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Blu-ray Review: Pacific Rim
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Pacific Rim

Pacific Rim
Blu-ray/DVD/Digital l DVD/Digital l Instant
Directed by Guillermo del Toro
Written by Travis Beacham and Guillermo del Toro
Starring Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Charlie Day, Ron Perlman, and Rinko Kikuchi
Warner Home Video
Release Date: October 15, 2013

The summer of 2013 will likely go down in history as one of the most schizophrenic moviegoing seasons of all time. The third installment of a superhero franchise avoided the creative traps that X-Men: The Last Stand, Spider-Man 3, and in a sense The Dark Knight Rises handily fell into. A Star Trek sequel four years in the making and with near-unlimited support from fans new and old and a massive budget turned out to be a lazy and uninspired quasi-remake of the greatest Trek feature of them all. Superman flew on the silver screen again in a much-touted reboot that was one-third a good movie and two-thirds a Zack Snyder movie. The funniest movies were R-rated comedies from both sides of the Atlantic Ocean about the end of the world starring predominantly male ensembles.

But most peculiar of all, this was the summer that a movie about giant monsters from another dimension emerged from the sea to enslave the human race only to be opposed in grand fashion by skyscraper-sized machine men powered by mentally-linked pilots co-written and directed by the acclaimed Mexican master of fantastic cinema Guillermo del Toro required a heavy dollop of grassroots support in order to avoid getting trounced too hard at the weekend box office by an insipid Adam Sandler sequel. Despite only making a quarter of its $407 million worldwide haul here in the States – and that’s including the 3D ticket sales – Pacific Rim struck a real nerve among lovers of science-fiction and fantasy movies of the past, and is believed by many to be not just one of summer’s most entertaining movies, but also one of the best movies released this year by far. Now del Toro’s splashy monster mash is available on Blu-ray so that audiences that missed out on seeing it on the big screen can experience the FX-enhanced mirth and mayhem in the comfort of their own homes.

Pacific Rim

British actor Charlie Hunnam, with only a handful of starring and supporting roles in a string of mediocre flicks and the popular FX action series Sons of Anarchy, was selected by del Toro to play Raleigh Becket, the forthright but haunted hero of Pacific Rim. Becket serves alongside his brother Yancy (Diego Klattenhoff) as a pilot in the Jaeger Program. The program consists of an armada of the aforementioned humanoid battle machines commissioned by the united governments of the world to combat the threat of gigantic beasts of great destructive power from out of the ocean nicknamed “Kaijus.” Each Jaeger requires two pilots joined together by a neurological link called “the Drift” that allows them to work as one fighting unit in combat. In the opening battle the Becket bros pilot their Jaeger “Gipsy Danger” to defend the Alaskan coast from the Kaiju designate “Knifehead” (a loving reference to Gamera foe Guiron maybe?). During the battle the Jaeger incurs heavy damage and Yancy is pulled from the machine’s cockpit by the monster and killed. Raleigh, still linked to his brother’s mind via the Drift, experiences Yancy’s every dying emotion. The tragedy devastates him enough to quit the Jaeger Program and seek out a new life working construction on one of a series of coastal walls that world leaders hope will work to protect their countries from further Kaiju assaults.

Pacific Rim

After a wall built in Sydney, Australia is torn down with relative ease like a cheap shower curtain Jaeger Program commander Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) prepares a last ditch initiative to strike at the interdimensional portal the Kaijus employ to cross over into our world with a massive nuclear weapon. The initially reluctant Raleigh is pressed back into service because let’s face it, getting behind the wheel of your own battlebot the size of the Burj Khalifa to whip the dog snot out of a 2500-ton slime beast from Hell sure beats wasting the world’s final years working on a useless high steel project. Becket is welcomed back to the Program with a mixture of appreciation and apprehension by his colleagues and flat-out vitriol by rival pilot Chuck Hansen (Robert Kazinsky), an young and arrogant Australian who operates the Jaeger fleet’s finest “Striker Eureka” with his more noble father Herc (Max Martini), a veteran of the Program who once served with Raleigh in the field. Pentecost’s adopted daughter and director of Jaeger refurbishment project Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) becomes the co-pilot of the rebuilt Gipsy Danger with Raleigh over the commander’s objections, but she must conquer the fear and heartbreak she has carried in her soul since the day she lost her entire family in a Kaiju attack in order for her and Raleigh to become a successful team.

That’s the A-plot of Pacific Rim. The B-plot concerns the efforts of the Jaeger Program’s eccentric scientific research team Drs. Newton Geiszler (Charlie Day) and Hermann Gottlieb (Burn Gorman) to figure out the true origins of the Kaijus and how to use that information to defeat the invaders once and for all. Geiszler conducts his own experiments into drifting with a portion of a Kaiju brain and comes away from them miraculously alive and with a new insight into this unusual enemy. In order to gain more useful intelligence Pentecost sends the wacko scientist to Hong Kong to secure a full Kaiju brain from Hannibal Chau (Ron Perlman), a black market purveyor of Kaiju organs with a secret inventory that makes Geiszler drool with geekish glee. This segment of the movie is the one that feels the most like an original creation of its director; the sets, props, and the mere presence of both Perlman (not to mention his character’s retina-scorching wardrobe, including a pair of wingtips sheathed in golden armor) and Spanish genre acting great Santiago Segura – whose past credits include Blade II, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, and the Álex de la Iglesia cult classics Acción mutante, El día de la Bestia, and Perdita Durango – are prime del Toro.

Pacific Rim

There are many moments like those that elevate Pacific Rim to something greater in scope and imagination than the Transformers-come-lately it could have been in lesser hands. At first when I heard that del Toro has signed on to direct Travis Beacham‘s screenplay following the collapse of his cherished dream project H.P. Lovecraft adaptation At the Mountains of Madness I feared the worst; had the gifted fantasist taken the Rim job out of the necessity to remain in the limelight and not be a permanent resident of Development Hell? His last movie as a director was Hellboy II, released five years ago and a modest success at the box office only when international grosses were taken into account. In the years since del Toro started to rival Quentin Tarantino in openly expressing his desire to make movies that never had a chance of coming to fruition. I trusted him enough to make Pacific Rim a terrific entertainment at least, but it wasn’t until I had the opportunity to revisit the film on this new Blu-ray that I finally began to understand what a personal and cathartic experience making it was for del Toro.

Pacific Rim

Pacific Rim is far, far more than your average mindless summer movie excitement, which suits me just fine. Hard to believe it now, but there actually used to be a time when big-budget studio films released during the sticky hot season could be smart, imaginative, and have amazing shelf lives beyond their initial theatrical release and still pack in the thrill-hungry crowds. Del Toro and Beacham (along with uncredited assists from Luther producer Neil Cross, Iron Man 3 scribe Drew Pearce, and the Saw/Feast/Piranha writing team of Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan) stripped the story to its true narrative essentials and did an amazing amount of successful world building in establishing the future Pacific Rim takes place in with an efficient prologue. Though a comic prequel does exist it hardly seems necessary.

Pacific Rim

The characters are uncomplicated yet rarely feel like archetypes kicking their heels while waiting for a better script. Del Toro and Beacham, along with the cast, define those characters through a few well-chosen lines of dialogue and some wonderfully expressive action and emotional beats. Charlie Hunnam saddles the bulk of dramatic water carrying and soldiers on bravely, making a better-than-capable hero despite being compelled to put on a shaky American accent. He serves as both hero and audience surrogate at times and is strongly identifiable for the emotional scars Raleigh has carried since being forced to experience his brother’s dying moments. The lingering memories of helplessly watching loved ones perish links him to his fellow lost soul Mako, played wonderfully by Rinko Kikuchi in a performance of raw emotion and quiet strength. Mako and Raleigh establish a strong relationship that defies conventionality; in a lesser movie their connection would be reduced to a bog-standard romance, but Pacific Rim is all the better for finding a better way to bring our haunted leads together in battle-ready harmony than a mere roll in the hay. The actors share a sweet chemistry that helps make their interactions feel honest.

Pacific Rim

Idris Elba is the man in charge. He is the Man. Better believe it, sucker. Elba has one of the most commanding presences in modern cinema, with charm and vulnerability to spare. He makes an amazing leader and true to Hollywood form even gets to deliver a rousing speech that surpasses schmaltzy cliche and sends shivers of inspiration up your spine. Charlie Day and Burn Gorman provide invaluable comic relief (and in a story this dark and often terrifying, we need all the relief we can get) as the resident science geeks whose battling interplay is an amusing counterpoint to Raleigh and Mako’s bonding, while Max Martini and Robert Kazinsky work well together as the father-and-son team of fighting Aussies piloting Striker Eureka. But while the majority of the cast holds up admirably in each other’s company it’s a very good thing that only Day had to share scenes with Ron Perlman, because as the most del Toro-esque character in Pacific Rim Perlman just blows everyone and everything off the screen every time he’s on. He merges mirth and menace with delicious glee and provides ample proof that the threat of the Kaijus often can’t compare to how lousy and greedy we human beings can get even if it’s achieved at the expense of someone’s life.

Pacific Rim

The visual effects work by Industrial Light & Magic is astounding and artfully integrated into the film thanks to some seamless and dazzling cinematography by the great Guillermo Navarro, who captures the intense beauty of the rain-soaked fortresses and bastions of humanity struggling to stay together in the face of extinction. Ramin Djawadi‘s propulsive music score is a feast for the senses, fusing some heavy electric guitar riffs with John Carpenter-style brooding electronic tones and some wild orchestral majesty that would not be out of place in Akira Ifukube’s classic Godzilla soundtracks. Frequent David Cronenberg collaborator Carol Spier was partly responsible (with Andrew Neskoromny) for the film’s elaborately-nuanced production design – a cross-genre marvel of artistic ingenuity and imagination.

Video

Yowza. Pacific Rim doesn’t just look amazing on Blu-ray, this is one of the most immaculate transfers I have ever watched. With its remarkable effects and detail-laded production design on full display here, the film’s 1080p high-definition presentation in its original 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio positively shines and shimmers with crystal clear visual resolution. Details are sharp and rich and the inventive color scheme will amaze and reduce you to tears. Grain is low but the level of texture has been preserved.

Audio

A movie like Pacific Rim needs an expansive audio track to match its awe-inspiring visuals and action, so its Blu-ray has come armed with five different channels to suit your home theater needs. Us English-speaking folk get a choice of DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 and Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks. Consumers with elaborate set-ups will treasure the 7.1 track as every line of dialogue comes through with perfect clarity, the propulsive soundtrack cranks up to joyous heights without causing noticeable distortion, and the impact of each punch and toppled building in the massive Jaeger-on-Kaiju battles royale can be felt in your very bones. If you have a basic television set and no separate speaker system then the 5.1 track will suit your needs just fine as it accomplishes everything the 7.1 does. Depending on the language you speak you will get the same results from the French, Spanish, and Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks. English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese subtitles have also been provided.

Special Features

Warners’ Blu-ray release of Pacific Rim is bursting at the seams with a wide array of in-depth bonus features spread across two 50GB Blu-ray discs. Best in show is a solo audio commentary with director del Toro that accompanies the main feature. If you have ever had the pleasure of listening to a del Toro chat track then you know exactly what to expect here. The filmmaker never runs out of interesting things to say about his blockbuster, from the characters and themes to the inspiration for the Kaijus and Jaegers and the various movies, television series, and comic books that inspired the film’s eclectic visual style. Del Toro’s passion for the material is so infectious that you may find yourself unable to switch off the commentary even when the action ramps up. It is simply that good.

The first disc also comes with fourteen Focus Points featurettes (62 minutes) that cover an assortment of topics related to the making of Pacific Rim in brief but with lots of fascinating info shared:

A Film by Guillermo del Toro (5 minutes) features interviews with the cast and crew as they speak highly of working with their noble director; A Primer on Kaijus & Jaegers (4 minutes) talks about the influence of Japanese monster movies on the film; Intricacy of Robot Design (5 minutes) focuses on the design and creation of the Jaegers; Honoring the Kaiju Tradition (4 minutes) looks at how del Toro and his creative team took great pains to come up with original-looking Kaiju beasts for the heroes of Pacific Rim to battle that would honor the designs of the classic Japanese celluloid monsters while avoiding inadvertent homages; The Importance of Mass and Scale (6 minutes) shows us how the designers and effects artists gave size, texture, and detail to the Jaegers and Kaijus; Shatterdome Ranger Roll Call (6 minutes) breaks down the various human characters and how they were further developed beyond the written page through the right casting and fleshing out their relationships.

Jaegers Echo Human Grace (4 minutes) provides the viewers with an inside look at the physical training the actors playing Jaeger pilots had to go through prior to the start of filming; Inside the Drift (5 minutes) dissects the scenes set inside the drift, from their initial conception to principal photography; Goth-Tech (5 minutes) is devoted to the stylistic melding of gothic and futuristic visual motifs that resulted in the bleak, lived-in look of the sets; Mega Sized Sets (9 minutes) focuses on filming on massive physical sets that were later enhanced and enlarged in post-production with digital effects; Baby Kaiju Set Visit (3 minutes) and Tokyo Alley Set Visit (3 minutes) both give us quick glimpses of the filming of crucial scenes; and finally, Orchestral Sounds from the Anteverse (4 minutes) is dedicated to the creation of Ramin Djawadi’s memorable music score.

A trailer for the upcoming fantasy-adventure Seventh Son plays automatically when you load the first disc.

The second disc kicks off with the set’s second best supplement, The Director’s Notebook. This has been a common feature on del Toro DVDs and Blus in the past, but you have never experienced it quite like this. Warners has sprang for making this sucker fully interactive; as you make your way through pages and pages of del Toro’s eye-popping conceptual artwork you are offered the chance to read his notes translated from Spanish to English and even watch a host of short video featurettes relating to particular sketches. What could have been a nifty still gallery feature becomes a completely immersive tour through a great filmmaker’s fertile imagination, and you are guaranteed to spend at least a few hours on this feature.

Drift Space (5 minutes) takes several of the drift sequences from Pacific Rim and slows them down to allow the viewer to drink in the details and read text back stories for the characters portrayed in these scenes. Watching this will not add to or detract from your enjoyment of the film, but it is nice to get some additional detail on characters who come off as slightly beyond two-dimensional on screen. The Digital Artistry of Pacific Rim (17 minutes) is an in-depth look at the creation of the digital effects. The Shatterdome collects a large array of video and still galleries with concept art, storyboards, and Jaeger and Kaiju designs.

Four deleted scenes (4 minutes) are provided and what was cut from the final movie was primarily superfluous, but one scene between the Hansen men adds complexity to their relationship and could have remained in with no complaint from me. The extras selection closes out with a blooper reel (4 minutes).

Also included in this combo pack is a DVD copy with a standard-definition presentation of the movie, as well as an Ultraviolet code.

Last Words

Accept no substitutes. Pacific Rim is the no-holds-barred rousing blockbuster entertainment champ of the year, and one of the finest original cinematic rollercoaster rides of recent memory. With a first-rate audio and video presentation and an arsenal of entertaining and illuminating bonus features this Blu-ray is an absolute must for fans of classic monster movies and sci-fi adventures. Well done, Mr. del Toro.

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