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DirectorGuillermo Del Toro
Release Date(s)2013 (October 15, 2013)
Studio(s)Legendary Pictures (Warner Bros.)
Strange as it seems to say now, I had little interest in seeing Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim when I first heard of the project. Like most film fans, I’ve seen and thoroughly enjoyed my share of “Giant Monsters Attack!” or Kaiju movies, as the Japanese call them. But the truth is, those have never really translated well into American-made productions. All too often such efforts are overblown, soulless and depressing, with no sense of playfulness or humor. The same can be said for “Giant Robot!” (or Mecha) films. There’s just something about the premise in each case that requires a certain kind of filmmaking sensibility – one that modern Hollywood doesn’t seem to have. My doubts weren’t helped by Warner’s marketing campaign, which utterly failed to capture this movie’s spirit (something I believe had much to do with its lackluster box office over the summer here in the States).
On the other hand, I’ve met del Toro on a couple of occasions. I like him immensely and have greatly enjoyed his previous films. So in the wake of his admirable (but failed) attempts to direct The Hobbit and At the Mountains of Madness in recent years, I’ve been rooting for him to really hit one out of the park. That, combined with nearly universal advance raves about this film from industry friends, led me to take a gamble on it. I paid full ticket price and picked a 3D screening to boot. Boy, am I ever glad I did.
Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim is easily the most fun and enjoyable film I saw this summer – a rare, unexpected movie experience that took me completely by surprise. It’s a campy, deliciously eccentric and tongue-in-cheek rollercoaster ride, with a thumping good score (by composer/Hans Zimmer protégé Ramin Djawadi) and spectacle galore. The film strikes a perfect balance in tone, taking itself just seriously enough that you buy into it, but not so serious that it forgets to have fun once in a while. Pacific Rim delivers inventive action sequences, gorgeous visuals, laughs and it’s even character driven. This film has heart. It’s the kind of epic movie experience Michael Bay has been trying, and largely failing, to make for years. It also happens to be one of the best films I’ve seen in 3D in a long time too.
The story is deceptively simple: In the present day, a giant interdimensional rift suddenly opens up on the floor of the Pacific Ocean and begins disgorging giant monsters, appropriately called Kaijus. Seemingly bent on destroying humanity, one city after another is devastated by their wrath. Conventional military power has little effect on the beasts, so the governments of the world develop a two-fold defense strategy. Step One: Construct huge mechanical war machines called Jeagers to slug it out with the creatures face to face. Step Two: Build giant walls around the Pacific to keep the monsters out. But the Jeagers are too much for a single pilot to handle, so they’re controlled by a pair of operators whose minds are joined in a neural “drift” in which they function as one being. The Jeager effort is effective for a time, but eventually (the film’s action takes place in the 2020s) they’re being destroyed faster than they can be built, so the strategy is abandoned in favor of building more and bigger walls. However the head of the Jeager program, Stacker Pentecost (Idris Alba), knows that the Rift is only getting bigger and is unleashing larger (and more frequent) Kaiju – ultimately, the walls are going to fail too. So Pentecost gathers the last remaining Jeagers (replete with names like Gipsy Danger and Striker Eureka) and their pilots, including veteran Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) and rookie Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), for one last attempt to close the Rift and defeat the Kaiju… or die trying.
Warner’s high-definition presentation of the film on Blu-ray is of near reference quality – 1080p video in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The film’s color palate features dark, dingy looking settings and environments that are brightly and colorfully illuminated with Technicolor hues from displays, signage, graphics and bioluminescence. Colors are accurate, blacks are deep with good detailing and textures are wonderfully nuanced and refined. The film’s soundtrack is presented in 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, with a highly active and immersive mix, featuring lively surround channels and deep bass. I’ve no complaints on either score. (Note that we’ll review the Blu-ray 3D presentation separately at a later date.)
Extras on Disc One include an interesting and engaging audio commentary with Del Toro, who explains his thoughts on character, his process, the way he uses color, the way he presents information on screen, his thoughts on Kaiju and Mecha films, his approach in creating the creatures and more. I think people will really be surprised at just how carefully he’s considered every detail here, while never losing sight of his characters. You also get 13 Focus Points featurettes on various aspects of the production – some 62 minutes worth in all, from pre-production to the score – all of it presented in full HD. You can choose to “play all” (by clicking on the shield symbol) or watch them individually.
Disc Two offers 4 deleted scenes in HD (about 4 minutes worth, though nothing particularly crucial or interesting), a blooper reel (4 minutes of mild amusement), The Digital Artistry of Pacific Rim featurette (17 minutes behind-the-scenes on ILM’s VFX work on the Kaiju, Jaegers and battle sequences), the short Drift Space featurette (about 5 minutes, which shows you the shots from each character’s “drift” sequence in slow motion with text that explains what it all means – character backstory and the like), a gallery of video clips and still images called The Shatterdome (which includes animatics for 5 scenes as well as concept art for the Kaiju, Jaegers, costumes and environments) and finally something called The Director’s Notebook. This allows you to page through a graphic representation of Del Toro’s actual pre-production notebook, which features icons that let you read the text more closely, see images and watch additional behind-the-scenes featurettes. It’s pretty cool and my only complaint is that I wish there was a lot more material here. I think the video footage only adds up to about 10-15 minutes, and there are only a few pages of the notebook you can see. This could have been a more feature-length experience to really allow you to dive in. I should also note that there are no trailers for the film included on either disc, though they weren’t particularly good anyway. The set also includes a DVD copy and an UltraViolet digital download code. All in all, the extras you get are pretty solid – especially the audio commentary, which is well worth your time. It’s more material than I expected, but not as much as I would have liked.
I walked out of Pacific Rim with a serious case of the giggles, somewhat in awe and disbelief of what I’d just experienced. It’s a flat-out blast. Now, I know that a lot of you may have passed on this film in the theaters, exhausted after a somewhat grueling blockbuster season that served up one disaster porn epic after another. But I dare you to give this film a chance. I think it’s going to gain a huge cult audience on Blu-ray in the months and years ahead. It sure as hell deserves to. I’m pleased to say it: With Pacific Rim, Del Toro’s given us a gem. The damn thing is even dedicated to the memory of Ray Harryhausen and Ishirō Honda, who together pioneered this genre. How can you not love a film like that? Highly recommended.
- Bill Hunt