Review for Pacific Rim
A movie about giant robots fighting giant monsters! I should be in otaku heaven, but despite my love for anime, the giant robots and giant monsters have been genres that I have managed to mostly steer clear of. Admittedly, I still get to see more giant robot anime than I would like, as they are such a staple of the medium that they are hard to avoid. But for me, there has to be some logic behind the story, disregarding the ignorance of the laws of physics required to allow such gargantuan creations. There has to be some reason why someone would build giant robots beyond ‘it would be cool’, some reason why only teenagers can pilot them, some explanation as to why giant monsters are attacking. Normally the answer to these questions is “because...”, but once in a while you get something of the complexity of Evangelion, or the comparative realism of Patlabor, and then you really can suspend your disbelief and enjoy. But normally, the reasoning boils down to ‘because it’s kewl’ and ‘we can sell some toys of the back of this’. I wonder which Pacific Rim will be, Guillermo del Toro’s ode to the anime of his youth.
When the invasion came, it came not from without, but from within. A dimensional rift in the Pacific Ocean disgorged a giant beast, invulnerable to conventional weaponry, and able to lay waste to three cities before it was stopped. Dubbed the kaiju, it wasn’t the first, and it was only human ingenuity that created the giant robots called Jaegers, able to stop these monsters. For a while, man prevailed, and the kaiju were defeated. But then they adapted, the Jaegers crumbled, and humanity was on the defensive once more.
Seven years have passed, and all of mankind’s efforts now go into the construction of coastal walls to stave off the Kaiju attacks, but Commander Stacker Pentecost has a final gambit to play. He has the last four Jaegers in the world at his command, based in Hong Kong, with the intention of sealing the rift once and for all. For that he’s going to need ace pilots, among them Raleigh Becket. But Becket was there when the tide turned against humanity, the day his arrogance and confidence was shattered, the day his brother died. For Jaegers are piloted in tandem, their pilots mentally linked in the ‘Drift’, and without his brother, he has no one to pilot with, or so he thinks.
Pacific Rim gets a 1.78:1 widescreen transfer on this Blu-ray, and it’s not too bad. It’s a digitally shot film, heavily processed and colour timed, and I did note the odd moment of digital banding, the telltales of black-crush. Other than that, the image is clear and sharp, naturally there’s no problem with print damage, and the strong, saturated colours, the rich and lush production design comes across well. Also strongly evident in this film is the work that has gone into realising the Jaegers and the Kaiju. There is a megaton of digital effects work in Pacific Rim, from creating the monsters and robots, to digital set extensions and effects work. And for the first time in a long time, I was able to watch a film without noticing the CGI. When there’s so much of it, and all at this high standard, it becomes part of the story, and no longer stands out as a separate element.
You have the choice between DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround English, 7.1 Surround French, Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Italian, Spanish, Mandarin, Thai, and Audio Descriptive English, with subtitles in these and many other languages. This being a movie about giant robots fighting giant monsters, you’d be expecting a suitably thunderous audio experience, and Pacific Rim doesn’t disappoint, with its epic action suitably presented through the surround soundstage, its sound design sounding natural, not forced, while the dialogue mostly stays clear throughout. The music too is a strong part of the movie, with a set of themes that work well with the action, driving the emotion of the piece.
Pacific Rim gets two Blu-rays in an Amaray case, with an o-card slip cover that replicates the sleeve art.
Disc 1 autoplays a trailer for Gravity, before booting to a static menu. On here you’ll find an audio commentary from director Guillermo del Toro, which is a nice, detailed and verbose track which is informative and easy to listen to.
There are 13 Focus Points on this disc, which run to 62:26 courtesy of a Play All option, and serve as a making of documentary.
Disc 2 begins with The Director’s Notebook, which offers text translations, video clips, and image galleries that go behind the making of the film.
Behind The Scenes: Drift Space, is nothing of the sort. Instead it takes the drift sequences from the film, and overlays them with character bios for four of the characters. This lasts 5:23.
Behind the Scenes: The Digital Artistry of Pacific Rim lasts 17:10, and takes a closer look at how the digital effects for the robots and giant monsters were accomplished.
Behind the Scenes: The Shatterdome offers animatics and concept art slideshow galleries for the film.
You get 4 Deleted Scenes running to a total of 3:45, and a Blooper Reel running to 3:52.
All of the extras are in HD.
It’s Independence Day! That’s not exactly an archetypal movie, itself based on War of the Worlds, but the parallels are clear, with giant spaceships destroying cities, replaced by Kaiju. The commander gets his rousing ‘Independence Day’ speech, they face a similar problem when it comes to saving the world, and the final image of the ‘alien’ unknowingly facing his atomic demise could have been lifted from that earlier film. I was half expecting Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum to make an appearance, stogies lit.
Pacific Rim also has its fair share of dumb moments. The Jaegers are operated by pilots working in tandem, mentally linked in the Drift, a mindmeld through the machine that gets them perfectly synchronised. So I ask myself, if they are linked at the mind, why do they need to talk to each other? Then there is the winged Kaiju that appears near the end of the film, which grabs a Jaeger and flaps all the way up into space. What is it flapping against? There’s no air up there. Why isn’t it falling out of the sky?
None of this matters, as Pacific Rim, like Independence Day before it, is a dumb popcorn action movie, where the actual stars are the Kaiju and Jaegers, and Del Toro does a fantastic job in investing his epic, gargantuan action sequences with emotional weight and thrilling choreography. This is one movie where you look forward to the action sequences. That might be because the leads are so dull. Becket and his new partner Mako suffer a uniform blandness, coming across less as characters, and more as half-formed ideas in the script, while the other Jaeger pilots are even less developed. Pentecost as the earnest commander has some more weight to him. Elba delivers his ‘Independence Day’ speech with conviction and impact, but his character too seems single-note and subdued.
These popcorn movies work best when the characters sparkle, and for ID4 that was the leads, but here it’s the supporting cast that really carry the film, especially the quirky scientists Newton and Gottlieb, who also do the heavy lifting when it comes to some of the plot, and all of the exposition. Opposites collide in these two, the egomaniac and the control freak, and they hold the interest where the leads fail to. And then Ron Perlman comes in as a black market Kaijju parts dealer, and steals the movie.
Giant Robots fighting Giant Monsters is fun in Pacific Rim, and that is really all that you can ask from a film like this. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, it doesn’t outstay its welcome, and it’s very entertaining. It’s the quintessential popcorn action movie, a b-movie with a-list special effects.