July 11, 2013

Movie Review: ‘Pacific Rim’ bears the mark of Del Toro

Warner Bros. takes a chance on the Oscar-nominated director and his magical touch with monsters, shelling out huge bucks for the sci-fi thriller.

By GINA MCINTYRE / McClatchy Newspapers

LOS ANGELES — Guillermo del Toro had just come from a darkened Burbank auditorium when he arrived at the Warner Bros. lot to lead a conference call of visual-effects technicians finalizing the extensive CG sequences for his new film "Pacific Rim." He'd spent the first hour of a winter afternoon using a red laser pointer to indicate precisely where he'd like the 3-D effects to be amplified in specific scenes as towering robots known as Jaegers soldiered silently across the ocean floor on the big screen.

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Charlie Hunnam and Rinko Kikuch star in “Pacific Rim.”

Warner Bros.

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Idris Elba, left, Rob Kazinksy and director Guillermo del Toro on the set of “Pacific Rim.”


"PACIFIC RIM," starring Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, Ron Perlman and Charlie Day. Directed by Guillermo del Toro. Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence throughout, and brief language. Running time: 2:10

Now, seated in front of a computer monitor, it was time to perfect some of the hand-to-hand combat sequences between the movie's lumbering giants and the alien beasties known as kaiju that serve as the bad guys in the ambitious, $180-million film. In one shot, he requested that the otherworldly creature adopt more of a boxer's stance; in another, he wanted the monster to convulse as it shot a death ray out of its maw. "Can we have him coughing up like acid reflux?" del Toro asked.

Clad in a faded black hoodie, del Toro provided his own sound effects as the heroic Jaeger Gipsy Danger smashed a kaiju's head with two metal fists – monosyllables straight out of the old Adam West "Batman" TV show, "Bam. Boosh. Oof." – seeming far more like a gleeful 10-year-old boy playing an expensive game of "Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots" than a 48-year-old bilingual Oscar nominee laboring over a project that could propel him to an entirely new level of success.

Opening July 12, "Pacific Rim" is set in a near future in which a shifting of tectonic plates has unlocked the portal to another world. Kaiju – the name and the genre come from the strain of Japanese B-movie cinema sired by Toho'soriginal "Godzilla" – pour through the rift, and before long coastal cities have been destroyed. To fight back, the military creates the Jaeger program, which entails the construction of 25-story robots operated by two pilots who control the machine through a psychic bond. It's the closest thing to live-action anime Hollywood has produced.

"I really wanted to make a movie that had an incredibly airy and light feel," Del Toro said, reflecting on the film he had just finished. "This is not a super-brooding, super-dark, cynical summer movie. I wanted very much to do a movie that is aiming for a young audience. Adults can be, God willing, entertained by the big, beautiful, sophisticated visuals and the action and all that, but my real hope is that this movie allows for a new generation of kaiju and robot kids that fall in love with giant monsters."

"Pacific Rim" might be many things – the most expensive movie Del Toro has ever made, a glorious homage to the Japanese pop culture he adored as a child in Guadalajara, Mexico, the first film in what Legendary Pictures and Warner Bros. are hoping will be an outsized franchise. What it isn't, though, is a sure thing.

At a time when the major studios continue to rely on sequels and superheroes, "Pacific Rim" thunders into a crowded season as a wholly original big-budget sci-fi spectacle movie. If it works, the movie holds the potential to chart a new career path for Del Toro, who in the last two decades has cultivated an ardent following making uncompromising movies in English and Spanish that embrace genre strictures and simultaneously rise above them. He's probably one of the few people working in cinema today who can hold forth with equal authority on comic books and Kierkegaard.

"He's got this unbelievable facility to have really, really big ideas pouring out of him at all times," said actor Ron Perlman, who first worked with Del Toro on his 1993 debut "Cronos." "He's an incredibly special man."

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