Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Pacific Rim

2013, Guillermo Del Toro

Unlike David's review which was supposed to be 3 Short Paragraphs only went way long, I intend to write more but I feel like I'm not going to get far beyond 3 short paragraphs.  At this stage I've told so many people that I loved it, I've faced so many people who have exceeded my love for it, and I've challenged so many of those people who don't share my enthusiasm for it that I'm kind of exhausted talking about it.  What I really want to do is watch it again.  And again.  And again.  This is a film made for men of a certain age, by a man of a certain age.  This is a movie designed to hit said men right in the sweet spot that sends them spiraling back to their childhood, a time-traveling punch that warps them (okay, us) back to the first time they watched Ghostbusters or Back To The Future or Raiders of the Lost Arc or Star Wars or any other seminal work in the sci-fi blockbuster genre.

Guillermo Del Toro has made an exceptionally deliberate film, from his casting choices to the rah-rah bravura speeches to the leaps in logic and the comic relief.  He's presenting some very familiar slabs of nostalgia by way of screenwriting and filmmaking tropes, but on a very different, very impressive platter.  He starts with the basic concept of Japanese kaiju (literally translated to "strange creature" but commonly known as "giant monster"), films like Godzilla, Gamera and Mothra provide inspiration, but there's been less than a handful of truly excellent representations in the subgenre in all of cinema (Bong Joon-Ho's The Host the only one of recent memory, Cloverfield coming in a very distant, nauseating, shaky-cam second), so there's a lot of room for it to grow.  Secondly, Del Toro wanted to show a human side to fighting giant monsters by way of another Japanese pop-culture trope, the giant mech, or human-operated-megarobot (called Jaegers in the film).  Beyond this he weaves in about a decade's worth of faux history to the human/kaiju battle, which, unlike most monster movies where the creatures are treated as "forces of nature", paint them as a deliberate enemy, one capable of getting smarter.

The human face of the film is its weak spot, which is to be expected, but in this case it's primarily because the visual effects are so overwhelming and the battle sequences so anticipated that the human angle seems disposable entirely.  But to Del Toro, and screenwriter Travis Beacham's credit, they actually have complex characters in this film alongside a purposeful swath of the kind of stock archetypes you usually expect from these sorts of movies.  But also, it's perhaps a little hard to buy into the challenges of a man having to overcome the hurdle of losing his brother or a woman having to challenge the man who raised her when the fate of the world is at stake.  Either it's time to step up or check out with everyone else.

Though I loathe to admit it, I saw and genuinely liked this film in 3-D (IMAX please).  Del Toro and company made exceptional use of the depth of 3-D particularly in the hanger sequences where you really get a sense of both the size of the place and the Jaeger's within it in perspective with real people.  The opening history lesson, however, didn't work well in 3 dimensions as it was difficult to shift one's focus rapidly between foreground and background and mid-ground text and images.  I think as well the monster IMAX screen I watched it on compensated for the usual discomfort of 3-D.  With a screen that huge, it's easier to escape into a picture which the still-annoying 3-D glasses try to drag you into.  I'm almost tempted to go 3-D on Blu-Ray I liked the experience that much but I'm well aware of how different it would be at home.

Pacific Rim is, to me, what a summer blockbuster should be: inventive, engaging, original but also slightly familiar.  It surprises with what it presents that is new, and surprises even more with how it recontextualizes what you think you know.  It starts with presenting a world rather rapidly, and then inhabits it for two hours before successfully bringing it to a rewarding close.  There's no need for a sequel, and there's no built-in intention for one, which far too many blockbusters attempt to seed these days.  The film stands on its own.  If anything, with the quick-moving images at the beginning, this film is ripe for one or two prequels, showing the first incursion of the kaiju and the building of the mechs to challenge them.  It's covered in Pacific Rim, but it could definitely use room to breathe.

The 13-year-old kid in me, though, loves it for what it is.  That 13-year-old remembers what it was like when sequels weren't automatic, when you just appreciated what you got, over and over again.  In fact, forget 3-D blu-ray, give me Pacific Rim on VHS.  Give me the novelization and the comic book adaptation.  Give me a pencil case and a plastic lunchbox with Alpha Cherno on it.  I'm a kid again.  I want to soak in its every detail and know the Jaeger and Kaiju names like the back of my hand.  It may not be the highest accomplishment of cinema, but it's definitely something special.