TO FIGHT MONSTERS, WE CREATED MONSTERS
(excessively long post, i apologize in advance D: )
Summary from Letterboxd:
When legions of monstrous creatures, known as Kaiju, started rising from the sea, a war began that would take millions of lives and consume humanity’s resources for years on end. To combat the giant Kaiju, a special type of weapon was devised: massive robots, called Jaegers, which are controlled simultaneously by two pilots whose minds are locked in a neural bridge. But even the Jaegers are proving nearly defenseless in the face of the relentless Kaiju. On the verge of defeat, the forces defending mankind have no choice but to turn to two unlikely heroes—a washed-up former pilot (Charlie Hunnam) and an untested trainee (Rinko Kikuchi)—who are teamed to drive a legendary but seemingly obsolete Jaeger from the past. Together, they stand as mankind’s last hope against the mounting apocalypse.
There are three things that stood out for me. First of all i have to applaud Guilermo del Toro for giving us this original film! An ORIGINAL, ladies and gentleman are a rare treat for film these days. Especially when more than 70% films released in the last few years are a form remake, reboot, sequels, prequel, re-adaptation, inspired by a true events, etc, in one way or another. Secondly, for a film that depicts apocalyptic alien attack, it is brought to a global scale, which is somehow refreshing and create a unique sense of urgency and world union against the threat (much like Roland Emmerich 2012). For some reason i love that about the film. Last but not least, this film is a great homage to Japanese monsters vs machine genre (which somehow also extend to tokusatsu films in my opinion) as well as a classic monster films aka creature feature. For a person who spends the childhood and teen watching everything from Ultraman, Kamen Rider, King Kong, Godzilla, and to some extent Neon Genesis Evangelion (新世紀エヴァンゲリオン).
The premise of the film itself is quite different the alien that invade us did not came from spaceships, instead they came through somekind of wormhole portal, called Breach, from the dark depth of pacific ocean. The fight between the man and the monsters has occurred for 7-12 years, giving the film an elevated sense of timeline and historical development. One of the subtle message in the film was about environment, where someone (i think it was Idris Elba‘s character, Pentecost) talk about how the attack had happened before during the prehistoric era, but the earth was a much cleaner environment and was deemed unsuitable to be invaded. After thousands of years of evolutions and modern lifestyle human adopts within the last few decades, human actively terraforming the state of Earth, polluting and thinning its ozone, making it a more appropriate target for the alien. (I think watching Chasing Ice made me super sensitive about environmental issue lately).
The phase of the film are effective in my opinion, it delivers history and enough background to held on its own. With ensemble of cast has vast array of nationality to mirror the global panic feeling of the film. The film become a kind of melting pot where mixtures of accent and cultures merge into one. And I am actually quite happy to see an actual japanese playing japanese character! Sadly, in my opinion this is also the chink in del Toro massive armor. The ensemble is made out of a tapestry of character: the formidable leader and former Navy Marshall Pentecoste (Elba), the broken hero (Hunman) and equally broken heroine (Kikuchi), the outrageous scientist (Charlie Day) and the uptight one (Burn Gorman), the superstar father (Max Martini) and son (Robert Kazinsky) with familial issues, the black-market dealer (Ron Perlman), etc, etc. Most of the actors did not possess enough weight to deliver their character’s arcs, which is quite disappointing. I was quite entertained by the scientist duo but sometimes the two can be quite mugging. I’m glad to see Kikuchi and Mana Ashida as both the grown-up and young Mako, but i think the character has so much more to convey yet it came a little restrained. Idris Elba performance is definitely not his best (I think his Janek in Prometheus was more powerful), but he was one of the better performer in the film. See why that’s a bad thing? So the rest of the ensamble was okay, they were not bad, but they are not particularly memorable either. It was such a shame, because given the colorfulness of each characters, the overall performance was still rather flat.
But let’s not focus on the bad, shall we? and let us go into the awesomeness that is Pacific Rim. Let me tell you why Pacific Rim is different from the other type of its genre. Mega-sized robots and/or alien monsters film probably exists earlier in the form of Transformers franchise, Battleship, heck, even Marvel’s Avengers! Del Toro’s “Pacific Rim is all about scale. “I wanted to make a movie for a young audience, yet all the elements are very sophisticated. I didn’t want to make a comic book movie that felt like a eulogy. I wanted to make it fun, not a downer. I wanted to make a movie I would have loved to see when I was a kid.” (Source). Yes, this film really was a personal project of del Toro after his previous project Mountains of Madness got scrapped.
The grand scale that brought the film its level of epicness also become the most hindering factor for the people over at Industrial Light & Magic when creating the visual effect for the film. The company which deals with VFX on extensive blockbuster films (including Marvel-anything, Avatar and The Great Gatsby) difficulties is mainly at portraying speed as well as conveying a sense of humanity to engage the audience (source). Both factors were handled wonderfully. The action sequences between the Jaeger and Kaiju usually involved slower movements due to the scale of the two, the slow moving limbs of Jaeger due to the constraints of cogs and bolts actually remind us that it is a heavy exoskeleton machinery that is piloted by humans. The overall look reminds us to old, retro, mecha anime/tokusatsu style robots. The authenticity of these mechanical weapons were heightened by the limited gait and movements. A reminder of the limitation and restraints of human ability to make progressive invention.
While the action sequence is happening in a dark environment, be in the middle of a city or the ocean. It was well choreographed and beautifully captured by Guillermo Navarro, the cinematographer del Torro usually collaborated with. My favorite scene was the fight with Otachi and Leatherback against the backdrop of neon-light, rain soaked cityscape of Hongkong. It was so beautiful. Just like the inside of the cockpit of each Jaeger is lined with led lightings and colorful display. The pilots! Oh the pilots have to have a strong bonds between them. They must synchronize through a mind-melding drifts. I think the design of having two pilot, each handling different hemisphere of a brain is quite genious. When they move in synched choreography reminds me of that one episode of Evangelion where Shinji and Asuka need to move in synch in order to annihilate a dual core Angel. One thing that i wonder about the particular deal though, what about the Crimson Typhoon which was controlled by the Wei Triplets? (apparently, after doing a quick search, the two control the overall movement, while the last one act as the gunner).
The design, the scale, the effects, the action sequences… All i can think about after watching the film is that the Hollywood have the capabilities of delivering a proper Live Action for Evangelion now. The project has been in such development hell that i don’t think it will ever get done. Somehow that made me quite sad because i wanted to see my favorite characters being fleshed out in films. (Please hire a great director to do this, i personally strongly nominate Christopher Nolan, and of course the casting must be impeccable).
Kaiju (怪獣, kaijū, JP): strange creature, monster
Jaeger (Jäger, GER): hunter
Allow me to stray a little and just fangirl for a bit
A book called Pacific Rim: War, Machine, and Monster was released in June 18, 2013, about 4 weeks prior to the release of the film. It is written by the Variety reporter, David S. Cohen, the book allow an insight about the process of creation and inspiration behind each machines and monsters in the film. Complete with details about each design, concept art, photography, etc. I love seeing the process behind a creation like this, since most Kaiju are depicted in murky, dark environment, their shapes are not always clear, thus reading the book will allow us to gain more insight about them. For example, this unsubtly named kaiju is Knifehead, a category 3 who fought against Gypsy Danger in Alaska back in 2020.
Apparently, prior to the release of the movie a comic book called Pacific Rim: Tales from Year Zero (available for order from Periplus). This prequel comic book was released in June 2013 and served as a promotional material as well as a direct prequel to the film. It chronicled the first time Earth was attacked by Kaiju and the effort from man to put up defense by creating a Jaegers. It’s the origin story which will give you a more extensive information about the world of Pacific Rim and further explained the film’s universe. This action-packed tale features many of the key characters from the film as we follow them in their early careers. Witten by Pacific Rim screenwriter himself, Travis Beacham, and with del Toro’s hands-on supervision. The comic is illustrated by Sean Chen, Yvel Guichet, and Pericles Junior; inked by Steve Bird and Mark McKenna; and its cover is painted cover by artist Alex Ross. I think a must have item for the fan of the film and the genre.
On a more random note: I personally feels bad about Cameron/del Toro/Cruise project ‘Mountains of Madness’ that got scrapped by Universal (apparently due to budgeting issue as well as rating issue which del Toro was unwilling to compromise). I read that novella from author H.P Lovecraft shortly after i watched Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, when i read about how the story inspired the later, and heard about the possible adaptation by del Toro i think it would be interesting sci-fi film.
Pacific Rim is a wonderful homage to Kaiju Eiga genre that are nostalgic to those who grew up with that genre (like me) as well as can mesmerize and introduce the genre to a younger generation. The film own weaknesses lies in the shallow characterization that made the film feels a little void of emotion, which i entirely blame to the casting. But even with that in mind, this film still can capture that epic heroism in the form of 250 feet, alien-fighting, machine-sword wielding robots. And that, was pretty awesome!
PACIFIC RIM (2013)
DIRECTOR Guilermo Del Toro | PRODUCER Thomas Tull, Jon Jashni, Guillermo del Toro, Mary Parent | WRITER Travis Beacham, Guillermo del Toro | MUSIC Ramin Djawadi | CINEMATOGRAPHER Guillermo Navarro | EDITOR Peter Amudson, John Gilroy | STUDIO Legendary Pictures | DISTRIBUTOR Warner Bros. Pictures | COUNTRY United States | BUDGET $180-190 million | RUNNING TIME 132 minutes | RATING PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence throughout, and brief language | RELEASE June 12, 2013
STARRING Idris Elba, Charlie Hunnam, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day, Burn Gorman, Rob Kazinsky, Max Martini, Ron Perlman, Heather Doerksen, Ellen McLain, Robert Maillet, Clifton Collins Jr., Diego Klattenhoff, Mana Ashida