Pacific Rim – Guillermo del Toro and tweenage passion. (Film Review)

There is a wonderful scene in Team America where almost all of Paris (including the Louvre and all it contains) is blown to smithereens in the name of catching a bad guy. At the end of the scene the French, who are staring mouths agape at the ruins around them, are told not to worry, Team America have  stopped the terrorists.

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I have to confess, this scene was playing over and over in my mind as I was watching Pacific Rim. I loved Jordan Hoffman’s comment in his review when he suggests Guillermo del Toro has inhabited the psyche of a fourteen year old boy. Two bad-ass huge monsters smashing everything their path in honor of their bad-ass huge fight. The entire film feels like a fourteen year old boy wrote it (and a large part of the time stars in it) and I think that is the best way to look at Pacific Rim. It’s an homage to a certain kind of viewing that is very important to a certain demographic and they (like everyone else) deserve to have a high quality film made especially for them. However unlike a fourteen year old boy, Pacific Rim does not take itself too seriously, and never pretends it is doing anything other than playing dress-ups. This gives the film permission to be what it is – ludicrous – without having to justify itself. And this distinction creates a welcome separation for film lovers from a Michael Bay film or even an early Spielberg. You get the horrible feeling with a Michael Bay film that he thinks he is making something award deserving whether its Transformers or Pearl Harbor.  And we all know how disgruntled Steven Spielberg was in his early years when he wasn’t considered a serious film maker.

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Guillermo del Toro has stated that his primary intention with Pacific Rim was to turn a new generation of kids onto kaiju and mecha genres. He wanted to make a light film with big bright sophisticated visuals. In other words, this is the modern-day version of an Obe-Wan style nerd speaking to a room filled with first timers at a sci-fi convention. Given the role I maintain a critic has as commentator on film and its impact on our lives, I would suggest Pacific Rim is thoughtful and successful. The acting is hammy to be sure, but its the stuff of dreams for the age bracket it’s appealing to. Pacific Rim even raises its ideal audiences standards with a slightly more complex plot and the themes of working together through familial ties and relationships. It is true to the genres it represents, right down to the kaiju being puppets for a less physically powerful but more dangerous master, and the mecha being machines separate to the body (unlike, say Iron Man, who could not be classed as a mecha because he wears a suit) built primarily as a defense weapon. All the nuances and the spirit of the genres are respected by a director who clearly has a passionate love for this stage of his own viewing development.

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What is missing from Pacific Rim, and again this is in line with del Toro’s intention, is the clever, witty connection with its influences. There is one moment where a young boy unearths an old 1950’s style robot with a metal detector and slumps his shoulders claiming they never find anything good – take note boys, robots are fun!  But outside of that, the film lacks homage footage, like a cinema moment with  Gamera, Mothra or the sea monster that fights Godzilla, or fight footage recreated from the much-loved originals. The bulk of Pacific Rim is set in Hong Kong, but it would have been a lot of fun to see a clever mind like del Toro’s come up with some hidden references.  Instead we have a clear message to young kids.  Like the visuals kids?  Well guess what?  Old black and white monster films can be fun!

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A striking development in Pacific Rim, and again this speaks to the intention of an intelligent film maker, is the clarity in the CGI. This is the clearest I’ve seen large-scale computer generated fight sequences, there are very few moments when you don’t know what’s going on. There are still tips and tricks used to enhance belief, such as every fight scene being in a rain storm (must be a global monsoon) and the occasional super speed movement that acts as much as a blinder as action, but for the most part the technology is rapidly improving, and I do think this is exciting for film making. Del Toro makes films beautiful, he can’t help himself, and in a much maligned genre he brings an air of respectability. It’s amazing really, that this hasn’t been done so many times before – it seems so obvious now, but large animals combined with ‘real’ mecha hasn’t shown up on our screens as much as each of these genres on their own. Transformers and Godzilla are the obvious connections, but where these films feel like they are appropriating the Japanese originals, somehow Pacific Rim feels more homage, particularly because the genres are spliced together.

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I can’t say Pacific Rim is an enduring or important film, but it is a good film, and it performs the much-needed task of lifting the blockbusters standard while maintaining connection with its audience. I couldn’t help have a little inward smile, as I thought of a young Guillermo del Toro watching his black and white monster films and his Mecha as perhaps some sage older ‘cool dude’ was trying to get him interested in Westerns. He is now trying to turn the younger kids on to his favorite childhood film images, and it made me consider what films we will be seeing in twenty-five years time when today’s fourteen year old kids create their homage films. There is something interesting in this desire to ‘legitimize’ early teen passions with grand scale epic films (Quentin Tarantino is the obvious name to slot in here) once access to adult funding is granted.

Something very interesting indeed.

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