The James Clayton Column: Guillermo del Toro's great monster battles
The launch of Pacific Rim gets James Clayton thinking about other potential giant-vs-giant movies. Guillermo Del Toro vs Elder Gods, anyone?
I like Guillermo del Toro. I like kaiju monsters. I like robots and high-tech AI contraptions. I like it when giant robo-contraptions fight giant kaiju monsters for cinematic sci-fi fantasy battles (these occasions are too rare). Add 'em all together and it equals something awesome that's of great interest to me. I like Pacific Rim a lot.
At the time of writing I haven't seen the movie. I don't need to see it to know I love it. I haven't even watched a trailer or looked at any screenshots from the fresh rock'emsock'embuster aside from a few that decorated a single print feature article, and I only read that because it was written by the director himself. I'm trying to go in cold and eschew spoilers and expectations but even in my ignorance I'm already over-excited.
Pacific Rim became one of my favourite films of the year - and possibly the decade - the moment I first heard about its concept. In brief summary, this is a film in which massive alien aggressors are streaming through an interdimensional portal in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. A ragtag band of humans pilot mega mecha weapons called Jaegers and act as Earth's defence against their attacks. It's all-out war between tech-titans and otherworldly monsters and not much else needs to be said about this thing. It's an instant "Oh my Godzilla! Yes! Just give me this damn movie!" followed by hyperventilating and possibly bodily fluids.
The minds behind this supreme beast should be placed on a 50-foot-high podium in a well-lit public place so the masses can actively worship their imaginative faculties and exalt them with due reverential awe. Screenwriter Travis Beacham spawned the story, and the other mind in the matter, of course, belongs to director del Toro. Even more than the pure idea of Pacific Rim, he is the most critical factor in my advance enthusiasm for this flick, and it's the auteur's beautiful heart rather than his beautiful brain that is in fact the key.
It's true that if you got me in a game of Word Association or put me through the psychological phrase test that MI6 run on 007 in Skyfall and said "Guillermo del Toro", "beautiful" would be the first thing to pop into my head. I believe that he is the most beautiful soul in modern moviemaking, and the world is a better place as long as he exists and gets to produce motion pictures.
Pacific Rim is one of the most enticing releases of recent years, simply because it's a del Toro passion project and six years of waiting has tried my patience. (The last film he directed was 2008's Hellboy II: The Golden Army.) After the frustrating, time-consuming hassles of The Hobbit (handed back to Peter Jackson) and At The Mountains Of Madness (the Shoggoths shelved by the studio) the lovable Mexican is back in full control and in the cockpit driving a major film feature that is absolutely his baby.
Pacific Rim is informed by del Toro's infamous love of monsters, and draws on a childhood spent voraciously watching lucha libre wrestling and imported Japanese tokusatsu features. It's a work with a highly personal aspect to it and that's appealing because, once again, del Toro is a highly appealing person.
In a sometimes dark sphere of woe, despair and cynicism, he shines as a gleeful ball of radiant enthusiasm and positive energy. His charming vigour and zest is infectious and you rarely see the man without a massive smile on his chops. Del Toro is an ingenious creator who always delivers stylish entertainment with sophisticated nuances and flourishes of humour and humanism without fail. Aside from his artistic output, he always impresses me as an immense personality who wears his geekstreak proudly and powers on in spite of any resistance with undiminished gusto.
I just want to hug the big guy, and would happily spend hours in his company listening to the great garrulous one gushing about his unconditional love for horror fiction, fairytales and monsters. I share those affections and in the build-up to Pacific Rim I've been thinking about kaiju features and appreciating just how wonderful the tradition is.
I've simultaneously been reflecting on del Toro's larger-than-life persona, and in a fever dream ended up picturing the Mexican director becoming physically larger-than-life as well, ultimately morphing into a mighty kaiju himself. I've got visions of the Pan's Labyrinth and Hellboy helmer, an even bigger grin on his face, thrashing his way through Tokyo or New York City on his way to rumble with another extraordinary giant for the entertainment of amazed spectators.
Pacific Rim's arrival reminds me that this is the sort of action I want to see in cinemas, and I'm pretty certain that Guillermo would be game on for it. It doesn't matter that del Toro is a pacifist unlikely ever to get into a fight, because we're in the realms of fantastical fan-fiction and cinematic suspension of disbelief here. What's more, all these huge conflicts featuring the Mexican director - now taller than skyscrapers after prolonged exposure to radioactive substances from outer space - will be achieved by special effects and filming with miniatures. No real cities, animals or supernatural beings were harmed in the making of these imaginary films.
Here are a few pitches for del Toro-starring rock'emsock'embusters that might make ideal B-reels to roll before screenings of Pacific Rim. They are ridiculous flights of fancy but I hope they help you remember a few essential things - namely how great Guillermo del Toro is, how great movie monsters are and how great it is that the inspired combination of the two has occurred for one of the most exciting original summer blockbuster prospects in living memory...
Guillermo del Toro vs Nacho Libre
It's the ultimate Mexican wrestling event as the nation's two most lovable silver screen personalities put on masks and stretchy pants before eating radioactive corn that increases their size and strength. Jack Black's Brother Ignacio (also known as Nacho Libre) and Guillermo "El Toro" del Toro get it on and engage in an epic lucha libre tussle that consequently reduces the entire city of Oaxaca to rubble. In the end though the happy-go-plucky pair call a truce and combine as a tagteam to take down a pair of particularly vicious hairy dwarfs and then El Diablo himself because tonight's fight requires a religious moral message.
Guillermo del Toro vs Vampires
In my mind del Toro is ideal casting for the role of Professor Abraham Van Helsing. With no fresh Dracula adaptations seemingly agreeing, I'll settle for any flick in which the director gets to battle bloodsuckers and I can see him fronting a Pacific Rim-esque feature in which giant Nosferatus rise from the grave to test his vampire-slaying skills. Perhaps the colossal demon boss could be Hudson Abadeer (Marceline's dad and Evil Lord of the Nightosphere) from the Adventure Time cartoon series.
Guillermo del Toro vs Ice Penguin Monster Gunter
Alternatively, the cinematic Adventure Time cinematic spin-off I crave almost as much as I'm craving Pacific Rim could be built around Gunter, the Ice King's penguin minion. Draw up the horror film auteur as an animated gladiator-cum-shapeshifter demon and pit him against the leviathan composed of Gunters (the 'Ice Penguin Monster') and we have a pop-cultural crossover cartoon kaiju clash par excellence. If I've completely lost you and you're sceptical about this madness, just picture del Toro slapping penguins. It's one of the best mental images you'll have today.
Guillermo del Toro vs The Industry Suits
It's revenge for all those times where studios have interfered, exasperated or exerted restrictive control freakery on his creative genius as del Toro rampages through Los Angeles and, breathing atomic fire, burns all the Hollywood hacks and soul-sucking execs alive. Then he frees Orson Welles from a hidden cryo-chamber, reanimates his forlorn dead form and together the larger-than-life auteurs trip off to tour Europe where they will collaborate on 'Citizen Kane meets Hellboy at the Alpine Mountains of Madness' in defiance of the Dark Forces within the film industry.
Guillermo del Toro vs the Elder Gods
If we can't have a Lovecraftian blockbuster in the form of At The Mountains Of Madness, the least we deserve is a B-movie battle on the Antarctic ice between the director and the eldritch entities of the Cthulhu mythos. Del Toro finally gets to show off (and fend off) those unfathomable dread tentacles and modern cinema audiences get a polar cosmic horror trip that rivals John Carpenter's The Thing in traumatic visceral intensity.
Guillermo del Toro vs Guillermo del Toro
In the style of arcade beat 'em up videogames, 'del Toro Player 2' will be wearing a different coloured outfit. It's guaranteed that Guillermo del Toro - the cheery hero and eternal virtuous champion - will win.
To get another del Toro we'll have to clone him. If the possibility of producing even more exists then we may as well go all out and raise a Golden Army of Mega-Guillermos. The more del Toro and, indeed, the more monsters the merrier. Pacific Rim is here offering them to us. I like this film a lot.
James Clayton is desperate for a role as a Jaeger pilot in Pacific Rim 2 because wants to pilot a giant mecha, wrestle with monsters and get close enough to Guillermo del Toro to hug him, big lovable genius that he is.
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