5 reasons to take interest in ‘Pacific Rim’

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I should mention that I am not a fan of Japanese Kaiju films. I don’t have anything against them really, but as a fan of monster movies, they didn’t really speak to me. I’m a classic monster fan, and while I am open to different iterations of the genre, I err mostly on the gothic side. It is for this reason, that I am a fan of Guillermo del Toro. This is the director who has given us the Hellboy films and Pan’s Labyrinth. Del Toro knows monsters, so when he works on a project, I take notice. While there doesn’t seem to be a trace of gothic horror in the movie, the themes and style of del Toro’s upcoming film Pacific Rim do echo films like Blade II and Hellboy, while weaving in swatches of culture including video games, anime and the American western. Because the trailers for the film seem to be trading heavily on the monster on robot action, I felt the need to broaden the examination of the Pacific Rim beyond typical popcorn fare. Below are five reason to take note of the film that could reignite the Kaiju genre in the west.

Film still from Pacific Rim trailer

1. The Lovecraft Connection

The original Kaiju films were a response to Japan’s very real experience with atomic destruction. These monsters were created from the ashes of nuclear testing and existed as a reminder of Japan’s past and the looming atomic age. The Kaiju in Pacific Rim, however, enter our world not from mutation, but from another dimension entirely. A crevasse on the floor of the Pacific ocean is the doorway for them to enter our world. This concept has less in common with Gojirra and more in common with Cthluhu.

Writer H.P. Lovecraft is perhaps best known for a series of stories featuring a pantheon of ‘great old ones’, gods who exist in other realities waiting to reclaim the Earth. The best known of these is the great Cthulhu, a giant creature that looks like the unholy mix of octopus, bat and humanoid. Cthulhu slumbers at the bottom of the ocean waiting to awaken and take over the Earth once more. In Pacific Rim, the monsters come not from atomic testing, but from an undersea portal to another dimension.

It’s no secret that del Toro is a huge fan of Lovecraft*. You can see his influence in everything from Cronos to Hellboy, but this new marriage of ‘old gods’ and Kaiju, makes for an interesting pairing. In Lovecraft’s world, humanity’s destruction is inevitable, but by adding the giant mechanical robots to the mix, Pacific Rim gives humanity a fighting chance against the horrors that are waiting to destroy us.

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2. GLaDOS

If you’re familiar at all with modern video games, then surely you’re familiar with a puzzle-solving FPS called Portal. If you’ve seen the first teaser for Pacific Rim, you probably recognized the familiar voice of the murderous robot, GLaDOS. Del Toro is an avid fan of video games, and it was even rumored that he was to direct an adaptation of the game Bioshock. He has gone on record as saying he is a fan of Portal and wanted to throw a nod into the film referencing the game by including GLaDOS voice actress Ellen McClain as a robot voice in the film. Although the GLaDOS similarities will be downplayed for the film, the connection has been made. As well as satisfying his own geekdom, del Toro knows his audience; this detail is trading on video game fan’s knowledge of the Portal antagonist to compliment the mash-up of cultures and genres. This reference also does not alienate those who are unfamiliar with the voice or character, creating a sci-fi world that is both alien and familiar. Also GLaDOS is just cool.

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3. A Cure for Transformers Fatigue

I know this may be hard for some of you to believe, but not everyone is a Transformers fan. However, this lack of enthusiasm for the ‘robots in disguise’ doesn’t necessarily negate possible interest in robots in general. Presenting these hulking mechs of steel as rough and tumble vehicles, draws not just from anime like Gundam and RoboTech, but from World War II cinema. These robots cannot exist on their own, but are piloted by soldiers, giving us a human connection necessary to caring about the characters and plot.

Contrary to popular belief, non-stop action sequences don’t make a movie. Without reason for the violence, there are no stakes, and without stakes, why should we care? The audience needs context for these giant battles. These grizzled jaeger pilots have the world on their shoulders; people are depending on them to save humanity. It should also be noted that it takes two pilots to run a jaeger, one pilot’s mind isn’t strong enough to operate the machinery. These partners have to become mentally linked in order to operate the mech. As well as being an interesting plot device, this concept of partnership should be imperative to the story and characters. We are lead from the personal lives of these two pilots to their place in the jaeger program, and the devastation that will befall the world if they fail in their mission. The central plot of Pacific Rim hinges not on giant robots, but mental connection, giving us spectacle through intimacy.

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4. Monster Love

As monster fans know, trends go in cycles and we’ve been bouncing between blood-suckers and flesh-eaters for almost a decade now, and while I adore zombies, I occasionally want to give the undead hordes a rest. Enter the giant monster.

As a cultural staple of Japanese cinema, the giant monster movie is closely tied to the Godzilla film series. True, we have seen giant monsters here in the states with the King Kong and Godzilla remakes**, but the West has never quite had the fascination with giant terrors that the East has. However, being a student of mythology, del Toro has cited both Wagner and Goya in his vision for the scope of the Pacific Rim. This is a good sign that he is drawing upon influences other than Kaiju films. One can also see strong influences from visual effects master, Ray Harryhausen in the creature designs. This fresh take on Kaiju is needed to endear a new audience to a genre of film that they may not be familiar with. We can also expect detailed zoological descriptions of the Kaiju’s make up, because del Toro is the kind of guy who will detail the living situation of fairies and creatures in the Troll Market for Hellboy II. This love of mythology and monsters will give Pacific Rim and monster movies a fresh way to terrorize the world and expose new fans to an old genre of films.

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5. It’s a Western

Pacific Rim has been getting a lot of guff for having similarities to Evangelion and Power Rangers. Comparisons are fair, but to generate ire for similarities between films is to ignore the East/West collaboration that has been going on in cinema for decades. It’s a well known fact that the father of manga, Osamu Tezuka, was influenced heavily by the work of Disney, just as today, Pixar has been heavily influenced by the work of Hayao Miyazaki. To extend the comparisons even further, Japanese filmmaker, Akira Kurosawa received criticism for his films Yojimbo and Seven Samurai for being too ‘Western’. Influenced by director John Ford, Kurosawa infused his tales of feudal Japan with a heavy dose of gunslinger mythology. These two films were later re-adapted by Sergio Leone and John Sturges into A Fistful of Dollars and The Magnificent Seven, respectively.

Pacific Rim does owe a great deal to anime and Japanese culture, but by taking these cultural staples from the East and moving westward, this film will hopefully add something new to the genre. The inclusion of the down-on-his-luck, washed-up Jaeger pilot is a classic American archetype. Also, the idea that the mech being piloted is an obsolete model, is an image that echoes the very legend of John Henry. We love underdogs and nothing pleases us more than seeing a washed-up soldier go on ‘one last mission’. Pacific Rim is spinning the classic Western theme of the ‘few versus the many’, ala Rio Bravo on its head. Instead of sending cowboys out on horseback, futuristic robots are sent out to deal with an onslaught of attacking monsters. Are these ‘cowboys’ up to the task? As much as del Toro is borrowing from Kaiju films and anime, he seems to be borrowing just as much from the cultural identity of the West. Once again mixing international themes and aesthetic as others have before him.

Although Pacific Rim seems to be hampered by a wonderful high concept (something advertising departments don’t know how to handle), I’m interested to see how this film turns out. In the words of Fox Mulder, I want to believe, and I haven’t been disappointed by a del Toro film yet.

Are you looking forward to Pacific Rim? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments.

 

*He’s been trying to get an adaptation of Lovecraft’s ‘At the Mountains of Madness’ off the ground for years now.

**King Kong, excellent. Godzilla, abysmal

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Robert Walker
Robert Walker 152 posts

Rob Walker is a writer and filmmaker in Colorado, and is creator of the comedy web series Victorian Cut-out Theatre. He loves horror films and comic books (American Vampire, Jonah Hex, The Flash, Planetary). Rob has been a Sherlockian since the age of ten, is a Dark Tower junky and believes that Indiana Jones is the greatest cinematic hero ever created. You can follow him on twitter at: @timidwerewolf and see his other writings and videos at robwalkerfilms.com