BLAST FROM THE PAST: "PACIFIC RIM".
This is a piece I wrote a while back for an older blog of mine. Occasionally, I'll be throwing one up here just to keep things lively.
-When a kid sees his or her’s first Japanese Monster movie, be it “Godzilla vs Monster Zero” or “War of the Gargantuas”, the first response is usually, “Wow! Giant monsters are AWESOME!”
But then you grow up and become more film literate, you begin to realize that the films have their limitations. Some of the designs are ridiculous, the model work is occasionally slipshod. The English dubs make what were already crazy plots seem even more ridiculous. (Unless you had a friend who managed to score some bootlegs of the original Japanese language versions.) Now there was still a solid core of awesome in these films but you had to have a very specific taste for it.
For want of a less specifically regional metaphor, there are many different ways to prepare sushi but not everyone wants to eat raw fish.
One of the great achievements of Guillermo del Toro’s “Pacific Rim” is that he manages to take that very specific flavor of film and apply it to a giant Hollywood blockbuster with superior technology and craftsmanship. As a result, all the mental hoops you have to jump through as a grown up with an old school Japanese Monster Movie disappear and you are left with a solid chewy Nougat core of awesome.
It’s Nougat with a strong fishy aftertaste. But it’s still chewy.
And it’s still awesome.
– Now, the biggest surprise that I’ve had about the film is the way some people have rejected the very idea of the thing. I showed one of the trailers to a friend who loves “Pan’s Labyrinth” and even though he digs del Toro, (And the trailer is the one where we see Gipsy Danger whack a monster upside the head with a Goddamn tanker ship!!) he reacted with “I know del Toro likes monsters but still…”.
And I tweeting the other night with blogger Lance Mannion who saw the trailers and said that “Pacific Rim” was one of those things he was destined not to understand. And it should be noted that he is not the least bit snobby about pop culture. And has written elegantly about comic book movies with as much geek juice as a college professor can muster. After a few tweets though, we got to the heart of what the problem might be when he admitted: “My whole childhood monster movie experience began and ended with Reptilicus.”
I present its trailer for context.
They used a marionette for the monster…A damned Marionette!!!!
What? Were Kukla and Fran unavailable for co-starring roles?
My response was immediate and keeping with my usual good taste and genteel tact. I said it was like losing your virginity to Ann Coulter.
I then suggested that he try the original “Godzilla” that Criterion recently released on Blu-Ray. If he could roll with that, he could probably roll with “Pacific Rim”
(Although in retrospect, it may not have been the best choice. The original “Godzilla” is a surprisingly somber affair that uses the big guy as a metaphor for the dangers of the Atom Bomb. And has none of the exotica that one would associate with later examples of the genre.)
And while “Pacific Rim” eschews any form of postmodern irony, it is far from somber.
Any film that has Charlie Day as a scientist who loves monsters and Ron Perlman as black marketeer who grinds up Giant Monster dick as an aphrodisiac can no which way be called somber.
-I’ve also heard others dismiss the film because they say the trailers make the film look like one of the Transformers movies and those movies sucked so why should I see this one? (For the record, I kinda sorta liked the first Transformers but didn’t see the other two but yeah, I see the point.)
For those with that concern, let me say this.
“Pacific Rim” was made by an open-hearted film artist. The Transformers movies were made by an ADD sufferer who hates humanity. Take that as you will.
(And yes, I still want to see “Pain and Gain” if only to see what it would look like if a Coen Brothers script was directed by a sociopath.)
-Make no mistake. Del Toro takes the stakes of the movie very seriously. But unlike a lot of filmmakers working on blockbusters today, (I’m looking at you, Christopher Nolan.) he refuses to be embarrassed by its pulp roots. If anything, “Pacific Rim” embraces its Robots Vs. Monsters storyline with a fervor that would put a Baptist Minister to shame. But he also understands the underlying metaphors inherent in big ass monsters playing smashie-smashie with city blocks.
It’s about chaos.
We live in a time where everything is falling apart. Bees are dying by the millions. The North Pole is a Goddamned lake. And the oceans are acidifying like my stomach after a meat and pesto pizza. And most governments, (Okay, let’s be honest. It’s mostly ours.) seems unwilling or unable to do anything about it. As a result, we feel lost and hopeless and we wallow in despair.
And del Toro’s film feels like a sharp rebuff, both stylistically and philosophically to that despair. In tone, it’s an old WWII war movie where a multi-ethnic group band together to beat the living crap out of a common enemy. (With giant monsters subbing for Nazis. And it should be noted that “MINOR SPOILER ALERT”, the motives are about the same. ) And in content, the film is a “fuck you” to the prevailing sense of hopelessness permeating the zeitgeist.
“Today, we are canceling the apocalypse!” isn’t just a badass line for the trailer, it may be the closest del Toro ever gets to a political statement in his career.
-“Pacific Rim” is a grand entertainment. A big-boned, giant swinging dick of a film that has the power to turn even the most jaded adult into an Apple Jack eating eight year old in footie PJ’s. And if there is something resembling a Loving God in this universe, it’ll make enough money to give del Toro the freedom to make whatever the hell he wants.
We have enough people in the world resigned to sadness .
Humanity needs all the cheerleaders it can get