Thursday, 25 July 2013

8-Year-Old Reviews: Pacific Rim

To my utter outrage, there was no option to select Scotland at the Pacific Rim Jaeger Designer. They have Togo and the Vatican City, but no Scotland. This would not stand! Alternate names considered: Bagpipes Shoogle, Buckfast Nevis, Tartan Shufty, Glaikit Pibroch, Hootsmon Bampot, Doric Galoot, Shortbread Numpty, Stookey Teuchter, Beastie Gallus, Crabbit Blether, Muckle Skiver, Clootie Havers.

Third time's a charm, eh Aly?

WOO WOOWOOWOOWOOWOO THIS WAS AMAZING BEST FILM EVER GOOD GRIEF WHY CAN'T MORE FILMS BE LIKE THIS SEE SEE THIS IS HOW YOU DO IT MORE LIKE THIS JUST GET GUILLERMO DEL TORO TO MAKE EVERY BLOCKBUSTER FROM NOW ON RIGHT DO IT HOLLYWOOD YOU KNOW IT MAKES SENSE

Aly, I'm going to have to insist you stop with the capital locks, alright?

BUT FILM CRITIC HULK DOES IT

And Film Critic Hulk's often cogent and interesting views are difficult to read when you eschew punctuation and proper case, aren't they?

... Alright, alright, I'll go with boring old grammar.  But I retain rights to "radical," "cowabunga" and related '80s and '90s expressions that only make sense to children of that period.

Of course, how could you ask that of me?

I don't know, 29-year-old Aly, you got really old and grouchy over those 21 years.

GAZE INTO YOUR FUTURE, BOY.

First, one possible future; second, I thought we weren't doing all caps?

I AM 29-YEAR-OLD ALY I CAN APPLY ALL CAPS AS I SEE FIT

You're clearly delirious, so I shall commence with the review.





As you know, I love giant robots and giant monsters. Ergo, this film intrigued me and I wished to subscribe to its newsletter. Guillermo del Toro is a BRILLIANT director: though he is by no means perfect and there are several films which I feel were missteps, he has a definite visual style and flair that makes him one of the most interesting big-budget directors out there. At least, when he has a budget to embiggen, though he's also a good director with littler budgets too.

A film about giant robots fighting giant alien monsters in a post-apocalyptic science fiction setting is a naturally heady stew, not unlike my own imagination fraught with dinosaurs, barbarians, Transformers, heavy metal, monsters, spaceships, and all manner of madness. Indeed, it has all of those elements in it, if you count Ron Perlman as a barbarian and Del Toro's penchant for bizarre slapstick as madness. But a more thorough analysis is required: why giant robots?

I suppose my fascination with robots is born from my twin appreciation of science, and the idea of humanity. I say idea, because the reality is so often very different. Nothing in literature or theory can prepare anyone for what interaction with any one human being could be: they're flawed, they're imperfect, they're unpredictable. Robots, at least humanoid ones, are humanity's reflection of themselves - perhaps idealisation. The idea of making a blank human without the pitfalls of bruisable flesh, fragile neurons, and temperamental synapses, filling its mechanical brain without pouring in prejudice, irrational fears, harmful ideas - it's attractive, isn't it? A superhuman we make ourselves. At the same time, the capacity for cruelty is there, as robots could present a less objectionable sub-human, a way for humans to feel superior, a handy jobsworth for dangerous interactions.

I read Asimov, Bradbury, Clarke and others from a young(er) age, so I loved the stories where robots were on the same journeys of self-actualisation and discovery as humans were. This doesn't apply as much in Pacific Rim: the Jaegers are essentially giant vehicles controlled by twin pilots sharing the strain on their brains. They've been built to fight giant alien monsters called Kaiju (cute) who've come through a dimensional portal deep under the sea. The question then becomes, why giant robots? You'd think the masses of weapons we have would be more effective and maneuverable.


But man, don't go into this film expecting science, because some of the stuff... I'll give you an example. There is a line in this movie where a scientist who studies monsters actually says "Kaiju are so huge, they need two brains to function, like dinosaurs."

THEY NEED TWO BRAINS TO FUNCTION, LIKE DINOSAURS.

TWO BRAINS. DINOSAURS. 

A THEORY THAT HASN'T BEEN TAKEN SERIOUSLY SINCE THE 19TH CENTURY BEING CITED IN A FILM PRODUCED IN THE 21ST CENTURY.

Later on, there's even a suggestion that the dinosaurs themselves may have been the first Kaiju, but their colonisation failed because of the oxygen content in the atmosphere at that time.

THE DINOSAURS WERE ALIEN CLONE MONSTERS. 

THE DINOSAURS, WHICH ARE STILL AROUND TODAY IN THE FORM OF BIRDS, ARE ACTUALLY BLUE-BLOODED SILICON-BASED ALIEN MONSTERS. 

DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA HOW INSANE THIS IS?

OH WAIT, I FORGOT, BLUE-BLOODED SILICON-BASED ALIEN MONSTERS


WITH


TWO


BRAAAAAIIINS


Aly, calm down.

NO I WILL NOT CALM DOWN I MUST STOP THEM FROM MISINFORMING THE MASSES

Here, have a lie down. That's an order. Want a peppermint cordial?

... Yes please.

There you go. Better?

Don't patronise me.


Anyway.

Pacific Rim is not a film where scientific rigour is the focus, or asking what we as a species would actually do in the event of an invasion of gigantic monsters. So again, why giant robots? Believe it or not, I think it has something to do with all that "reflection" business. The Kaiju are devastating the earth, completely dismantling our way of life* and utterly destroying us physically and emotionally. We, the humans, the mightiest species on earth who could rend the very mountains with our machines, reach the stars and depths of the sea, humbled by demons from another world. Giant robots, reflections of ourselves, thus offer a way to salve our broken pride. As Raleigh Becket says:


"There are things you can't fight - acts of God. You see a hurricane coming, you get out of the way. But when you're in a Jaeger, you can finally fight the hurricane. You can win." 

This is an especially revealing sentence, I think, as it justifies (in a narrative purpose) the presence of the Jaegers in the story. If humanoid robots are intended as a reflection of ourselves, then giant piloted mechanical men are proxy suits of armour for latter-day knights. Sure, you could blast the Kaiju to smithereens with explosives, but what would that prove? That you can build powerful explosives. Giant robots guided by human minds, which punch and stab and wrestle the Kaiju, make far more of a statement - man finally fighting the hurricane.

And despite all the talk about Pacific Rim being a "dumb action movie that knows it's a dumb action movie," I knew going in that with Del Toro at the helm, it would be anything but dumb - at least, dumb in the "unintelligent" sense. Sam Keeper at Storming the Ivory Tower notes that while the film's dialogue and script may be little more than perfunctory,** the visual storytelling is excellent: I agree entirely. I wouldn't read the entire link until after you've seen the film for fear of spoilers, but it includes this Del Toro quote which suggests this isn't entirely in Sam's head:


 I’ll give you one example. Mako is defined by the grey colour and the blue colour. As we go through the movie we find out that she’s defined by those colours because in her childhood we have a blue memory, a memory that’s all just in blue with splashes of red. I show her holding her heart, or a symbolic object that represents her heart. The memory has left a stain on her hair that is blue, and she’s carrying that memory with her. The introductory sequence of Mako is very significant.

I'm a precocious little 8-year-old, so I lap this stuff up. My older self later went on to greatly enjoy films that emphasise visual rather than verbal/textual storytelling, or even one that invite the viewer to make the story themselves: films like Koyaanisquatsi, Stalker, The Innocents, and just about every Peter Weir film ever impart so much through what you see rather than what you hear or read. It certainly helps when your film is as beautiful as Pacific Rim: it's so full of colour and vibrancy and richness, it's a refreshing change from the drab grey-and-brown (or blue-and-orange) of so much latter-day science fiction and fantasy.

This is all true to form for Del Toro. When embarking upon a project, Del Toro assembles a team of concept artists, sculptors, engineers, and designers to create an entire world from scratch, to the point where it seems almost a waste to spend "only" a single film with it. There are so many incidental characters, settings and things in the Hellboy films that could've been the centrepieces of films themselves. Wink from Hellboy: The Golden Army is such a brilliant creation I would've happily watched an entire film starring him. 

 
Still would, darnit. 

And so it is with Pacific Rim, which is positively heaving with detail. A shanty-town constructed around the skeleton of a fallen Kaiju, with a cult dedicated to the monsters residing in the skull; a pile of Kaiju excrement presents a significant health hazard; Kaiju attacks are so normalised they appear as men in suits on children's television  - all these things take up mere seconds of the film's run-time, yet point to the idea that there is indeed an entire world, and history, beyond what we see on screen. That's radical, man. Cowabunga. That's one of the (few) things I give Peter Jackson tremendous credit for in his patronage of Weta Workshop: he lets the concept artists go nuts, and nuts they go, filling entire art books with fictional ecologies and technological histories. Pacific Rim has a book out in this vein, which just makes me yearn for more.

There's so much else about the film that deserves consideration. The characters could be considered broad-stroke stereotypes, but that doesn't stop them from being fully-realised broad-stroke stereotypes, nor is it any less awesome that the Russian robot Cherno Alpha's big moment is accompanied by the freakin' Red Army Choir. It's a much more international movie than, say, Independence Day: the Russians, Japanese, Chinese and British all play a part as surely as the Americans, and it's the Australians who utterly show everyone else up in their Kaiju-slaying badassery. Mako Mori and Stacker Pentecost (everyone in this film has a fantastic name) are particular highlights in the cast. The scientists can get a bit grating - they're very Del Toro comic creations - but they don't appear enough to significantly detract from the film.

So if you can bear some scientific balderdash, I highly recommend seeing Pacific Rim, but don't go in expecting Transformers: unlike its supposed peer, there's much more to it than meets the eye. Pay attention to the little details. You never know what you might find.


*Politically Motivated 29-year-old Aly interjects to say that, yet again, the United Kingdom still exists in Pacific Rim's future. However, this time it's entirely exempt from any complications regarding next year's referendum, as the first Kaiju attack takes place on the 18th of August 2013: it's very believable for the referendum to be put on hold on account of the GIANT ALIEN MONSTER INVASION, and for the UK to remain while we deal with this pesky Kaiju problem.

**Regular 29-year-old Aly also interjects to note that there are still several interesting thematic elements within the story that is imparted by the text. Case in point, the "Kaiju have two brains" concept: fallacious and infuriating comparison with dinosaurs aside, it does jibe with a running theme with the film - that the Kaiju and Jaegers are not that different. Like Jaegers, the Kaiju are "built" (cloned) by a more intelligent race; like Jaegers, they have no true "minds" of their own, but are connected - in their case a hive mind rather than the Drift/radio communication. And like Jaegers, two brains are necessary to control them. So while all ages of Aly rankle at the dinosaur comparison (let's assume, for the sake of our collective sanity, that the scientist is just really, really misinformed in regards to palaeontology) the two-brain line actually had a point in the film.

9 comments:

  1. Al, great review! Loved the movie! The world! The monsters! The Jagers! Every bit of it! That covers it! :-)

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  2. Hero of the Federation26 July 2013 00:17

    All is well...

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  3. Hmmm... We've decided to give it a miss... It might be GdT, but it's still a SFX bonanza. I prefer his movies on a more human scale. And why not have it both? Mimic, for example, owes a great deal of its power from the pov of the kid and the grandfather. Kronos: it's not about vampires, but about an old man and his granddaughter, facing mortality.

    Hellboy works mainly because at its core it is about the relationship between Hellboy and Liz / Hellboy and Abe. The first one especially had resonance in his relationship with Bruttenholm.

    We saw The Wolverine yesterday, and found that its emotional arc was worth the price of admission, making Wolverine a character with enough personality, history and development to get engaged with.

    It's almost as if budget and story/character exclude each other: "Oh damn, we don't have much of a budget. We better write one heck of an engaging story, then!"

    Does that make sense?

    Remco

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    1. I just came back from The Wolverine today, and I tentatively agree on the story arc. I think the first hour was really excellent, but for some reason it started to fall apart a bit in the second hour - perhaps because it started to take its cues from previous X-Men films.

      That said, Pacific Rim does retain a significant human element, especially in Mako's character, so if you do get around to it, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

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  4. Regarding scottish independence, you seem to be rather pro independence. Why is that? I personally am for the dissolution of the union as it would better for integration within the EU (Which I view as a possible precursor to a true global federation) but I'm sure deeper integration is not what most scottish nationalists have in mind, so I'd be interested to hear on why you stand where you do!

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    1. I try not to make this a political blog, but since you asked...

      I believe in Scottish Independence for the simple reason that I think independence is the natural state for a nation - but independence is not equivocal to insularity, quite the opposite. As it stands, Scotland is a component of a larger political entity (the UK), and it is this entity which engages with the world. It isn't about breaking up a union to me, it's about setting the terms for our own affairs: I liken it to being a lodger moving out into their own house.

      I will say that the vast majority of nationalists I've encountered (as well as most Scots, according to many polls) are actually in favour of the EU, in contrast to the UK as a whole. The current government is pushing for a referendum on the EU to take place in 2017, and given how things are going, it's a real possibility that the UK will vote to leave - even though more people in Scotland are happy in the EU than are not. Independence, then, would actually be the safer bet for staying in the EU than for remaining in the UK - at least, as it stands now.

      About the only way I'd vote to stay in the union is if the entire Westminster system was dismantled, jettisoning the House of Lords and First Past the Post, and setting up something more like a federation - Devo Plus, if you will. But since none of the major parties are willing to grant any new powers to Scotland in the event of a No vote (meaning Scottish taxes, revenue and a great deal more are dictated by Westminster's interests as opposed to Holyrood's), that seems like pie in the sky these days.

      One way or another, there MUST be change, and frankly, I think independence is far more likely to put them in effect than hoping for nothing less than a revolution.

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    2. The trouble though is that england accounts for the vast majority of the population of the isles, so any union would be naturally lopsided. I wonder, why do you believe it's a nation's natural state to be "free" as opposed to the city, or the clan/tribe? Allegiance to a nation as opposed to your local lord or immediate representative is a relatively new idea in the history of mankind. I think matters are a great deal more complicated than they appear at first glance... Even if we look at the current nation states, the only reason that particular culture became dominant to such an extent and territory was by annihilating all the competition. This can be seen by the fact that almost all western european languages are indo-european as opposed to a blend of different unrelated languages, such as in new zealand or parts of africa.

      Perhaps it's the destiny of the earth that eventually there will be one language and one culture for mankind? I would find such a turn of events regrettable, yet if we look at human history (and prehistory) this is where we appear to be heading. From countless multitude, to ever greater uniformity.

      In an optimal world every region would maintain it's own habits and traditions as they are within a greater global political framework of all of humanity, bound all by the same basic laws, but diversifying from there. Idealistic to be sure, but one may dream. :)

      No need to reply if you don't want. Still, i'd be interesting in hearing your view of nationalism vs tribalism.

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    3. The trouble though is that england accounts for the vast majority of the population of the isles, so any union would be naturally lopsided.

      Naturally, but England isn't the problem: it's Westminster and its poisonous, archaic, undemocratic nature which is, as surely for the people of England as for the Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish.

      I wonder, why do you believe it's a nation's natural state to be "free" as opposed to the city, or the clan/tribe?

      I don't oppose that at all, really: if Scotland broke off into little tiny states I'd be perfectly happy with that too, as long as that's what was best and what was wanted. I heartily endorse your ideas of a global political framework with diversification, but as it stands, we're not quite there yet: until then, I think Scotland would be better off as a humble small country than as a part of a larger one.

      That's where a lot of the confusion regarding the EU comes in: why would you leave one union only to join another? Presumably apart from the idea that Brussels doesn't take all your country's revenue and give it back based on how well Belgian politicians are doing, Brussels doesn't make you host defective nuclear fleets only a few dozen miles from your most populous city despite the majority of politicians and people opposing their existence altogether, and Brussels doesn't try to say the whole of Europe is One Nation.

      The EU has a ton of problems, but to say the situation is anything like that of the UK is delusional.

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