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Revisiting "Pacific Rim"

Damn, Pacific Rim is a fun movie.

I tangentially wrote about it in a couple of posts way back when this blog was new and I wasn't really sure what I was doing with it.  Looking back, I see that although I kind of mentioned that it was a fun movie, I didn't do it justice.

Since I understand that a sequel is (supposed to be) in the works and it could use all the support it can get, I wanted to take this time to say: I love Pacific Rim and can't wait for another one.

I re-watched the movie on Father's Day and I was amazed at how well it held up on my TV.  Giant robots fighting giant sea monsters is a great premise, but you can easily see how it might fail when transitioning from a huge movie theater with giant speakers to a small screen with barely-stereo.  Pacific Rim works because it doesn't settle for spectacle - it thrives on crazy ideas and a familiar-yet-foreign universe.

I loved it so much more watching it the second time around.  There were things that I thought were weak when I first saw it, like the principal protagonists.  But looking at it again, I thought those characters were handled well and were fascinating enough to carry the movie forward.  Whatever flaws I thought the movie had before are incredibly minor now.

The only downside is that you just don't get enough.  This is one of the few times I would defend a movie for being three hours long - there's so much stuff that looks exciting, but it gets glossed over to keep the movie at a tidy 120 minutes.  (Crimson Typhoon and the triplets who pilot it are only in the movie for, what, five minutes?  That's barely enough to register that their jaeger has a third arm.  Dude - a three-armed giant robot.  Why wouldn't you give us more time with that?)

It is a surprisingly compact movie.  As if to prove a point, there's only three fight scenes involving the jaegers.  There's the abbreviated one in the beginning to establish the back story of Gipsy Danger.  Then there's the amazing one in Hong Kong in the middle of the movie.  Then there's the final one that's cool, but not as cool, at the bottom of the ocean.  It seems sparse given the premise, but it's also just enough that it doesn't wear out its welcome.

When you break the movie out in terms of run time and momentum and rising action and all that, you come to realize that the vast majority of the movie is structured around that incredible fight sequence in Hong Kong.  For example, the interpersonal conflict between the jaeger pilots builds up prior to the HK fight and has a soft resolution once the Australian guys have to stand down, then cheer on Gipsy Danger.  The side plot with the scientists culminates and their interpersonal conflict resolves around the kaiju that is killed in the street.  The tension between the two protagonists and the doubt surrounding their partnership is put to rest when Gipsy Danger comes online.  And so on.

I suspect that the original version of the movie was going to end after the Hong Kong battle and that the stuff at the bottom of the ocean was being saved for a possible sequel.  With just a tiny bit of tinkering, you can work it out so that Crimson Typhoon and Cherno Alpha get more screen time, and then Striker Eureka powers back up so there's a more satisfying "let's team up" moment when they fight alongside Gipsy Danger.  The resolution of the movie would not be, "We sealed the portal," but rather, "We convinced the UN to re-fund the jaeger program instead of that wall project that failed."  (The funding issue drives the odds against the protagonists, yet it gets so little attention - seems to me that it was meant to be a bigger deal at one point and got cut down.)  If you make the HK fight the climax, you're more naturally set up for a sequel.

This is ironic.  I'm normally the guy who bitches about movies being bloated and not wrapping things up, and here I am wishing they turned Pacific Rim into more of an Act I instead of tying down all the loose ends.  I guess I'm just worried about how they'll handle the sequel - where do you go if you've definitively sealed the portal that the kaiju are coming from?

One last thing I wanted to gush about and then I'll stop for today.  And yes, it's about the Hong Kong fight scene again.

This entire sequence should be shown to every action movie writer/director to use as a reference for the term "rising action."  It perfectly nails the concept.  Look at how it progresses:

(Spoilers ahead.  I know I already spoiled some stuff in a general sense, but this is more specific.)

1) We learn that the jaeger fleet, which has already been reduced to a scant four robots, has lost Gipsy Danger due to the pilots' compatibility issues.

2) The kaiju alert comes on, but this time, there's two of them.  (Dramatic music.)

3) The kaiju destroy two of the remaining three jaegers - ohmygod the odds are stacking up!

4) The last jaeger powers down when the kaiju deploys an EMP wave - ohholycrap what are we going to do?

5) One kaiju goes downtown and starts wreaking havoc - ohgodallhopeislost!

6) Gipsy Danger is deployed.  (Cool pose / dramatic music.)

7) Gipsy Danger fights in increasingly awesome ways - it starts with robot punching, then brings out a giant robot gun, and then tops it off by picking up a tanker and swinging it like a baseball bat.  (OHMYGOD THAT'S AMAZING!)

8) Not to be outdone, the kaiju sprouts wings out of nowhere and carries Gipsy Danger off into outer space.

9) Gipsy Danger reveals it has a giant robot sword and cuts the kaiju in half jesuschristwheredidthatswordcomefrom ILOVETHISMOVIE!

Each step successfully outdoes the tension and awesomeness of the moment immediately before it.  And yet, somehow, there's no point in the escalation where it goes too far.  Everything makes sense in context and it just gets better as it goes on.

Pacific Rim is one of those movies that makes me feel giddy and childlike.  I'm so onboard with a sequel that I want to start campaigning for it now.  I guess I found a new fandom.