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BLOG/REVIEWS/FILM REVIEWS

Pacific Rim - Film Review: Family Sized Monster Hit

Lars HindsleyBy Lars Hindsley Thu 11 Jul 2013 11:11 PM EST | 3861 Views
Three Dangers

(DL) – With superhero films appearing as the only reliable summer blockbuster draw, Pacific Rim provides a change in diet to theater goers. Updated only slightly from known monster verses mech stories, Pacific Rim is reminiscent of Evangelion and a homage to campy Godzilla monster movies of the 1960's. There is nothing original about it, combining concepts from sci-fis since film began such as King-Kong to Avatar

In a narrated montage Raleigh Becket played by Charlie Hunnan walks you through the first five minutes setting up the plot. You should interpret that as a spoiler mistake by the director. If you have half a brain, you understand this point. If you don't have the brainpower to figure out what the implications of a protagonist operating as the narrator means, then be advised your ignorance is bliss. 

Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) has been honed by directors over time. Each new movie using CGI increases the detail and our senses adjust expecting more. At Comic-Con geeks were lead to believe Pacific Rim would be a game changer in this category, instead it feels like Transformers with a story. I'd say much better story but Transformers has no story. To Transformers credit, they gave us well lit scenes. In Pacific Rim, darkness and rain are used not to enhance but hide detail. Perhaps the budget was being busted on so much CGI? Hype for Pacific Rim started a year before release, almost every poster highlighted a well lit fight scene. Throughout the film most monster vrs mech scenes are tight dark shots. Perspective shots are short. The interior settings are odd, war bunkers are a combination of post apocalyptic with a dash of steam-punk. Why so much rust in places that would never oxidize? Style without substance is just one more reason Pacific Rim doesn't reach great levels in storytelling. You get the feeling a world was created that can't exist. 
Gypsy Danger
Becket is your typical American hero. No character flaws, strong and mild mannered. In his calm voice you learn he is a pilot of huge robot machines named Jaegers, pronounced (yea-ger). A Jaeger must be manned by two humans, which I'll leave for you to learn why in the story. They are the world's only means to fight the war with giant undersea monsters known as Kaiju (Japanese for strange beast.) Here is what every theater goer should be asking. "What is the motivation for these colossal beast to rise up out of the sea and stomp all over buildings?" They lumber up out of the ocean and they are pissed off for what reason? Are they hungry? Can they get their fill on tiny human morsels? Wouldn't dining on whales be an option? Worse yet for myself if I'm going to get a subtle understanding of why we are at war with these creatures - other than the obvious fact they are destroying everything, there is never a clear visual message of what our monolithic enemies are up to when they surface. If things like this nag at you when you watch an action blockbuster, reasons such as this are why the film is good but not great. 
Pacific Rim Diagram
The Kaiju are relentless. Meant to look like a cross between a shark and alien they look more like generic sea monsters. Becket tells us that for a time humans were winning the war against the Kaiju through the procurement of Jaegers but the size and the frequency of the Kaiju have become more than the Jaegers can handle. In the establishing montage there may be only one small glimpse of a Kaiju getting owned by Jaegers in battle. We see the Jaegers fighting with the upper hand but aside from a visual or two of the Kaiju getting socked in the face with oversized metal fist, there isn't much to be excited about. For as brutal as the fight scenes are you don't get the feeling earth is being saved, you get the feeling it's being destroyed.PilotsYou go into a film like Pacific Rim expecting mayhem and destruction, but if you want to appreciate destruction, show some aftermath! Where is the left over feeling that if these things are not stopped, the earth will be destroyed? Without this tension, the fight scenes are just fight scenes. Some robots win, some lose. Big deal.

At two hours, the pacing fits and still it feels long. It's reported that an hour of footage was cut. Was that good? Learning this fact after viewing, you get the feeling every scene was cut down. Fight scenes take quick jumps, character development scenes are concise. Action movies need interior development, Pacific Rim operates on good directing, good acting and an adequate story - just enough of each to be good.
 
When the action is not disregarding all human life in those cities destroyed in battles, the story provides some tangible characters. This is the strongest element of Pacific Rim. In typical Hollywood fashion there is the inevitable dig against present day's society on how we treat our planet. We even get taught a lesson on how the world can unite under one banner to save itself. The story does lose steam as we are introduced to new characters that get no dialogue and you just know they are meant to be monster fodder in a later scene. Worse yet, when they die, it's quick. Why is that a problem? If they can die quick deaths, what makes our heroes special? Why not have your secondary characters put up a tougher fight to demonstrate the level of aggression needed to take down one of these might mech warriors? I'm not picking on the film to nit-pick, it's these failed elements that separate this film from an okay mindless popcorn experience and a must own film on DVD or a sequel worthy film. Pacific Rim is better than the empty plot Transformer movies, but isn't a great movie either.

The human fight scenes are played well, unfortunately the tension between some of the characters is built up only to fail in delivering payoff. This could be a plus for the story, it uses many hackneyed characters but to the writers credit, it departs from hackneyed plot devices and overused sub-plots such as love stories between the strong man and weaker female. Here we find a female that stands toe to toe with our protagonist and not only does he recognize her for her strength, he's not intimidated by it, he respects her strength, acknowledges her strength and welcomes it.

What would a science fiction film be without scientist? After all, it's the scientist that provide the solution for the muscle to execute their genius. Doctor's Newton Geiszler and Gottlieb also serve as comedy relief with a couple notable laughs. Their endless bickering steals the show. You'd think the film is begging you to not take it seriously with other characters named, Hannible Chau, Herc Hansen and Stacker Pentecost. These in your face names may just be a reminder that you are not watching Pacific Rim for any plausible realism. It's an escape from reality through science fiction.

Science fiction on this level isn't meant to be taken seriously but it needs to follow some basic rules that any theater goer expects. Words such as digital and analog are used out of context, cities are destroyed and rebuilt in what should be regarded as war zones and other implausible discontinuities occur. In one scene an escape pod becomes a raft and deploys green ink into the water to be seen for rescue above. One character in the story jumps into the ocean to swim to another escape pod. What's wrong with this? The character is in full body armor, most likely no less than 100 pounds in gear. It was as ridiculous as a Jerry Bruckheimer film.

Pacific Rim is a huge film, from a 200 million dollar budget to 300 foot characters. As a science fiction escape story on a blockbuster budget it works. Barely. Yes, parting with your hard earned cash will result in two hours of semi-mindless action chained together with character interplay that causes some but not a lot of investment on your part in the audience. I screened this on a wrap around IMAX screen. Big mistake. Many if not all the fight scenes were hard to track as if you were at home sitting only one foot in front of your favorite large screen TV. It's great in concept but only results in frustration and pain. Of all films ideal for an IMAX experience, as a mindless summer popcorn film Pacific Rim is a must – but only on a flat screen IMAX canvas. For a family outing this can be costly, but if you are determined to see it, IMAX will undoubtedly enhance the experience.
Pacific Rim Poster
Pacific Rim rides on the visual cinematography surrounding the Jaegers and Kaiju. You see it in posters and trailers. The story is just enough to justify parting with your hard earned money and take your family out to the movies. You're not assaulted with profanity or sexuality. In this regard, Pacific Rim is a safe bet family film, but it just doesn't gain the emotional investment to make it a great movie. I wanted to give Pacific Rim 2 Dangers out of 5, but because I do in fact consider it worth spending money on to see, that qualifies it, (barely) as a 3 Danger rated film. It earns 3 Dangers out of 5.

Trivia: Director Guillermo del Toro used famed voice actress Ellen McLain as the voice for the Jaegers' artificial intelligence system. Not familiar with the name Ellen McLain? She's the narrative voice in the game Portal. She plays GLaDOS (acronym for Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System, pronounced gladis.)

Cast: Charlie Hunnam/Raleigh Becket, Diego Klattenhoff/Yancey Becket, Idris Elba/Stacker Pentecost, Rinko Kikuchi/Mako Mori, Charlie Day/Dr. Newton Geiszler, Burn Gorman/Dr. Hermann Gottlieb
Rating: PG-13
DirectorGuillermo del Toro
WriterTravis Beacham
Runtime: 2 hr 12 min
Release Date: July 12, 2013
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