Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Mother of all Monster Movies


Pacific Rim” a New Benchmark in Monster Movies

By Skip Sheffield

Pacific Rim” is the newest mother of all monster films. Sure the story is absurd and the premise is beyond belief, but ever since “King Kong” in 1933, plausibility has never been a strong suit of monster movies. What is important is the wow factor, and “Pacific Rim” has it in spades.
The story begins in the near future, in the year 2020. Slumbering dinosaur-like giants have arisen from the Pacific Ocean, and like Godzilla, Rodan and Mothra of old, they are wreaking havoc on the human population. To combat the “Kaiju,” as they are called, the countries of the world have put their heads together and have invented massive, lumbering robots known as “Jeagers” to do hand-to-hand combat with the alien creatures. The robots are controlled by two human “Rangers” working controls in tandem from a perch at the top of the robot. Not only are the Rangers working physically in tandem, their brains are united so each knows the other’s thoughts. The process is called “drifting.”
This is what separates Travis Beacham’s fantastic screenplay from monster stories of old. The underlying theme of the story is cooperation for the common good- sort of like what the United Nations is supposed to do, but rarely does.
Guillermo del Toro is a uniquely imaginative and visionary Mexican writer-director. If you have ever seen “Pan’s Labyrinth” you know what I mean. “Pacific Rim” combines the ultra-fantastic with a very human story.
The two principal characters are Raleigh Becket, a battle-scarred veteran Ranger played by Charlie Hunnan, and Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), a novice, unproven Ranger. What she lacks in experience Mako makes up in will. She lost her family to a Kaiju attack, and like a World War II kamikaze pilot, she is out to avenge her loss and fight for her family’s honor.
Mako was taken in as an orphaned child by Stacker Pentecost (note the name), the commanding Ranger officer, played with stentorian dignity by Idris Elba. Stacker feels a paternal concern for Mako, and though he knows she has what it takes, he is reluctant to allow her to risk her life.
There are many secondary characters good and bad to flesh out the story. My favorite is Ron Perlman, who has been in several of del Toro’s films. Perlman’s character is Hannibal Chau (again note the name), a Hong Kong black marketer who deals organs from Kaiju carcasses for profit. Perlman’s ridiculous-looking completely over-the-top costumed character provides great comic relief. So does Charlie Day’s nerdy scientist, Dr. Newton Geizler. In fact “Pacific Rim” is funnier than it ever is scary. While the CG special effects and mechanically marvelous set pieces are amazing; the best ever in a monster movie, you see one Kaiju vs. Jeager battle, you’ve seen them all. The endless combat is reminiscent of the recent “Man of Steel” but the clashes-of-titans are ameliorated with the human story. You just know that handsome, fearless Raleigh is going to fall for the exquisite, doll-like beauty Mako and she with him.
No, there is nothing new in “Pacific Rim.” It is just done better than it ever has been before.