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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, April 17, 2014

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In Movies & TV Commentary

The Iron Giant from the modern animated classic "The Iron Giant" easily makes the list of great cinematic giants.

They're a big deal: Five great movie giants


Hollywood actors and actresses always seem larger than life on the big screen. Even notably tiny stars, like Tom Cruise and Robert Downey Jr. (Cruise is at 5'7", Downey Jr. barely a couple inches taller), seem like massive personas on screen thanks to their big personalities – and a bit of movie magic.

And then there are these actual cinematic giants. Some of them are the work of special effects – like in the upcoming action adventure "Jack the Giant Slayer" – while others are simply the result of incredible genetics. Either way, they left a huge impact on viewers' minds. Here are five movie giants that put the big in big screen.

Fezzik in "The Princess Bride"

André the Giant is not only one of the most memorable giants in movie history but perhaps one of the most iconic giants in modern pop cultural history. Throughout the '70s, André René Roussimoff used his humongous frame (he measured in at 7'4" and over 500 pounds) to slowly grow a name for himself in the professional wrestling world.

He eventually reached the apex of his fame in the mid-'80s. In his wrestling career, he challenged Hulk Hogan to a 1987 championship match at WrestleMania III that was one of the most watched wrestling matches in history. But, of course, his most famous performance wasn't in the ring but on the screen in "The Princess Bride," playing the giant Fezzik. It wasn't simply stunt casting either; André the Giant brought genuine charm and performance to the now iconic character.

Fezzik wasn't André the Giant's only big screen performance. In fact, the famous wrestler had an uncredited role in "Conan the Destroyer," donning a creature suit and fighting Arnold Schwarzenegger in the film's epic climax. But let's not get silly; it was "The Princess Bride" that made André the Giant a pop cultural giant.

Karl the Giant in "Big Fish"

Tim Burton's "Big Fish" is filled with fantastical imagery, but one of its most enduring characters isn't the result of an effect or trick at all. The character is Karl the Giant, the misunderstood neighborhood colossus played by Matthew McGrory. It's a character that perfectly encapsulates what makes "Big Fish" one of Burton's better recent efforts: There's heart and care behind his bizarre imagery.

Burton doesn't deserve all the credit. Much like André the Giant, McGrory – who was measured at 7'6" – brings a nice performance, as well as his imposing height, to the film. McGrory appeared in several movies throughout his career, including "Men in Black II" and "The Devil's Rejects," and was even set to play André the Giant in a biopic. Unfortunately, much like the film's subject, McGrory tragically died at a young age – André at 46, Matthew at 32. He was unable to finish the project, but thanks to his role in "Big Fish," he still made a substantial impact in moviegoers' minds.

The Iron Giant in "The Iron Giant"

This is the part in the countdown column when I move away from real-life giants and move onto the ones created with pure imagination. And I can't think of a better giant than the Iron Giant from … well, "The Iron Giant." The animated film actually bombed when it was first released in 1999, grossing $23 million with a $70 million budget, but time has been kind to the heartfelt sci-fi homage – and to its director Brad Bird, who went on to do "The Incredibles," "Ratatouille" and the latest "Mission: Impossible" movie.

A large part of the film's success is the Iron Giant himself, an extraterrestrial creation that's part awesome mechanical wonder and part massive pet. Even though it's a machine, its eyes are oddly expressive, and as voiced by Vin Diesel (yep, that Vin Diesel), you really care for this hulking steel mass. In fact, when the Iron Giant goes nuclear in the story's climax, you care just as much for him as you do for young Hogarth.

He may be a giant clunky alien with several weapons built in, but he's as cuddly as a teddy bear. And when that ending hits, so do the tears. Take that, Wall-E.

The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man in "Ghostbusters"

The challenge in writing a column about giants is avoiding the temptation to turn the piece into merely a countdown of giant monster movie villains. Sure, creatures like King Kong, Godzilla and the thing from "Cloverfield" may technically have the size to be giants, but nobody would call them giants. They're monsters.

So what's the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man then?

I say he's a giant, and an awesome giant at that. "Ghostbusters" is one of the best action comedies Hollywood has ever churned out (let's not discuss the sequel). It's a great combination of a clever idea, an equally witty script and a cast of awesome comedic actors at their peak. So what better way to end a unique film than with one of the most unique villainous giants – a gargantuan puffy white monstrosity who looks like the Michelin man's overweight sailor cousin – stomping through streets of New York City. Whether he's a giant or a monster – or both – the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man certainly classifies as screenwriting genius.

The trolls in "Troll Hunter"

Between the insane amount of shaky cam and the film's mockumentary format, the trolls themselves in Norway's 2010 cult hit don't actually get a ton of screen time. But when they do, writer-director Andre Ovredal makes them leave an impact in your mind (as well as on the Norwegian farms and forests). Each of the designs – most of which were based on Norwegian mythology and legends – are unique and memorable.

Some of them have multiple heads; others live under bridges. One troll is barely tall enough to qualify as a giant, while another troll near the film's climax is big enough to be classified as a small mountain. The sound design is crucial as well, making the trolls' every footstep sound and feel like an earth-shattering tremor. They're giants that actually feel like giants.

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