Distributed by Warner Bros. Home Entertainment
For anyone familiar with Dinner for Fiends, the Dread Central podcast featuring five of this site’s contributors (Uncle Creepy, Matt Fini, The Foywonder, Buz Danger and Andrew Kasch), likely the most memorable episode in recent memory was the one that featured a contentious discussion on Pacific Rim (listen here). Tempers flared, voices were raised, and a sixth DFF participant was even murdered in the thick of it all by Uncle Creepy when he dared speak ill of classic monster cinema (this guy has since been stricken from Dread history and erased from all previous DFFs – Rest in Peace, Cap’n Terror).
Still, the argument was a good one, mostly fought between Buz and Creepy. Buz argued that, while the movie was fun, it was seriously lacking in the character depth department. Creepy countered that this didn’t matter, as the monsters-first/people-last approach was in keeping with the types of giant monster movies from which Rim director Guillermo del Toro drew his inspiration.
Eventually, everyone calmed down – knives were put away, there were hugs, a body was buried. But the argument remained somewhat unresolved. Should a movie get a pass for something as egregious as quite thinly written characters if it nails the action and cool monster designs that were its raison d’etre? Can’t a movie just be enjoyed on its own terms, rather than what we wish it to be? These are the questions that bounced around inside this reviewer’s noggin when he finally sat down to take in Pacific Rim and write this review.
The eighth film from director del Toro, who have given us some of the best cinema of the past two decades, Rim opens with an introduction to its bizarre, bleak world – presenting to us an Earth that has been attacked over and over by giant monsters (called “kaijus”) that have seeped out of an interdimensional portal deep in the Pacific Ocean. Mankind, devastated by massive losses (the monsters tend to wipe out large swaths of cities and humanity before they’re brought down), came up with an ingenious idea – they built skyscraper-tall robots to battle the alien threat. Controlled by a two-pilot system, these big mechs (or “Jaegers”) did a great job of initially stomping down the threat – until the kaijus came back stronger than ever.
The film proper begins several years later, with the Jaeger program winding down in favor of major cities building enormous walls to keep out the kaijus. Enter Stacker Pentecost (Elba), the current Jaeger program commander who believes the giant ‘bots are still humanity’s best bet at survival. With a limited amount of resources, Pentecost recruits former pilot Raleigh Becket (Hunnam) to help man a revived Jaeger named Gipsy Danger – the very mech he once co-piloted with his brother before they were attacked and his brother was killed, which led Raleigh to retire from the program. Stacker eventually pairs Raleigh with a young pilot named Mako Mori (Kikuchi), and together the unlikely duo pilot Gipsy Danger alongside a small squadron of Jaegers in an effort to battle the monstrous threat they must continually face, and to possibly find a way to end the attacks on humanity once and for all.
Pacific Rim, more than anything, is a complete blast to watch and enjoy. From its gorgeous photography and designs, to its kickass hero ‘bots and super-cool monsters, to its hellacious battle sequences and pounding soundtrack, Rim is the ultimate Saturday morning matinee flick for your inner twelve year old. This writer was left awed at some of the action sequences, cheered when the heroes were victorious, and was left humming the film’s main musical theme once the credits hit. Seriously, if you’ve ever found yourself, at any point, enjoying an old, badly-dubbed kaiju or mech flick (whether in your childhood or just last week) – hit your couch with a bowl of monster cereal, put this flick on, and just you try your very best not to grin from ear to ear throughout.
That said – the film is somewhat disappointing when one considers that it’s coming from a filmmaker like del Toro. GdT has built a career on telling smart, character-centric stories – whether they be quiet horror films or action-packed spectacles. With Pacific Rim, del Toro gives us loads of spectacle, but little heart. It pains me to say that, because I love the man and his movies, but not a one of the characters has anything remotely resembling depth in Rim. They have tragic backstories, certainly, but none of this ever really registers on an emotional level. All of the performances are decent enough (especially Elba and Perlman, of course), but the people populating this flick really are little more than archetypal placeholders. Bland, handsome hero? Check. Pretty, ass-kicking female lead? Check. Asshole rival who’ll eventually be won over by our hero’s courage? Check. Gruff commander, loveable sleazeball, annoying comic relief? Check, check, and check.
Does any of this get in the way of the movie’s fun? Absolutely not. Was I expecting more than this simply because it was coming from one of my favorite filmmakers? Yes. A thousand times, yes. I expect this sort of action-heavy/characterization-lite flick from, say, Michael Bay – not from the guy who gave us Pan’s Labyrinth and Hellboy II (for the record, Rim is better than any of Bay’s Transformers flicks).
So yeah, Rim is fun, even if the characters are mere sketches. That aside, the film is home to some incredible ideas and design work. One of the cooler ideas in the film is “drifting” – when two Jaeger pilots essentially mind-meld to synchronize themselves with the gargantuan machine they are to control. The way this is handled visually, with each person’s memories fluidly rushing by as though part of a current, is really fantastic, and a tribute to del Toro’s abilities as a visual stylist. The rest of Rim’s world, too, feels fully realized – from the costumes, to the decimated cities and the slums that have popped up in their wake, to the biology of the kaijus and how the felled creatures are harvested on the black market for various purposes. All of this is just extraordinary world-building, and makes me hope a sequel isn’t too far off so that we might further explore this version of Earth and the fallout from this film’s climax.
Pacific Rim has been given lots of love by Warner Brothers for its Blu-ray release. In addition to the DVD, the film was also released on a 3D Blu and a 2D Blu-ray/DVD combo pack (featuring an additional disc full of bonus features). For the purposes of this review, we’ll be taking a look at the 2D Blu set.
The image…it stuns. I could elaborate in boring detail (and might still), but honestly – it’s perfect. The gorgeous color, the brilliant detail…it’s just jaw-droppingly perfect. Paired with that is an audio track (available in both 5.1 and 7.1) that will utterly kick your ass. It’s a monstrous track, which more than does justice to the film’s thunderous sound design. The presentation of this film couldn’t be any better.
And then, the bonus features. *deep breath*
First up, we get an audio commentary with del Toro. It’s a great listen, as the filmmaker’s commentaries generally are, with the director going well into detail about his intentions and the film’s production. Then, the first disc of the Blu is rounded out by thirteen “focus points”, which are brief featurettes covering many different aspects of Pacific Rim’s making (del Toro’s style, the history of mech/monster films, the film’s designs, and a couple of set visits are but a few of the subjects covered here).
The second disc includes this set’s coolest feature – “The Director’s Notebook”. This interactive peek into the director’s legendary notebook features illustrations, translated text, and even videos related to the subjects seen on each page. Just a great, great supplement for the film.
Also included on the second disc is “Drift Space”, a neat feature which applies facts and character bios in breakdowns of the film’s drift sequences. “The Digital Artistry of Pacific Rim” takes a look at ILM’s impressive VFX work, while “The Shatterdome” is home to a massive archive of animatics and conceptual artwork. Toss in a set of four (forgettable) deleted scenes and a fun blooper reel, and you have a pretty amazing set of extras which will keep fans of this flick busy for hours. Well done, WB.
So what’s my verdict? Which side of the Buz/Creepy fence might I have fallen if I had been a part of that DFF discussion? Well, while I think both parties’ arguments certainly had merit – and while I do think the movie has some serious flaws, especially in the writing department – this reviewer was ultimately left giggling maniacally at the complete joy and crazy spectacle of Pacific Rim. The film isn’t perfect, and I really do hope that the inevitable sequel will improve upon this initial installment’s flaws, but I can’t ignore the fact that this film is a beautifully made, insanely fun two hour fireworks display of a film.
For better or worse – I loved it.
– A Film by Guillermo del Toro
– A Primer on Kaijus and Jaegers
– Intricacy of Robot Design
– Honoring the Kaiju Tradition
– The Importance of Mass and Scale
– Shatterdome Ranger Roll Call
– Jaegers Echo Human Grace
– Inside the Drift
– Mega Sized Sets
– Baby Kaiju Set Visit
– Tokyo Alley Set Visit
– Orchestral Sounds from the Anteverse
4 out of 5
4 out of 5