Guillermo del Toro's PACIFIC RIM
A movie review by Dennis D. McDonald
As a little kid growing up in Columbus, Ohio, back when the earth was cooling, we had a car dealer in town named Lex Mayer. Lex was into the “hoopla” style of advertising. A short bald guy with glasses, always talking, you expected to see him chomping on a cigar (I never did).
Lex sponsored a Saturday afternoon TV show called “Lex’s Live Wrestling” where “wrestlers” of all shapes and sizes came through Columbus and did their thing.
As a child I loved the show. So did my dad. Once a wrestler got thrown out of the ring and landed on and broke the ringside table where Lex was sitting with the announcer. I gained new respect for Lex — and of course I envied him as well.
I mention this since I was reminded of Lex’s Live Wrestling by the robot-monster fight scenes in Pacific Rim. They are gorgeously choreographed with movement seemingly appropriate to the mass of objects their size — assuming that beings this large could actually move so quickly and nimbly through the streets of Hong Kong. (Having been to Hong Kong and Kowloon several times myself I rather enjoyed the scenery.)
Yes, I certainly enjoyed the movie. It’s better than average summer entertainment. It touches a lot of resonant chords for anyone familiar with the super-machine versus giant-monster-stomping-on-Tokyo genre of filmmaking of which I admit to being a fan.
Yet Pacific Rim is not just a cartoon come to life. It avoids the high school angst of so many Japanese sci-fi cartoon series and never takes itself too seriously. At the same time it doesn’t constantly lapse into the wise-cracking self-reverential gravitas of so many modern superhero movies.
One thing that sets it apart is the characters. Yes, we start out with the many stereotypes (the square jawed hero nursing old wounds, the tough authoritarian father figure with a secret, the bright tough-as-nails female kick-ass team member who Has To Prove Herself, two — count them, two! — crazy scientists, etc.) that are extremely well played, even when spouting nonsensical dialogue.
Also, the movie is gorgeous to look at with constantly shifting color palettes from scene to scene. There are glowing lights, display panels, reflections, and shadows. Together these all create an immense amount of visual variety.
My one complaint, common to many grandiose special-effects fight scenes, is that sometimes it’s difficult to tell exactly what’s going on.
Overall, though, I enjoyed the hell out of this movie. It takes advantage of all the modern tricks available to the filmmaker, it entertains, and it makes many a nod to precursors in the genre without losing sight of its own unique dynamics.
I think it can be enjoyed on its own merits and I expect that many younger viewers will like it as well. But it did take me back to my youth given all the crazy movies and other entertainments I’ve enjoyed — including Lex’s Live Wrestling.
One nice touch at the very end of the credits is that Pacific Rim is dedicated to Ray Harryhausen and Inoshiro Honda. These two giants of the cinema encapsulate the ability of film to entertain and fascinate the childhood sense of wonder.
Harryhausen of course was the stop motion master who died only recently. Commemorating his death was one of only two times since 2004 when I created a memorial on the front page of my website; the other was for Steve Jobs.
Honda was the post-World War II master of Japanese monster and sci-fi films at Toho. He was responsible for Godzilla. His Mysterians, from 1957, is a phantasmagoria of giant robots, space stations, underground laboratories, flying saucers, melting tanks, giant flying mobile ray-guns, and brightly colored spacesuits.
A few times I closed my eyes while watching Pacific Rim and I was a little boy again watching humans and their technology duke it out on the big screen with aliens.
Thank you, Guillermo!
Copyright (c) 2013 by Dennis D. McDonald