Friday, August 16, 2013

Reflections on Pacific Rim

I rarely want to revisit or detail at length my thoughts about a movie after a review, even if I have more things to say.  But nearly two weeks  and two more viewings later,  I’m still buzzing about Guillermo Del Toro’s Pacific Rim. I’m as surprised about it myself.   Why does Del Tero’s ode to the kaiju and mecha films of his childhood have such a hold on me? Part of it is probably because I grew up on the same diet, though, a slightly newer incarnations of the same material – like Choudenshi Bioman , Ultraman, Voltron, Transformers, and Macross/Robotech.    The other part is because I think there’s really something there that many professional critics who gave backhanded compliments to the film as being a ‘fun’ summer blockbuster missed.   Pacific Rim is a very human story.  Very simple perhaps, but it was by design.  Del Toro had mildly criticized, though not by name, the  Christopher Nolan blockbusters that has seemingly dominated cinemas of late, as being "existential", "dystopian", "incredibly complex"  and one would assume, not fun (to watch).

And he is right. While I had a buzz for weeks after seeing Inception and enjoyed the movie quite a lot, the movie appealed to the engineering and logical centers of my brain. I was more interested in the intricate layers of Nolan’s dream world and how everything connected and how it all made sense than I was about the characters.  Debating the ending aside, I didn’t really care about Cobb, nor did I want to explore Inception’s world beyond what is there on screen. Pacific Rim appeals to me on a deeper more emotional level.

What’s interesting to me about the film is how it has affected other people.  There is a whole community of fans, on twitter, tumblr and elsewhere blogging about a movie that is sort of considered a flop domestically.  There are hundreds of fan fics, fan art with ‘pairings’ of Newt and Herman, the two comedic relief, and just about ever character,  including and especially the Russian crew of Cherno Alpha who has a few lines and even fewer scenes on screen. This is also why the graphic novel explaining the backstory ‘Tales from Year 0’ is doing surprisingly wellPacific Rim has reached the cult fandom that your typical summer blockbuster do not.  I do not see the same enthusiasm for Man of Steel as I do for Pacific Rim, even though the former outperformed the latter at the box office.

Pacific Rim is also the reason why I sorely miss Roger Ebert's insights at the movies.  Ebert respects films for what they are, judging each by their merits and comparing them within the context of their creation.  Just as every film cannot be a Battleship Potempkin or a Godfather, he does not try to compare them as such.

He rarely condescends and in his reviews he gets to the heart of the movies. With his recent passing, a voice that echoes the passion for film has been removed from the broader conversation.   Instead, we have salaried critics vying for the trailer quote or writing lazy haphazard reviews to cram into a 500 word summary at the edge of a newspaper column.  If Roger Ebert was alive, I think he really would have liked the film.

I think Ebert would point out that Pacific Rim ultimately makes the audience care about the characters.  There’s a lot in this film that’s non-Hollywood by design.  It isn't jingoistic, there's no shoehorned in army scene with troops running around city streets to appeal to the Call of Duty crowd.  It's just a fun movie about robots vs. aliens where characters are relatable on a very simple level.  While the characters generally fall into genre stereotypes as a shorthand for explaining where they come from, motivations and so on,  Del Toro has crated a universe that people want to explore.  Like the characters in a good anime, the characters of Mako Mori, Raleigh Becket, Stacker Pentecost have a certain earnestness and humanity about them. Their interactions within the film's universe creates a certain narrative inertia that makes people care.  Just like any good anime, the audience keeps coming back for more and wants to know what happens to them.   That is why I think Pacific Rim is greater than the sum of its parts and it is also why I very much want a sequel. One that either tells the backstory or the story of the kaijus return.

If I learned anything from my childhood.  The monsters always find a way back.

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