Pacific Rim: A (mostly) Technical Review

I read an article yesterday saying Pacific Rim has only made 68 million dollars domestically. It’s doing better internationally, but still has an uphill battle to recoup its 200 million dollar budget. Considering that a movie generally has to make three times its budget to be considered successful in Hollywood, it has quite a way to go.

Why should you go see this movie? The shallow reason, for starters: it’s the only summer movie this year that isn’t a sequel (Star Trek, Grown Ups 2, Red 2) or based on a comic book (Man of Steel, Kick Ass 2, Red 2). Also, for a movie about giant robots beating giant monsters to a pulp, it’s actually pretty good…better than it has any right to be, actually. The story is simple, true, but that doesn’t necessarily make it bad.

It’s true that the characters in the movie aren’t very complex, but they don’t need to be. They’re fighting for their survival, after all, and they’re actively trying to find ways to face down the looming threat. A bunch of people sitting around, moping about their condition would only end with a lot of dead people. If angst is your thing, though, then the story about the Australian father-son pilot team in the movie is actually pretty good. The ‘romance’ between the two lead charactes, Raleigh and Mako (played by Charlie Hunnam and Rinko Kikuchi, respectively) isn’t exactly earned, but the few scenes they do have together are really kind of sweet.

The visual effects are impressive, but that probably goes without saying. The robots look cool without being over designed; they look like they could serve the purpose they were built for, and look good doing it (the Chinese jaeger, piloted by triplets, is the most unique, and criminally underused). The same goes for the monsters: these creatures are big, vicious, and truly alien looking. Many of them sport bio-luminescence and have interesting abilities of their own that are played to great effect. The fights between the robots and the monsters are well staged, and often feature a caveat that involves the pilots having to adapt to the changing elements of a fight.

The physics behind everything are a far cry from being anything resembling realistic, but they are BELIEVABLE, which is the important factor in a movie like this. These digital creations have a mass and a presence to them that other movies with similar elements lack. Every rocket punch, footstep, or hard landing can be “felt”, from a visual standpoint, if that makes any sense. Del Toro’s VFX crew put a lot of work into figuring out how creatures so big might move, how quickly, and how to fudge it to keep it entertaining. It shows.

The production design is outstanding. The sets representing the inside of the robots’ heads were built to scale, as well as to move around in correspondence to what would be happening on screen, in order to give the actors something to react to. If there is one thing that Guillermo Del Toro ‘gets’, it’s how to portray a sense of scale, and this movie nails that. He also knows how to present the context of a fight so that the viewer knows what’s going on.

Another problem with productions like this is that they tend to be too evenly lit, and wind up looking flat. Or the director might go over board in the name of style. The virtual lighting in Pacific Rim is top notch, with each light source having a motivation that adds a sense of depth to sell the illusion. Props to the film makers for choosing Hong Kong as a setting, as the neon rimmed buildings and reflective glass provide a visually interesting back drop for the movie’s center piece action sequence.

Pacific Rim deserves to be doing better than it is. The characters (particularly the leads) could be better drawn, and a few scenes involving the scientist played by Charlie Day could possibly be trimmed down for a tighter running time, but as far as movies about giant things thrashing other giant things, you can (and probably have, admit it) do worse. In a world where even Superman has been sacrificed on the altar of Grim-Dark story telling and reduced to a cynical shell of his former self, Pacific Rim is the feel good, rocket fist fueled movie of the summer.

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Pacific Rim: A (mostly) Technical Review

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