I Only Just Kinda/Sorta Likes Me Sum PACIFIC RIM

pacific-rim-poster-banner It is the best kaiju[1] movie ever directed by somebody other than Ishiro Honda or Eugene Lourie.[2]

Actually, it’s not really a kaiju movie: It’s a giant robot movie, the latest in a long, long, long pedigree of giant robot anime and manga stretching back to the 1920s.

And that’s the problem.

Because it is tons o’fun and if there’s a soft sport in your head heart for giant robots and kaiju, this will certainly set your cockles aglow.

But I found myself really working to like it.

First off, let us agree this has one of the worst marketing campaigns of any major movie ever:  It’s as if somebody sat down and deliberately crafted a campaign that would keep as many people out of the theaters as possible.[3]

Here, lemme hitcha with what should have been the log line: Boy meets girl, girl beats boy, together they fight giant monsters.

Giant robot movies are about the giant robots and their pilots.  Kaiju movies are about the kaiju.  I just saw the movie and I can’t remember the name of a single one of the kaiju, nor can I easily tell them apart.[4]

This movie should’ve been cross promoted as a date film, not something for giant monster geeks only.

Next, there’s nothing here the giant monster geeks haven’t already seen before.

It’s a Frankenstein monster of a movie: The main body belongs to Neon Genesis Evangelion, with big hunks of Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea and Independence Day tacked on fore & aft.

And there’s a preggers monster ala Mama Godzilla in CrapGodzilla

And big monster parasites along for the ride ala Cloverfield

And a Hong Kong straight outta Blade Runner

With a smattering of Cthulhu on top…

It looks great (when you can see anything!) though the giant robots and their base seemed to be drenched in an inch thick patina of oil and grease.

Two really cool back up giant robot teams get virtually no screen time until they’re killed.  There’s a big build up for what one thinks will be a major supporting character, but he vanishes as inexplicably as he appears.

The script is pretty smart…most of the time.  But nuclear reactors can not explode, at least not like an atom bomb.[5]  But that’s not even the biggest technical gaffe in the film.  The biggest gaffe occurs when the heroine Allison Reynolds Lydia Johnson Mako Mori stands on a flight deck in the rain while a massive military helicopter lands within spitting distance and her umbrella doesn’t even quiver.

Which brings up a point about all the old classic Godzilla movies[6] The best ones take themselves only seriously enough.

They recognize there is an inherent absurdity to their stories, and while sometimes they run off the rails going for the kid market approach, all of them approach their stories with a sense of fun.

While they weren’t cheap, they didn’t get bogged down by tons of onscreen detail and sensory overload.  It is possible to spend too much on a project, to make it too big for itself.

There’s nothing in Pacific Rim that couldn’t have been done a whole lot better and with a whole lot more appeal in a more modestly budgeted all-CGI family film like Despicable Me or The Incredibles or Megamind or Monsters Vs Aliens.

Indeed, there are times when Pacific Rim seems like it was drenched in Fun-A-Way.

And by the way, can we also agree that Pacific Rim is a lousy lousy lousy title for a kaiju movie, in fact for any movie other than a surfing documentary?[7]

I’m not really all that negative about Pacific Rim, just…disappointed.  Guillermo del Toro did a good job directing, but it’s really the least of all his works.  Travis Beacham wrote an okay script with some good, funny supporting characters, some smart stuff, a couple of clunkers, but a real 1:  By  2:  The  3:  Numbers  4:  Plot.

And I understand the studios’ concern re the story:  They’re sinking an ungodly amount of money into a story and they want to maximize their chances of recouping it, so they’re reluctant to present their audience with anything but the most basic copy-Aliens-playbook.

Which is a pity, because I kept hoping for a really radical ending, one where the hero manages to communicate with the kaiju and peacefully negotiate an end to their attacks…or else learn that the “Mitt Romney” and “Dick Cheney” characters were secretly selling out humanity to the monsters.

So let me say I liked Pacific Rim.  I had a good time. I don’t regret shelling out a ten spot to see it.

But will I ever watch it again?

I dunno…mebbe…probably not if I can re-watch Godzilla or Gorgo or Destroy All Monsters instead...

PacR ron perlman

I can show you yet another CGI pic of robots smacking kaiju with supertankers, or I can just show you the most interesting thing in the movie...

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[1]  I use the term “kaiju” [literally “strange creatures”] to differentiate the skyscraper size behemoths popularized by the Japanese vs American style giant monsters (King Kong, Jurassic Park, etc.), which are relatively plausible insofar as dinos and large land mammals on that scale once existed, and big bug movies, which blow tiny creatures up to gigantic proportions but disregard the square-cube law.

[2]  Which places it at about #15 or #16 on the all time great list

[3]  It doesn’t help that the three most entertaining human characters in the movie -- Newt (Charlie Day), Gottlieb (Burn Gorman), and Hannibal Chau (Ron Perlman) -- don’t even appear in the trailers despite the fact they do everything short of backing a flat bed tractor trailer up to the studio & making off with this film.

[4]  There was one that looked like a big monkey.  Kinda.  And another one sprouted wings and flew, which was okay, I guess.  And then there was a really, really big one.  It doesn’t help that almost all the battles are fought in low light conditions w/extremely poor visibility, edited together in between frequent Starbucks runs by a team of caffeine addicted ferrets w/ADD.

[5]  They sure can melt down and cause all sorts of havoc with conventional steam pressure explosions and fires…

[6]  Including the 1984–1995 Heisei series and the 1999–2004 Millennium series

[7]  Or a porn movie.  Or a surfing porno.

On The Convention Trail -- SDCC 2013

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