Monday, July 22, 2013

Pacific Rim

The films keep getting bigger and louder this summer, but what a summer!PACIFIC RIM (2013) has arrived.

Finally! For me personally, generally speaking, Roland Emmerich's GODZILLA (1998) - Strike One! Michael Bay's TRANSFORMERS (2007) - Strike Two!Matt Reeves' CLOVERFIELD (2008) - Strike Three!Three epic face palms despite enjoying some rousing moments.PACIFIC RIM is everything we have been waiting for.

Never before have we seen piloted mecha reach the size and scale of fan nirvana.We've seen teased glimpses in SUCKER PUNCH (2011) and DISTRICT 9 (2009), but nothing as positively enormous as Guillermo del Toro's PACIFIC RIM.To get the full experience, the cinema house is the place.

For the first time, anime fan boy and kaiju eiga (monster movie) dreams collided for a live action sensation and director Guillermo del Toro expertly managed the spirit of these genres right on a summer scale and in a summer-sized mash-up of epic proportions.

It may not have the practical, suit effects beauty last seen in all its splendor within the GAMERA Heisei series trilogy (1995-1999), GAMERA THE BRAVE (2006) or the GODZILLA Millennium series (1999-2004), but for all its CGI sensation, del Toro had me convinced it's possible even outside of Japan to deliver kaiju (strange creature/monster/giant monster) and anime mech concepts artfully.

Can you fault a fan boy like director Guillermo del Toro for indulging himself with a film like PACIFIC RIM (2013)?The man is undeniably a fan of pop culture, comics, science fiction and horror and he always directs with a fan's imagination.

For just as big and bloated as this Michel Bay-sized blockbuster seems, del Toro knows how to make something as artful, magical and fantastical within these genre worlds to rival the artistic intimacy and urgency of a film like his own PAN'S LABYRINTH (206) or the quietly creepy horrors of MIMIC (1997).It isn't just about the money.

Like director Joss Whedon, whatever del Toro touches, there is an articulate and sincere fan sensibility to the art. He applies his unique sensibilities to PACIFIC RIM.Whether fully intentional or not, it is a love letter to anime and kaiju, a mash up of anime classics like NEON GENESIS EVANGELION (1995-1996) and TOHO's GODZILLA franchise to films like DAIEI's own GAMERA VS. GUIRON (1969; del Toro's Knifehead monster bears a knife-headed resemblance to Guiron) and the alien war of GUNPARADE MARCH. (2000) Everything one has loved in these universes for decades brought to painstaking life by the Japanese is reflected on film here.

After seeing PACIFIC RIM, it's hard to believe it even exists.With Bay you always felt the Transforming clunk and smash of money in the pocket over any real effort to make something of genuine vision.That may not be fair to Bay, but I never once walked away from one of his films feeling anything close to an experience.Generally speaking it's an assault.Without question, Whedon and del Toro must operate within budgets and must be kept on reins by studiosand money talks even for these truly gifted men blessed real vision.Thankfully, there is a real balance to the approach of filmmaking for someone like del Toro.I was overjoyed by the experience of PACIFIC RIM as a fan of science fiction.

Let me take you back in time to the peaks and valleys of my PACIFIC RIM expectations.Upon initial discovery of the project I was excited.My first exposure to a trailer left me with a strong impression, but as days turned into weeks of marketing I began to lose an enthusiasm for the picture.

Before seeing PACIFIC RIM, I felt like I had already seen the picture based on the marketing campaign.Had these people ever heard the expression don't give away the farm?The incessant advertising campaign, commercials, TV clips, previews and general barrage of hype ad nauseum was a bit like being beaten over the head by a tanker in the hands of Gipsy Danger -the lead Jaeger (hunter) mech in PACIFIC RIM.Is this a good strategy?Part of me felt it wasn't.It was like saturation bombing and I wonder if it had a reverse effect.But, the studios were definitely concerned about PACIFIC RIM receiving the turnout and support of fans and casual summer epic goers in its opening weekend.The thinking was clearly saturation marketing and the endless drum beat of PACIFIC RIM's images week after week for what seemed like months truly wore me out.What happened to leaving something to the imagination?How about less is more?What about sticking teasers?I felt as though all of the excitement, surprise and the unexpected simply bled out of PACIFIC RIM for me in that campaign.It was very disappointing.As a fan of a summer films like PACIFIC RIM this needs to be said.I felt my expectations had been somewhat deflated or fatigued- were yours?

When PROMETHEUS (2012) arrived last summer I knew very little going in and the sense of surprise and wonder and fear was experienced as it should have been within the cinema house.Did those trailers do PACIFIC RIM justice?

But recently with the general flood of positive reaction to the film, my enthusiasm returned.My son never lost his.TIME MAGAZINE gets the reaction right but the review is completely off.Richard Corliss has no sense of history for this thing and his comparisons were a mess. But he appreciated the art and the experience.At least he valued the art even if the context was wrong.Fellow writers like THE FILM CONNOISSEUR and RADIATOR HEAVEN reinvigorated my hopes.

Well, it is without reservation that MUSINGS OF A SCI-FI FANATIC can wholeheartedly endorse this film.It's massive. PACIFIC RIM is a bone-crunching, smashing, gnashing, blasting, splashing and crashing epic, but believe it or not those trailers actually never told the whole story. This love letter to the genres is so much more in detail and in character.There was much more to see than meets the eye from those trailers.

Part of me was envious that del Toro beat so many great anime franchises to the live action punch with his PACIFIC RIM.But believe me, PACIFIC RIM needs your support like a war needs soldiers if we hope to see more films like this. EVANGELION, GUNBUSTER (1988-1989) or GUNDAM could be next.Can you imagine the sleek designs of the Evangelions brought to life?There's still plenty of room for this kind of cinema to achieve fruition.The possibilities are endless.

I was relieved by the enormity of the character moments.While certainly not Shakespeare there was certainly a number of surprises on that front and those quieter moments were welcomed too.The trailer previewed rousing lines like the positively cringe-inducing "WE'RE CANCELING THE APOCALYPSE."For months the hair on my back was standing every time it was spoken.PACIFIC RIM does much better than that. PACIFIC RIM may not be an actor's showcase but SONS OF ANARCHY stars' Charlie Hunnam and Ron Perlman, IT'S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA's Charlie Day and Japanese actress Rinko Kikuchi as Mako Mori are all splendid in their spots.

As far as the action, TRANSFORMERS proved robot/ mecha pictures could make money.Thankfully PACIFIC RIM takes us much deeper into the Japanese-centric subculture of anime and kaiju and deeper into the cinema experience in general.If anyone here visits MUSINGS OF A SCI-FI FANATIC, you know my love for the genres.Anime is its own world, but occasionally it crosses over to the mainstream.PACIFIC RIM is the best model for what Japanese anime might offer in live action cinema in the future. With del Toro's Mexican fingers on the template he's proven it can work and do so big and beautifully.Unlike Bay, you need to be smart like del Toro in translating these kinds of ideas to the American market without sacrificing what makes them so fantastic.He accomplishes this.Please take note.

Having said that, PACIFIC RIM only scratches the rim of psychological complexity found in a great series like NEON GENESIS EVANGELION (also about the apocalypse by the way) or RAHXEPHON (2001-2002).This much is undeniable.Of course, all of the emotional complexity and the inner demons articulated in many of the series greats from Japan would most likely be absent from a movie version too, but at least del Toro makes efforts to build those aspects into the film even if it only touches the surface.Like the relationship between Gendo and Shinji Ikari in the aforementioned GAINAX classic, homage is paid in the form of a father and son team with "DADDY ISSUES."del Toro pays attention to the details.del Toro definitively borrows ideas from the best in Japan and I commend del Toro and screenwriter Travis Beacham for creating such a wonderful science fiction gift to the world.

del Toro gets all of the beats right from these genres.Spitting kaiju acid, extending retractable mech swords like Eva progressive knives, chest cannons and all manner of weaponry. Even the monstrous kaiju, identified by weather categories (Category, 3, 4, 5), arrive in unending succession like the impending Angels (the name of the monsters in NEON GENESIS EVANGELION). Not only do the heroes of PACIFIC RIM have to be ready for their arrival, like the aforementioned anime series these creatures adapt, grow stronger, like their Angel counterparts - they learn.Can this all be completely coincidental?

Enough can't be said about the remarkable mech designs in PACIFIC RIM.In EVANGELION, we never got to see all of the Evangelions at their various NERV branches across the globe in their preparation to battle the Angels.Here, we don't get to see all of del Toro's creations in action.We'll no doubt see them in future installments if we're lucky, or as future collectibles, but what units we do witness, Gipsy Danger, Crimson Typhoon and the truly awesome Cherno Alpha, are something to behold and refreshingly original in look and design.

As far as originality, enough hasn't been said about the approach taken to the aliens in PACIFIC RIM.There is a real sense of purpose.The master/ servant relationship speaks to a race of intelligent beings with a penchant for genetic engineering.It's a well-articulated invader with real motivation, yet we're so caught up in the action and the need for survival we hardly have time to take notice of the intelligence infused within the enemy. Only TNT's FALLING SKIES has effectively played with a similar theme of genetics and alien masters.

There are other aspects in the film worth noting that speak to del Toro's unconventional approach.When introducing Hunnam's Raleigh Becket del Toro goes the route of so many with the tired and clich d. We need you to come out of retirement and save us all. At least here, unlike so many pictures that talk us to death, del Toro delivers us thewhy at the opening of the picture in big spectacular visuals.It's unforgettable.We experience and learn why Becket has turned away from Jaeger piloting.Rather than delivering us the why in the form of exposition del Toro shows us with a mammoth and riveting opener.

Also, "RESPECT" is big in del Toro's film.Characters generally defer respect to one another.Well, del Toro is all about respect here as a filmmaker too. He shows ample respect toward the kaiju pictures and the anime genre.He delivers little nods to all of the anime classics.When a pilot is struck inside of the Jaeger by a monster, he feels pain.The pilot and kaiju are one as they are in the genre of Japanese anime.

Pilots link via Neural Drift and a "MIND-MELDING" connection that speaks to the use of LCL fluid that links pilot to Evangelion in NEON GENESIS EVANGELION. The pilots may not be fourteen year old tenagers, but del Toro's characters are just as damaged and filled with psychological trauma.How could one not be?In both series these people face the end of the world.

Perhaps, the greatest homage of all is the employment of adorable Japanese born actress Rinko Kikuchi as one of the principal actors here.I love my SONS OF ANARCHY cast, but to place Rinko in the mix is a beautiful sign of respect to the nation that has brought us these wonderful fantasy kaiju pictures as well as the legacy of anime.It's a tremendous bit of homage to see this Mexican born director spread the wealth and the love for the genre he clearly adores. About the only thing he didn't do was establish the NERV-like home base of Hong Kong in Tokyo.

del Toro has done for PACIFIC RIM what the then Wachowski brothers (Larry is now Lana) did for Mamoru Oshi's GHOST IN THE SHELL (1995) with THE MATRIX.THE MATRIX was one of the most successful translations of Japanese anime as source material.PACIFIC Rim matches blow for blow that effort turning to Japan for its source.

Regarding the effects, I'm definitely an old school fan, but when done correctly as they are here in PACIFIC RIM I can accept it. del Toro elevates the material to art. While PACIFIC RIM lacks flesh and blood Suitmation and while I would have enjoyed a clearly displayed daytime sequence a la Bong Joon-Ho's THE HOST (2006), del Toro still delivers a look of his own.

The thing we loved most about MIMIC was the tangible frights del Toro created in his humanoid cockroaches.HELLBOY was Ron Perlman in make-up.And BLADE II outdid the entire franchise based on real prosthetic work for the creepiest of vampire mutants.So while I would much prefer old school miniatures and men in rubber suits PACIFIC RIM handles the opticals lovingly with proper, slow moving beasts and lumbering metal giants.

del Toro's optically-infused masterpiece is like a sci-fi painting.He uses greens, blues, yellows, oranges and reds amidst a rain soaked Hong Kong are paints with care.del Toro takes us down a fantastical sci-fi "RABBIT" hole and never disappoints.Don't be fooled by those trailers.There is much more in play here and PACIFIC RIM deserves your attention.It won't disappoint.

But tell me, why is the glory of analog a constant thread in science fiction? Analog always saves the day! The Battlestar Galactica relied on analog technology against the Cylons.Here in PACIFIC RIM they need old nuclear-powered analog Jaeger Gipsy Danger and it's non-digital self to save the day.While the effects look amazing in PACIFIC RIM and serve the story throughout the picture, why is it we are constantly told that digital has failed against the enemy yet analog will save the day whilst the creators of the films rely entirely on the optical and digital throughout the film in abundance.Do you see the irony here? What are they saying? Take our current administration.Think the Chinese hackers and Edward Snowden.Its a dangerous world out there.Is it that not being plugged in has its advantages.

One of things I loved most about this film, was del Toro's efforts to build in a real sense of jeopardy for his risk-taking pilots. Lives are at stake.I was concerned for them even when I didn't know who they were.Like the classics and the running people affected by fear as buildings crumbled del Toro generally gets the sense of chaos just right.

One scene in particular rang entirely true.On a personal note, there is a flashback scene with a young Mako Mori running from a frightening kaiju beast in the picture and it is unnerving.But even more, del Toro tapped into my very dreams with that sequence.As a child I ran around city buildings.I hid down alleys. I turned corners.I was constantly on the run and in doing so I cold evade the creatures in my dreams around each and every corner.Not since WAR OF THE WORLDS (2005) by Steven Spielberg had such a sequence been more fully realized than this.But here it was, del Toro was in my dreams with me apparently.I was experiencing Neural Drift with the master.He brings that very real nightmare to life in PACIFIC RIM and I got chills watching it.It was phenomenal.He just brought it all to life in the cinema and I can only thank del Toro for his amazing efforts here.

PACIFIC RIM is no TRANSFORMERS. Michael Bay couldn't hold del Toro's water.Both my son and I are itching to see it again.He has the summer films ranked as follows: 3. STAR TREK: INTO DARKNESS. 2. SUPERMAN. 1. PACIFIC RIM.I have them ranked as follows. 3. SUPERMAN. 2. STAR TREK: INTO DARKNESS. 1. PACIFIC RIM. We agree PACIFIC RIM is the film to see.

Sadly, the first weekend opening take was an abysmal 38 million haul.Where are the anime and kaiju fans?Anime and kaiju fans unite! Now is the time to join!We need you now more than ever.Remember FIREFLY (2002)! Given all of the efforts put in here, it must be terribly disappointing to see such an underwhelming performance on such a terrifically epic creation of pop art.It is high art for the summer blockbuster what PAN'S LABYRINTH was to the arthouse fantasy crowd.

For once,we have a director who actually loves the source material and has stepped up to the plate and made an anime kaiju tribute filled with real heart and soul eternally absent from Bay's seemingly soulless Hollywood exercises. This was far more than the mind-numbing battle crunch of the Decepticons and the Autobots.I actually yearned for more.I never wanted PACIFIC RIM to end.I would see this again.Conversely I couldn't wait to leave the theatre during TRANSFORMERS 2: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN (2009).I can only pray for a BLU-RAY director's cut of PACIFIC RIM with extended footage. It simply astounds.

It will be interesting to see how this film performs worldwide.A lot of people are watching.Unfortunately more of them need to get to the cinema to see PACIFIC RIM.Is the film too smart and too artfully drawn?Time will tell, but I hope it won't stop visionaries like Guillermo del Toro from continuing to try. Honestly, I can't bare the thought of another TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES reboot.But I must admit, I'll be lining up for those lovingly detailed PACIFIC RIM mech toy collectibles inspired by the film and the mind of del Toro.

For the uninitiated to the genres, those never exposed to these worlds, PACIFIC RIM will be positively mind blowing even bizarre.For those raised and reared on global anime and Japanese pop culture, del Toro's PACIFIC RIM is the perfect union, a gorgeous marriage of the art forms many of us have waited for but have yet to see outside of Japan until now. Bring on the popcorn and strap yourself into a Jaeger, PACIFIC RIM is the colossal ride of the summer.It's kaiju time!All cinemagoers are in for a treat and should be thoroughly amazed and impressed, but, for fans like me, del Toro has created the stuff and the art of dreams. Thank you.


Writer: Travis Beacham, Guillermo del Toro.

Director: Guillermo del Toro.
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