Craig Stephen Cooper

Author and Engineer

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How to Fix It: Pacific Rim

Posted by Craig on March 13, 2014 at 7:05 AM

 

 

 

I actually saw this movie ages ago, and when I did, I didn't dislike it. I did see many issues with it, and saw huge areas for improvement. At the same time, I thought it introduced a many great new ideas into the mecha genre that weren't really picked up on by other anime.


That's not a mistake. I call Pacific Rim an anime, because it is. So what if it's in English and live-action? It's an anime.


So without any further ado, let me get into my long-in-the-making rant about where Pacific Rim stuffed up, and how to fix it.


What they did right:


1. The Antagonists


I am increasingly convinced that Pacific Rim started as a treatment for a live-actionEvangelion film. Back in 2005, the production company responsible for Hideaki Anno’s multimedia-based psychotic episode that made them immensely popular among emos the world over – A.K.A Gainax – looked at the possibility of making a live-action adaptation of the franchise. They even got Weta Workshop (responsible for the visual effects of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit) to do some concept sketches that weren’t too bad. Luckily though Gainax decided not to do live-action and went with the Rebuild series (link to my rant here).


What then to do with the script treatments written for it? Give them to Del Toro, of course.


I will say, in the creative department, he did pretty good. He replaced the Angels – strange beings of apparently supernatural origin that explode into Judeo-Christian symbols when they die – with the Kaiju: the illegitimate offspring of a rejected (and possibly better) Cloverfield monster design and the CGI dragons from Reign of Fire. Say what you want about RoF, but I thought the dragons were pretty cool, if only offset by a boring concept, story, and cast. Back to the Kaiju. Like the Angels, however, they appear one at a time and sporadically. And, like the Angels, when they die, they cause a great deal of collateral damage and release hazardous chemicals into the environment around them. Del Toro did something right with the Kaiju, in that he gave them a point of origin, while Anno just had the Angels appear out of thin air.


I also like how there was a concrete reason behind the Kaiju attack: they’re bioweapons manufactured by aliens who want our planet. A lot of people took exception to that, saying it ripped off Independence Day. But quite honestly, it’s the best reason SETI researchers can think of as to why E.T. might make the decades/centuries long shlep to our corner of the Orion Arm. So I don’t have any problem. I do have an issue with the movie saying these aliens waited 65 million years before attacking, but I’ll get to that later.


2. The Jaegers


This is a mecha anime, and unless you make your robots insanely cool, it’s just another Gundam clone.


AND GUNDAM SUCKS!


So you have several options. You can make them cyborgs that humans have reined in, like the Evangelion units; you can give them smart-ass A.I.s like J.A.R.V.I.S. and the Iron Man suit; give them an inbuilt weapon that turns the pilot’s emotion into physical force, like the Arbalest from Full Metal Panic; and better yet, you can make it so the robot starts off as a tiny head-shaped thing piloted by a kid, which then controls a bigger robot, which then controls an even bigger robot, and so on until you have a robot the size of a galaxy, as in the overly-phallic-yet-unequivocally-awesome Tengen Toppa Guren Lagaan.


Pacific Rim introduced a novel concept. He had two pilots, linked in a neural bridge so that they could share the load on their brains taken from moving the Jaegers. And dramatically, that really works. Now you’ve got a potential plot in which the pilots have to overcome each other’s mental baggage as well as their own. You could have Kaiju battles in which the pilots are battling each other’s inner demons while fighting the real demon. Remember this, because I’ll be coming back to it.


Del Toro also made a good call to have the Jaeger cockpit a large open space in which the pilots could be thrown around. It never occurred to me that the cockpit of most mecha shows I’ve seen is pretty small and snug, and that could be a potential hazard for a pilot. Think about it: you’re in a cockpit the size of a typical jet-fighter (as are most mecha pilots in anime), and a creature the size of the Centre-Point Tower bashes you. The g-forces from that alone would liquefy you against the side of the cockpit. By making the room wide and open, you allow space for a harness that can bear most of the g-forces. It makes sense, and is a good opportunity for interesting dramatic action sequences.


Ok, I give them credit for getting these elements right. In the hands of a decent anime producer, these themes could make for a really good show. But ultimately, Pacific Rim is stupid. Its characterization is crap, its utilization of the Jaegers is subpar, and it should have been written by a better writer… Say, me.


What they did wrong:


1. The trailer


Watching the trailers basically reveals the entire premise of the movie. I suppose that’s fine, but it’s kind of annoying to hear so much information about the movie’s plot before it’s released. Save some mystery for when we actually go to see the movie, you idiots!


2. Telling instead of showing


I know I resented it when other writers told me I should Show, not Tell. But they’re right. Showing is a much better – and more fulfilling way – of writing a story, and I know. I recently tried to read a 400K word volume of a novel I wrote between January 2010 and June 2011. There’s so much long-winded exposition and info-dumping I can’t get half-way through the first story arc before dozing off. Granted I can use a lot of that in essays about my invented world and all, but there’s no way I’d ever publish that as a novel.


The same thing happened in the opening of Pacific Rim. The lead character gives twenty freaking minutes of narration in which he info dumps everything. The guy’s a British actor by the way, who should not be trying to talk like a roughneck or hard-arse because it just comes off as if he’s stoned, or had a frontal lobe lobotomy. One, we don’t need all that narration, because we know it from the trailer. Just say the film title and be done with it. Two, you can easily show everything included in the narration using set, costuming, and physical acting.


You can take a page out of Full Metal Panic.


FMP opens a girl, traumatized and biting her finger as a rogue officer rescues her from a secret base. The car they’re in is attacked by a helicopter bearing the Soviet insignia and she’s thrown from the car onto the snow (so we know this is a Cold War setting and they’re somewhere in Siberia). The sadistic helicopter pilot starts shooting at her while she tries to get away, when suddenly a four-story-tall robot decloaks, destroys the helicopter, and rescues the girl. When it appears, the girl mumbles, “An Arm Slave.” In that whole scene, that is the only line of dialogue that tells, and it’s necessary! The rest is shown.


You could delete the entire first twenty minutes of exposition from Pacific Rim and instead start with Guillermo Del Toro presents PACIFIC RIM. Then we cut to a stormy night. You don’t need to say where it is; you don’t even need to say when it is. Just show a fishing trawler trying to get through the storm. Using some light banter between the captain and the first mate, you can have one of them say, “How far are we from Anchorage?” so that the audience has an idea of where they are (though it’s not really necessary). In response, the navigator says, “There’s land, but it’s getting really close, too close!” The captain realizes in horror, and shouts to his crew, “Kaiju!” Then the beast rises out of the water and roars. Now we know what a Kaiju is. The monster goes after the boat, and things look desperate for our nameless fishermen characters. Cut to a shot of our two Jaeger pilots, though we don’t show their faces for dramatic effect. They mutter in unison, “Gypsy Danger, Commencing attack.” So we suspect their brains are linked. Then the Jaeger attacks out of the darkness of the storm, and in an awesome battle the Kaiju goes down (just not too long or ostentatious, so we save some for later). You can even have one of the fishermen exclaim, “The jaegers are here!” if you really think your audience isn’t going to get it.


Right there, you can have the opening of Pacific Rim without telling or unnecessary exposition. It unfortunately means the audience has to pay attention, but they paid to see a movie, so for fuck-sake they’re gonna watch it.


3. The characterisation

Raleigh was an unconvincing twit of a character and I just want to hit him, but what can one expect from a former Queer as Folk cast member trying to play the role of a hardened fighter? In all fairness, when he’s not narrating and he’s playing the cocky younger brother pilot, he’s actually pretty good. His interactions with his brother are believable, and his fighting in the Jaeger is well done. Having said that, he does not pull off the role of a military veteran with a chip on his shoulder suffering survivor’s guilt! In that emotional state, you’re supposed to be irritable, absentminded, and anti-social; Raleigh on the other hand talks like he’s been smoking a joint off-set. Get someone who is actually capable of displaying symptoms of PTSD!


Yancy, his brother, was offensively underused. I mean, before he dies, it sounds like he’s the rational and experienced side, while Raleigh’s the go-with-your-gut yahoo. The dynamic could have worked really well, and Yancy could still have died! Wasn’t the neural bridge linking their brains when Yancy died? Couldn’t part of his consciousness have jumped – or been sucked – into Raleigh’s brain at that moment? That way, Yancy’s character could be used in the form of hallucinations, telling Raleigh to forgive himself for what happened.


Idris Elba’s characters are repeatedly mishandled in the movies I’ve seen him in. The Thor movies could use him for great dramatic effect as Heimdall who sees all. And don’t get me started on Prometheus. Now, Pacific Rim uses him pretty well. I use his character as further evidence that this movie developed out of an Evangelion script treatment. Stacker Pentecost is very similar to Gendou Ikari. Both men have a plan, which they tell only one other character in the story (Fuyutsuki and Herc, respectively), and reveal at the end only to both die before it can be completed… OK, a bit of a stretch, but still. In fact, Stacker’s backstory is one of those that are shown properly, instead of told. So I suppose this is something the movie got right, except for the fact that we don’t see very much at all of him fighting. I would have liked a little more action for Stacker in the final fight scene, given he’s supposed to be one of the great Jaeger pilots.


Mako Mori… For starters, whoever wrote her Japanese lines must actually learn Japanese before ever writing dialogue. I’m pretty conversational in Japanese, and I went to see this movie with a native Japanese speaker. We both agreed there was something off about her speech; as if it had been written in English and then put through Google translate. Like Stacker, her backstory was told quite well, and insanely cool as well. Like Raleigh, she has her issues she has to work through, although hers are related to revenge while his are more centered on regret. Unfortunately, there was no resolution to this plot element. She got the seething resentment, built up over years and years, out of her system in one fight? That’s crap. And seriously, Rinko Kikuchi is not a good actor. In Japan, the best actors are voice actors. Get Ayumi Ito or Hirano Aya!


As for the Aussie pilots, Herc and Chuck, well, their characters were done fairly well, and their subplot was resolved satisfactorily. You could probably add maybe two minutes of further head-banging to make the cinematic effect a bit more intense, but it was good enough. The one thing I’ll bitch about though is that THEIR ACCENTS WERE NOT AUSTRALIAN! For fuck-sake, Steve Irwin and Crocodile Dundee are not real Australians! I’m a real Australian, you dip-shit wankers! Jessie Spencer is a real Australian! Chris Hemsworth! Eric Bana! Sam Worthington! Hugh Jackman! Hugo Weaving! All of these guys are Australian actors (including me), and can do Australian accents! Get them to do it!


4. The Drift


An awesome concept that went to waste.


Linking their brains together allowed them to share the neural load of controlling a big freaking robot, and also to coordinate their movements. But if their minds are linked, then why the bleeding hell did they need to talk to each other?


Seriously, their brains are linked. They don’t need to talk. You can show their communication and their emotional state by facial expressions. And as for talking to ground control, can’t their brains be linked to the radio, so their can just think into the channel? And if they need to talk, fine; they can talk in unison, because their brains are linked.


This actually presented, as I mentioned earlier, a very good way to show how the two pilots help each other overcome their demons. The showing of Mako’s backstory as something Raleigh’s viewing in her head was a good way to do it. And while they’re fighting the Kaiju, the scene can be choreographed in order show a determined style that’s slightly hampered by the fact that the two mentally unstable pilots are on a psychological trapeze. Once again, instead of having unnecessary telling dialogue like, “Let’s check for a pulse,” why not have a sudden flash of Yancy getting ripped apart to make the two pilots stop, turn around, and blast the dead Kaiju as their wear sickening mixtures of grief and fear? Have them move their bodies in unison, through epic poses that shows the Jaeger moving with them. Through their battle, each time they take a hit, flash a memory across the screen, which rattles them. Then finally, when they’re being carried by the Kaiju into the air, memories stream through their heads as tears escape their eyes, and we see their thoughts and feelings interlaced with looks of grief, fear, and determination. We can see Mako in Raleigh’s white pilot’s suit watching her father being torn apart like Yancy was, while a young Raleigh in a blue dress is running terrified through the ruins of Tokyo. Slowly, the terrifying memories are replaced by pleasant ones of happy times, again interlaced so both can experience each other’s joys and raisons d’etre. Finally, they let out a roar of “Oretachi no kazuku no kataki!” and kill the Kaiju with the swords that appear in response to their will and determination. It would be a much more powerful display of their teamwork and their efforts to help each other overcome their angst and win. Oh, and that Japanese line means, “Revenge for our families.” It shows they have intimately bonded.


This same method can be used for telling something about Stacker. He’s supposed to be the great Jaeger pilot, and Herc even seems to idolize the guy. He’s capable of operating a Jaeger on his own, and apparently is Drift-compatible with anyone. But this is never really capitalized on, so the audience can idolize him too. It’s believable that he doesn’t want Mako to get hurt or be reckless so he’s hesitant to let her pilot. But I think a better way would be that, in part of Mako’s flashbacks, we see her training to be a pilot with Stacker. And she describes Drifting with him to Raleigh before the final battle. And she can describe it like, “When we Drift, we feel each others joys, hopes, and pain. But when I Drifted with him, it was like being in a pool of calm water, with no waves or currents. Just control, focus, and will.” In that, coupled with a character that is calculating, meticulous, withholds plans and objectives, and capable of solo-combat, we can see Stacker exactly as he describes himself: A fixed point. This can also help Chuck focus on the mission as well, and develop the strength of character to join in the sacrifice. And if you go with my idea that the pilots can think into the radio, then there’s no reason a Drift can’t extend wirelessly – even if it’s a lossy channel. So when he’s about to make his final sacrifice, he allows himself a moment for Mako to see him. So they briefly Drift wirelessly, and Mako can see his joys, hopes, and pain. This would increase the drama and the tenseness of the final battle, as we can watch Raleigh and Mako finish the mission with the images of Stacker’s hopes motivating them.


5. The story


Del Toro deleted all the annoying aspects of Evangelion’s Angels except one: there is no reason that they would only attack one at a time. If I were one of these aliens, I’d sent out a couple at a time. Why else would humanity need so many Jaegers? Didn’t Stacker say they had space for thirty Jaegers in the Shatterdome? So why send them out only one at a time. I can understand if you send only one out at a time initially, so you can get an idea of the playing field. But then once they build the Jaegers, you start kicking things into overdrive. I mean, isn’t the objective of these aliens to colonize Earth? They might be undergoing an ecological crisis on their world, so hurry up, dammit!


And that’s another thing I don’t get. Why did they wait 65 million years? The movie said the dinosaurs were wiped out by Kaiju (though where are the fossils of city-sized beasts?) but the aliens couldn’t breathe in our atmosphere until we polluted it. But how would they know that intelligent life forms would evolve and develop internal combustion technology to pollute the planet to just the way they like it? And if they’re advanced enough to print bioweapons (watch the movie: the Kaiju are printed in factories) and create wormholes across the universe, you don’t think they’d have been advanced enough to simply build a machine to convert the atmosphere? Why not just say, “Their world is dying and they need a new one. And boy did they find one!” Or, like I’ve been saying, show it when the scientist dude Drifts with the Kaiju brain.


I will say I liked how they explained why just firing bombs into the breach never worked, and it makes sense. If you were going to open a wormhole that’s bi-traversable to a world you intend to conquer, you’d want to implement safeguards to prevent counterattacks. Of course, I’d also say, if you were under attack by gigantic alien life forms, and had the technology to tap into the brain of another organism, wouldn’t the first thing you do be, “Hack into the brain of one of our invaders and find out what the hell is going on?” You know, just in case these things aren’t ranging animals from another dimension but rather attack hounds by the helmsmen of an interstellar First Fleet?


You could probably weave into the story a plot about how they use some of the Jaegers to lure a Kaiju into captivity in order to Drift with it and get the information they need. It’d work really well.


6. The Jaegers (But in a bad way!)


What the hell? You make Cherno Alpha and Crimson Typhoon out to be awesome, and in the space of five minutes, you kill them both in the first battle? Did you seriously not know what to do with these guys, so you kill them in a disappointing fight scene? These guys are supposed to be the elite, and they get mowed over by two Kaiju.


There should have been more fight scenes in which we get to see their different fighting skills and techniques. It would also make the War Clock in the Shatterdome a bit more prominent. To see the morale-breaking sight of seing the War Clock reset over and over again would make it more impactful to hear Herc finally bellow, "Stop the clock!"


Like I mentioned before, you could weave this in with the plan to capture a Kaiju alive in order to study it. Just seriously, if you're going to create souped up characters like the Chinese triplets or the Russian married couple, actually use them. It won’t be supporting Communism to give these countries just a little glory.


Conclusion:


I’d actually be tempted to take what I’ve written here, and use them as notes for treatment for a Pacific Rim anime (an actual TV animated series to air in Japan and be subsequently fan-translated with gratuitous but necessary amounts of swearing that’s not in the original dialogue). There’s enough meat that was left untouched in that movie for an entire franchise, centered first on the Kaiju war, and then, maybe, Jaeger wars? Actually, that might get a little close to Gundam, and we don’t want that.


Seriously, there’s a whole mythology to explore here, and it’s been barely nibbled at the edges, providing an entertaining action movie that’s not thought provoking enough for a mecha anime.


It’s a little like Macross in some ways…

Categories: Rambles about writing

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