Deep-sea monsters have been attacking us for more than 80 years on the big screen and, with the release of Pacific Rim, we're fighting back with spectacular retribution. With Pacific Rim, the ultimate is an understatement.
"Vengeance is an open wound" in this jaw-dropping cinematic tour-de-force where our world is under attack from legions of monstrous alien creatures, known as Kaiju, which started rising from the sea, launching a war that takes millions of lives and consumes humanity's resources for years on end. To combat the giant Kaiju, a special type of weapon was devised: massive robots called Jaegers, which are controlled simultaneously by two fearless pilots whose relentless courage is mankind's last hope against the mounting apocalypse.
Director Guillermo del Toro, the maestro of imaginative cinematic fantasy-adventures like Cronos, Pan's Labyrinth and Hellboy, strikes a mighty blow with Pacific Rim; he is in full control of his inspired creation, breathing a potent life force into the sci-fi genre and monster movies.
Although movie-goers in South Africa have mostly been terrorised by creatures like Jaws and films like Mimic and The Abyss, their onslaught is tame compared to the like of sea creatures that have sprung from the imagination of filmmakers. A giant amoeba rising from the ocean in Monster from the Ocean Floor was one of the first attacks in cinemas in 1954, followed by a radioactive octopus in It Came From Beneath The Sea; Roger Corman's Attack of the Crab Monsters; an amorphous blob of radiation in Behemoth, the Sea Monster; Godzilla was the star of Ebirah, Mothra: Big Duel in the South Seas, a half-shark, half-octopus was engineered for combat to destroying drug traffickers off Santa Monica Sharktopus, and one of the many Japanese low-budget creature features was Reigo: The Deep-Sea Monster vs the Battleship Yamato.
In the forthcoming release of Percy Jackson's Sea of Monsters (22 Aug), the half-human son of Poseidon - the Greek god of the sea - learns that he has a half-brother who's a monster; he is challenged by a giant mechanical fire-breathing bull, terrifying sea creatures, a gigantic Cyclops, and other demigods of uncertain allegiances. Our fascination with creatures from the deep and the war between humans and robots is thrown into a blender with Pacific Rim.
An overwhelming visual extravaganza
The result is an overwhelming visual extravaganza that is relentless in its quest to provide a cinematic feast unlike anything seen before, and raises the bar beyond its extreme. What makes Pacific Rim a unique experience, and different from other sci-fi monster films and those featuring robotic rivalry, is that is successfully incorporates a human element that allows us to relate to the experience. Instead of running away from the hellish onslaught, Del Toro humanises the robots by placing unlikely heroes and flawed characters inside the 25-storey mechanical beasts as pilots. For Del Toro: "The robot is only as good a fighter as the fighters inside. Ultimately, the most important dynamic that determines who pilots the Jaegers, and how effective they'll be, is the relationship between the people."
Without love, passion and intimate human relationships, an action-adventure will have no soul, and besides its awesome and larger-than-life visual effects, Pacific Rim delivers heartfelt stories of brothers and families who are torn apart, endearing father-son-daughter confrontations as well as innocent first love.
British heart throb Charlie Hunnam, who made an impact with his starring roles as the rebellious gay teenager in the television series Queer as Folk, and was equally impressive as the wild biker in the hit series Sons of Anarchy, is superb as a young pilot who is full of bravado and lives to "kick ass against the Kaiju"; Hunnam perfectly captures the "swagger of a Jaeger jockey who is on top of the world", whose world is destroyed when he makes a tragic mistake. Hunnam's partner and love interest in Pacific Rim is played by sensational Japanese model Rinko Kikuchi; she is great as a young woman who shows tremendous promise as a Jaeger pilot, although she has been held back by forces without and within.
A powerful performance
Idris Elba delivers a powerful performance as the commander of the Pan Pacific Defense Corp before the Jaeger Programme was cut when the world leaders decided to shift their resources to other forms of defence. Now he leads those who are willing to stand with him in the Resistance. It will be interesting to see Elba as heroic anti-apartheid freedom fighter Nelson Mandela who became South Africa's first black president in Justin Chadwick's forthcoming Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.
Without a great super villain an action-adventure is lifeless, and in Pacific Rim Ron Perlman (Hellboy) is delightful as the hedonistic and ruthless Hannibal Chau, who profits handsomely from selling Kaiju parts on the black market and has no intention of helping the Resistance kill his cash cow.
Disaster films also needs some humour and the "clowns" in Pacific Rim deliver much-needed comic relief; the duo who are taking a more scientific approach to fighting the Kaiju by trying to stop the invasion at its source, are wonderfully brought to life by Charlie Day as a scientist who is obsessed with these monsters and believes he is the foremost expert on them, with Burn Gorman as the nerdish lab partner who is constantly contradicts him.
If you are looking for pure escapism without any hidden agendas, Pacific Rim provides first-rate entertainment that delivers what it promises with passion and vigour. Although it's an epical disaster film with apocalyptic proportions, it's a significant reminder of how the human spirit battles overwhelming odds, and how friendship rules adversary.
Behind the scenes
"When I was a kid, whenever I'd feel small or lonely, I'd look up at the stars and wonder if there was life up there. Turns out, I was looking in the wrong direction," said director Guillermo del Toro, who also co-wrote and served as a producer on the film. The story originated with screenwriter Travis Beacham, who wrote the mythic adventure Clash of the Titans and is working on the screenplay for the feature 20 000 Leagues Under the Sea: Captain Nemo, who was on the actual Pacific Rim-on the coast of California-when the central elements of the film began to take shape. He recounted: "I remember walking along the beach in Santa Monica. It was a particularly foggy morning and there was something about the shape of the pier in the fog jutting out into the water. An image just kind of popped into my head of a behemoth, a monster, rising from the surf to meet this giant robot waiting on the shore to do battle."
As Del Toro began crafting the screenplay with Beacham, he became totally immersed in the world they were forming. He attested: "The more we developed the universe, the more I became personally invested in the story, the characters, the monsters, the robots, and everything it would take to make it all real. I couldn't wait."
"Working with Guillermo is incredible," Beacham remarked. "He bristles with ideas and can come up with the most brilliant strokes of insight at the drop of a hat. He also loves monster movies, so we were definitely playing in his sandbox," he laughed. "He came at the project with a genuine passion for the material, which I think was vital to the soul of the movie."
Go behind the scenes at www.writingstudio.co.za/page4742.html