The Humanity of The Iron Giant


It is time yet again for another genre countdown hosted by our friends at Wonders in the Dark! This year, they are tackling sci-fi films, and I am honored to be contributing four essays for this year’s event. First up, at number 66, it’s Brad Bird’s fantastical directorial debut, the 1999 animated sci-fi masterpiece The Iron Giant:

In developing the story for the big screen, Bird and screenwriter Tim McCanlies excised a large part of Hughes’ novel (essentially eliminating the entire final section, in which the Iron Man battles an intergalactic space dragon) and moved the action from England to the pictaresque, appropriately-named Rockwell, a seaport town in Maine that serves as a perfect microcosm of small-town America in 1957. The resulting film focuses less on outside conflict and more on the loving relationship that develops between Hogarth Hughes (Eli Mariental) and the Iron Giant (Vin Diesel) as Hogarth attempts to protect his new friend from a suspicious government agent, Kent Mansley (Christopher McDonald).

The Iron Giant is steeped in the paranoia of its Cold War-era setting, and its depiction of the time period is rather on-point. From the spot-on parody of that Cold War classroom staple, Duck and Cover (the ridiculousness of the concept of a school desk protecting someone from a nuclear blast is pointed out by several characters), to the fear-driven Mansley’s incredibly stupid and short-sighted call for a nuclear strike on the robot–and the very town in which he himself is standing–Giant captures the almost irrational terror of the unknown that resulted from the nuclear arms race between the United States and the USSR.

You can read the rest of this piece at Wonders in the Dark, and be sure to check in with them daily to read all of the magnificent contributions to this year’s countdown.

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