Inter-dimensional aliens push humungous monsters onto Earth’s surface who face off against the preposterous arsenal of mankind’s technical superiority: Robotic Jaegers. Monuments to the absurd, these metal goliaths enter fisticuffs of record setting scale against these otherworldly beasties known as kaiju. Pacific Rim is unapologetic for its cinema conquering nonsense, inhabiting a world of 3D stimuli so tremendous as to be insulting to any prior visual effect extravaganzas.
Pacific Rim is a blitz of metal on flesh contact with human-controlled machines launched into service as oceanside creature attacks intensify in numbers. Superstar pilots slip into electronic gadgets, meld their minds, and run over kaiju with their combined brainpower. Soldiers are here to save lives as often as they “accidentally” crumble Earth’s civilian structures.
So appreciable is Pacific Rim’s density with regards to computer rendered sequences, it turns a blind eye toward its often pace-stifling character development. With San Francisco decimated in mere seconds past Warner Bros. splash logos, the following hour of character driven storytelling seems muted in comparison. Led by Releigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) and the intensified Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), human level Jaeger squadrons suffocate the spectacle in an exchange for dry monologues, all tied into mind-driven operation of the human-esque robots.
Nowhere is character more devastating than an obnoxiously perky monster enthusiast doctor, Newton Geizler (Charlie Day), a screechy loudmouth who oversaturates 2013’s summer movie quota for humor. Geizler deals in thinly driven exposition with an equally dopey (albeit fun) kaiju parts dealer, Hannibal Chau (Ron Pearlman), running straight through pacing’s heart for an infuriatingly cheeky sub section Pacific Rim never blends or capitalizes on. They exist because the blockbuster says they must.
But, spin up the nuclear engines as another critter bursts from below the surface to catapult onto visually arresting cityscapes. All is forgiven. Geizler and Chau are mere remnants amidst the dizzying light show of Hong Kong, 3Dsploitation at its pinnacle, and a direct slap in the face to anyone who dismissed its purpose within the medium. These digital cities burst from the overburdened computer animation studios to create screen leveling conflict. Even with dizzying camera angles, rain, and moonlight, little is lost. Clean editing of effects elements keep a headstrong charge as its superiority winks at the lens.
Add a masterpiece of a grizzled score from Ramin Djawadi, a rare instance of true modern theme work, and Pacific Rim refuses to let go. Blending motifs of energized video game scores and shifting to orchestrated, four note dread for kaiju, Djawadi’s work is stirring. This is more than a critical roller coaster, but a genuine splash of genre appreciation, filled with celebratory tropes paying respectful homage to every era and type of giant monster spectacle.
Pacific Rim takes itself somewhat seriously, if inconsistently so. The appeal is planted in the motorized hearts of bipedal robots which may as well be designed in humanity’s own form, because why not? There is weight to this grandiose artistry, the aquatic struggles playing host to battered heroes forced into sacrifice to save civilization. At times, Pacific Rim is in full realization of its spectacular existence, letting warfare play out until all of the scientific dialog and emotions crumble the edges.
Del Toro shoots digitally, which seems wholly appropriate considering how central visual effects are in the film. Source material, combined with Warner’s invisible AVC encoding, pump out incredible levels of clarity, if not fidelity. There is distinct separation between the overwhelming intensity of Jaeger/kaiju wars and human scale chatter visually, beyond degrees of awe. Computer generated effects are clearer, heightened, and less afflicted by punishing levels of black crush, which is disrespectful to the existence of shadow detail.
Pacific Rim is darkened, coated in black and then digitally tweaked to add more black. This dominating and unflinching look never once deviates to lessen depth, crushing out corners, bodies, and hair as it sees fit to enter into a holding pattern of low light. Pacific Rim is nuked into a default torch mode of its own doing. If it is an attempt to mirror Jaeger battles, it fails, as despite nearly all of those being set at night, careful application allows perfectionism in shadows. Definition is not only precise, it could well stand out at home better than theatrical presentations. Loss of visual scale reigns in fine detail, and an appreciation for such.
This is hardly all negative, Del Toro’s film still a producer of image density and superlative texture work. Close-ups, when not suffering from softness due to desired lens work, carry appreciable sharpness. Uniforms and suits, especially those of Jaeger pilots (the all black suits are dazzling), are plump with textural qualities. Ocean waves are stunningly generated for miles. So too are cities, rain soaked or not, especially those Hong Kong streets coated in neons.
Pacific Rim’s final weapon is a wash of digitally corrected color, splashing otherwise tired, futuristic holographic displays with tri-color effects to ensure hypnotizing glares. Flesh tones are covered in depth, not overdone or lost to orange, but breathing naturally. Kaiju glow and Jaegers spew fire, adding to an already high level overdose of content saturation. Again, in Hong Kong, on those city streets, these elements rush to combine into a premier demonstration sequence of color, black levels, and all around detail. The sequence trumps anything distributed by Michael Bay or Marvel in terms of raw, unflinching HD insanity.
Post converted into 3D, Pacific Rim shows some signs of the process, notably flatness to human characters when not surrounded by additional elements. Certain scenes involving Ron Perlman/Charlie Day are especially prone. Floating computer monitors, Jaeger displays, and foreground/background objects perform admirably in distracting from the rather “meh” qualities. Since the film is overloaded with technical effects, most shots provide such aid.
That aside, this is a 3D powerhouse, a genuine avalanche of dizzying and beautiful effects which are crucial to Pacific Rim’s overall enjoyment. As Hunnam makes his return to the program, the sheer scale and enormity created inside the bay is marvelous. It is not the same without added depth, which adds visible distance for what feels like simulated miles. Looking upward, Jaegers reach the ceiling, hundreds of feet high, and it feels as such.
That sequence is but a mere primer for the eventual strikes in cities or underwater. While seemingly pushing against the technology with its darker cinematography, rain elements, splashing water, and beaming city lights add layers of 3D ambiance. Debris scatters flawlessly, and dynamic camera angles accentuate brute force. Streets are layered with buildings awaiting destruction, while helicopters pan across the frame to further bolster dimensionality. Pacific Rim scores a brownie point for its use of 3D tech in establishing a different visual scope, making the summer flick doubly (triply?) monstrous.
Enjoyment of Pacific Rim’s DTS-HD 7.1 monster (pun enjoyably and proudly intended) will be dictated by your stamina for humungous streaks of LFE, booming monster roars, and jet engine punches. Action scenes are utter audio delirium, motorized on bass intent on hammering home scale. There is no let up once the film injects itself into fight scenes. Most of the second hour asks the subwoofer to continuously draw power to spin electrical readers, as to make it difficult to discern what, exactly, the bass is trying to represent. Amidst a storm throwing thunder, missiles firing, footsteps, engines, and kaiju vocals, it could be signaling anything. Oh, the score too. While not lost, it certainly can sit behind the main action.
There is simply so much sound to take in, Pacific Rim becomes overwhelmingly aggressive. Every channel is put under stress tests, from dialog which echos around wall building job sites to quieter moments inside Jaeger holding areas, activity refuses to cease. The film itself offers a walloping layer of content to soak up, let alone added material within sound design. It is impossible to pick a singular scene to showcase because every ounce of brawling material is worthy. Some may raise themselves over others, say underwater fisticuffs during the finale with the rush of the ocean adding another layer, along with a nuke set off, as if Pacific Rim needed something else to gloat about sonically.
Design is so clustered and manic as to make it difficult to appreciate. Mixing work is stupendous, generating a wall of sound that could, potentially, stop a kaiju if it had to. There is a lot to admire, but finding those special crowning pieces is almost impossible in the fray. If the MPAA rated audio, they’d assign Pacific Rim a PG-13 for scenes of audio terror, foundation rattling LFE, and mild agitation. Listener discretion is advised.
Spanning two discs, bonus supplements find themselves in a mixture of superlative and damningly stupid. Joined with the film, Guillermo Del Toro runs through the feature with his accented commentary, followed up with an hour of focus points. Topics range from creature design to inspiration and visual effect styles. Treat it as one piece, and you will find a deep, satisfying semi-documentary.
Disc two contains the ludicrous Director’s Notebook, a slow moving, barely labeled series of featurettes, photos, and more, jammed into virtual pages which take ages to load between short clips. These features are inaccessible elsewhere, and hardly seem worth the effort to dig up despite an abundance of content.
Drift Space is an excellent story extender, running through memory links to pick out characters and events while explaining their significance. Digital Artistry explores visual effect creation for 17 minutes, followed by four deleted scenes and short blooper reel. Finally, there is the Shatterdome, a collection of pre-visualiation for everything from cities, to pilots, to kaiju. It’s fun working through, certainly more so than the idiocy of the Notebook feature.
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