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Thursday, August 14, 2014

Fishing in the Discount Bin - Pacific Rim

Welcome back to Fishing in the Discount Bin, my weekly viewing of some Blu-Ray I own, and then blogging about it, because blogging.  This week's entry may be a little controversial as I tackled that newly-beloved geek classic Pacific Rim.  This is originally dated in my notes at November 3, 2013.

Pacific Rim movie poster

Wow!  I had no idea such comments would be so inflammatory on the Internet.  Recently, I did Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.  While watching it, I went to the social networks and shared my opinion:  I don't understand the hatred for it, because I actually think it's kinda good.  And quite a few people had to chime in and tell me I was wrong, and that it was horrible, and how dare I like it.  And based on Internet reaction this past summer, I guess I can prepare for a similar shitstorm with the following statement:

I was kinda underwhelmed by Pacific Rim.

I know.  I was shocked, too.  I mean, giant robots fighting giant monsters, what's not to love?  But watching the film, I was was hit with the feeling that I'd seen this all before.  We have our veteran pilot who's reluctant to step behind the controls because he lost his partner in the cockpit.  We've got the hotshot rookie with a chip on his shoulder.  We've got the desperate plan for one final make-or-break assault.  And once I saw the climax, I realized that it was pretty much Independence Day with giant monsters.

But the way the Internet was talking, Pacific Rim was the second coming.  People were quick to brand it "the next Star Wars."  I think that was a little unfair.  I mean, I don't think Star Wars became STAR WARS!!! until the mid-90s or so and it hadn't faded from the pop culture consciousness yet.  We'll see if we're still raving about it and buying merchandise for it 10  years from now. 

It had a good pedigree going into it, though.  I mean, Guillermo del Toro, the guy who brought us the Hellboy movies, was the man behind it, and I enjoyed those.  So I went to it this summer, hoping for the best.  And I walked away going, "Meh."  I wasn't even planning on buying it on DVD, but when I saw it at a good price, I went, "Why not?"  I mean, since everyone raved about it, I figured I have to get it for my coffee table to maintain my geek cred.  I do lots of crazy stuff to maintain my geek cred.  Sometimes, it pays off really well.  For example, that's why I started watching Doctor Who.  Other times, it leaves me bored.  For example, that's why I bought the extended editions of Lord of the Rings, even though I prefer the shorter and more-to-the-point theatrical versions. 

I guess I shouldn't be too surprised, though.  In a way, it just suffers from the problem I've blogged about before when it comes to giant monster movies.  If you go back and re-read my entries on the few Godzilla movies I've done and the King Kong films, the common problem with these films is they just don't know what to do with the humans.  The filmmakers get so caught up with the awesomeness of these giant things that the people get second shrift.  But I guess Pacific Rim does get its props because, as cliched and cookie cutter as the plot was, at least they tried.

In the not-too-distant future, an interdimensional rift opens up on the bottom of the Pacific Ocean and starts spewing out kaiju...giant monsters.  (Actually, "kaiju" is the Japanese word for "monster" and "giant monster" is "daikaiju," but I digress.)  When conventional weapons prove ineffective against these kaiju, the nations of the world construct giant robots called jagers to take on the kaiju in hand-to-hand combat.  The jagers are very complicated, and require two people to pilot them.  They pilot them through a sci-fi plot device called "The Drift," where the two people meld minds and control the robot as a single entity.  For a while, this strategy works, and humanity is winning the war against the kaiju.  But, before long, they're getting bigger and stronger, and the jagers are no longer effective.  The program is to be decommissioned, and humanity refocuses their efforts on building massive walls to fence off the Pacific Ocean.

All this is explained in the first 10 minutes of the film.  If you need 10 minutes of exposition, you've got problems. 

Our hero is Raleigh.  He's the "season veteran who's reluctant to step behind the controls" that I mentioned above.  He used to pilot a jager with his brother, but when his brother was killed in action, he decided to retire from the program.  But  he's soon called back into action by Marshall, the commander of the program.  They've got six months before their program is officially decommissioned, so he's taking all the world's remaining jagers -- 4 of them -- and rallying them for a final assault to seal the rift once and for all. 

We get a cute subplot with scientists who are studying the kaiju.  They're quirky, as movie scientists are, and they have a theory they can "drift" with a kaiju brain.  And that leads us to one of the more interesting facets of this universe:  black market dealings in kaiju body parts.  Our quirky scientists then come face to face with a black market kingpin, played by del Toro movie mainstay Ron Perlman, and it does provide some colour to this tale. 

But that's all I've got to say about Pacific Rim.  A cliched plot does it in, until the last half-hour or so when we get some balls-to-the-wall giant monster on giant robot action.  What to do with the humans in a giant monster movie?  A question that has not been answered yet. 

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