News, Views, and Reviews
We watch movies for many reasons. Some movies give us deeper insight into the human condition. Other movies let us feel the pain or loss of bad things happening without actually having those bad things happen to us. Some times we may already be a fan of the source material, and the movie brings life to a favorite book or comic book superhero. Ultimately, we watch movies to be entertained. Even if an adaptation of a book or the reinterpretation of a favorite character isn’t exactly perfect, we can still become immersed in a well produced movie. But, every once in awhile, a new movie will come out that just gives you a great movie experience. No deeper insight, no adaptation or reinterpretation of something else, just a two hour thrill ride full of the latest and greatest technology movies have to offer. Buy a ticket. Buy one right now, and watch Pacific Rim!
Story: The commercials and previews do a good job setting up the premise, and the movie itself wastes no time immersing viewers in this fantastic setting. Deep in the pacific ocean, a portal to another world has opened, and giant monsters called “Kaiju” emerge and threaten to wipe out humanity. The nations of Earth put aside their differences and construct massive robots called “Jaegers” to fight the Kaiju. But, after years of devastation, only a few Jaegers remain, and the Kaiju keep getting bigger and more dangerous. With humanity’s annihilation approaching, the remaining Jaegers put a desperate plan into motion that might stop the Kaiju once and for all.
Jaegers require a sophisticated neural bridge between pilot and machine to function, and that neural bridge is best shared by two pilots. The pilots sharing that neural bridge also share their thoughts and memories. These neural bridges naturally require the two pilots to be very compatible with each other, so most pilot-duos are brothers or father and son. This restriction actually helps ground the story for the viewers because it connects us to the pilot’s struggles, both outside and inside the Jaegers. The massive scale battles between Jaegers and Kaiju are very impressive and fun to watch, but without this human connection, it would be a shallow experience. Thankfully, most of the performances are up to that challenge.
Characterization: The human resistance is led by Marshall Stacker Pentecost, played by Idris Elba. Elba is amazing to watch, and is easily the finest performer of the movie. Marshall recruits washed out Jaeger pilot Raliegh Becket, played by Charlie Hunnam, and reluctantly pairs him with new trainee Mako Mori, played by Rinko Kikuchi. Not only are Becket and Mori strangers to each other, they both carry their own emotional weights that threaten to keep them from fully syncing with each other and the Jaeger they are supposed to pilot. Beyond the basic premise of “Jaegers fight Kaiju to save the Earth”, the main plot of the movie is Becket and Mori getting together. Both actors seem earnest and do evoke some emotional responses, yet the characters themselves almost seem too cliché to carry the enormous weight of the movie. Almost. The supporting characters perfectly fill their roles as, well, support. Scientists Dr. Newton Geizler and Dr. Gottlieb, played by Charlie Day and Burn Gorman, are definitely the stand out characters of the movie. Dr. Geizler’s attempts to understand the nature of the Kaiju lead him to Kaiju-organ-black-market-dealer Hannibal Chau, played by Ron Perlman. If the pilots connect the audience to the massive Jaegers, then Perlman’s shady character connects the audience to the near-future world itself. Unlike Marshall Pentecost, who is deeply troubled by the fate of the planet, Hannibal Chau is more concerned with making a profit from selling Kaiju parts, and seems more amused than troubled by humanity’s fate. (Ha! There’s your deeper insight into the human condition!) Father and son pilot-duo Herc and Chuck Hansen, played by Max Martini and Robert Kazinsky, provide more depth and chemistry than Becket and Mori – but perhaps that’s intentional. By serving as a model of what a good pilot-duo should aspire to, it’s easier to relate to Becket and Mori’s shortcomings. The cast is rounded out by Operations handler Tendo Choi, played by Clifton Collins, Jr. “Ops” Choi helps glue the action sequences together, and even serves as the movie’s narrator. But, he’s not just they eyes of and voice for the audience, his character is emotionally attached to the other characters, and Clifton portrays this well.
If there is any criticism to be given about Pacific Rim (other than that stupid name), it would be that the characterization feels too…standard. Though the movies is not based on any specific source, fans of Japanese Manga and Anime will find almost too much familiarity here. There’s the serious and tough leader, the main character who happens to be a troubled pilot, the rookie pilot, the zany scientists, the shady black market dealer, and so on. The actors bring these “standard” characters to life, and they are fun to watch, but there aren’t a lot of surprises, either.
Visualization: So what if it’s a simple plot? So what if it has a cast of standard characters? We came for the big monster fights, and Pacific Rim is absolutely amazing to watch. I take that back. Pacific Rim is absolutely THE most amazing movie to watch. Period. Since (my personal favorite movie) The Avengers, was released, it seems like we keep seeing the bar raised for visual effects. But, what director Guillermo del Toro has achieved with Pacific Rim will be hard to surpass. The giant set pieces and practical effects, combined with equally impressive CGI work, were worth every penny of the $180 million budget. Every frame, every action sequence, is masterfully crafted. Unlike the Transformer movies, that feature their share of giant robot battles, or super hero movies like Man of Steel, that showcase plenty of collateral damage, Pacific Rim is incredibly easy to watch. Viewers can keep track of every punch and every blow, every flying car and crumbling building. The size and scale of these battles simply HAVE to be experienced. It also helps that each Kaiju and Jaeger are very unique and distinct from one another. Not only are the action sequences easy to follow, they’re incredibly thrilling, and somehow more visceral than I expected. Watching the Jaeger pilot-duos inside their cockpits, visually re-enacting the movements of their Jaeger robots, really helps connect the audience to the action.
3D: As impressive and masterfully crafted as the visuals are, they have to be experienced in 3D. The 3D effects in movies more or less help demonstrate depth that is otherwise missing in standard 2D movies. Even if arrows aren’t flying towards the audience, a regular scene of characters standing here or vehicles moving there just looks more natural when portrayed (properly) with 3D effects. Pacific Rim nails this sense of natural depth, but adds a new purpose to the format: scale. Standard 2D movies portray depth with tricks of the camera like proximity, altering focus, deep focus, and so on, but that use of “fake” depth ends up limiting the experience of scale, or being able to compare the size of different objects occupying the same space. The 3D effects in Pacific Rim realistically portray that depth AND scale of everything in such a way that really make the big things seem more massive. At any rate, I really can’t imagine watching this movie any other way. Well, if it’s available, there is one more recommendation:
D-BOX: Movie seats that rumble, shake, and move according to the action on the big screen. These special seats have slowly become more available since their debut in 2009, but I swear they were invented for this movie. Because Pacific Rim is a movie about pilots inside giant robots, a moving, vibrating chair really immerses you in the experience. Seriously, find a 3D D-BOX theater near you, and buy a ticket!
Sound: The sound track and sound effects are a tremendous compliment to the spectacular visuals. Just as the visuals set a new bar, the sound work sets a new high bar, too. I feel like I’ve been saying that a lot lately, but really, this surpasses even Iron Man 3 in my opinion. The musical score, by Ramin Djawadi and RZA, is exactly what a massive, over the top, action movie like this should sound like. No silly pop music, no groan inducing heavy metal riffs, just solid, complimentary theme music. I imagine the soundtrack will have titles like “Kaiju Theme”, “Jaeger Theme”, “Russian Jaeger Theme”, and so on. Which is awesome. But the sound effects, oh the thunderous sound effects, put sound effects in other movies to shame. If you’ve ever wondered what thirteen cars bouncing across a collapsing overpass sounds like in slow motion, now you’ll know!
Conclusion: It might not have the deepest story or the most complex characters, but Pacific Rim is by far the best visual and sound experience available in a movie. Period. If this review feels more like I’m recommending an amazing thrill ride at an amusement park, then I’ve done my job. If you end up being more moved by the story or characters than I was, so much the better. Regardless, this is definitely a great movie experience that can’t be missed!
Pacific Rim hit theaters on July 12th, runs 131 minutes, and is rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence throughout, and brief language. Watch it in 3D and with D-BOX moving seats if you can!