Pacific Rim: trailer analysis

Feature Ryan Lambie 14 Dec 2012 - 17:01

We've had time to digest the first trailer for Guillermo del Toro's Pacific Rim, so Ryan takes a closer look at what it all means...

As you’ve probably gathered by now, there are all sorts of films coming out in 2013. Many of them are reliant on special effects and huge battles - whether they’re in the far-flung future (Star Trek Into Darkness), or an alternate version of the present (Man Of Steel).

Pacific Rim is one of our most anticipated films of next year. This is partly because it’s a Guillermo del Toro joint - whose spread of movies, from Hellboy to Pan’s Labyrinth, indicate his flair for both dramatic and visually fantastical poetry. But the other reason we’re looking forward to Pacific Rim is because it isn’t connected to an existing franchise, but stands instead as what del Toro describes as a “beautiful poem” to classic giant monster movies from Japan.

Yesterday, the first full trailer bubbled up from Pacific Rim’s marketing department. So what can we make of it all, and how does it compare to our high expectations?

Giant monsters

Unsurprisingly, this first Rim trailer spends much of its time establishing the premise - something many of us will already be familiar with: giant monsters have emerged from a dimensional rift in the ocean floor, and are terrorising our cities.

And what monsters they are - looking not unlike the Zoanoids out of the Japanese anime and manga series, The Guyver, than something out of Godzillla (which was broadly what we were expecting). They’re loafing, toothsome - and is that a hint of light emanating from a mouth we can see in that still posted above? Is that an energy source, or a hint that these towering monstrosities can breathe fire?

Most pertinently, the trailer doesn't give an indication as to how intelligent they are. Is this an attempt at world domination by intelligent beasts, or mindless destruction from simple creatures slipped in from another plane of reality, like The Mist? What we've seen thus far hints at the latter, but the final film may have a twist up its sleeve.

Suits

So as well as giant monsters and huge mecha, we have the humans driving the mecha. The suits the humans wear look a bit Mass Effect, maybe a little Halo - or to cite a cultural touchstone closer to Japan, the anime series Casshern or the videogame it inspired, Vanquish.

Of course, these suits are merely the outfits the film's pilots wear while at the helm of those colossal mecha (or Jaegers, as they're known). As becomes clear later in the trailer, these suits allow the pilots to interface directly with their robots - something we'll return to in a moment.

Massive robots

As the trailer's catchy tagline goes, "To fight monsters, we created monsters - and what a sight the film's robots are. These are clearly an homage to the Super Robot phenomenon in Japan, which began in the 50s with manga and anime such as Tetsujin 28 and Mazinger Z, and has continuously evolved since.

Although the word Transformers has been hastily applied to the brief snippets of action displayed in the trailer, it's worth noting that Pacific Rim's delving into a tradition which predates Transformers by decades; these aren't the fleet-footed transforming robots of Hasbro's franchise - these are more like the weighty, colossal humanoid tanks of stuff like Gundam or UFO Robo Grendizer. Although the idea's not a new one, the idea of seeing the premise rendered with modern technology is a fabulous notion.

Motion control

As we mentioned earlier, those suits are more than just futuristic decoration. Pilots clearly click into position inside their Jaegers, and it seems that each mecha requires two people to operate, with each taking command of one half of the robot. The robots are then brought to life with motion-control-like gestures - which recall 2011's Real Steel boxing robots flick, or embarrassing evenings spent flailing our arms in front of Kinect.

In a commentary track over this trailer (which, frustratingly, we UK dwellers can't watch), Guillermo del Toro explains that the Jaeger pilots are linked directly to the robots via a neural link in their spines - illustrated, perhaps, in those brief scenes where we see glowing holographic brains and metal shims moving around on the pilots' backs.

Idris Elba

Idris Elba has already appeared in several big-budget movies in his career so far, including Thor and this year's Ghost Rider sequel. Most recently, he appeared in Prometheus, playing an accordion-playing ship captain in Ridley Scott’s uneven space adventure, which didn’t exactly provide the best showcase for his considerable talents.

We like to think that Pacific Rim will see him put to better use, and the signs in the trailer are promising: “Today we are cancelling the apocalypse!" is easily the most memorable of the trailer's few lines, after all, and marks Elba out as this film's version of Bill Pullman's president in Independence Day.

Elba, of course, isn't the only great actor in Pacific Rim. We also have Ron Perlman, Charlie Hunnam (perhaps best known as Jax in Sons Of Anarchy) and Rinko Kikuchi (Babel, Norwegian Wood).

The cake is a lie

One of the most familiar voices in the trailer - other than Elba, of course - is that of Ellen McLain. Best known as the voice of GLaDOS in Portal, she lends her talents to the voice of the Jaeger computers in Pacific Rim, and with her every utterance given the same pitch-shifted vocal melody so many of us recognise from Valve's hit games. The idea, clearly, is to give videogame fans a jolt of geeky recognition - and it works.

Fighting

The trailer concludes with brief shots of huge robot-versus-monster battles at sea, and a hint of something happening somewhere icy, too. These are, of course, little more than a tease - a taste of the final film's tone and pace. It's also likely that what we've seen of those giant monsters is just a taster of the colossal beasts to come.

"I wanted very much to show the scale," del Toro said in his commentary (as transcribed over at MTV). "The whole movie is about scale. Literally, there are set pieces that are impossibly big. I wanted very much to have this image to show you what the tip of a nail of a Kaiju looks like."

The tip of the iceberg

As reactions to the trailer began to flow in on Twitter, the consensus appeared to be: it looks a bit less like a Guillermo del Toro film than we were expecting. One or two have even said that it looks as though Michael Bay directed it. This is probably a bit harsh. Lest we forget, trailers are more a marketing tool than a proper indication of a film’s content. So while there’s not a huge amount of del Toro’s quirky sensibility in evidence - with the editors of the trailer choosing the biggest, most eye-catching snippets from various action and disaster sequences - that doesn’t mean there won’t be plenty of character and great visual storytelling in the finished film.

Besides, there are snippets here and there of del Toro's imagination if we look closely - that opening shot, filmed at the height and perspective of a little girl, is a typical del Toro trapping - this shot apparently comes from a flashback to Rinko Kikuchi's character's childhood.

The trailer may be unusual, in fact, in that it doesn't give away huge chunks of what happens in the final film. Del Toro has even hinted that, at some point, Pacific Rim's protagonists delve into the undersea portal, and we get to see the giant monsters' home - something which could look spectacular, and is wisely under wraps, for now at least.

There's also that glimpse of a giant monster carcass stretched over a battered aircraft carrier - whatever you thought of the Inception style parps and Transformers-esque mecha combat, that’s the kind of eye-catching idea we wouldn’t necessarily associate with action and disaster merchants Roland Emmerich or Michael Bay.

Del Toro has frequently spoken of Pacific Rim being a labour of love, and designed to tap into the kind of awe so many of us felt when watching things like Godzilla, Mazinger Z or Star Fleet when we were growing up. The first trailer may leave many things unanswered, but it's at least a promising taste of big things to come.

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