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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on Movies: Pacific Rim

PACIFIC RIM (Three Stars)
U.S.: Guillermo del Toro, 2013


Pacific Rim, the latest horror-fantasy-science-fiction-adventure  slambanger from  that sometimes-outrageously imaginative filmmaker Guillermo del Toro, is a nother technological marvel of a movie. It plays the big-show movie monster games with enough playfulness and imagination to score a number of ways  (action, comedy, melodrama) and to keep the inevitable scoffers against this kind of picture at bay. (At Michael Bay, that is.)

A wild mix of Godzilla (and his buddies), plus War of the Worlds, Starship Troopers, Avatar and Transformers, and many others, Pacific Rim doesn’t at first seem to aspire to being much more than spectacular summer fun for mass audiences. But, because del Toro is an artist as well as (when he wants to be) a big-movie technician, this show sucks you in emotionally as well as arousing you viscerally. The movie is  jam-packed with amusing nonsense and knock-your-eyes-out visuals, but it also actually has dollops of  heart, humanity and humor, that stuff most movies like this don’t have and could really use.

The script by del Toro and Travis Beacham (the young scribe of the 2010 Clash of the Titans) posits that gigantic alien monsters called  Kaiju, rising from beneath the sea, have been rampaging up and down the Pacific coastlines like sentient tsunamis, destroying our cities, destroying our armies, and terrorizing a little girl (Mana Ashida) who will grow up into a heroine named Mako Mori (played by Rinko Kikuchi of Babel, that more serious film by del Toro‘s countryman Alejandro González Iñárritu. Instead of simply blowing the monsters up with nuclear weapons, Earth’s mightiest minds and scientists (perhaps in consultation with Hasbro and other experts), have devised and built humungously gigantic robots called Jaegers (hunters), who are so damned big that it takes two pilots, with their minds melded together, to operate them.

SSD-19060.DNGPart of just such a heroic anti-Kaiju pilot team was our hero, Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) who was melded with his brother Yancy (Diego Klattenhoff). When things went wrong, Yancy was killed and Raleigh washed up on the shore, soul shattered, to  retire from jaeger-driving. But another hero, and the most heroic of them all—Idris Elba as the stoic and charismatic war-master Stacker Pentecost—is battling budget-cutters (read latterday congresspeople), who want to ditch the whole program and try to build a big wall along the coast—something the Kaiju are already ramming through, and that also seems to have the chance of  a pile of several hundred snowballs in hell. Stacker knows Raleigh was the best, and he recruits him back for a last robot stand, with the martially-skilled Mako as a prime candidate for his new mindmeld Jaeger partner.

The movie has more. There’s a pugnacious Australian macho pilot (Robert Kazinski) who keeps picking fights, and there are two wacky scientist-strategists—Charlie Day as frantic Dr. Newt Geiszler and Burn Gorman as his only slightly more rational-acting colleague Gottlieb. And, in addition to the seeming hundreds of people milling around the huge sets of military headquarters and  Hong Kong streets, there is my favorite actor and character in the movie, Del Toro mainstay Ron Perlman as a cynical crook and Kaiju body parts-trafficker named Hannibal Chau.

That’s a lot more story, and  several more recognizable characters than we usually get in movies like this—which usually take a limited cast of stereotypes and then just hop from one destruction derby to the next. While the Beacham-del Toro script is no gem, it’s at least a script, and the characters, even if we’ve seen their like before, make good human bridges between the battles. I would have liked even more characters, henchmen and rivals for Hannibal maybe, and some dolphins and a whale or two—but you can‘t have everything.

Visually, Pacific Rim is a wow. Actually, I wasn’t always that taken with the robots, but the Kaiju (which reportedly means “strange creatures—like Godzilla, Mothra and Rodan—in Japanese), are really something. So are the stormy seas and the Blade Runner-ish city — and everything else shot by del Toro’s brilliant cinematographer Guillermo Navarro and his crew on the eye-popping production designed by Carol Speier and  Andrew Eskoromny. The acting is better than usual, the heroes are likable and good looking. Idris Elba’s glowering war master, Charlie Day’s hysterical scientist and Ron Perlman’s cynical heavy are all you could want from them.

Del Toro, in addition to his other big-time horror-fantasy-adventure shows—like the Hellboy movies, with Perlman—has directed two contemporary classics of more thoughtful and psychological horror: the anti-fascist parable Pan’s Labyrinth and the schoolboy nightmare The Devil’s Backbone. And while I’d rather see del Toro making movies like that, I’d rather see him making movies like Pacific Rim than no movies at all—or see another big-budget extravaganza by the kind of filmmakers John Milius used to call “mercs.”

At the end of Pacific Rim, I was touched—and you may be, too—by the movie’s final dedication to those maestros of  movie monstery, special effects and model-maker Ray Harryhausen and Godzilla director Ishiro Honda. Those two artists weren’t working with the best scripts either, but they still managed to unleash their monsters, their Kaiju, with style and pizzazz. When the world really does end, I hope there’s a Honda, a Harryhausen, or a Guillermo del Toro around to light the fuse and cue the monsters.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon