Pacific Rim – “If you HATE it for non-Australian reasons, your inner child is dead.”

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The above quote is from a fellow visual effect pro, in regards to his viewing of Pacific Rim with his Australian actress wife who took issue with the two Aussie characters being played by non-Aussies.  I took issue with them too, but for other reasons.  I do agree with him, however, that if you hate Pacific Rim, your inner child is dead — or you are too young to have an inner child because you are perhaps…still a child.

This movie is absolutely geared to a primary demographic of guys who grew up on Japanese monster movies and Ray Harryhausen films.  This would be guys around my age (43) give or take maybe 20 years older and 10 years younger — and film lovers with enough sense to understand that there were movies being made before they were born.  And why did this movie get made for this demographic?  Because it was MADE by these same people.  They LOVED monster movies growing up.  They loved the way they felt when watching them.  The magic.  And I don’t think they necessarily went into the project saying “I’m going to make a monster movie because I want to watch a monster movie”.  I have supreme confidence that the people who made Pacific Rim wanted to be able to make something like what inspired them… that which would inspire the next generation of wide-eyed artists who were so floored, that something clicked in their head and say “That is what I am going to do when I grow up.”  This is what Star Wars did for me.  It’s what Jason and the Argonauts and The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad did for visual effects rock stars like Dennis Muren, Phil Tippett, Ken Ralston, Randy Cook, et al.  And what The Abyss, or Terminator 2: Judgement Day, or Jurassic Park, or The Matrix, etc, etc…did for others.

They created something that made them happy and shared that with millions.  To quote ILM Animation Director Hal Hickel: “… it was made with a lot of love and passion.”

I’m not doing this to be a Rah-Rah-Pacific-Rim guy.  I’m just leading in with this because its exactly this heart and awareness of tone that makes the crazy, over-the-top destruction palatable in a film like this, as opposed to Michael Bay films (Armageddon, Transformers) and Zack Snyder films (Sucker Punch, Man of Steel).  You see, Guillermo Del Toro, regardless of a definite ebb and flow between genius (Pan’s Labyrinth) and adequate (Mimic, Blade II) with some places in between (Hellboy films), he understands storytelling at a fundamental level, and because of that, he generally knows when to twist it, and even more so WHY to twist it.  Bay and Snyder are more like the guys at a party who think they are funny and clever, but aren’t too bright and have no sense of humor.  I envision them voting along with Homer Simpson for the “Dog On Fire” clip on the Springfield version of America’s Funniest Home Videos.   But back to tone… Del Toro knows Pacific Rim is campy and he intentionally embraces it without overplaying his hand and having people wink at the camera.  That is the balance.

I could go through and eviscerate all the ridiculous logic flaws and eye-rolling parts of the film like I did with Man of Steel (deservedly so), but I can’t because Pacific Rim doesn’t take those things seriously.  Man of Steel does.  Again….tone.

Here is a quick rundown of my issues – lest you think I’m simply a Del Toro cheerleader:

  • I thought the guy heroes were indistinguishable unless they were talking.  And when they were talking, I could barely understand the Australian father/son team.
  • Mako, the Japanese Jaeger pilot, was making doe-eyes for her first 10 minutes of screen time, but then she started doing some real acting, and I grew to care about her.
  • The plot structure was so by-the-numbers, that I could tell how many minutes into the movie it was by beats in the story.  Like, “It must be about 18 minutes in, the hero just refused the quest”
  • Men with quivering lips and shimmery eyes to express emotion drove me nuts.
  • Secret information withheld from audience to try to create a JJ Abrams, “What! I never saw that coming”, which never pay off and instead take away more opportunities for us to empathize.
  • Unnecessary repetition of plot points during expositional dialogue.
  • The ending had such potential to have a DelToro down note, and there was a missed opportunity to stray from a Hollywood ending.
  • Call to Arms moment too close to Independence Day (as is the climax of the film)
  • Lots of story logic flaws.

But throw those moments out, and Pacific Rim is a pretty incredible ride due to the off the charts production value on all levels.  The design work is stunning from the Kaiju to the Jaegers all they way to the unique UI displays that are broken out into layers of red, green, and blue instead of a monitor or Avatar hologram-UIs.  ILM’s work is mind-blowing in volume and complexity (as are the supporting FX from BaseFX, Hybride, RodeoFX, and others).  Perhaps Peter Berg did the world of film fans a favor with Battleship by allowing ILM to practice water simulations on his shitty film, while they prepped for this.  Yeah, that’s right, Mr. Berg.  That’s why your movie tanked. ILM took too much money from your film and funneled it into R&D so we can have robots and giant monsters punching each other in the ocean.  The practical creature work from Spectral Motion is superb, as always.  And we even have some miniature work thrown in there from ex-Kerner (aka Ex-ILM) model guys at 32Ten.

Another bow to Del Toro — I could actually follow most of the fight scenes, which allows moments to breathe (feeling like a nod to Anime) and to show off the tremendous animation work.  The camera work isn’t frenetic with the cameraman acting like he can’t find the action.  I counted two slight punch zooms — TWO!!  Got that Snyder!?  Knock that shit off.  Its not just me that hates it.   And along with the animation and camera work, there is an attention to size and scale that brings the scope of the film to life.  These things FEEL huge.  But more importantly, in all the battles, there are consequences.  People die.  Neither the Jaegers or the Kaiju are invincible or invulnerable.  They are tough, definitely.  But in the fights there are winners and losers.  Compared to Man of Steel’s yawn-inducing battles, Pacific Rim’s characters are in peril, and if they lose, so does the world.

I love the different iterations of Kaiju.  I love that they kept getting bigger and more intimidating.  I love that they come with new, improved offensive weapons in each battle.  Even if they seem ridiculous, it works because they are callbacks to Ishiro Honda monster films.  Why did Gamera have flames shooting out of his tortoise shell that made him spin around like a frisbee?  I don’t know.  But it was AWESOME!  The film is filled with moments like that which touched that inner child in me.  It can be absurd.  I like absurd.  But just be consistent.

Overall, I thought the film is probably the best “blockbuster” film I’ve seen this summer.  I commend Del Toro and Legendary Pictures for taking a risk on a film that isn’t tied to a pre-established property, comic book, best-selling novel, saturday-morning cartoon, popular board game, television show, previously made movie, or popular toilet paper brand.  If this does indeed take off (initial box office stats aren’t promising), then perhaps there is a new line of toys and merch that will become a cash cow for those risk-takers.  And for all the artists who worked on this?  You’ll have an amazing addition to your demo reel — not that most of you need it.

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