Collectively, the Transformers films represent a wasted opportunity, though not in the way that many would assume. They could have been big budget renditions of Japanese Super Robot films, thus serving as a wonderful introduction to the genre for American audiences. Alas, they were content with being run-of-the mill summer blockbusters. If only their considerable production values could be employed by someone with a bigger imagination and a better story to tell. Luckily, cinematic fantasist Guillermo Del Toro has an affinity for Kaiju films. What’s more, he has channeled that love into his latest project, Pacific Rim.
Pacific Rim depicts a world racked by war. Giant monsters known as Kaiju emerge from beneath earth’s oceans via dimensional portals. Mankind responds to this strange new threat by constructing giant war robots called Jaegers. Each Jaeger is controlled by a pair of human pilots whose minds are melded via a neural bridge. When the war appears to be unwinnable, a legendary Jaeger is resurrected and handed over to a pair of unproven heroes who are charged with turning the tide of the conflict.
The trailer begins as an interesting collage of monster movie tropes. Mobs of horrified civilians run for dear life as giant creatures destroy everything in their path. The first glimpses of the Kaiju are shrouded in fog. These moments vaguely recall Godzilla 98 and Cloverfield, though they are rendered much more competently than either. At the 45 second mark, a glossy sci-fi element is introduced. At this point, the imagery feels more akin to the sensibilities of James Cameron and Ridley Scott. Pilots sport futuristic armor and don exo-suits, which control the Jeagers marionette style. The Jaegers themselves are reminiscent of Gigantor.
Once the Jaeger and Kaiju are shown locking horns, the trailer unleashes a barrage of thrilling images. Human pilots undergo defensive tactics training, complete with katana swords. A jaeger is shown palming its own fist, as though itching for a fight. Another falls to its knees in the snow, AT-AT walker style. In the coup de grace, one delivers a rocket powered punch to an enemy. The closing image is of a roaring Kaiju, with glowing quills/spikes a la Godzilla. What’s most satisfying is that all of these images, while taking place in darkness and fog, are wonderfully coherent.
Guillermo Del Toro is one of the most imaginative directors working today. He also happens to have a firm grasp on the language of filmmaking. He knows how to communicate his ideas to a mass audience. That he didn’t settle for merely adapting a familiar manga or anime is telling. He’d rather craft his very own homage to beloved genre, rather than simply coasting on name brand recognition. He doesn’t want to merely capitalize on a niche. He also wants to put his own unique stamp on a genre. Good for him, and hopefully even better for the audience.