Reel Matt

This blog started as my movie marathon — watching a movie a day for a whole year — and has continued as a place for me to write reviews about movies, TV, and various other items.

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Pacific Rim

Film #368

THE PLOT

When an alien attack threatens the Earth’s existence, giant robots piloted by humans are deployed to fight off the menace.

Year 2, Film 3

THE REVIEW: Lot’s of comparison can be made with Pacific Rim, not least of which is Transformers. Here we have yet another summer blockbuster filled with giant fighting robots battling alien monsters (although here they’re organic, not robotic). Godzilla, Real Steel, and Inception also comes to mind with destruction of major cities, human-piloted machines, and journeys into the mind all showing up in Pacific Rim. But the line must be drawn here. I could spend a lot of time trying to explain why this film is better than the others, or in some cases worse than the others (not Transformers though), but instead I’m just going to explain this film’s merits by itself.

And to start, I can’t begin anywhere except the visuals. Yes, a lot of you may be thinking, “We’ve seen plenty of summer blockbusters deliver spectacular visuals before, what makes Pacific Rim so special?” The answer is scope. Part of this may be due to seeing it in lieMAX 3D (further reading material)(another side note: I’m not actually complaining about the projection here; quite the opposite. Despite being a “small” IMAX screen, this was a fantastic theater experience). The sheer size of the screen and intensity of the sound (more on sound in a bit), delivers the world of Pacific Rim in a dominating fashion. You really get a sense of just how large these Jaeger robots and Kaiju monsters are. In addition to the characters, the set pieces are also equally impressive. The cavernous loading dock at the Shatterdome and the sprawling command center running everything are beautifully designed and each and every detail shows through on screen. Going back to the visual effects aspect of everything, huge props need to go to ILM for absolute realistic water. A large majority of the film takes place either in rain, in the ocean, or both. Water is notoriously a difficult part of visual effects – one that ILM made great breakthroughs on earlier with the Pirates of the Caribbean films – and with Pacific Rim, it’s taken to a whole other level. Normally I would say that something like noticing how great the water looks is bad. If it commands that much attention that you’re distracted from the film rather than immersed, it isn’t a good job. However, because of how integral water is to the film – just look at the title, it’s named after the largest ocean on Earth – if you don’t notice the water, that’s a problem unto itself. Bottom line: you’ll be impressed with what you see.

You’ll also be impressed with what you hear. I don’t often talk about sound in my reviews despite it being half (some argue more – sound is incredibly vital to the entire experience whether you realize it or not) of the film. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention it here. While the film is purely fictional and includes many new elements (mainly, the Jaeger robots and the Kaiju) it’s all based in reality. The Jaegers are just supersize machines, like what we have now only bigger. Same with the Kaiju: similar to aggressive, powerful animals – like lions, cheetas, etc. – but bigger. And this comes through with the sound. Nothing sounds new or alien even though it could be; everything sounds like it belongs. This falls under design – the crafting of what the sound will be – but the mixing – how all the sounds fit together – was also exceptional. My praise for the mixing might be due to the IMAX projection (however big the screen, all IMAX theaters come with better sound systems). The subwoofer was so powerful that you could feel it vibrating your seat and I could have sworn it changed my heartbeat at least once.

Of course underneath all of those visuals and sound is the music (another thing I rarely mention).  But yet again, the score was so good that I need to mention it. From the start you hear the main theme which is energetic, uplifting, and catchy. Like noticing the water though, being aware of the music that plays isn’t a disadvantage in this case. The music is meant to do much more than subconsciously influence your emotions in Pacific Rim; it’s meant to be yet another driving force. It accompanies the visuals and sound in a way most music doesn’t – in many ways it leads, setting up what’s to come and how things play out. Now this shouldn’t be what all soundtracks do. Most of the time taking a back seat and only slightly influencing the picture is the right way to go. But the score for Pacific Rim knows exactly what it’s doing and I’m going to call now, a serious Oscar contender. Given all this, it shouldn’t have been a surprise when I saw Ramin Djawadi’s name appear in the credits as he also scores the terrific Game of Thrones TV series.

Now the only thing left to talk about is story. I said I wouldn’t compare it to other films so I won’t. There are many strengths to the story and many reasons why it only adds to the excitement and entertainment you get from the visuals and sound. Like the look of the film, the story is incredibly detailed with a well-explained backstory, a great premise/conflict, and something to draw everything together. The origins of the Kaiju were described in what I’d call a satisfactory way. Generally I like it when films air on the side of too-much information (I only watch the extended editions of the Lord of the Rings trilogy) because I want to know everything I can about a given universe. However I do understand not everyone wants enough information to fill an encyclopedia and Pacific Rim does a great job at giving just the right amount. Things move quickly without ever feeling rushed and overwhelming.

Where Pacific Rim doesn’t fare as well with the story is with its characters. Not all the characters – most of the supporting cast including Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), Dr. Newton Geizler (Charlie Day), and Hannibal Chau (Ron Perlman) are great – but the two main characters, Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) and Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) are less than stellar. For main characters of a film and the co-pilots of one of the last four Jaeger robots, Becket and Mori command zero respect. I couldn’t care less about what happens to the two which is not something you should feel about the main characters. Both had touching stories, and I mean really touching, especially Mori, but they didn’t have the impact they should have. I believe that reason is because as a team they were borderline horrific. The pairing of the two was incredible awkward and drew more unintended laughs than a comedy does intentional laughs. Alright, that’s a bit of an exaggeration but the point remains: the pairing is so bad that it outweighs any merits the individuals have.

Pacific Rim is a terrific summer blockbuster. It has the visuals, it has the action, it has the intrigue. If you want to go to the theaters and be blown away and still have your brain turned on for it, this is the film to see. This really is quite a journey of the senses (well, except for smell, touch, and taste) that’s a wonder to behold. While the main characters are quite disappointing, the rest of the cast and the story that unfolds more than makes up for two duds. I’d highly recommend seeing this when it comes out this weekend, and if you can, see it in IMAX 3D. The better sound alone is worth the higher price even if the screen is only marginally bigger.

Pacific Rim opens in theaters this Friday, July 12, 2013.

THE RATING: 4 out of 5