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Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Pacific Rim

2013’s most surprisingly awesome film was Pacific Rim. How did I miss this? Well…

Even though it was directed by Guillermo del Toro, who has to date made only excellent films, the trailers and the marketing for Pacific Rim did not do the film justice. There was only a bare-bones connection linking del Toro’s star power to this film. For the average person who may know del Toro’s other films, Pan’s Labyrinth and Hellboy 1 & 2, but not his name, the little “directed by” box at the bottom of the promotional poster would not have rung any bells, at least not in the same way a giant “From the Director of…” promotion would have. Still, I know del Toro by name and I still didn’t realize this was his film. Wayyy after it was already out of theatres I watched it on a plane. It was great.

Not only did the marketing not exploit any of the film’s star power, it didn’t even really give us any idea what it was about. The trailer just showed huge metal warriors battling Godzilla-like creatures, much in the fashion of recent mindless action movies such as Battleship (I did actually enjoy Battleship) or anything from the recent Transformers franchise. I hypothesis that this complete disconnect must have been intentional. In this way Pacific Rim attracted the same audience as the previously mentioned movies. A huge audience base that is easily swayed and turned on by special effects, battle scenes, and stuff blowing up, but they are potentially turned off by something that could be considered “cinema,” or too arty. This audience needed to be brought in from the beginning.

As for the more savvy movie-goers, although turned off by the meat head marketing, they are generally more inquisitive than the average Transformers fan, and so it seems the producers relied on these movie-goer’s inquisitive nature. Since it’s an actual good film, the savvy will find their way to it eventually. This film’s crappy marketing was actually a ploy to lure multiple demographics in subliminal ways, and thus mucho bank was made. Just a hypothesis.

FYI: According to Slashfilm.com, Transformers2 was the highest grossing, most negatively rated film in history, so getting the Transformers audience was just good business. The fact that the movie is also good is just a rare and wonderful freak, but not accidental, occurrence for the Transformers audience.

What makes Pacific Rim so great? Using a montage
sequence and voiceover, in the first five minutes of the film we learn all about the world that Earth has become. Monster Kaijus have invaded from a dimension shifting portal in the ocean, humans have built fighting machines called Jaegers to combat the Kaijus, and this on-going threat, the conflict between the two entities has eventually just becomes a routine part of common culture. Then suddenly things change.

The set designs are spectacular. Hong Kong is specially tailored here to fit a Kaiju bashing society. The encampments where the machinery and pilots are based is a gloomy complex that looks like the inside of a submarine. Being a big budget action film, Pacific Rim relies heavily on computer-generated graphics and spectacular special effects for its visual telling. Truthfully I have no idea how any of these action scenes would have been shot as almost every one is an epic between giant monsters, earthy and not. But it is not the visuals alone that make this a great movie. Transformers has great visuals.

It is the script that is so awesome. Co-written by Travis Beachman and del Toro, it is a sci-fi monster movie, but it is the nuances that make the film so much fun to watch. All the intricacies of the world. For instance, two people whose brain functions combine in a process called “the drift” pilot Jaegers. Pilots’ ability to drift effectively in unison is what creates great pilots. The drift is probably the single coolest thing about this film, and the idea is used later for purposes even crazier.

The Kaijus become so powerful that mankind is forced into a final standoff using all the remaining Jaegers against multiple super strong Kaijus. The prospects for humanity’s survival look grim. In final act of the film a spectacular twist takes place thanks to some unlikely scientists, and the fate of all humanity hangs on their wild hunch, the functioning of the aging military machinery, and the drift between the last two standing Jaeger pilots. I wish I had seen this film in theatres. 

Let's see if Pacific Rim 2 ever makes it from the hard-drive on Travis Beachman's desk to the screen. This time, I'd give it a chance.