Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A short review of "Pacific Rim"

I intended to write a brief review of "Pacific Rim" right after I saw it about a month ago, but it is a measure of just how underwhelmed it left me that I neglected to do it until now. Part of it might have been due to a certain reluctance on my part to criticize too harshly a movie which was clearly made with all good intentions.

I went into the theater expecting to enjoy it, having gotten revved up for it from the various trailers I'd seen before the movie's release. Plus, earlier in the summer, I'd had the great pleasure of meeting some of the guys who'd worked on the visual effects for "Pacific Rim"  (as well as "The Avengers" and several other effects-heavy blockbusters) -- they were alumni of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst (as am I) and had come back to UMass as part of an event held at the school. It was very interesting to talk with them about CGi and special and visual effects. They were really nice guys who patiently answered all of my geeky questions.

So I was jazzed for the film, and enjoyed it, but came out of the theater even more convinced that we live in an age where way too much thought and effort is put towards how things look and far too little energy is expended on the story those effects are being used to support. "Pacific Rim" has some fantastic imagery -- in fact, much of the movie is simply crammed with a level of detail and realism which is staggering. It's all well done… on a visual level, at least.

I just wish more care had been taken to craft a story worthy of those effects. And in a film like this, which -- let's be honest now -- exists mostly because the director really, REALLY wanted to make a big-budget "giant mecha versus giant monsters" movie with state-of-the-art visuals, I don't think it's too much to ask that the action -- which is, after all, the main raison d'etre of the movie -- make sense and not be silly. Here's an example that really struck me as particularly dumb: One of the giant monsters, or Kaiju, is fighting one of the giant mecha, or Jaegers, in the ocean. The Jaeger grabs the Kaiju, and in an incredible display of power,  lifts it out of the water, over its head, and throws it…

… into the ocean.

That's right, it throws the monster back into the water. How, I ask, is this sort of move supposed to harm or even slightly slow down a giant creature which is totally at home in that environment? I'd have to watch the movie again to be sure -- and I won't be doing that until it comes out on DVD -- but I think this silly move is repeated one or two more times. It's just… dopey.

For whatever reason, the director -- Guillermo del Toro -- decided to not have the Jaegers stuffed to the gills with what you might reasonably expect giant mechanical fighting mecha intended to battle to the death giant creatures to be equipped with -- stuff like lots of stabbing and slashing and cutting weapons, missiles and rockets and artillery and other projectile weapons with explosive ordnance, high-pressure injectors to force bubbles into the Kajjus' bloodstreams and cripple them, electro-shock devices, flamethrowers, high-powered lasers, super-tough cable loops to strangle and decapitate, and so on -- all those wonderfully nasty bits of killing hardware you might expect to be created by imaginative weapons designers who want to WIN this freakin' war with the giant monsters. Every available surface (except those which have to be kept clear for smooth operation and movement of the Jaegers' limbs) should be studded with impaling spikes and ripping blades made to inflict maximum possible damage on the Kaiju during the Jaegers' close-in battles with these monsters. (Yes, I know there are a few such weapons on display, occasionally, but they are ludicrously few and far between.)

Instead, the Jaegers are treated for the most part like big boxing/wrestling robots -- punching, kicking, throwing and grappling with their opponents. It makes for some fun visuals, and they are amazingly well-done (it's quite incredible, for example, how realistic water simulations are these days, and a lot of the fights showcase these visuals as the Jaegers and Kaiju duke it out in relatively shallow water near the shore), but it's also… well, stupid. -- PL

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