In the brief running time afforded by a typical trailer, Pacific Rim might be reduced to the broad strokes of its Earth vs. The Monsters story line, a couple of concessions to character and lots and lots of that lovely Jaeger-on-Kaiju action.
But if you were to take this same content in the same ratio and expand it to an hour and a half or so, the whole thing would just fall apart. There's only so far you can go with skyscraper-sized brawling before you need to prop up the behemoths on something more substantial.
Warner Bros. recently held a preview screening for the remainder of their slate for the year and taking top billing was a compilation of three scenes from Pacific Rim, adding up to almost fifteen minutes in total. This was a good opportunity to show more than just the instantly readable "big imagery" from the film, go beyond the 25-storeys tall punch ups and give us a real idea of what Guillermo Del Toro has been working on.
And Del Toro knew this. Before the clips got going, the director appeared in a Sorry I Can't Be There video, explaining how he had personally chosen these particular scenes to flesh out our ideas of what Pacific Rim is really about, and to reveal how it will really look and feel. Del Toro knew he was going to turn us into ambassadors for the film, people who could pass on word that while the film was going to deliver on all of the apocalyptic action in the trailers, the content and quality certainly don't stop there.
And having seen what I did, I'm happy to oblige. I won't know if they've really pulled it off fully until I see the whole film, but for now, I'm more excited about Pacific Rim than anything else the studios have set for summer release.
The first scene selected was a montage sequence with voice over, apparently from very early in the film. Charlie Hunnam as Raleigh Becket, one of our two lead Jaeger pilots, talked us through the most basic backstory: giant monsters came from an interdimensional rift under the ocean, the military quickly learned that they'd have to give these beasts somebody their own size to pick on, and by using giant Jaeger robots we turned the tide, fought back and kept the beasts at bay.
But there were all kinds of repercussions. People died, of course, and in large numbers. At the same time, Jaeger pilots became rock stars. Living in the shadow of the Kaiju twisted up our culture, all the way down to the pop ephemera. This is a world where kids watch Saturday morning cartoons about Kaiju smackdowns and buy Jaeger action figures, dreaming of becoming one of the planet's elite defenders.
The world sketched out in this sequence was one full of threat and danger, with beasts that come impossibly and unpredictably from the beyond. But we saw that these beasts can always be despatched, normally pretty safely and at minimum cost.
At least, that was the case. Now, as the film's story is beginning in earnest, Earth's defences are on the back foot. The Kaiju have kept on coming, and they're starting to win battles again. What used to be easy is nearly impossible now. There are too many monsters, they're too big and too persistent.
But that's all still context. It was the next clip that gave the best idea of the actual, specific story that this movie will be telling and not just the world in takes place in.
Each of the Jaegers is piloted by two individuals – okay, with one exception where there's three. The pilots are linked through a mind-meld technique, a shared "headspace" that they're calling the drift. Screenwriter Travis Beacham had told me that this is, in fact, the central idea that makes this a story worth telling, then in this clip, I saw a hint of that for myself.
Raleigh Becket's co-pilot is Mako Mori, played by Rinko Kikuchi. We were thrown into one of their early missions, and pretty much right away, saw how a fixated Mori started to sink into her memories. They call it "chasing the rabbit." Like Alice, Mori was tumbling deeper and deeper into a dreamworld.
The scene played a little like one of the altered memories in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, with Mori appearing as she would have at the time and Becket intervening just as he is now, Jaeger control suit and all. Something a bit like little Jim Carrey hiding under the kitchen table with Kate Winslet coming around as the next door neighbour.
Mori was manifest as her young self, a little girl lost in Tokyo as a Kaiju lays waste to everything around her – indeed, everything and everyone. It becomes clear that Mori is trapped in this memory because it has great power over her; this is the moment that the Kaiju destroyed her family and her home, took her life and crumbled it to dust.
Del Toro has made it clear exactly when these monsters took on their most terrible meaning for Mori, a moment when the nightmare crystalised. A sequence of shots showed her running and scrambling with the great beast overshadowing her, then all of this waspaid off when the litle girl lost and all-destroying colossus came eye to eye.
Mori's point-of-view shot on the Kaiju was direct, huge and terrifying, but the narrative context, not to mention the audio, also imbued it with sadness.
Without spoiling the pay off, I want to tell you that this was an extremely effective scene. Nothing I've seen from Pacific Rim ever loaded my anticipations quite this much. If Del Toro has landed all of the key scenes as well as this one, his film will be very special indeed.
Finally we saw an excerpt from the film's climactic action sequence. Del Toro promised that this full battle is going to run for something over twenty minutes and move from sea to land to air and, ultimately, into space. We saw only some of the land sequence and while it seemed to be a multi-beastie fight, we were only shown Gipsy Danger, Becket and Mori's Jaegar, against a single Kaiju.
The action was all on an incredible scale, and we stayed, for the most part, "pulled out" to the Jaeger's point of view. At the same time, though, we were never allowed to forget the human-scale surroundings. At one point, the Kaiju tosses Gipsy Danger into traffic and the chaos felt real and scary.
The scene was regularly very brutal. Gipsy Danger fired up a plasma punch – at least that's what I'm calling it, I didn't catch a description in the dialogue – and kept landing this, again and again on the Kaiju's side. Blast by blast, the creature was getting its arm shot off. Messily. These guys weren't boxing by Queensberry rules but going full-on with the kind nail-in-a-plank fighting where ears get bitten off, eyes get gouged out, and skulls go squish like watermellons. It was all Old Testament donkey jawbone stuff.
So Pacific Rim seems to deliver on all of the action that make up the trailers, and clearly takes place in that amazing, elaborate sci-fi world we've been teased with. As more and more of the actual storyline comes to light, however, the more interesting it seems.
I think Del Toro and Beacham have ideas in mind that are even bigger than their battling robots. Here's hoping they've managed to join the dots cleanly.