Examining Atlantic Rim, the perfect primer for Pacific Rim

Atlantic Rim may be a cheap, DVD imitation of Pacific Rim, but it also works remarkably well as an unofficial prequel, Ryan writes...

History is full of uncanny coincidences. Mark Twain was born on the day Halley’s Comet swung by Earth in 1835, and died when it hurtled around again in 1910. The writer Morgan Robertson wrote a book about the sinking of a huge ocean-going liner 14 years before the Titanic collided with an iceberg in 1912. And by an uncanny twist of fate, last month saw the release of Atlantic Rim, which appears to have anticipated Guillermo del Toro’s giant-robots-versus-giant-monsters flick Pacific Rim by several weeks.

American film studio The Asylum has a spooky knack of releasing its own similarly-named film just before a major blockbuster. Transmorphers appeared just before Transformers in 2007. I Am Omega appeared at around the time of I Am Legend. Other offerings from the studio include Sunday School Musical, Princess Of Mars (which anticipated John Carter, and probably made more money, dollar for dollar), Almighty Thor, Clash Of The Empires, Rise Of The Zombies and Alien Origin.

The Asylum’s powers of divination are such that we can only assume the studio has a necromancer locked in a basement somewhere in California, whose sole task is to stare into a scrying mirror and predict what Hollywood’s going to make next.

This would explain how the studio’s managed to make Atlantic Rim – a film that not only has a similar title to Pacific Rim, but also a remarkably similar plot. Gigantic reptilian monsters are bubbling up from the floor of the Atlantic, and menacing the world’s oil rigs and major cities. Fortunately, NASA’s Dr Margaret Adams has been secretly building equally large robots,  which are sent into the fray to defend civilisation. 

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The pilots of these metal behemoths are Red (former Baywatch chap David Chokachi), Jim (former Naughty by Nature rapper Treach) and Tracy (former model Jackie Moore). Red is the maverick type, who has a tendency to get drunk and pick fights with people standing around and chatting on their phones in the street. Jim’s the kind, sensitive member of the team, who saves children from burning buildings and does voluntary work for the Red Cross when he isn’t thundering about in his giant robot. Tracy, is tough, brave, and is for some reason torn between her affection for the virtuous, kind-hearted Jim and the faintly sociopathic Red.

Films from The Asylum are rarely noted for their starry casts, yet Atlantic Rim features no less a talent than Graham Greene. Oscar-nominated for his performance as Kicking Bird in Dances With Wolves, Greene has starred in Die Hard With A Vengeance, The Green Mile, and dozens of television shows, including this year’s SyFy series, Defiance.

Greene plays Admiral Hadley, a military man whose job primarily involves staring at graphs on a flat panel screen and huffing grumpily. I think it’s fair to say that Hadley isn’t Greene’s finest dramatic creation; at times, it genuinely seems as though he’s being paid by the hour, as he murmurs through his lines in a hurried monotone, like a dispirited horse race commentator. 

Then again, Asylum movies are known for their rushed productions. According to the studio’s Wikipedia page, an average movie takes them about four months from beginning to end, with the crew rattling through about a dozen pages of script per day during filming. As a result, everything about Atlantic Rim has a rather quaint, handmade feel, like Michael Bay attempting to make one of his blockbusters with a local amateur dramatics troupe.

Everyone involved in the production rolls their sleeves up and plays more than one role, so you’ll see the director don a helmet and make a cameo appearance as a fighter pilot, while the chap who does the motion capture for the robots also appears as a paramedic in one scene. The acting’s earnest, the script’s hilarious (“That man’s a wild card. I’m gonna have his head for a trophy on my wall”), the special effects are a bit Discovery Channel circa 1998, and the ending’s pilfered from The Avengers.

Some scenes are pure comedy gold. At one point, one of our heroes is stuck in a locked room. His compatriots are outside, panicking about how impregnable the door is and how they can’t possibly get their friend out without a key. Hilariously, the door is clearly made of thin wood, and wobbles whenever an actor touches it. It’s later revealed that the door can be unlocked by hitting it a few times with a hammer.

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While it’s easy to poke fun at the rough edges, it has to be said that Atlantic Rim has its own quirky charm. Everyone involved appears to be having a thoroughly good time – well, apart from Graham Greene, who looks like he just wants to go home and read the paper – and William Shannon Williams is good value as the villainous Captain Dager, who wears an eye patch, looks angry enough to explode and spends the entire time ranting about nuclear missiles. 

Either through coincidence or those uncanny necromantic powers we theorised about earlier, Atlantic Rim actually makes for a perfectly enjoyable primer for Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim. With del Toro’s film picking up years after his giant Kaiju monsters have already invaded, Atlantic Rim could even be regarded as its unofficial prequel, made by squirrels out of plastic cups and bits of string.

The rather rudimentary robot models could be put down to the fact that they’re earlier versions of the better-looking, more powerful mecha in Pacific Rim. The monsters might look a bit scrawny and weird (they even have googly eyes, bless them), but that’s just because they’re younger, less evolved versions of the ones that appear in del Toro’s movie.

Having seen both, we can safely say that comparing Atlantic Rim to Pacific Rim is like comparing an F-15 Strike Eagle to a hang glider – Pacific Rim is simply superior in every respect. But while Atlantic Rim may be woefully cheap, it’s also exceedingly cheerful. Our suggestion? Get hold of a copy, and watch it just before you head to the cinema to watch Pacific Rim for the perfect modern kaiju double-bill.

Atlantic Rim is out on DVD now. Pacific Rim opens in UK cinemas on the 12th July.

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