‘Pacific Rim’ Is a Visual Feast That’s Heavy on Fluff, Light on Substance

[21 October 2013]

By Brad Cook

Every movie sets out to be something. The good ones stay true to their vision and carry it through to the end. The great ones not only do that, but also give us new ideas we’ve probably never encountered before.

Measuring Pacific Rim by that standard, sure, it’s a good film. For us children of the ‘70s and ‘80s who fondly remember watching Godzilla movies and playing with robots, this movie taps into that primal part of our brains, delivering a visual feast that would have blown us away when we were kids. If today’s technology had been available then, maybe Pacific Rim would be considered a classic now.

The problem, though, is that CGI has gotten to the point where we know that if a movie promises giant robots and monsters duking it out, we know it’s going to look awesome. The people making these films today are part of our generation, so they know what we want from a visual perspective. And in the case of Pacific Rim, director Guillermo del Toro and his crew have served up an incredible feast; they certainly didn’t skimp in that department.

The film’s premise is this question: “What if a giant monster attack is merely the prelude to an ongoing invasion?” In Pacific Rim, the monsters, known as Kaiju, emerge from a breach at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean and relentlessly attack Hong Kong, Tokyo, and other major cities. In response, nations’ militaries develop Jaegers, enormous robots controlled by a pair of pilots who work as a neurally-linked pair. The bulk of the story takes place after the Jaegers have fallen out of favor, due to the increasing success of the monsters’ attacks, although we never learn what the major governments of the world want to use instead. It’s also not clear why people continue to live in major Asia Pacific cities if they keep getting attacked.

Such holes pop up frequently in Pacific Rim. Why does scientist Hermann Gottlieb need a few blackboards full of equations when all he’s doing is measuring the mathematical progression of the frequency of the Kaijus’ attacks? Since the film takes place nearly 20 years in the future, why is he using a blackboard anyway? Can’t he just figure it all out with Microsoft Excel in a few minutes?

And why is he in such violent opposition with his colleague, Dr. Newton Geiszler? Geiszler is studying the Kaijus’ biology, but his theories aren’t really in opposition to Gottlieb’s ideas—they’re just presented that way so we can have some silly conflict in the film. I was also left wondering why Geiszler decided to set up a neural link with a Kaiju brain if he thought the monsters shared a hive mind. Wouldn’t any competent biologist realize that doing so would give all the monsters access to his thoughts?

Silly conflict also applies to the military side of the story, as more basic character types abound: Recommissioned pilot Raleigh Beckett struggles with his brother’s death several years prior while working with rookie pilot Mako Mori. Meanwhile, grizzled commander Stacker Pentecost is keeping the Jaeger program going despite his bosses’ desire to continue the war against the monsters another way. Gottlieb and Geiszler also fill the stiff German scientist and crazy, over the top scientist character types.

Pentecost’s plan is to drop a massive bomb in the breach and end the invasion, but it’s established late in the film that such efforts never worked before. Why bother, then? Why not search for a solution first and then deploy the bomb? And while I’m asking questions, why don’t the Jaeger pilots have access to basic suba gear, if the robots are always fighting in water and the Kaijus have a tendency to rip them open?

If you’re wondering the same things, you won’t get many answers in the accompanying commentary by del Toro. He starts off by talking about his childhood love of monster and giant robot movies and how he wanted to breathe new life into that genre. He also delves into his thoughts on world building and why he made certain visual choices. As the film progresses, he continues those thoughts and even acknowledges at one point that he stocked the narrative with basic archetypes: “This isn’t The Cherry Orchard,” he says, evoking Anton Chekhov’s final play. If he wanted to breathe new life into the genre, though, I was left wondering why he didn’t try something new with the characters and perhaps place Pacific Rim in the pantheon of great summer blockbusters.

This release offers the movie on both Blu-ray and DVD, with the audio commentary included on each disc. The Blu-ray also has 14 featurettes, running about an hour total, that dig into various aspects of the making of the film, with behind-the-scenes footage and interview clips from del Toro and members of the cast and crew.

A second Blu-ray disc features even more bonus materials, including a director’s notebook that lets you flip through a virtual book and select various items on the pages to summon text boxes and interview clips with del Toro. There are also areas that dig into the special effects work, art direction, and other visual elements. Finally, you’ll find a blooper reel as well as several deleted scenes that wouldn’t have added much to the story had they been left in. If you enjoyed Pacific Rim, you’ll love the copious amount of bonus features in this release.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/175920-pacific-rim/