MCN Columnists
Douglas Pratt

By Douglas Pratt Pratt@moviecitynews.com

DVD Geek: Pacific Rim

A grand celebration of Japanese monster movies and robot movies, with enough subwoofer action to create your own crater, Pacific Rim, has been released by Warner Home Video as a Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD title.  Charlie Hunnam of Sons of Anarchy (his Anarchy co-star, Ron Perlman, is also featured, in a supporting role) stars as an expert giant robot operator who is called back to the fight several years after a tragedy, because humanity is losing to the monsters that are coming up through a hole in the ocean, like rats out of a toilet.  Running 131 minutes, the film, nevertheless, is brisk, with an engaging cast, smart special effects (there are a lot of monsters, but the views of them barely last microseconds at a time), meticulous design details, and a sense of joy accompanying the collateral destruction that will occur whenever giant robots and monsters fight.  The heroes are partnered, because it takes two to run a robot, thereby giving the movie a shorthand emotional credence that is integrated directly with the action.  Directed by Guillermo del Toro, the film will enthrall anyone who still has a fondness for the rubber-suits-and-miniatures monster movies of old, as well as most 10-year old boys, and if others don’t get it, or just think it is a big, loud mess, it’s their loss.

The picture is letterboxed with an aspect ratio of about 1.8:1.  The special effects go by so quickly there’s never a chance for them not to look convincing, and the details of the image are consistently crisp.  The 7.1 DTS track (the BD’s default is 5.1, you have to select the 7.1) may not be subtle in its application of surround effects, but it is a grand assault of crashes, roars and all things loud and thumping, and begs to be turned up as high as you dare.  There are French, Spanish and Portuguese audio tracks, and English, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles.  The 62 minutes of excellent production featurettes that accompany the film reveal how incredibly thorough del Toro was in overseeing the movie’s creation, which is why, boxoffice shortcomings or not, the film is going to be around for a very long time to come.  As he explains, “This movie was made by people who love giant monsters and robots, for people who love giant monsters and robots.”

He goes into even more detail on a commentary track, essentially providing an entire history of giant monster and robot movies, and why he wanted so badly to create one of his own.  He supplies a background history of the production and the basic logistics of the shoot (he came in so under his budget that he had the luxury of shooting three extra days of pick ups).  He also talks extensively about working with the actors, and about how each character served the narrative, but underneath everything is the abject enthusiasm he feels and expresses for what he is doing.

“This film is the most controlled, joyful exercise in image creation I’ve ever had in my life.

“When we go close, you go from textures and the big silhouette to a lot of little details that give it scale and volume.  The helicopters became very important in shooting this movie.  I’m lighting [this robot and monster fight scene] like a boxing match, with the light coming from above, almost evoking a boxing fight from an American Realism painting, you know?  In the digital moments of animation, [the animator] becomes our cinematographer.  And we start coding.  Again, form is content.  How do we give you scale?  Look at the way we layer the light on this fight scene.  There are two levels of light.  One is the above light, which is cool, and the bottom light, the tungsten light, which is warm, sort of acid yellow light, and that gives you scale.  You have the greens, the fluorescents and that allows you to see that these [monsters] exist at different heights, that are story[-sized] heights.  The bottom is going to be warm, and the top is going to be cool or in the greens, and then we use the helicopters.  We use the helicopters constantly to light them, like they become our little gaffers.”

The Blu-ray is a presentation of the film, but it is also a keepsake for the film’s fans, in which del Toro can share all of the things that he painstakingly included in the movie, but that could not possibly be seen by the viewer, even with a Still Step function and an enormous screen.  “We designed everything in this movie.  We designed the patches in the shirts and the uniforms, we designed the banners, the badges.  We designed the [robots] to the minimal detail, so if you zoom into the controls you would see electrical discharge warnings, you would see ladders, you would see places where you would connect, and to engineer the amount of detail is staggering.  We spent about a year texturing this world, and the accumulation of that mosaic of detail, design-wise, gives you the sense of a real world.  People think that a ‘world creation’ movie is the ‘big gestures,’ but it isn’t, it’s this small detail.”  Along with a DVD platter that has a less powerful 5.1 Dolby Digital track, the same language options except for the Portuguese, and, most importantly, although there are no other special features, the del Toro commentary track, the set also comes with a second BD platter of special features that share with the viewer the many designs and minutiae that fans, in particular, will savor.  Included is an ‘interactive’ presentation of del Toro’s notes, which include video segments and take about a half-hour to get through.  Within the film, there are rapid montages when the robot ‘pilots’ link up cerebrally to operate a robot, and these montages are imitated in a 5-minute segment that presents the biographical backstories of the main characters.  Additionally, there is a good 17-minute segment on developing the film’s digital effects, 4 minutes of deleted scenes that were sensibly removed but add a bit more character detail, an enjoyable 4-minute blooper reel, and a wonderful, extensive still frame collection of designs and images from the film.

 

One Response to “DVD Geek: Pacific Rim”

  1. David Matychuk says:

    I’ve been appreciating Mr. Pratt’s reviews for over twenty years, so I’m not surprised that he’s slashed through a forest of wildly divergent opinion to place “Pacific Rim” in perspective. It’s the kind of reasoned analysis I’ve come to expect from him.

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Tsangari: With my next film, White Knuckles, it comes with a budget — it’s going to be a huge new world for me. As always when I enter into a new thing, don’t you wonder how it’s going to be and how much of yourself you are going to have to sacrifice? The ballet of all of this. I’m already imaging the choreography — not of the camera, but the choreography of actually bringing it to life. It is as fascinating as the shooting itself. I find the producing as exciting as the directing. The one informs the other. There is this producer-director hat that I constantly wear. I’ve been thinking about these early auteurs, like Howard Hawks and John Ford and Preston Sturges—all of these guys basically were hired by the studio, and I doubt they had final cut, and somehow they had films that now we can say they had their signatures.  There are different ways of being creative within the parameters and limitations of production. The only thing you cannot negotiate is stupidity.
Filmmaker: And unfortunately, there is an abundance of that in the world.
Tsangari: This is the only big risk: stupidity. Everything else is completely worked out in the end.
~ Chevalier‘s Rachel Athina Tsangari

“The middle-range movies that I was doing have largely either stopped being made, or they’ve moved to television, now that television is a go-to medium for directors who can’t get work in theatricals, because there are so few theatricals being made. But also with the new miniseries concept, you can tell a long story in detail without having to cram it all into 90 minutes. You don’t have to cut the characters and take out the secondary people. You can actually put them all on a big canvas. And it is a big canvas, because people have bigger screens now, so there’s no aesthetic difference between the way you shoot a movie and the way you shoot a TV show.

“Which is all for the good. But what’s happened in the interim is that theatrical movies being a spectacle business are now either giant blockbuster movies that run three hours—even superhero movies run three hours, they used to run like 58 minutes!—and the others, which are dysfunctional family independent movies or the slob comedy or the kiddie movie, and those are all low-budget. So the middle ground of movies that were about things, they’re just gone. Or else they’re on HBO. Like the Bryan Cranston LBJ movie, which years ago would’ve been made for theaters.

“You’ve got people like Paul Schrader and Walter Hill who can’t get their movies theatrically distributed because there’s no market for it. So they end up going to VOD, and VOD is a model from which no one makes any money, because most of the time, as soon as they get on the site, they’re pirated. So the whole model of the system right now is completely broken. And whether or not anybody’s going to try to fix, or if it even can be fixed, I don’t know. But it’s certainly not the same business that I got into in the ’70s.”
~ Joe Dante

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