Review: Pacific Rim (2013)

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Review: Pacific Rim (2013) Mark Leeper 7/18/13 1:28 PM
                         PACIFIC RIM
               (a film review by Mark R. Leeper)

    CAPSULE: Giant monsters are attacking the world and Earth
    defense forces send giant robots to fight them off.  
    Guillermo del Toro co-writes and directs his improved
    approach to monster movies of Toho Pictures of Japan.  He
    tries a much more complex view of the conflict with more
    detailed images and bigger explosions.  It all could have
    been good but complex science fiction ideas are placed into
    a banal overall plot.  The visual images are more compelling
    than the characters are.  The new ideas fail to raise this
    above pedestrian fare. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10

In PACIFIC RIM a huge cap on the ocean floor covers a gateway to
another world.  Now it opens up, releasing monsters from the lid.

After Toho Studios had Japan's first international hit movie with
their GOJIRA (a.k.a. GODZILLA), they decided to try a sequel.  They
had a second beast of the Gojira breed--having destroyed the first
one.  To give the story a little extra excitement they had a second
giant beast to fight Gojira.

This became a formula for Toho, having multiple huge fighting
beasts in a sci-fi film.  These films would build up to monster
wrestling matches.  Soon a parallel genre of giant robots was
spawned and Toho would frequently have giant monsters fighting
robots.

Right now Japanese giant monster films are in hiatus, but Mexican
film director Guillermo del Toro is trying his hand at making a
kaiju film.  Incidentally the Japanese word "kaiju" really means
"mysterious beast" but is used for large-scale monsters such as
Godzilla.  With very few exceptions Toho monsters (and robots) were
played by men in monster suits.  Del Toro uses no men in monster
suits, as digital technology has made that unnecessary.  Del Toro
has made his kaiju less man-shaped, but his giant robots are still
in the form of giant armored humans.  In del Toro's film, giant
robots need two people simultaneously in mind-meld with the robot
and each other.  The two people and the robot all move in unison.  
This method of controlling the robots is arcane and would quickly
wipe the pilots out with exhaustion.  If we use drones today for
warfare, it is not clear why the pilot controllers would have to
risk their lives actually being inside the hulking machines.

The special effects are far superior to Toho's monster suits.  But
Del Toro has improved only very minimally on what is the big
problem with Toho's kaiju films.  GOJIRA is the only Toho kaiju
film with anything even approaching an engaging plot.  There was a
lot of room for improvement on Toho's stories, but for del Toro
this was a wasted opportunity.  There is really almost no
characterization in PACIFIC RIM's script.  With only one cadet do
we find out why she want to kill the kaiju.  The rest are
characterized little more than "good soldier wanting to do his
duty."

Much of this plot could have been taken from a 1990s "Godzilla"
film with callow young fighters going into battle against kaiju.  
In fact, with the exception of the origin of the menace there is
not a lot in PACIFIC RIM that does not seem borrowed from previous
films, some from kaiju films, and a lot of INDEPENDENCE DAY
recycled here.  There is a pep talk to the troops that seems a lot
like an impotent version of the speech in INDEPENDENCE DAY.  Even
the motive for the alien invasion is almost identical to what it
was in INDEPENDENCE DAY.

Perhaps in an attempt to make the film atmospheric del Toro has
much of the action happening in the night and in rain or in grungy
or wet buildings--sort of grime tech.  Perhaps the special effects
artists use dark and rain intentionally to hide mistakes.  But it
does make the film harder to watch.  Shaky scenes flash by too fast
to really take them in.  One can see everything on the screen and
still not follow what is happening.  The 3D version may even make
this problem worse.  In many of the fight sequences it is very hard
to tell what just happened much less even who is winning.  The use
of CGI technology gives us more interesting kaiju than previous
films had.  For them the actor playing Godzilla was put into a suit
and the images of him were no more complex than was the suit.  This
version could show organs and mouthparts that Toho could never
show.  Someone had to work on every square inch of the bodies of
the kaiju and robots' bodies.  The backgrounds could be more
complex also.  But they did not make the scenes that much more
compelling, just more realistic.

Del Toro correctly realizes this is not a film that requires star
power.  Ron Perlman has a relatively small role as a dealer in
stolen kaiju body parts.  The only other actor whose face rang a
bell for me was Bern Gorman of "Torchwood".  The film is dedicated
to the great effects animator Ray Harryhausen and to Ishiro Honda,
director of several Godzilla films.  This is ironic.  Rumor has it
Harryhausen was negative on Honda and his man-in-suit monster
films.  And this film dedicated to the two of them uses neither
technique.

In many ways this is the best giant monster film ever made.  And in
many ways it should have been better.  I rate it a high +1 on the
-4 to +4 scale or 6/10.

Film Credits: <http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1663662/combined>

What others are saying:
<http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/pacific_rim_2013/>


                                        Mark R. Leeper
                                        Copyright 2013 Mark R. Leeper
Re: Review: Pacific Rim (2013) Ted Nolan <tednolan> 7/18/13 1:50 PM
In article <44063031-1e86-41c4-ab52-2961194d34e6@googlegroups.com>,
I would mention that in some ways this is a semi-sequel to Del Toro's
"Hellboy" movies.  You can imagine that Hellboy failed at some point,
and the Lovecraftian creatures he kept foiling finally made it through...
--
------
columbiaclosings.com
What's not in Columbia anymore..
Re: Review: Pacific Rim (2013) Russell Watson 7/18/13 3:16 PM
Sure you COULD, but why would you? "Hellboy" has its own totally
separate source material from "Pacific Rim' and any similarity between
the monsters in each film (the ones in "Hellboy" being from, well, Hell,
while the one s in "Pacific Rim" are from another dimension) is simply
due to del Toro's recurring vision of what a really scary monster would
look like. He does like to repeat himself: wait until "The Strain" comes
out on TV this fall and compare its vision of what vampires look like
(assuming they follow pattern laid out in the novels) with the "new
species" of "Blade 2".
Re: Review: Pacific Rim (2013) Anthony Buckland 7/18/13 8:59 PM
On 18/07/2013 1:28 PM, Mark Leeper wrote:
> ...
> In PACIFIC RIM a huge cap on the ocean floor covers a gateway to
> another world.  Now it opens up, releasing monsters from the lid.
> ...

It was only on second reading that I got that one.
You mean you don't remember "Forbidden Planet"?

Re: Review: Pacific Rim (2013) Mark Leeper 7/19/13 10:11 AM
I spent about five minutes thinking how to express the previous sentence and this one so I could work in the phrase "monsters from the lid."  :-)