward in front of the shot, taking up the entire frame, only to have this focus shifted by having the face raised to his complete standing position, is just marvellous. It takes perspective and manipulates it masterfully, brings it front and centre, before shooting it into the sky all in one ‘shot’.
“…Hogarth teaches the Giant to interact with this strange world he has landed on, not as a weapon, but as a small boy and a friend.”
Establishing this sense of scale; the initial terrifying monster – the friendly giant within; and the friendship between a small, innocent boy and an apparent huge metal weapon; all within this scene, sets into motion the contrasts that are carried to the main motives of the film. When looking at the Giant mirroring Hogarth, we see the contrast in scale, and the difference between the way these two beings interact with the world. The creation of this monster in the beginning scenes of the film, is turned on its head by the Giant’s inquisitive nature, and strengthened by his friendship with Hogarth. It is a beautiful dynamic, that Hogarth teaches the Giant to interact with this strange world he has landed in, not as a weapon, but as a small boy and a friend. This brings the two together, defying their differences of scale and origins, Hogarth doesn’t see a monster, he just sees a friend. This fantastic friendship, is the driving force for the rest of the film.
This friendship is challenged even with the setting of the film, 1950’s America, a time of new discoveries and fears within, the space-race, the A-bomb and foreign threats. The Giant represents as the sum of these fears, and despite his innocent nature, is tested by the rest of the films characters, which fall into the B-Movie mentality; making for a captivating and heart-wrenching conflict within the film in which Hogarth, and the audience, know the truth behind the scary exterior.What I love about this scene, and the entire film, is firstly, it’s masterful setting of the theme; achieved through beautiful contrasts throughout the film, which lend to its charm and brilliance. In essence the film is about withholding judgement on someone due to their looks, and choosing your own destiny, despite other people’s opinions and even against your own design. It is a touching film about friendship and understanding, and remains one of my favourite films of all time. I’m always amazed when I talk to people that haven’t seen this film, as it is truly a wonder of animated films.