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

(Continued from page 1)

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

Warner Bros.

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

PREVIEW

"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

Written by Del Toro and Travis Beacham, "Pacific Rim" features an ensemble cast led by Charlie Hunnam ("Sons of Anarchy"), Idris Elba, Charlie Day, Rinko Kikuchi, Robert Kazinsky, Max Martini and Burn Gorman, with Perlman showing up in a smaller turn as the outrageously monikered Hannibal Chau, a black-market dealer of kaiju anatomy who resembles a futuristic glam-rock pimp.

Yet it's "Pacific Rim's" concept and director that stand out as its biggest stars.

"Guillermo absolutely lives and breathes this stuff," Hunnam said. "I knew that it was going to be so much more than just giant robots and monsters – what he's interested in is the world they inhabit. That's what excited me, the prospect of this multidimensional, gritty, nuanced world that he was going to create around this very large premise."

Moviegoers familiar with Del Toro's body of work know that it does exist in a world of its own, with the 2006 fairy tale "Pan's Labyrinth" perhaps best exemplifying his wild and devious imagination. The film, which won three of the six Academy Awards it was nominated for, centers on a young girl in Fascist Spain who escapes from everyday life with her mother and her brutal stepfather into a fantastic but dangerous realm populated by unusual-looking monsters and rendered in moody blue and gold tones.

It's one of three Spanish-language movies Del Toro has made: "Cronos" located the classic vampire mythology to a modern middle-class home in Mexico, and "The Devil's Backbone" set a ghost story in a remote orphanage in rural Spain. His English-language resume includes 1997's giant insect movie "Mimic" – a famously fraught production – and three comic-book adaptations: the vampire sequel "Blade II," "Hellboy" and "Hellboy II: The Golden Army."

What the films share is an affection for idiosyncrasy often expressed with humor and a singular, painterly palette. Even in his most commercial projects, there's always a trace of the art house (Del Toro has long-standing relationships with such auteurs as Pedro Almodovar, Alfonso Cuaron and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu).

"I always love to take things that are very popular and treat them in a way that is very different than they are treated normally," Del Toro said. "Like 'Hellboy.' Say what you may, but it's a very, very strange superhero movie. Not every superhero movie has a fish guy and a demon guy drinking a six-pack and singing Barry Manilow. In the same way, I think 'Pacific Rim' brings a stable of characters – the scientist, the leader, the pilot, the black-market guy – but gives it its own slightly deranged twist."

He came to direct "Pacific Rim" only after two other efforts fell apart. First, he had set out to direct a two-part adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Hobbit," which ultimately became a trilogy helmed by Peter Jackson. Then there was his long-held passion project, a big-budget adaptation of "At the Mountains of Madness" by H.P. Lovecraft. The story of a scientific expedition to Antarctica that uncovers ancient life-forms collapsed after Universal declined to finance the film, a $150-million R-rated 3-D horror epic.

"When it happened, this has never happened to me, but I actually cried that weekend a lot," Del Toro said. "I don't want to sound like a puny soul, but I really was devastated. I was weeping for the movie."

Within days, he'd signed on to direct "Pacific Rim," which he'd previously agreed to produce and co-write. He shot the film almost entirely on eight soundstages at Pinewood Toronto Studios; the scale of the production was massive. "We built parts of the robots, and the only thing that would fit in the largest stage in North America was the feet," he said.

For a portion of the 103-day shoot, Del Toro worked six-day weeks, acting as his own second-unit director. "I wanted 'Pacific Rim' to be on budget and on time because it was basically for me a big moment to show myself that I didn't get rusty, I didn't get complacent," he said.

The pace he maintained impressed Hunnam, who plays gifted Jaeger pilot Raleigh Becket. "I work incredibly hard and truly never felt like I had come across anybody who was as obsessive as I am about trying to get it right," Hunnam said. "Then I met Guillermo and he just exceeded me I would say threefold."

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