#354. Gigantic!

How often do we catch ourselves staring upward at an object, in awe of its immense size? When tourists first experience the towering heights of the skyscrapers of New York, they come to grips with the scale of such structures. Sometimes, even the most mundane things in life can be awe-inspiring (or at least attention-grabbing) when reimagined as larger versions of their smaller counterparts. While some of this fascination with gigantic items stems from the art world, there have been many films that have delved into the idea that size matters. In the past, this required building sets to make the actors on the screen seem much larger than they were. Today, CGI can accomplish this task. Even so, some amount of visual trickery is needed to make the actors appear larger than life. This week’s two films examine what it means to be gigantic!

The Iron GiantThe Iron Giant
Year: 1999
Rating: PG
Length: 86 minutes / 1.43 hours

Giant robots are usually a sub-genre of science fiction often promulgated through Japanese manga and anime. While they cornered the market on giant monsters and the giant robots built to fight them (a la Godzilla (1954) and Power Rangers (2017), respectively) America is finally starting to catch up with such films as Pacific Rim (2013) and its sequel, Pacific Rim: Uprising (2018). Granted, most of the American giant monsters and robots before this point were in the form of enormous apes or alien invaders, like the eponymous King Kong (1933) or Gort from The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951). All these giant robots and monsters were created in a variety of methods to make the audience think they are enormous, but there’s been at least one true giant to grace the big screen. In his best-known film role, Andre the Giant played the part of Fezzik in The Princess Bride (1987).

Upon the cusp of the start of the cold war, tensions are high between the United States and the Soviet Union. When a giant alien robot falls out of the sky and lands near a small town in Maine, the United States government is obviously suspicious of Communist involvement. However, what young Hogarth Hughes (Eli Marienthal) learns upon finding this Iron Giant (Vin Diesel) is that the robot is a calm and docile being with no understanding of the world he now inhabits. The robot does not want to be seen as an enemy, but his automatic defense mechanisms are activated to protect him from the assault of the United States military. Despite Hogarth showing everyone the robot is harmless, a trigger-happy government agent launches a nuclear missile against the robot that would likely wipe out the small town. It’s up to the Iron Giant to save the day and show he’s a hero, not a villain.

Honey, I Shrunk the KidsHoney, I Shrunk the Kids
Year: 1989
Rating: PG
Length: 93 minutes / 1.55 hours

Size is all about perspective. While humans think anything larger than they are is gigantic, an ant would find humans to be tremendously enormous. Plenty of films explore this shift in perspective. From the superhero comedy of Ant-Man (2015) to the social commentary of Downsizing (2017), being shrunk down makes the entire world seem bigger in comparison. Some family-friendly films explore this idea as well, including Alice in Wonderland (1951) and Epic (2013). Despite knowing how to interact with our human-sized world, like The Borrowers (1997) or The Secret World of Arrietty (2010), sometimes the humans shrunk down to these sizes have difficulty adapting. When toy cars are large enough to be real ones, and building blocks can be used as a shelter, it takes some problem solving to fashion the tools needed to survive.

Eccentric inventor Wayne Szalinski (Rick Moranis) is having trouble with his shrink ray. Every time he tries to shrink something, it explodes, thus making the ray gun too dangerous to use on humans. His children, Amy (Amy O’Neill) and Nick (Robert Oliveri) are tasked with cleaning up the house before their mother comes home. Meanwhile, the Szalinski’s neighbors, the Thompsons, are preparing for a fishing trip. Ron Thompson (Jared Rushton) accidentally hits a baseball through the Szalinski’s attic window and is caught by his brother, Russ (Thomas Wilson Brown), and forced to apologize to the Szalinskis. However, when the kids go up to find the baseball, the laser shrinks them down. After Wayne accidentally takes the kids out with the trash, they have to find their way back home in the wilderness that is their backyard. If they can gain Wayne’s attention, they just might be returned to normal size.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 enormously entertaining movies

#353. Iron Men

Any metallurgist will tell you that steel is stronger than iron. And yet, the concept of iron being a sturdy material still remains in our popular culture. Perhaps it’s the weight of iron, and its use for strength training. Maybe it’s due to the “purity” of iron, itself being one of the elements on the periodic table. In any case, it seems many movies use iron as an advantage. From the campy Ironmaster (1983) to the martial-arts mashup of The Man with the Iron Fists (2012), the characters who can manipulate iron are usually shown as having an advantage. Not only can the benefit be through defense, with iron armors and shields, but through offense as well, with swords and spears. Either way, iron is often associated with war, which itself has intrinsically been a man’s game. This week’s two films highlight men who use iron to their advantage.

Iron ManIron Man
Year: 2008
Rating: PG-13
Length: 126 minutes / 2.10 hours

While not technically made of iron, but instead of a gold-titanium alloy, the suit worn by the eponymous Iron Man certainly gives Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) an advantage. From the obvious defensive capabilities of the suit to the advanced weaponry installed and integrated with it, whenever Stark dons this armor, he can take on super-powered individuals of many varieties. Ironically enough, even though iron is considered “heavy,” the Iron Man suit allows its wearer to fly, mainly due to the immense power contained within the suit. Of course, the very first version of the Iron Man suit was likely made of iron (or steel, if it was available), but that was due to the limitations of the materials Tony Stark had at the time. A fusion of medieval armor and modern technology, the Iron Man suit is what makes Tony Stark Iron Man.

After being captured by terrorists in the mountains of Afghanistan, Tony Stark is forced to build weapons for them as their hostage. Not wanting his company’s technology to get into the hands of terrorists, Stark instead creates a suit of armor that he can use to escape. Unfortunately, his mobility is limited due to a piece of shrapnel trapped in his chest. The only thing keeping him alive is a magnet in his chest, holding the metal in place. After escaping the terrorists, Stark arrives back in the United States and starts improving on his design. Rumors of an “Iron Man” start circulating in the press as Tony tests out his equipment in public. Once a working design is finished, he sets out to punish the arms traffickers who have misused his company’s weapons. In doing so, he gains the attention of the Air Force, as well as his mentor, Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges), who has built an “Iron Man” suit of his own to stop Tony.

The Iron GiantThe Iron Giant
Year: 1999
Rating: PG
Length: 86 minutes / 1.43 hours

Not only is iron the main ingredient of the molten core of Earth but its crust as well, which makes it the most abundant metal found on this planet. Of course, Earth is not necessarily unique in this attribute, as iron is plentiful on many other planets and stars. What do you think gives Mars its red hue? Oxidized iron, of course. It is then no wonder that an alien robot from outer space would also be made of iron. Much like Iron Man, this Iron Giant has the defensive capabilities provided it by this heavy metal, but also the offensive weaponry provided by alien technology. Of course, even iron has its limits. Given a situation with forces stressing enough, the metal will bend, melt, or break. Iron is certainly a strong element, but it is not indestructible.

On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched the first man-made satellite: Sputnik. Shortly afterward, a mysterious object falls from the sky and lands near Rockwell, Maine. Hogarth Hughes (Eli Marienthal) observes this re-entry and heads into the woods to investigate. When he finds a giant, metal robot (Vin Diesel), he learns it is not there to hurt anyone. In fact, the robot has no knowledge of Earth or its customs, so the 9-year-old boy takes it upon himself to teach the enormous automaton. Unfortunately, the U.S. military also knows something landed in Maine and sets out to find it. While the military assumes the robot is dangerous, Hogarth shows them that, if they do not threaten him, he will not attack them. With cold war tensions high, fear causes one of the leaders to launch a nuclear strike against the robot, potentially killing everyone who would be nearby.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 metallic men

#261. Brad Bird

Have you ever had a dream job as a child? Many kids will look around and determine that they want to be firemen, police officers, astronauts, and doctors as their dream profession. Of course, once many of them realize the kind of work required to obtain these dream jobs, most children give up on these dreams to obtain employment in something more practical. That being said, there are those select few kids who work hard at earning their dream job. Brad Bird is one of the examples of someone who made it into his dream profession. As a child, he set out to become an animator, which brought him attention and scholarships from Disney (he was even mentored by one of Disney’s best animators). The proof of his success in animation is in the films he has directed. This week’s two films highlight some of the animated and non-animated films Brad Bird has directed.

The IncrediblesThe Incredibles
Year: 2004
Rating: PG
Length: 115 minutes / 1.92 hours

After Bird had completed his education at Cal Arts (along with classmates John Lasseter and Tim Burton), he dove into the animation world. Working The Simpsons for its early seasons, Bird eventually directed his first full-length animated film: The Iron Giant (1999). Despite the film not performing well in the box office, many consider it to be an animated classic. Due to his connection with John Lasseter, Bird approached Pixar and was able to create The Incredibles (2004). This film earned him his first Oscar for Best Animated Feature. Three years later, Bird would be tapped to direct Ratatouille (2007), thus earning him another Best Animated Feature Oscar. While this was the last animated feature Brad Bird directed, he is slated to direct the sequel to The Incredibles in 2018, perhaps earning him another Oscar in the process.

Bob Parr (Craig T. Nelson) is tired of his suburban life. Trapped in a thankless job where he can’t help anyone, Bob longs for the past where he could live up to his potential as a superhero. At home, he and his wife, Helen (Holly Hunter) try to keep their identities hidden, since superheroes are now outlawed. After getting fired from his job, Bob receives an invitation to don the suit of Mr. Incredible again to assist in defeating a rampaging robot on Nomanisan Island. This change in lifestyle reinvigorates Bob, which causes Helen to suspect he is having an affair. Investigating further, she accidentally puts herself and her children in danger as they fly to the mysterious island. Once there, they must fight their way back to civilization to save the citizens of Metroville from another rampaging robot.

Mission Impossible: Ghost ProtocolMission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
Year: 2011
Rating: PG-13
Length: 133 minutes / 2.22 hours

While Brad Bird has focused on animation for much of his career, he has occasionally breached the realm of live-action films. Despite the somewhat limited abilities of live-action when compared to animation, Bird has had mixed success in the medium. His most recent foray into live-action, Tomorrowland (2015), was not very well received by critics or audiences. However, his addition to the Mission: Impossible franchise, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011), not only revitalized the franchise but also set a record as the most successful film in the franchise to date. With only a few films in total under Brad Bird’s belt, I would be interested to see if another live-action film were to follow in the Tomorrowland footsteps or in the more successful footsteps of Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.

After breaking Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) out of a Moscow prison, the IMF team then proceeds to infiltrate the Kremlin to find information on someone named “Cobalt.” Unfortunately, the Kremlin is destroyed in such a way that Ethan and his team are suspected to be the perpetrators. After this incident, the “Ghost Protocol” is enacted, which means the United States will disavow any secret agents while also providing them with latitude to go after the mastermind behind the attack. Now the IMF team has tracked Cobalt to Dubai, where he plans to attack the U.S. with Russian nuclear missiles to instigate both sides into an all-out war. While Cobalt succeeds in launching a rocket from a submarine, Ethan and his team are quickly working on disabling the warhead before it destroys San Francisco.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 of the best by Brad Bird

Bacon #: 2 (The Incredibles / Holly Hunter -> End of the Line / Kevin Bacon)