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Monday, July 22, 2013

The Visual Intelligence of Pacific Rim

I want to talk about Pacific Rim, and why it is not, as I've seen a frustrating number of commentators claim, a "dumb" movie, or a movie that "knows that it's dumb," or anything like that, but first I want to talk about my girlfriend, and you're going to let me because you've already clicked through and given me the pageview, so you may as well stick around. Besides, I think it will help provide a reference point for some of the ideas I'm talking about.

Alright?

Let's talk about my girlfriend.



My girlfriend Sara (who has given me the okay to talk about her case, in the name of supporting this movie that she's fallen head over heels in love with) has a learning disability. I'm honestly not sure what the clinical name for it is (if it has one), but one of the things she has trouble with is processing language on a non-literal level. In other words, metaphors, figures of speech, and some humor that depends on incongruities, sort of doesn't interface quite right with her brain.

However, there's no "metaphor" sector of the brain. There's nothing that interprets figurative information across media. There's brainmatter that deals with language... and brainmatter that deals with visuals.

So, while my girlfriend struggles with linguistic metaphor, she takes to visual metaphor like a fish takes to water. I have to admit, sometimes she gets comics or movies, for example, in ways that I don't, despite my training in media. She can look at a weird background motif in a Manga panel and immediately list off for me its significance, or pick out recurring color schemes used to signify something about a particular character, or decipher wordless sequences that I find confusing or disorienting and (embarrassingly) explain them back to me like it's no big thing and I'm kinda silly for not getting it.

This is obviously fascinating to me as a student of media and how it interfaces with the human mind. We have very different ways of reacting to media, sometimes, because I tend to struggle when it comes to remembering faces, whereas she struggles with following complex, fast-paced dialogue (or, to put it another way, I excel at analyzing spoken/written language and she excels at analyzing visual language). To some extent, then, it's tempting to look at this as a cool quirk and study it in the abstract as two equally viable ways of exploring media.

However, we do not exist within a culture that views the two ways of analyzing things as equal, and that's why I'm writing this article.

See, critical theory, from what I've observed, is highly linguistic in focus and scope. In fact, even casual critics on Tumblr tend to fall into a linguistic mode of criticism when discussing movies--they talk, in short, about the dialogue of a film or show primarily, and talk actions and plot secondarily. This is encouraged by an education system that has students read the plays of Shakespeare and Ibsen and Miller and so on, with the movie version as the reward once they're done reading. We consistently devalue the depth of visual communication in our culture--I mean, this isn't anything revolutionary to say, it's just the big dumb elephant in the room of media studies, that we have an overwhelmingly visual society that has no clue how to read images.

When confronted with a text that primarily relies on images, therefore, our response is to write that text off as dumb or lacking depth, because we're interpreting the text on a linguistic level rather than on the level that it's working. I mean, for goodness sake, look at the kind of language I'm using to describe this phenomenon! "Text." "Write off." Our mode of criticism, a century old, is wedded to the idea of communication through the typed or spoken word.

That's where Pacific Rim comes in. It's very easy, if you are confronting the movie with a linguistic bias, to see the film as "dumb," or, maybe even worse, a movie that's good because it "knows it's dumb" and doesn't aspire to be more. And yes, the dialogue isn't brilliant. Granted! You can totally watch the film and say "There's not a lot going on here as far as witty reparte is concerned, and the plot is pretty simple, so on that level, it's kind of a simplistic movie." You can take that away with you after watching Pacific Rim.

But that's not what my girlfriend took away from it.

She took away this:

"I thought it was really cool how Mako dyed her hair to match her jacket that she wore in the flashback scene. It was like she was still thinking about that day and carrying it with her."

I'm paraphrasing, of course, but that was one of the first things she said to me when the credits were rolling and we were freaking out together over how cool the movie was. She followed that up by talking about how expressive and cool the Kaidanovskys--the pilots of Cherno Alpha--were. These are, remember, two characters with effectively zero dialogue, beyond a few shouted commands during their fight scene, and yet they stood out dramatically within her mind as well rounded characters. And the conversation pretty much proceeded like that--sometimes with me echoing her thoughts, but often with her picking out details that I had missed completely.

She was responding to the film as a visual learner. She was reacting not as a traditionally trained--and traditionally, we might say, constrained--theorist, but as someone that interprets media according to images, body language, design symbolism, and color cues.

She was doing it right.

The rest of us are doing it wrong.

Pacific Rim is not a dumb movie at all. It is a visually intelligent movie.

Let's talk about some specific elements of the film, though, and why they operate quite differently when you view them as primarily things to be, you know, viewed.

Mako Mori is Not A Shallow, Timid, or Weak Character

One of the arguments I've seen repeatedly from multiple feminist critics can be summed up thus:

Mako Mori is not a strong, well developed female character, because she only has a few lines.

In a way, I feel the whole basic problem with our current discourse can be boiled down to just that one phrase. The character's relative depth is entirely contingent on how many lines of dialogue she gets. That, right there, is the devaluation of nonverbal, visual communication in favor of a... well, I'm not even sure what to call this. It's certainly no critical method that I've ever seen. Counting the number of lines a character gets is... well, kind of a bizarre standard, because it utterly divorces the actual content of those lines from their quantity.

The thing about Mako Mori, though, is that while her lines may be few, they pack a punch. In fact, they have strength in part due to how quiet she typically is--when she does speak, she is direct and forceful, and you know she's not speaking trivially.

But that's not exactly what I'm here to talk about. I want to talk about the visual cues surrounding this character. Mako's character development is actually almost entirely visual in nature--no one talks through her memories or explains her motivations aloud. What's more, her personality and character arc is defined strongly by color symbolism. So, while she doesn't have a huge number of lines, that doesn't make her shallow.

Let's talk about that color symbolism my girlfriend picked up on. Mako's colors in the film are blue and dark grey. The blue is, actually, the brightest spot of color that we see on her initially, and we are drawn to the blue highlight in her hair because it contrasts in saturation with the rest of her character design.

It's a small splash of blue, but look how bold it is. It screams "Pay Attention To Me."
Now, this is a good example of how a text trains or creates its ideal reader. The film is giving us a striking cue that both makes her highly identifiable as an individual, and sets us up to recall that cue later. It's telling us that we should be thinking about Mako's colors and her character design.

This pays off once we finally see into her memories and recognize that the blue which in later life occupies her hair is the blue of the coat she wore on the day she was orphaned by Onibaba's attack on Tokyo. So, while this is never articulated, it is clear that she carries the memory of that day with her--deliberately, in fact, unless someone is actively dying her hair without her knowing, which seems improbable. This lends a certain air of truth to Stacker's claim that she is highly focused on vengeance.

Grey and blue.
One of the other interesting aspects of the flashback is the way Stacker Pentecost appears idealized. He ascends from Coyote Tango backlit, like some mythic hero or demigod. And this actually makes perfect sense when you recall that we are seeing the scene through child!Mako's eyes--Stacker is quite literally colored (colored a heroic gold) by her emotions on that day. This vision provides the context for all of her interactions with Stacker throughout the film, and, again, augments her brief speech to Raleigh about "respect." The moments where she opposes Stacker's judgment involve her standing up not only to the man who raised her, but to a man that she views as a larger than life idol.

And yet, she still is adamant in her desire to pilot, and is not shy or demur about demanding her chance to seek her revenge against the alien invaders. This is a woman who knows exactly what she wants, know exactly how to get it, and is willing even to butt heads with the person she loves more than anyone on Earth for that chance.

Wow.

There's more to Mako than just this scene and its impact on the rest of the film, of course, but I think the flashback and its visual language serves to demonstrate two things: first, Mako is a complex, wholly admirable female protagonist that probably has more depth than the male protagonist (which actually isn't all that new--holla at my fellow Hermione and Eowyn fans), and second, the film is capable of saying complex things, but it says those things through visual symbolism. (CONSCIENCE EDIT: And just in case it's not clear, I don't want to sound like I'm bashing feminist criticism--I'm a feminist critic myself--I'm just suggesting that if we're evaluating female characters, number of lines in this context is kind of a myopic way of going about it. There are other feminist criticisms of the film--like the overall number of women in the ground crew, for example--that are totally on point, I think. I just think Mako isn't given nearly the credit she really deserves as a female protagonist.)

Oh, and while talking intention is always risky for a theorist (death of the author and all that) I think it's worth noting that reading the film this way does go along with del Toro's designs for the audience experience. Now, keep in mind that Sara picked out Mako's hair color and its symbolic significance on a first viewing, without assistance from any sort of word of god interpreting the film for her... and check out this quote from del Toro:

It’s impossible to condense because every single decision counts. And as I often say, I don’t do eye candy, I do eye protein because all of these design choices are telling the story.
I’ll give you one example. Mako is defined by the grey colour and the blue colour. As we go through the movie we find out that she’s defined by those colours because in her childhood we have a blue memory, a memory that’s all just in blue with splashes of red. I show her holding her heart, or a symbolic object that represents her heart. The memory has left a stain on her hair that is blue, and she’s carrying that memory with her. The introductory sequence of Mako is very significant.
Yeah. There it is, ladies and gentlemen, in black and white for all to see. Sara picked out the symbolism and together we sussed out its meaning without the aid of del Toro. This says to me that if you accept the film's language and read the film the way it quite openly prompts you to read it, you get results that are far more nuanced, valuable, and functional than if you read in opposition to the text. If you read with the film, you uncover the film's--and the character's--secrets.

Speaking of which:

The Kaidanovskys

Meet the Kaidanovskys:

Via
Look at Sasha creepin' there oh my god
The Kaidanovskys are basically the best.

I already kind of loved them for the fact that they pilot Cherno Alpha, a Jaeger that literally has its head transposed with a god damn cooling tower. But they're actually pretty fabulous even beyond having the hottest ride of them all.

For one thing, there's the fact that Sasha Kaidanovsky is, you know, another female pilot, which is pretty notable and cool. What's more, she's the member of her team that is constantly shouting information and orders. She seems to take the dominant role as far as interacting with the outside world, analogous to the dominant roles Raleigh and Stacker take when they pilot (although it's worth noting the complexity of that dynamic in Pacific Rim--the pilots are two parts of a whole, after all). In a way, her relationship with her husband is the mirror of Raleigh's with Mako: she is the expressive, somewhat more dynamic figure to her far more restrained husband who, like Mako, is less vocal and has an air about him of the coiled spring--force held carefully in balance.

Again, my reaction here is kind of colored by my shared experience of the movie with Sara, who is a huge Cherno Alpha fangirl. (Sidenote: this is why I always try, if possible, to watch movies with someone else. A shared experience, I find, is so much more meaningful. I love theaters for this reason.) One of the things we both noticed while watching was the way the two characters are given depth and personality through their body language. Look at the above images: Sasha's movements are lithe and determined... and more than a little lusty. She loves her husband and is quite open about expressing it. A simple gesture meant to beckon him to the place she's found in the mess hall thus becomes a sultry gesture. This is pretty cool, actually, as an affirmation, once more, of a female character's desire.

What's more, she puts an arm around her man protectively, baring her teeth at Raleigh to warn him away! I love this so, so much, because this kind of attitude is sort of stereotypically masculine, but here we've got the lithe, sexy female positioning herself as the protector of the big burly man. It's a funny moment, but it's also cool, because it writes, if not a novel, then certainly a god damn short story about these two characters and their relationship and their love and their connection as pilots, all through the power of body language.

No, Sasha does not get any lines of consequence.

But when the Kaidanovsky's finally decide to get out of the way of the plasma canon that threatens to blow up half the shatterdome, she's the second to start moving along the catwalk, and her body language oozes derision for the bullshit she's being subjected to, like she's doing the plasma fist a fucking favor by not just staring it down until it breaks down and cries.

And when Leatherback crushes the cockpit of Cherno Alpha, it's her scream--a scream not of pain or fear but of hate, pure hate, and boundless fury--that we hear.

Sasha Kaidanovsky is a badass, and she doesn't need to speak for us to know it. Every movement she makes speaks volumes. The Kaidanovskys have a voice in this film. Their voices are their bodies, their movements their words, their gestures their punctuation. If Mako speaks through color--if she speaks through pigment like a painter--the Kaidanovsky's speak through the dance they do together, a beautiful, loving, protective, forceful dance that continues even to the moment of their deaths.

Optimism: A Parting Thought

There's more to say, but I'm realizing first that this article is reaching Kaijulike proportions already, and second that I really need to watch the film once more before digging into some of the ideas more easily. This is by no means a comprehensive catalog of the various visual language/metaphor components of Pacific Rim. It barely even scratches the surface, in fact. Like, we could talk about:

  • The way costuming is used to portray character
  • The fact that the Australians are the only pilots to mark their kills on their armor
  • The crazy closing sequence in the rift
  • The red shoe and the symbolism there
  • Moving beyond images, the fact that Mako's freakout in the first test run happened because she was forced to experience Raleigh's brother's death both from Raleigh's perspective and his own perspective and how she would have been fine if she wasn't hit by a double dose of Raleigh's bad memories
  • The images we see of Herman and Newt's memories when they drift together
And a whole lot of other stuff besides. Some of this stuff, it's worth noting, didn't come out of my own head--it's stuff I came across on Tumblr that people picked out, or, predictably, more stuff that Sara caught and I missed. There's this whole conversation going on right now, basically, about the visual language of the movie and how we can pull out the film's messages and the character arcs from sometimes very subtle cues or momentary flashes of information.

Now...

Think about that for a moment.

If this film really, truly was "dumb," or knew enough to just be dumb and not aspire to anything greater...

...Would that conversation really, earnestly be possible?

No. 

You could have a complex conversation, sure--fans do all the time. But that conversation would be built largely around the exercise of speculation and fanfiction/fan art production, not the exercise of interpretation and the evaluation of symbols within the text. It would not be the conversation we are having right now.

And really, that's what I want you to come away from this article understanding. We CAN and SHOULD delve into this work. We can do more than simply lazily write it off. For god's sake, isn't it obvious that a work that hints at character arcs is more intellectually engaging than one that spells those arcs out directly through dialogue? This film offers us an opportunity to engage a text that challenges us critically because it goes against our cultural and academic training. The proper response is to allow that text to change us, to recognize the challenge for what it is.

And really, if the film has taught us anything, this is a challenge we can overcome, in part by coming together as a community of viewers and thinkers and theorists and lovers of giant robots. There's an attitude present in a lot of "professional" reviews--usually not stated directly, but certainly present--that this sort of film, with its message of coming together as a whole planet to defeat a seemingly unstoppable opponent, and with its appeal to the flashy, the visually indulgent, and the almost aggressively upbeat, makes this film a lesser summer movie.

Fuck.

That.

Noise.

Look, I've not exactly been shy about my disaffection towards the modern grimdarkness of media. As a choice, though, I can at least understand and accept it. What bothers me more is the critical attitude that reads a film like Dark Knight Rises as nuanced or complex due to its moral ambiguity... rather than, you know, a film that contradicts itself on literally every conceivable thematic level, to the point where the film is a giant grimdark mess of growling and posturing, sound and fury saying nothing. The flip side of that, of course, is that a film like Pacific Rim is treated as somehow naive or insignificant because it dares, gasp!, to have not just a unified message, but a quite positive, affirmative message, spoken not in the language of Lifetime movies or this year's crop of Oscar-bait, but in the language of Metal, the language of force and bombast and people in giant fucking robots punching Godzilla in the face.

We have reached a point, and really let this one sink in because it gets more flooring the more you think about it, where it's more radical and unacceptable to say, "Humans can accomplish amazing things when we set aside our differences and disagreements and work together to make the world a better place," than to say something sour and bitter and cynical.

Cynicism used to be the radical thing. 

Now it's as mainstream as Greenday.

So, what I'm asking is that you give the film a second look, if you're not already one of us fanatics who loved it the first time through. Give it a chance to speak to you in its own language. Be the Raleigh in this situation--just as he surprised Mako by knowing and speaking Japanese to her, undermining her skepticism, enter a dialogue with the film that speaks in images. Open yourself to alternate ways of thinking and understanding.

There's a place by the fire here, and we've kept your second favorite chair warm for you.

Won't you join the conversation?

Circle me on Google+ at gplus.to/SamKeeper. Follow stormingtheivory.tumblr.com for updates, random thoughts, artwork, and news about articles. As always, you can e-mail me at KeeperofManyNames@gmail.com. If you liked this piece please share it on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Reddit, Equestria Daily, Xanga, MySpace, or whathaveyou, and leave some thoughts in the comments below.

226 comments:

  1. Don't really have much to add, here. I knew there was a bunch of stuff alluded to in the visual storytelling, but I didn't even realize how deep it was. I need a second viewing before I can really starting commenting (I didn't, for example, notice how much character they allude to for Cherno Alpha's pilots in bits tucked away in the background).

    Man, del Toro just makes amazing fucking films.

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    1. You want to learn more about the theory and practice of what is called The Composed Film. It was Powell and Pressburger's idea that all the elements of a film are like notes in a musical score. If you get the old film Thief of Baghdad, starring Sabu, take time to listen to the commentary by Martin Scorsese. This film with all it's motifs and allusions is where the idea of a composed film was being worked out. Powell and Pressburger's Tales of Hoffman which had a profound influence of both Scorsese and George Romero is very much a composed film. Just watch the second tale where Giulietta is out to do her master's bidding and sets out to steal Hoffman's soul. There's just so much there in the opening sequence and Powell and Pressburger were masters of the moving camera and moving actors. Yes Tales of Hoffman is an operetta and it's hard to watch on first viewing, but the images, the story, the music will begin to play in your head and then you will feel a sense of wonder and awe because you've seen a unique piece of Art - Just like Pacific Rim.

      Tales of Hoffman on Youtube. Why is Giulietta's reflection singing to her? Is the reflection her soul? Take time to let the whole film wash over you. http://youtu.be/I1AL8SAmWeQ

      You can see the same visual and narrative mastery in Pacific Rim.

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    2. I forgot to add that as you watch this short clip from Tales of Hoffman do you really need to have any dialogue in order to understand these people that are being VISUALLY introduced to you? This is the genius of Film.

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    1. Broca's area is part of the motor area of the brain. It deals with actually speaking language, and deficits in Broca's area will not affect understanding of language. Wernicke's area is used for the understanding of language.

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  3. I had assocaited Mako's blue hair with the color of Kaiju blood, reinforcing her desire for vengeance. I had not quite connected it with the dress.

    Thank you for spending so much time sharing your insights; I shall keep them in mind when I return to see the film again.

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    1. I've seen a few other people suggest this, and I really dig it as an idea. It's a good example of how we make meaning that stands somewhat apart from a creator's intentions, and why that's a pretty sweet thing actually. Wish I had thought of it myself :P

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    2. I saw it as a nod to Ayanami Rei and anime stock types like her. A little wink-wink, nudge-nudge to those fans in the know. That's not to say that the in-universe associations aren't just as true, though. Using something as simple as color to hint at all these complexities is, I'm finding, something the movie is exceedingly good at doing.

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    3. It's all of those things. I hadn't picked up on the jacket, but I sure did see the recurring blue everywhere else.

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  4. This is what people seem to either not notice or simply to forget about del Toro: the man is a visual master. Just a glimpse at his sketchbooks (what I wouldn't give to get my hands on those!!!) demonstrate what a visual thinker he is. He's steeped in iconography, comic books, and loads of other visual media. Words are of secondary importance in his work; some of his best scenes have no dialogue (a favorite of mine being the scene in Cronos when the little girl takes her grandfather, who is becoming a vampire, into her room and puts him to bed in her toybox so he can avoid the light.) Great article, thanks for posting!

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    1. I came to realize just how incredible and detail-oriented a filmmaker del Toro is from watching behind-the-scenes stuff on the two Hellboy movies. You need only see the making of the Troll Market to understand just how immersed and visionary he is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fFsE1ThOzyA

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    2. Bingo. People should not underestimate how much absolute care he puts into his films.

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  5. SO AWESOME to put have this put into words. I loved the visual storytelling of this movie, and that's what I've been trained in (entertainment art student here), so it was such a thrill to watch this movie. Thanks for writing this!!

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  6. Damn. I quite enjoyed this movie, but given that I didn't even *think* to try watching it in this manner, I missed everything you pointed out. Gives me a whole new appreciation, as well as another reason to see it again.

    Also, this article got an instant 'subscribe' outta me.

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  7. Fantastic article.

    Just saw the movie for a second time, and I believe the Crimson Typhoon triplets had kill markers on their armor/pilot suits from the pre-battle briefing scene.

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  8. Let's start off by saying that those who say that Pacific Rim is dumb are wrong.

    With that out of the way, let's break down why the film was still a disappointment for many. What I think you describe (in terms of what your girlfriend saw) is less visual storytelling than visual world-building. I come from the view that storytelling is drama. For all the visual storytelling you say is going on in the movie, do you not feel that it clashes with the blunt exposition the movie is almost constantly spouting at us throughout anything that is not jaeger/kaiju fights?

    Strike that. Even during those fights, we're spoonfed verbal exposition. Most of it unnecessary.

    For many such as me, Pacific Rim didn't work in terms of telling a clear concise story befitting a robot/monster movie striving to be grand summer entertainment in the vein of Star Wars. Believe me... I'm ALL for clear visual storytelling. But Pacific Rim is not really that. A lot of the audience will not absorb the specific visual stimuli your girlfriend registered in her brain. That she can do that is awesome. I wish I could absorb information like that more readily.

    But really... none of those details mean much to me when the movie doesn't work on a basic dramatic level. For comparison... I think that Kung Fu Panda is a FANTASTIC film. Not just as an animated film. And I think it works on the level that Pacific Rim so desperately wants to but trips over itself at every turn. And because Kung Fu Panda works dramatically for me, I love the visual commentary track that points out all the color symbolism throughout the film I probably would not have caught.

    This is all to say... while I don't deny Guillermo del Toro's visual genius... but just because all these tangential details can be found by an eagle-eyed viewer doesn't mean the story is being told well. A lot of the time, it's some member of the cast or crew doing something to make their role more fulfilling. From there, it's up to the director and editor to guide those efforts into a cohesive whole. If more of the actual storytelling had the clean elegance of some of the details you mention, Pacific Rim could've been the great film I was hoping for.

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    1. Well said. A visual motif doesn't change the fact that the drama/dialog/storyline was severely lacking (and, yes, even dumb). The OP points to the attention to detail as a reason for a great film, but blows over the fact that the thick of the film lacks real substance.

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    2. Need more examples of weak story telling. They are talking to mission control when they are fighting the kaiju for their boss's benefit, not their own. Raleigh watched his brother died in a kaiju fight which is why he is hesitant to get back in the drift. Mako was orphaned when the incident happened in Tokyo (we are literally shown this). Chuck has daddy issues because his father is hyperly mission oriented. Pentecost is shouldering an immense burden of the survival of the humanity balanced with the love of his adopted daughter. Everything said in the movie is said in context and makes sense within the world. Characters have agency and act accordingly to their motivation. Some science is bent/broken to suspend the disbelief of giant robots/monster conceit but that is why folks call it science fiction. Not sure where the exposition is you're talking about, since I see a lot of characters performing a lot of actions to stop the common enemy of kaiju. Please expound if you can! Thanks.

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    3. Hm, I guess I can see this as an observation, but it doesn't really seem like an interesting criticism to me, if that makes sense. Some people seem to have a really low tolerance for exposition. I don't really get that, since I grew up reading hypercerebral sci fi from people like Isaac Asimov. [shrug] For me, exposition just isn't the cardinal sin a lot of folks make it out to be.

      And, for the record, I didn't say this was an example of clear visual storytelling. I'm arguing that it's clear that the story is visually told. They're kind of two different things, and I'm not sure I would want it to be "clear."

      Part of what I'm trying to say here is that you have to meet a work on its own terms, to some extent. Not every mode of criticism is going to work for every film. It would be insane for me to say that, say, Waiting for Godot is bad because it's got a plot that goes nowhere and no drama of anticipation. You have to sort of meet the text halfway, or even the whole way depending on the difficulty.

      So, I can see why you're disappointed I guess, I just don't feel the same way or think that disappointment is an inevitable part of the experience of the film.

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    4. Of course, there is no debating on how you or your girlfriend take in a film. To be honest, I actually skimmed towards the meat of your original entry and ended up skipping the portion where you described her learning disability. I just assumed she happened to see the world in a slightly off-kilter way. And learning disability or not, that's fascinating and a great way to approach a discussion about what does and doesn't work in this film. And just to cover my bases, though it should go without saying... I'm only gonna be speaking for myself.

      Exposition is one of those necessary evils when it comes to cinema. But the fact that it's a necessary evil shouldn't result in such tired lines being spouted over and over. With hypercerebral literature written by Isaac Asimov, that's not really a problem. First, it's literature. It's complex sci-fi concepts. And... Asimov isn't really heralded for the plotting of his narratives (as far as I know). It's not surprising that adapting his work to Hollywood movies is rarely successful.

      I don't really have a complaint with the cheesy dialog in this movie. It's robuts and monsters. There's a certain amount of cheese I'm willing to forgive... or even better... to completely indulge in. My problem is that so much of the spoken dialog felt completely functional with little sense of character or personality. A lot of it is simply the movie trying desperately to explain itself. There is a way to do this without an audience feeling like it's being lectured at. Granted it's an insanely difficult thing to pull off. In my opinion, Pacific Rim doesn't get anywhere close to the elegance of something like DIE HARD (which I've read described as a dumb story told in a highly intelligent way).

      What Anonymous thinks is Raleigh simply relaying information to mission control... I see as a film not having the confidence to avoid constant exposition because it has to play to the cheap seats. For me, it's not too far off from that old maintenance dude in Batman Begins who keeps saying IT'S GONNA BLOW!!! It's not even just mission control Raleigh won't shut up towards. He does it to Mako as well... who is right there next to him... AND DRIFTING. Did he really need to explain to her how Gipsy is nuclear and that they'll be blowing her up in the Breach? Not at all. But the movie wants to make sure the audience knows what's going on... as if they're stupid children.

      It's insulting. Particularly when we see Yancy explain something along the lines of: "You don't have to tell me! You're already in my head!"

      ...
      Sure, it would be insane to suggest that Waiting For Godot is bad due to a lack of plot and drama. But that's a contract that Waiting For Godot establishes with its audience. Pacific Rim is clearly not that. It's a big summer movie that's trying to work in the broadest strokes on the level of a rousing crowd-pleaser like Star Wars (unless you disagree that this is the level it was going for...). And what I'm arguing is that it fails those objectives in several ways. I approached this movie with a great deal of anticipation that it would make me feel like the kid who saw Star Wars for the first time or being utterly blown away by Speed Racer in 2008.

      The word I'd use for Pacific Rim is: COMPROMISE. There is a kind of movie that del Toro excels at. It's filmmaking that is much more in tune with colors and symbols. But that amazing sensibility of his had to contend with a hugely expensive production that still had to talk down to a much more general audience. As a result, I think we got a movie that has a faulty foundation (its screenplay/story structure), but is decorated with some really pretty eye-candy (the visual story that del Toro intended that your girlfriend was able to catch).


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    5. ... To cover some of the story points Anonymous points out:

      Raleigh experienced his brother's death through the Breach. That's FANTASTIC backstory for the character that is RIPE for drama. But how much is it really taken advantage of in this movie? He's hesitant to take up Stacker's offer 5 years later for about 10 seconds. All it takes to change the guy's mind boils down to... "Well, what else are ya gonna do? Work on this pointless wall???" (another wasted story point that is destroyed as soon as it is set up)

      Granted, I'm pretty sick of the trope of the reluctant hero refusing the call to adventure. But this movie had a good setup for such a story. Had the movie focused on Raleigh as the main character, his work on the Wall should've been his reason for refusing Stacker's offer. It would be through the ridiculously easy destruction of the Wall that would compel him to go to Stacker himself.

      That's just an example. Honestly, I'd rather they have dropped the Raleigh character completely. If it were up to me, the movie would've been specifically about Mako and Stacker's surrogate father/daughter mentor/student relationship.

      For all the criticisms of the movie as simplistic and broad, I think the movie's actual problem is that it's overstuffed. It has a few too many characters to even attempt broad strokes and has to make to do a bunch of light dabs.

      From here, I'm gonna be reposting thoughts on the movie I've posted elsewhere.

      Delete
    6. (a post I made elsewhere about whether or not the main characters were well developed)

      (there will be SOME repetition in terms of points I try to make)

      .......
      And the lead characters... they weren't underserved exactly. Mako's character should've been given more focus. Not focus in terms of screentime, but in terms of economy. They seem to have tried to give her several shadings:

      - badass warrior
      - inexperienced rookie
      - wilting flower
      - obedient student, surrogate daughter
      - vengeful orphan
      - horny peeping tom

      which only ended up stretching that character too thin for a movie that wasn't designed to handle that kind of 'narrative load' (this movie should Drift with A SEPARATION or something!).

      We're talking a lot about archetype and broad strokes with some of these characters, but I don't think this applies to the Mako character. These are wispy thin strokes of separate archetypes. And the fact that she plays second fiddle to Raleigh's character (who mostly just hangs out not doing much in the Shatterdome) doesn't help.

      Even with Raleigh... what does he want? There isn't much narrative drive for the character for the movie as a whole. From a cocky Maverick-type character to someone who suffered the loss of his brother and becomes a drifting construction worker. Fine. That's a great starting point. And I agree that it's refreshing to not wallow in 'reluctant hero' nonsense when Stacker comes a calling, but I don't think the movie presented a compelling alternative. It just felt like: "Why not? This wall thing didn't turn out. What else am I gonna do?" (seriously, that WALL thing was another wasted/rushed piece of world-building posing as story).

      Then Mako tells him how she doesn't think he's suited to this duty because he has a tendency to ignore his orders. Great! But when do we really see that after the opening of the film? Correct me if I'm wrong, but the guy pretty much goes along with whatever Stacker tells him. He just sticks around the Shatterdome... doing a stocky-buff strut, doing some stick-fighting, going to the mess hall, and wilting before Stacker (to which I don't blame him). The character really needed to get ACTIVE at some point and directly disobey an order and not wait for Stacker to give him and Mako permission to do anything. Them going out to fight in Hong Kong could've been an even stronger moment if it were an act of rebellion instead of simply waiting until there was no choice but to use them.

      Thinking about all this... Raleigh may have accepted 'the call' pretty quickly, but he ends up being a 'refuser' for most of the movie anyway.

      So when he seemed to accept that arc in the end ("All I have to do is fall... Anyone can fall...") I was prepared to be moved by a heroic sacrifice. The movie made me think that he got Mako to eject from Gipsy in the nick of time and that he would have no chance in escaping.

      What, and then the movie just has him go, "Kidding!!!!" All of it surprisingly easy.

      HWOoAAARGH!!!

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    8. Hm. I don't want to seem like I'm just shutting you down here, man, but I'm honestly not quite sure how to respond to a post that entirely consists of some other third person's words that don't really pertain to the discussion at hand and, even worse, talk about a whole bunch of stuff I already responded to in the actual article.

      Like... this is the kind of piece that I looked at before writing this article and thought, "Wow, did this person even watch the movie?" And there's even some really kind of worrying stuff, like the assumption that Mako has to either be a romantic interest or actively decide not to be a romantic interest.

      And on some level I'm just not sure why you're telling me all this. I'm presenting a way of understanding the movie that provides some more depth and nuance than a less visually-focused reading does, and you're kind of responding with, "But the dialogue was bad!" Which... alright, maybe, I don't really think it was egregious or something that mattered that much, but I'm just not interested in being shoehorned into a place where I'm defending the film from any and all criticism, since that's not really the focus of this article or what I'm particularly interested in discussing.

      I can understand if that seems like a really lame-o copout though, and I'm sorry about that. :(

      Delete
    9. Yes, I watched the movie. I watched it twice.

      Did I say anything about the dialog being bad?

      Dialog is the least of my concerns with the movie. It's as much of a surface concern as it gets. It's really about story's underlying structure and dramatization, which I feel the movie falters on and is the source of my disappointment with the film.

      I've already mentioned how great it is that you're approaching the film from a visual POV. It's absolutely warranted. However, I've noticed that those that tend to defend this movie seem to be doing more than just 'meeting it halfway.'

      There's a famous quote from screenwriter Ernst Lubitsch: "Let the audience add up two plus two. They'll love you forever."

      I feel that film criticism is so polarized to extremes that defenders will do more than just add two plus two. They'll perform calculus for a movie that doesn't always deserve it (not that I think Pacific Rim deserves none).

      Intentionally or not, your piece is actively engaging in this kind of polarization (painting most detractors of the film simply calling it DUMB), so I was playing along. I sense that you're trying to be polite, so I'll end this here and apologize for the wall of text. You don't have to worry about shutting me down.

      Thanks!

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    10. To the Anon who says that Pacific Rim does not suffer from weak storytelling.

      What you've done is point out a lot of interesting plots and stories that Pacific Rim has. I do not doubt this. In fact, I think the movie has a great plot for a Hollywood blockbuster. A good plot however, does not make for good storytelling.

      This post does point out that the movie is visually very intelligent, and adds to the story, however the execution of this plot, the structure of the play is absolutely horrible.

      The dialogue is insipid and the acting very poor. It's chock full of cliches, and makes jokes at the wrong time that even Idris Elba can't salvage. The points you mention prove that it's a great concept, the visual references and detail prove that it has a very strong frame. However, Pacific Rim ultimately fails even to prove an acceptable dumb smash em up action movie because the dialogue isn't something we just skim over, but actually detracts from the whole experience by being so bad.

      I have never seen such bad dialogue, not even in amateur student productions, and which is why I cannot take this film seriously on any level.

      The original script surprised me though, because it was much better written than the mess it evolved to in the end.

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    11. I actually agree with a lot of those holes you pointed out and there are a ton more of them but I find myself to be rather forgiving with all this. Probably because I can still see a lot of the cartoony influences it draws from. You can definitely argue a lot of the details (stacker being able to pop up from the top of the jaeger, gipsy danger grabbing a boat just to use it in the fight in HK, no one thinking of even updating cherno alpha)but its a cartoon. Or at least heavily based on cartoons (anime and the like)

      Their names are dead giveaways. The costumes are over the top but very true to their characters. One of their top advisors sports neck tattoos and a bowtie. They have a bulldog in the most secure parts of a military installment. Logically, its horrible. Story wise, I think it's great. If they opted to go and push the realism on this concept, then why bother? Being too realistic would have been a waste of a good movie concept. Its a giant robot vs. giant monster flick. The initial premise already announces that this isn't going to go down in a psychologically accurate or realistic way. Complaining about the films many plotholes and character development is like watching Abraham Lincoln: Vampir Hunter and complaining that it isn't historically accurate.

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    12. Very well put. Bravo on your other comments, as well, since while I can fully appreciate the care put into visual details, those details are not enough to hold a movie together. Even in allowing the movie to speak to me in its own language, as suggested in Sam's article, those "words" end up being a little lost when put up against a screenplay that really needed some revision work (for reasons so well stated in your comments).

      In a way, I think reading about the little visual details almost makes me feel even more disappointed than I was before. As though Pacific Rim is hedging on being something fantastic, but can't seem to cross over to being a full success story-wise because of all the other areas where it falls flat.

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    13. @Anonymous July 24, 2013 at 2:32 AM -- exactly. when I saw del Toro in an interview getting giddy about making a movie that 11-year olds will love, I watched the film with my 11-year old self. and did I love it? hell yeah!
      I agree with all the plot holes and flaws. I was expecting campier dialog, having seen so many tokusatsu-kaiju-mecha-sentai series since childhood. but the article pointed out how the film is not completely dumb because the visual clues del Toro put in, which may have been missed by many, actually provides the logic many may have thought was lacking.

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    14. I find myself in agreement with Joon Kim.

      I loved seeing PR, and I think this article picks out some very interesting details. But you're a long way from demonstrating that it's truly 'visually intelligent'. I think what you're demonstrating instead is that a lot of visual ideas made their way into the film. But 'intelligence' requires cohesion and structure, using the ideas as a means to an end, and instead PR squanders most of them.

      For instance, you have a lot to say about the Kaidonovskys, but for all that you point out, their function in the movie is really to demonstrate the power of the latest Kaiju. And that's it, really. We don't hear or see enough of them for them to contribute meaningfully to any overall theme. Those very brief scenes where they exhibit flashes of character are wasted because it doesn't build to anything.

      When critics call PR 'dumb', they're rightly alluding to the fact that every story beat feels tired or underdeveloped - characters borrow traits from anime and pop culture left, right and centre, but what it all adds up to is a movie about beating up monsters. It's not really a movie about accomplishing amazing things when we put aside our differences, however much you or me or del Toro might want it to be; it's about a few heroic archetypes saving the world from aliens. That's the meat of the movie - everything else adds flavour to the pot, but doesn't really change the thematic thrust.

      And that's, ultimately, why it's dumb, because we've seen this narrative so many times before. It's not necessarily a bad narrative - I don't think it's necessarily fascistic (although I'm sympathetic to that interpretation) - but it is old hat, and so are most of the character beats.

      Delete
    15. I can't really think of a great way to put this kindly, so I'll just be blunt: if you are sympathetic to the idea that the film is fascist in message then you either fundamentally don't understand analysis or you don't understand fascism or both.

      Delete
    16. To the Anonymous @ July 24, 2013 at 2:32 AM, since this has sprung up as part of the discussion...

      Part of me does want to be forgiving because of what Pacific Rim is at its basis - an over the top movie about giant robots punching giant monsters. The problem is that in comparing it to a cartoon, there are cartoons out there that manage more cohesive storylines and better character development than Pacific Rim. I think there is also something to be said for allowing over-the-top fun without hurting story structure and character development.

      An example of this along the same lines of Pacific Rim is the animated series Sym-bionic Titan (a show brought to us by Genndy Tartakovsky, creator of Samurai Jack). The series, which came out in 2010, even uses some of the same ideas, such as mind-melded pilots and "kaiju" that are actually alien monsters. Even though the main characters are (very human looking) aliens themselves, the show also does delve into the idea of humans deciding they've had enough of invading aliens, leading them to build their own giant robot to combat the threat. Yet, despite the show involving beat 'em action between a robotic giant and its alien foes, it's a smart series that really does an excellent job of giving its audience something to dig into when it comes to character arcs.

      Beyond that, I'd look to Green Lantern: The Animated Series for the same kind of smart visual storytelling mentioned in the original blog post here, regarding use of color and significant objects for foreshadowing and visual metaphors. Yet it also boasts structured storylines that work and compelling character arcs. It's an incredibly balanced, well organized series where all parts work together to form a whole that satisfies on all fronts, realism be damned at many points. After all, what's more over-the-top than an entire planet becoming a Green Lantern?

      Granted, there certainly are cartoons out there that don't have much to them, but with the above examples in mind, I don't think saying "it's like a cartoon" necessarily excuses the issues that keep Pacific Rim from being all that it could possibly be, elevating it beyond what can be taken in visually.

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    17. @AnonymousJuly 25, 2013 at 3:14 AM - just wondering, did you consider that the titles you mentioned are series and not 2-hr films? will the enjoyment of watching them be the same if they were presented in just 4 episodes? I think that's one of the obvious flaws of PR--bad editing perhaps--everything seemed crammed so the audience had to pay really close attention to other details (like Mako's hair) to get a deeper sense of the plot.

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    18. kAo - Given Pacific Rim is a 2 hour and 11 minute film, it would be about six episodes of each show. (That's if you account for each episode being approximately 22 minutes in length without commercials.)

      Using Green Lantern in particular as an example, while the over-arching plot from the first 13 episodes obviously can't effectively be crammed into only half that time, there is still a very solid sense of direction in terms of story and character development. Additionally, some of those episodes bring up conflicts on a lower tier and resolve them within their 22 minute time span while still contributing to the end goal. This is because the show makes good use of its time in terms of writing and editing, as the crew working on it was well aware of how much room they had to develop the story they wanted to tell.

      So in terms of cramming a lot in, yes... I'm in agreement with Joon Kim in that Pacific Rim wastes time on story issues that aren't effectively followed up, such as the aforementioned issue of Raleigh so readily accepting Stacker's offer after his statement about how deeply Yancy's death affected him. The movie seems to want to go in a number of directions at once without having enough time to get to them all and flesh them out. That in mind, it probably WOULD do better as a 13 episode series, but as it's a movie these issues should have been taken into consideration during the script writing and script editing process. It's probably a case where "less is more" would have been the better choice. Re-arrangement of plot elements may have also served the movie better, such as the story following Mako more closely from the beginning rather than Raleigh.

      But basically, my original point was that just because something is a cartoon or is like a cartoon doesn't necessarily mean it should get a free pass in regards to the quality of writing involved. If series don't serve quite as well as examples, animated films could also be utilized. Joon Kim brought up Kung Fu Panda and I'll gladly add other films such as The Incredibles and The Iron Giant to the list (both of which run shorter than Pacific Rim and still do well in telling their respective stories and handling character development).

      Delete
    19. Ahh, I read this review and then scrolled down to comment something very similar. In particular, the idea that Pacific Rim is "visual world-building" and not necessarily visual storytelling resonates.

      It's a world where everything important we learn about these characters is seen, not spoken. It's a world that *hints* at careful, thoughtful, deep world-building in such a way that I foresee this property taking off a lot with fiction-writing media fandom, because it's so massively ripe for filling in the margins. Similarly, the characters are all fascinating but not-entirely-full of characterization. I feel like I could write novels about all of them, but that I don't *really* know who they are.

      It's a very enjoyable film. I will absolutely purchase it when it comes out on DVD, watch it a lot, and speculate endlessly about the world and characters. I'm keen to find out if it gets a sequel based on global box office take. But I'm still not convinced that simply boasting a creator with excellent attention to visual detail like del Toro a well-told movie makes.

      Delete
  9. I also wanted to add...

    The Dark Knight Rises is fully dumb.

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  10. As for your comment that Mako's backstory or motivation isn't spoken out loud...

    It is. By Raleigh... as he plays psychoanalyst with Stacker during a heated exchange. He just bluntly lays it out in the most obvious way.

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    1. And Pentecost shoots his psychoanalytical BS down. "all I need are your compliance and fighting skills". Raleigh being a character who does things you don't agree with does not make him a bad character. You just don't like the character, which is OK, too! Remember, what Raleigh says is NOT Mako's motivation, it is what Raleigh perceives her motivation to be, which Pentecost points out is inherently flawed. "You don't know me, who I am etc. etc."

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    2. So are you saying that everything Raleigh says is completely wrong?

      Is he not holding her back due to being protective of her?

      Is Mako not conflicted about her desires clashing with her sense of respect towards Pentecost?


      I never said Raleigh was a bad character. Nor did I ever say I disliked him.

      Delete
    3. So are you saying that everything Raleigh says is completely wrong?
      - I agree with Anonymous up there, it was Raleigh's interpretation of Pentecost's back story, not Mako's.

      Is he not holding her back due to being protective of her?
      - I personally don't think so. Mako was motivated by vengeance and we're shown why she's not ready to pilot. this is where Chuck's arrogance somehow made sense. they don't have time to baby a rookie with limited time and resources. was Mako worth the gamble? the talk down in Pentecost's room in my opinion was to make sure Mako understands why they musn't chase the RABIT.

      Is Mako not conflicted about her desires clashing with her sense of respect towards Pentecost?
      - I think she weighed her options well. she tried to talk to Pentecost about it but she didn't risk everything just to prove herself. if she was selfish enough she would have disobeyed all orders, and we don't see her talk back to Pentecost rudely like Raleigh did. I think the part when she asked to be dismissed was done well, she was sorry and she bowed as a sign of respect, she didn't argue any further like Raleigh.

      I'm not saying this film is perfect, but for me there are enough visual clues to compensate for the lack of dialog and dramatic visuals which was overdone in some films like MoS, that's why I find this article spot on.

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  11. Very nice piece!! I touched on how the Jaegers fight differently than each other, and how the styles change up when the teams change: http://cinematicgestures.blogspot.com/2013/07/pacific-rim.html I wonder if your girlfriend picked up on that, the distinction in the movements.

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    1. She might have. I didn't. I know others have, though, and I'll be watching this more closely the next time I see the film.

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  12. this was really really well written. i watched pacific rim yesterday and enjoyed it a hell lot but i didn't put it in such deep consideration as you and sara obviously did (probably some of that cynicism at work there). i got some of the clearer metaphorical bits like the symbolism of the red shoe, mako's freakout and her 'coloured' memory of stacker. missed quite a few bits too like the dyed hair/dress connection and a couple of other mentioned. for the kaidanovskys, i honest to goodness loved them the moment they appeared but i actually didn't catch the creeper sasha part! but agree soooo much on the fact that although they had no spoken lines, they made a kick-ass impression. thanks for sharing this!

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  13. This was awesome man!
    I was starting to feel like I truly loved a "dumb" movie thanks to the people around me that kept calling it a "dumb" movie, but now at least I know it's not the case. This movie was so pleasuring to watch it was insane :D

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  14. I enjoyed watching pacific rim; there are certain things about it which I find jabbing my finger excitedly at, and saying 'this!' 'this!' I want to see more of this! Interesting, that while I really liked the movie and enjoyed the visual cues, as you said, the tendency to analyse it for its 'written' value is very strong. I am going to point people to this article now and jab my fingers at it excitedly!

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  15. I picked up on Mako’s hair too. I didn’t connect it to her jacket though. I drew the line to Kaiju Blue, the “oil spill” that happens after a kaiju is killed because its blue blood seeps everywhere. I figured that Del Toro was creating a connection between the corrupting nature of Kaiju Blue and Mako’s deep-seated desire for revenge. I also got the heroic symbolism of Mako’s memories of Stacker. I didn’t get the stuff about the Kaidanovskys, though. Your girlfriend had some interesting insights.

    Del Toro has a great eye for visuals. I have told my friends that it was one of the things that saved the movie. The scene with Newton and the tongue was amazing. The movie was visually arresting, but that didn’t stop from leaving the theater to take phone call. It was on vibrate. Normally I turn it off, but we got there late. I have never left a movie to take a phone call. I did it this time because I knew exactly what was going to happen. Pacific Rim follows the beat of the heroic action movie. Its rhythm was succinct and predictable. Everything about the characters and plot was stock. It didn’t help that Raleigh told the audience everything that happening on screen, either through narration or his dialogue.

    I also disagree with you about the relationship between complexity and quality. Just because something has implicit meaning, subtext, and interpretations doesn’t make it good. The Twilight series was not good, and yet it was still complex enough to support a conversation about its implied gender roles and the transformation of vampire symbolism from folklore to the contemporary world.

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    1. Remember that for everyone that sees this as a stock plot, there's someone for who it is totally fresh. I think that's part of why Star Wars worked so well--it taught a whole generation the beats. I'm hoping this takes up a similar role. There's nothing wrong with doing a traditional story well.

      I kind of answered your Twilight point, actually... though it might take some reading between the lines. That's a different sort of criticism than what I'm talking about here. This conversation is a shared experience of figuring out how the film fits together and how the subtle details add up to a whole. That was a contentious debate about (anti)feminism and its presence or absence from Twilight. It's a different sort of debate, just like the productive dialogue of speculation and fanfiction is a different sort of debate.

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    2. The scene with the tongue is a brilliant reconstruction of the probing "eye" in War of the Worlds (1953) establishing the kaiju as alien technology, rather than creatures in their own right before this is confirmed by the second drift.

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  16. Thank you for writing this! The section on the Kaidanovskys and their body language especially rang true for me, because it's something I picked up on but wasn't really able to express in words.

    I agree that grimdark cynicism gets mistaken for depth far too often, and it's an alarming trend. I hope more people will give Pacific Rim a chance, because I honestly can't remember the last time I enjoyed a movie more.

    Also, I'm sorry but I can't not say this: you (language) and your girlfriend (visual) sound like the perfect jaeger pilot team <3

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    1. Well at least we know who to call first and add to the pilot lists when the Kaiju attack later this year. :-)

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  17. So, here's my problem with this post:

    You, the author (whoever you are; full disclosure, I know nothing about you), seem to possess no real understanding of what actual criticism is, and appear to be laboring under the misunderstanding that Tumblr holds the most insight into literary and film criticism. Or perhaps that people who studied literature in high school and who have now become bloggers are stand-ins for actual critical scholars.

    There's a real, thriving genre scholarship community out there, and I assure you that they don't neglect things like imagery and symbolism. Perhaps you missed the lessons on how important the visual aspects of just literature are, much less the huge portion they comprise of film studies.

    If you want to talk about random internet commentators, that's fine. No arguments here. The vast majority of people writing about things on the internet have no idea what they're talking about. However, when you start complaining about critical theory itself (and harping on it again and again) when you don't seem to actually know anything about it... Well, that becomes pretty infuriating pretty quickly to someone who not only is a genre scholar, but who constantly struggles to find legitimacy for their work. I mean, I expect the establishment to undermine the legitimacy of genre scholarship, but I don't expect it from someone writing a post like this.

    My advice? Connect up with some real scholars before making broad, sweeping generalizations about an entire discipline in much the same way that you complain people have treated Pacific Rim. Consider joining IAFA, the International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts. Talk to the people doing research in this area.

    Or, alternately, just continue to complain about people on the internet.

    Whatever's easiest.

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    1. This is easily in the top 50 most condescending comments ever posted on the internet in an English-language forum, which is like, a huge accomplishment

      Delete
    2. Ahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha.

      Hahahahahahahahahahahahahaha.

      I'd respond but I can't see my keyboard; there's too many diplomas in the way. Damn, son, I'm buried in these things. Schools are handin' me diplomas like cheep cigars passed out in honor of the birth of more British royalty. It's like stupidly oversized confetti just fluttering down on me like I'm getting married to the giant at the top of the academic beanstalk. Jack's just looking up with envy like shit, bro, all that shoulda been mine, but I decided to post ignorant bullshit on message boards instead of getting myself an education.

      But the tragic twist is that the oversized consummation of the marriage is coming in the form of college loan debt, and I'm pretty much about to get massively shafted. Damn. No one gets a happy ending this time. Directed by Christopher Nolan; coming to a theater near you.

      Wow that has to be in the top 10 weirdest things I ever wrote.

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    3. Hey, it's cool, Sam. You don't have to actually respond to anything I said.

      Just keep complaining on the internet, and pretending that you know what you're talking about. That's the easiest path, though let me say this: in the end, diplomas aren't all they're cracked up to be. I know plenty of idiots with diplomas, and plenty of idiots without. You appear to fall into the latter category.

      That said, there are lots of people who know less than you do, who will like your posts. The internet is full of people who know less than you, which is a sad state of affairs.

      I hope you have fun with that.

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    4. I gave you my reply with contrapassos-
      Nonsense with nonsense countered, in derision
      The only fitting fate for Anon' assholes.

      To countermand a fool takes quite some vision
      When that talking fool talks shit that's all bull, like
      A line with meter needing some revision.

      Still, here's a measured dialogue--Oh, wait, psych!
      It's too late--YHWH thinks my diss was hella
      tight, let's short this machine with a godly strike!

      I rise by Deus Ex a saintly fella,
      Dante nods just once to tell me that we're bros
      As I ascend in glory through le stella.



      Which is to say that I did reply to your post. You posted a bunch of irrelevant, incomprehensible nonsense, and I'm responding with irrelevant, incomprehensible nonsense. Currently in the form of a hendecasyllabic terza rima rap battle.

      And I am having so much fun with that.

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    5. As a film student myself I'll have to side with Sam. He wasn't quite criticizing the state of scholastic film criticism in general. In fact he makes the distinction early on. It IS true that our mass film culture focuses too much on the literary as opposed to the visual meat of cinema (the endless comparison of book and adaptation attests to that). All Sam did was open up the forum on not how Pacific Rim is not a dumb movie (we have enough of that on the internet) but how its visuals make a fabulous case for it's awesomeness.

      Also, Giant Robots and Monsters! RAUUUuuurgggh!

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    6. Anonymous man, why are you looking at internet blogs if you are so concerned about serious literary criticism?

      Oh right, you're just a hack trying to sound smart. Carry on.

      Delete
    7. Anonymous says he has a degree but he "constantly struggles to find legitimacy for [his] work." I think you know why he goes to internet blogs to argue with them.

      Delete
    8. Also, to Sam:

      This commenter is a dick and his comment suggests that he knows a lot less about genre criticism than he wants us all to think, but I did find myself raising my eyebrows at your assertion that critical theory about film doesn't focus on visuals enough. There's a HUGE presence of visual analysis of film and television in academic circles and publications. I would venture to say that analysis of visual imagery alone is far more prevalent than analysis of dialogue-only. Maybe we're just reading different things, but I just can't understand where you're coming from with these assertions that media theory has no idea what to do with visual metaphor.

      Delete
  18. I picked up on some of that, but wow, this is going to influence my next viewing quite a lot. And every other movie I see from now on.

    What I took away from my first viewing is the body language of the triplets and the Russians. There was so much story in that, without even a word of dialogue.

    I wonder if people that don't notice this will pick up on some kind of tangible detail.

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  19. I loved this. As an Australian though, I'm just curious as to your reading of everything behind the Hansens being the only pilots to openly track their kills? On the surface, to me, it seems to be an example of Chuck's braggadocio and desire to prove himself. Is that how you and your girlfriend saw it?

    I adore PR - and not just because it's got two neat Australian characters! - and it's going to go down as one of my favourite films. Thanks for taking the time to demonstrate the cool stuff under the surface. I got that Mako's hair matched blue being associated with Kaiju, but I didn't connect it with her jacket - great thought!

    And, yeah, the Russians seem to be becoming some of the fan favourite characters, for those reasons you listed. One of my vivid memories of PR was spotting that little moment between Sasha and Aleksis.

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    1. Yeah, my gut instinct is to say the kill markers show that for them, piloting involves a measure of competition. It's only after the disaster of the battle of Hong Kong that this attitude sort of changes. There's a lot to dig into with those two actually...

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    2. Which is clearly true, given their comments on TV after taking down the kaiju in Sydney.

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  20. Loved this piece, and commenting here to add:

    Mako is Japanese. There are two very Japanese things going on with her quietness that I can think of off the top of my head right now. One is the quiet polite Japanese woman, who is generally seen as deferential. The other is the "man of few words" quiet badass character that turns up in a lot of Japanese media. Generally male, usually a secondary character, always an expert in some form of combat, always visually unusual (often scruffy when others are tidy, I think Mako reverses that), gets very few lines of dialog and mostly just kicks tons of ass. I think Mako is both, and deliberately uses the "quiet deferential woman" stereotype to her own ends.

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    1. THIS.

      People seemed to forget that Mako is Japanese; and judging from the flashback we'd been given, raised in traditional family until she met Pentecost. How she behaved, her thoughts and mannerism can't be judged without the cultural context of which she raised in.

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  21. "Sidenote: this is why I always try, if possible, to watch movies with someone else. A shared experience, I find, is so much more meaningful."

    Much like the shared experience needed to pilot a Jaeger. The metaphor is complete!

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  22. You really gave me some food for thought here! I didn't catch on the blue streaks thing at all; I saw the Russians and felt they were kinda badass, to the point where I was sad that they didn't get more screentime. The same applies to the Chinese trio, who made me immediately think of Chinese synch divers and how they achieve incredible synchronism to the point that in Olympic games they could basically give them the gold to begin with. I caught a glimpse of them and thought "wow, that synchronism must be GOOD when piloting a Jaeger". I wish they got more time though; I felt that the biggest flaw in Pacific Rim was sacrificing two of its Jaegers/crews in the first important fight just for the sake of creating more drama (which then felt artificial as the following two Jaegers obtained a victory against a much superior enemy; it kind of diminished the dead crews. I guess it was a bad example of Worf Effect).

    By the way, I found hilarious how there was a clear visual analogy between Mako's red shoe and the Kaiju organ dealer shiny shoe which is the only part left after he's eaten by the baby Kaiju XD. That was probably the joke that worked the most for me.

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  23. You and your girlfriend should do more reviews here or on youtube. I would watch every single one.

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  24. Hey I absolutely love this. I wish I had read it before I wrote my own piece, which admittedly deals with issues other than yours. I think you've got some brilliant stuff here and its good to see you and your partner can compliment one another's approach to this kind of thing. I do the same with mine :) Here's something I wrote, I've got another Pacific Rim thing in the pipeline but of a wholly different nature: http://themonstervault.tumblr.com/post/56144703130/the-production-of-pacific-rim-infantile-pandering

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  25. "... but first I want to talk about my girlfriend, and you're going to let me because you've already clicked through and given me the pageview, so you may as well stick around."

    Actually, I'm going to scroll to the bottom of the page and leave a comment telling you that I'm not reading your piece, because once I saw how terrible the first paragraph was, and then saw that it was immediately followed by an unrelated anime screencap (not even from an anime bearing any relation to Pacific Rim's source material!), I've instantly concluded that you are an actual idiot.

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    1. Actually, I bothered reading all of your comment. And I have to say your divination abilities probably fail you, because I found the blog post a much enjoyable read - as the deviation from the topic at hand (i.e. Pacific Rim) is only apparent and in fact functional to its discussion; the anime screencap was in fact subtly relevant (on more than a level, if we want to read it with a certain depth: and besides that, just watch Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, 'cos it's awesome, on all levels); and in general it opened my mind a little, something that random internet hate seldom does (instead, more often than not, it makes me lose a little my faith in humanity). In less network-dominated eras they used to say "never judge a book by its cover". I guess the updated version should be "never judge a blog post by the lines that appear before the jump". Or something.

      Delete
    2. As a fellow anonymous, let me congratulate you on your post: Insulting, stupid, and arrogant. The unholy trifecta of dickhead posts everywhere.

      Delete
    3. Pretty sure that since the page reloads when you post a comment you actually gave me DOUBLE the pageviews I would have gotten had you simply clicked away.

      You just served yourself like a dude on double selfservice butler island.

      Also, part of me always worries with these articles that my tendency to swerve and dodge unpredictably on the way to the main topic will make the ideas inaccessible. Thanks for reminding me that I actually don't care about the demographic that gets inordinately angry at that sort of swerving and dodging! :D

      Delete
  26. I love this review and it puts the finger on some things I subconsciously loved about the film. Themes of any kind are not meant to be understood on a conscious level. Sure, some people will realize them, but most people are supposed to feel the theme, and walk out making vague connections and they're not sure why.

    I love movie analysis that shines a light on that process. On some movies, I'm the one having those deeper insights. Others, like Pacific Rim, all I knew was that I really liked it when no one else seemed to. (I did have a couple of insights about the "love" arc, if it can be called that, and some of why Mako is good for feminism.)

    Your girlfriend's difficulty understanding verbal metaphor is listed as a trait for Asperger's. Not everyone with Asperger's has this difficulty (I was recently diagnosed, and I often thought I wasn't aspy because I'm great with verbal metaphor -- I'm a writer), but it is prominent in many. You might have Sara take the Aspie Quiz at http://rdos.net/eng/Aspie-quiz.php As others have said, it sounds like you two make a great team. :)

    And pay no mind to the anonymous commenter complaining about your critiquing skills. You have every right to analyze and critique all you want (and be analyzed and critiqued in turn, btw). No one giant authority in the sky appoints critics or experts. You become an expert by doing. The internet gives everyone a printing press, for better or worse, and the best of that means we have a wealth of insights that otherwise might go missed by those trained in a certain school of thought. Keep it up. :)

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    1. Thanks for the tips or suggestions or whatever! She's described it to me as kind of like ADHD (that might be what she's officially diagnosed as, in fact--I'm not entirely sure) so it seems to involve more of a difficulty focusing on putting the pieces together, if that makes sense. We seem to compliment each other in that she can pick out the details and then I can start to string them together into an overall message.

      Has anyone ever done a study of people with Aspergers and visual metaphor, that you know of? That would be really interesting to look at, I think...

      The human mind is so, so interesting. I feel like we can learn so much about art when we delve into the neurological basis of our responses.

      Delete
    2. I was going to say she definitely has Aspergers or is at least on the spectrum. Her "ADHD" diagnosis sounds more like an inability to process social information. Misdiagnoses in this area happen all the time, and high functioning undiagnosed aspies are everywhere.

      As for a study on "Aspergers and visual metaphor," I'm not sure what you hope to learn from such a study. the bottom line is, if an aspy's talent lies in an area, they can excel at it. Your girlfriend can directly and efficiently process visual information faster than the average person. Many of the things she noticed are only meant to be interpreted subconsciously - they are not a secret great story lurking underneath a farce.

      I agree that visual and literal/oral are both good tools. But I disagree that visual alone can effectively deliver a moving human experience like a well executed written or oral story can. As a visual artist myself, I think a picture is worth a thousand words, but not nearly enough tears and laughs. To get to a place of great emotion, you must be led there by other means than physical. In Mako flashback scene, your GF came up with a great deal of extra details, but in the end they amount to the same boring ideas that the scene intended to convey in the first place. The scene did not function on a higher level because the writers weren't capable of making that so.

      You can exhaustively break down the complex visual elements of this movie, but that doesn't make it any more compelling. Your GF is simply excited because she has something to work with that she understands, and you are excited because you love her and like seeing her happy.

      Strong visual design is nothing more than reinforcement of the core of a story. You see it with any of the great directors. They know it's better to inject every physical part of a movie with significance rather than arbitrarily slap things together. Directors with a design background, Ridley Scott comes to mind, are even better at this than most, and completely capable of making empty movies that look amazing (Prometheus comes to mind.)

      I love good visuals, but story comes first. Especially in this day and age where we are oversaturated with CG eye candy, the senses become jaded. But the (socially-functioning) mind craves new food, and that's why movies like Pacific Rim don't cut it.

      Delete
  27. Thank you for articulating what I've been trying to determine. Too many of my friends claim this is a terrible movie, and I knew it really wasn't, that there were elements that outshined the occasionally simple dialog and plot. Thank you for helping me find some of these so I can discuss it with them.

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  28. That was quite an interesting read, makes me want to watch the movie again (not that I didn't already want to before) so I can pick up on some of the things I missed (I didn't even notice that the Striker Eureka team marked their kills). Then again I saw it in IMAX 3D so I think I might have been overwhelmed by the complete visual spectacle to notice some of the finer details.

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  29. I do wish you'd give us some more of your girlfriend's perceptions. I'm fascinated and ready to learn from her insight.

    However, being rich visually (and this film certainly is) doesn't EXCUSE being flat in other areas. The story IS simplistic and derivative. I don't believe the plot provided a "unified... positive, affirmative message" as you suggest. Can you articulate that message? What bearing does it have on our daily lives, on the human experience, on our behaviors or moral choices? I can't punch my problems in the face. How does watching a robot punch a kaijin help me understand life or relate to others?

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    1. Not the author (obviously), but my first reaction to the Jaeger project was pretty much: Finally a movie where humanity sticks together and deals with a threat. The Jaegers are the equivalent (to me) of seeing a UN-created, free-to-access space elevator in a movie. It's a big, international project that actually frickin' works. Movies constantly show humanity divided, but here we've got Russia, China, the USA, Japan, Australia (and going by the name of the Jaegers: Germany) sticking together and actually succeeding at something. The movie was very much "Humanity Fuck Yeah" where most movies tend to be "America Fuck Yeah".

      I mean, if humanity can overcome an invasion of Kaiju by creating giant mechas *and win*, there pretty much no limit to what we can do. I thought that counts as a "unified, positive affirmative message."

      Delete
    2. Hm, I think you're latching on too much to the literal action there, which isn't really what theme is about.

      If I had to sum up the message it would be this:

      "Only by coming together despite our differences and finding ways to complement each other, both in a global and an interpersonal context, can we overcome the threats to humanity as a whole and build a better future."

      Which is pretty much what I said in my conclusion, really, just in different words in a different order. Pretty much every major character arc, in one way or another, expresses this theme.

      And anyway, Theme is different from Story. And yes, the story is simplistic. I guess what I'm saying is that I don't care to criticize the film when there's so much good in it that deserves to be expressed. Plenty of people are criticizing the film's plot; I see no pressing reason to join the chorus when I've got something to say that only a few others can offer.

      Delete
    3. Also, what Yxoque said.

      Damn, now I want a movie about an international space elevator.

      Delete
    4. Sure, I appreciate your bringing a new perspective on the film and the visual richness. There was something there I appreciated while watching it but wasn't really conscious of and couldn't articulate. I'd like to see what other details your girlfriend picked up on.

      I didn't really get that sense of global unity and brotherhood, and the story did have a lot of problems, but I won't argue the points here. I think what would be most valuable all around is not trying to justify the film or defend it from critics and instead focus on calling out the rich visual artistry you allude to.

      Delete
  30. "She was doing it right.

    The rest of us are doing it wrong"

    Only if you think there is one single way of viewing a movie. Some people view movies analytically, some viscerally.

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  31. A wolf named JohnJuly 23, 2013 at 3:10 PM

    Fascinating take on the movie, and as many have said, I definitely need to see it again with all this in mind.

    I haven't had a chance to peruse back into the archives, so forgive me if this has been covered. I would be very interested to hear your and your girlfriend's take on other visually striking movies, for example any of Tarsem Singh's work, Black Swan, or even Sucker Punch.

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  32. I tend to pick up dialog/text a lot more easily than visuals so I quite enjoyed this piece and your girlfriend's insights.

    I've seen a lot of ppl talking trash about Pacific Rim, but I've also seen some pretty good ones: On not punishing the scientists and On how the Bechdel Test isn't the only way to evaluate female presence in the movie.

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    1. Thanks for this! It's also a good note to read.

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  33. Those people who said it's a dumb movie is as dumb as the trasformers sequel! The movie and all characters are good! Simply beyond good!

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  34. Hi there. My boyfriend sent me your article because well, we both really loved "Pacific Rim" despite its downfalls here and there.

    However, what I would like to mention is that I happen to be a middle school teacher (Language Arts) and CONSISITENTLY use visual media to teach concepts in my classes because I (and many other teachers) do understand that our students are highly visual learners. I teach new concepts to them with short films, videos and yes, even commercials. Then, we practice those concepts together and move to a mode of learning that is more challenging for them.

    I must say that I also happen to teach in one of the most technologically advanced schools in Washington; each child is given a laptop to use both at school and home. This is not the case in most areas.

    Anyway, your girlfriend seems like a few of my very unique students. I value the original and creative way they think. They will do well in future jobs that do not currently exist.

    Cheers!

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    1. Oh wow, this is basically the coolest comment ever.

      I've heard from other folks I knew in K-12 education that attitudes are starting to change, which I think is great, obviously.

      Using commercials is such a great idea. I had a theory professor at my undergrad institution, actually, who tried to get our class to analyze commercials... Unfortunately, my classmates were kind of bizarrely resistant to analyzing them, despite being in a senior level critical analysis course. [sigh] Still, it was a GREAT exercise.

      Anyway, it's so cool to hear that you're doing this. I'm planning on becoming a professor of media studies, so who knows, maybe in a few years I'll have one of your former students. :D

      Delete
    2. I am so glad you took the time to reply and that you are considering becoming a teacher.

      One of the reasons I am a Language Arts teacher is because every single thing in the world has to do with reading, thinking critically and/or writing. This leaves everything, even commercials, up to interpretation. Depth and complexity can be brought out of even the simplest subjects. Obviously, "Pacific Rim" is a good example.

      Teaching requires both the teacher and students to be open-minded and trusting. You seem to have those qualities.

      Good luck with your endeavors. :D

      Delete
  35. *CONSISTENTLY*
    Spell check! :D

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  36. Interesting article! When I saw PR one of the big takeaways I had from watching it had to do with the effortless non-verbal communication between the pilots through the link, which I found especially beautiful in many scenes. (The final scene of the movie with Raleigh and Mako being one.) It's even more cool to think about now after reading this, with the way the film tells it's story and those of it's characters through visuals, driving home the importance of a bond that doesn't require words.

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  37. Like this. Thanks for highlighting my thought comperehensively.!

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  38. Wow, hey! This was absolutely fascinating, and hands-down, my favourite response to the film I've read! Like others here, I'm definitely better at processing wordy walls of text than visual cues, so I found this article eye-opening. Shockingly so! Mako's hair and the tie to her jacket in the flashback being one thing - that honestly never occurred to me until you (I guess Sara) pointed it out.

    I guess I don't really have a lot to add except that I found all this just so... new? I guess? and couldn't resist sharing with my brother who I watched it with, and discussed. I guess I'd like to beg more of this, although hey, your time is your own, but this is just so interesting. I'm especially interested in the Australians marking their kills (never caught that!) and what Newt Geizler and Hermann Gottlieb shared in their drift.

    An article that had me buzzing over the film with renewed energy! Have a good one!

    (Also, hehe, Sam Keeper, you're a keeper. Haaaah, sorry, I think you must get that all the time irl. Still chuckling over it.)

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  39. Nicely done. I also felt that there was much more going on in this film than most of the audience caught. The color symbolism was obvious, but what really got me was how much information was contained in the background of the film, as in your example of the Russian pilots in the cafeteria. I could go on, but this is your soap box, not mine, so I'll let you continue as you see fit. I would, however, like to respond to some of your detractors, if I may. I would like to suggest that this film is, in itself, an experiment of sorts. Del Toro loves heavy visual elements and this was certainly no exception. What caught my notice, though, is that the storytelling seemed to be split almost down the middle, continuing the metaphor of the two pilots, with the dialog being mostly functional and with the emotional depth handled entirely by the visuals. It's very much a left and right hemisphere type of division, which serves to place the viewer in the odd position of having those two sides of human understanding presented separately, perhaps in much the same way that drifting pilots have their own perceptions altered. This takes an extra step toward audience immersion that you don't see often in films today.

    As for it being a "dumb film," I think we have to consider that we live in an exceedingly superficial society. Critics who should be providing objective insights often prove just as superficial, giving movies a cursory glance before vomiting forth some nonsensical tripe to fill space.

    I apologize, I'm at the end of a long month of travel here, so I'm not entirely certain of my own coherence, but I felt the points should be voiced. Feel free to pick them apart and restate them with greater clarity than days of sleep deprivation currently allow.

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  40. "Mako Mori is not a strong, well developed female character, because she only has a few lines."

    Wow. Two points. (1) Matrix II: "You never know someone until you fight them." The Drift is the most provocative idea in the film, and it's in the Kendo test with Mako that Raleigh knows -- within seconds! -- that she is his drift partner. So if anyone is babbling about babbling as the basis for communication, all I can say is mada mada de ne. That kendo fight, with it's psychological implications, is one of the coolest scenes ever.

    (2) These critics are American? Because we Americans are notoriously monolingual trogs. If they've never tried to become bilingual, then they wouldn't understand how a Japanese woman, for example, might process English as a second language. At this stage, I can write anything I want in hiragana instantly, but reading hiragana, I'm still like Flowers for Algernon. There was a Chinese attorney in my office who spoke English haltingly, so at first I found myself stupidly speaking to him as if he were slow. But then I realized, this man was reading and drafting complex legal documents in English. His speaking English didn't sync with his comprehension because the human brain acquires a second language along different modes at different paces. I understand that even better now from my own efforts at acquisition. So these critics expected Mako to babble like a Valley Girl in English? Mada mada de ne.

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  41. Amazing article.

    Pacific Rim is now up there with John Carpenter's The Thing, The Shining, and Starship Troopers as one of those movies filled with puzzle pieces, the viewer can to piece together. If looking at the right angle.

    If you haven't already I'd check out the series of YouTube videos by a guy called Collative Learning which analysis the visual clues in movies that build character development, and worlds they're set in.

    I'd love to hear what you and your girlfriend have to say on other movies like Prometheus, Jurassic Park, or HULK (2003).

    All the best

    Jack

    P.S Plus the comments section is hilarious and very entertaining!

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  42. The red shoe in the grey waste of the city a bit of a nod to the red coat in Schindler's. A rebuttal to extermination. May seem a bit above it's station for such a popcorn movie to use such emotive reference material, but it is a powerful tool.

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    1. Also...

      "A blue memory, a memory that’s all just in blue with splashes of red. I show her holding her heart, or a symbolic object that represents her heart." - Del Toro.

      The shoe represents her heart. When Stacker Pentecost hands her the shoe before she begins the jaeger test with Raleigh its symbolic of him letting her be free for the first time since he rescued her from Japan.

      Delete
    2. And Gipsy Danger was just a big blue coat with a red heart :-)

      Delete
  43. Oh and another thought, if you're a fan of visual cues and symbolism driving narrative, the series Hannibal is an absolute treasure trove of internal and external references to the Harris cinematic world and almost every major cultural work in the serial killer/slasher genre from Psycho to Se7en with Millenium and Twin Peaks all thrown in. It's a visual feast.

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  44. This was a wonderful article. Following, plusing, and sharing to the whole damn world. It's high time we start expecting more from our genre films!

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  45. I very much agree with your/your girlfriend on the brilliant and nuanced visuals of the film.

    I didn't parse Mako's little red shoe as her heart, but I parsed it as the only thing she had left to connect her to her family. Which boils down to the same thing, more or less. Some of that is no doubt due to the fact that some of the scenes that would make sense of this were left on the cutting room floor. I'm hoping for a Director's Cut with those scenes included.

    The other visual bit of storytelling I didn't see mentioned was the environment itself, which played in concert with the visuals of the characters. Usually in film, the sea is blue. But in Pacific Rim, it was mostly dismal grey, almost black, reflecting the loss of hope.

    Mako is the bridge between hopelessness with her blue-grey color scheme, and hope with the bright red of her shoes and the brilliant blue of her hair.
    The weather we see is all bleak and stormy, symbolizing the ongoing struggle humanity faces, but that we're losing by precious inches to the kaiju.

    The first weather we see, though, when Mako opens her pod is, for the first time, clear blue sky with a hint of the sun coming back out. Hope restored in victory.

    Who else were splashes of bright color against the dark blues and solemn greys of a world that was losing hope? Newt was, with his rumpled white shirt against the vivid colors of the kaiju tattooed on his skin. And Hannibal Chau as well, all fiery reds and golds and purples -- passion colors. His whole environment was vivid red to indicate human ingenuity. Even though he was a criminal, it was acknowledged that a lot of the knowledge we gleaned of the kaiju were due to his efforts.

    I would disagree that the storytelling is dumb or simplistic.

    The Wall idea is dumb, yes, but it's also accurate for politics in the real world. Politicians don't like spending money, they like solutions that keep their approval ratings up, and they don't usually display foresight or big picture thinking. So in story it makes sense. The Jaegers were becoming less effective, and the economies of the Pacific Rim countries were being demolished.

    The thrust of the action is simplistic. Big things attack us, we must fight back with big things. But that doesn't make it bad or weak storytelling. It was made clear that all our conventional attempts at fighting the kaiju on our terms had already failed, and nuclear weapons, while successful, would render huge chunks of the earth unsafe for human habitation.

    The story is all about achieving things by working together, with the giant robots just the cool icing on the cake. One person cannot generally run a Jaeger; two at minimum is needed, three is even better if they can get it. Newt and Hermann worked from different places but were both right at times and realized that they had to set aside their egoes and their rivalry to work together. Pentecost working with Chau was outside his normal purview but done with the greater good in mind because politics was not supporting him.

    I feel like so many people missed all this. People who say it was just a dumb movie, I feel like asking if we saw the same film.

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  46. It seems so weird to talk about visual metaphor and symbolism without commenting on what to me seemed one of the most obvious and interesting examples.

    From you and from Del Toro we have heard about how during the attack Mako's red shoe became a symbol for her heart. But there's ANOTHER prominent abandoned shoe in the movie. When Hannibal Chau is swallowed one of his shoes is left behind. It's a gaudy thing. Scaly and gilded. Because that's his heart, not a "heart of gold", but a heart that craves gold, and has a bit of the reptile to it. When he emerges during the credits his only comment is a query/demand about his shoe. Showing both a grasping nature and that he is as much tied to the visual language an anybody else, and wants his heart back!

    But it still is a strange thing. Why does Hannibal Chau's heart get externalized? To me it seems a visual evocation of a bit of Karl Marx. "History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce." Mako's shoe/heart is tragedy. A little girl who has lost so much, and became consumed with revenge. Hannibal's shoe/heart is farce. Not caring about other people he has to be swallowed to have real loss. Not a victim of circumstance he chose to strip Kaiju, and he chose to stab the apparently dead infant Kaiju, and thus exposed himself to the eating. Instead of seeking revenge on Kaiju for killing her family, Chau emerges from the Kaiju searching for what is, after all, just a shoe.

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  47. Oh my goodness, there are so many good comments. this is so cool.

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    1. Oh, and one more case of color and environment.

      Mako meeting Pentecost.

      Mako was there, blue amid a grey ashy landscape in destroyed Tokyo. And she looks up to see Coyote Tango. She's not even sure if it's another monster at first. You can see by her apprehensive expression. And then as the hatch opens, the sun comes out and shines through the ash and clouds, making almost a golden halo around Stacker as he emerges -- the first sign of hope to the beleaguered tiny Mako, whose world had literally been torn apart around her.

      Delete
  48. The whole movie has a shoe/foot theme. Lots of feet shots.

    It has to be visual because that is the visceral heritage of the Kaiju movie. universal imagery that everyone who knows what a skyscraper and a robot is will understand.

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    1. Focus on boots locking into the jaeger/pilot interface

      Mako wearing combat boots on base

      Mako's removing her boots for the trial combat revealing Mako's bare feet

      Mako's red shoe

      Hannibal's shoes, gaudy yet also armored indicating a fashion/weapon duality

      I will bet there are a few other odd foot moments that wouldn't exist in other films, also scenes of kaiju or jaeger feet.

      ~anon coments by rkt88edmo

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  49. "everyone else is doing it wrong" thanks for the thinly veiled "you're all fucking deficient" dig.

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  50. I'm sharing this everywhere I post. You've got a dedicated blog reader out of me. I'd love to see you and your girlfriends comments on more and more movies. I really soak and absorb visuals, but I've never been able to really articulate what I find so appealing about very visual movies, and you and your girlfriend have that talent.


    Also Pacific Rim is officially on of my Top 5 movies now. Need to see it yet again...

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  51. I'm a lit major, and I love words. Words matter. (This is why I think the choice of names for Raleigh's Jaeger is unfortunate: because words fucking matter.)

    And, so do other things. Colors, patterns, all of that. A movie is so much richer when people making it care about that level of detail.

    And gestures and expressions. I loved the 2008 Speed Racer movie for so many things. But, the first one that comes to mind is one little smile -- no, one little half-smile from Taejo Togokahn when he realizes that his sister has given his invitation to the Grand Prix to Speed Racer. So much comes together in the movie with that little smile.

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    1. I agree.

      From what I've read, the main Jaeger's name was supposed to have been an homage to the WWII DeHavilland Gipsy Moth, but still - the word has too much negative connotation. And you have to really be a WWII buff to recognize the DeHavilland connection (I'm not that big a buff but I recognized it when it was pointed out to me).

      And oh, I adored the Speed Racer movie, and yes, that scene is one of the best. But there are so many brilliant little visuals that really make the movie. It was eye candy by Godiva for want of a better turn of phrase.

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  52. I loved this movie, mostly because it was so visual. I thought Chow's shoes deserved their own backstory. And I too loved how much the Russian's did with body language. However, I get why Stacker died, but no amount of mental gymnastics can get me past the son dying. Stacker can pilot alone, they made a big point of how he and Raleigh have that in common, it's why the girl is ejected. So why even switch the oxygen lines? For a movie that seems to have so many smart moments, the stupid ones stand out. Still love it, just really wish Raleigh had died and the arrogant son had lived.

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    1. To be fair, he would have been ejecting into a Nuke about to go off, so he would have died anyway...

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  53. Great article! As an English major, I totally agree that there isn't enough emphasis placed on visual criticism. That said, I also wanted to add something else I noticed from the movie in terms of colour.

    When we first see Raleigh and Yancy suiting up their armour is pure white. It's clean, just like new. White mostly symbolizes purity in Western cultures and death in some Asian cultures. If you already saw the trailer and knew that Raleigh and Mako would be co-pilots from the get-go, you probably suspected that Yancy was going to die. Still, having the white armour helped as a visual cue.

    Before Yancy's death, we see the Kaiju tear their Jaeger's left arm off, causing Raleigh a great deal of pain. When he stumbles out of the Jaeger in the next scene, we see the armour is badly damaged. Contrast that scene with the opening scene in the film, when Raleigh was clearly excited and ecstatic about facing another Kaiju. He exudes an air of recklessness and the audience realizes right off the bat that he's the younger brother. The white of the armour, which symbolized his naivety and age, is now covered in blood and soot. Raleigh is obviously traumatized after his brother's death and the deterioration of his armour illustrates that. His naivety is gone and, like the armour, he is "tainted" by the death of his brother.

    For all that Pacific Rim was marketed and treated by viewers as a simple action movie, there really are a lot of subtle nuances that elevates it to a stunning, intelligent story.

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    1. You've touched on something that struck me on a second viewing: metaphorically, Raleigh *is* Gipsy Danger. That scene where he pilots her out of the fog and collapses on the beach in the snow is designed to drive that point home. Look at how Gipsy Danger ends up: face down, on hands and knees, precisely the same way Raleigh crawls out of the cockpit. Raleigh's injuries match the damage to Gipsy Danger, too - the smashed face-plate, damaged left arm, and wounded chest.

      There are several payoffs to this setup. The first is when Pentecost is trying to recruit Raleigh back, and Raleigh says something along the lines of "I can't have anyone else in my head again." When Knifehead rips Yancy from Gipsy Danger's head, he also rips Yancy out of Raleigh's head via the Drift. I don't know whether this dualism is just supposed to give us a visceral appreciation for what Raleigh goes through, or if there's something more fundamental here.

      Next we've got Raleigh and Mako's chat in front of Gipsy Danger after the trial run. This bit's more than a little corny when you read into it: Gipsy Danger's breastplate is being taken off, and Mako telegraphs what Raleigh's doing by saying "Her heart - when was the last time you saw it?" This is evidently the scene where we're supposed to believe that Raleigh has opened up to Mako, but there's a wrinkle: *we*, the audience, never see Gipsy Danger's reactor, the "heart" stand-in.

      Third up is the end sequence, where a cruciform Gipsy Danger sacrifices herself for humanity, and Raleigh returns from the dead... there's a *ton* of what looks to me like religious symbolism around Gipsy Danger throughout the film (a fall from heaven, a flaming heart, defeating serpents with a sword, a descent into hell...), but other than the most superficial elements I'm having a little difficulty piecing it together into a coherent whole.

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    2. Comments like these two are why I braved the earlier trolls. :) Thanks for sharing even more insights.

      I *love* subtext and this movie was filled with visual subtext. Thanks for adding to my appreciation!

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  54. Thanks for writing this! Some comments:

    "See, critical theory, from what I've observed, is highly linguistic in focus and scope."

    You do follow this up immediately with a comment about casual commentary on Tumblr, but this struck me as strange. I can't recall any of the film crit texts that I read in film classes emphasizing narrative elements (including script and dialogue) over shot composition, camera movement, and editing. Has the academic world changed that much in ten years?

    "And yet, [Mako] still is adamant in her desire to pilot, and is not shy or demur about demanding her chance to seek her revenge against the alien invaders. This is a woman who knows exactly what she wants, know exactly how to get it, and is willing even to butt heads with the person she loves more than anyone on Earth for that chance."

    This seems overly apologetic for a character whom the text makes very clear doesn't know how to get what she wants, and isn't capable of doing so. She doesn't achieve any of her goals without having a Big Strong Man in her life to get them done for her. She wasn't a pilot before the arrival of Raleigh; she still wouldn't have been a pilot after the near accident during her first Drift if Raleigh hadn't made the case for her with Stacker. More to the point w/r/t the main thrust of your essay here, the visual elements you bring up here don't portray her as an especially competent character, though I agree that they do serve to flesh her out much more completely than her dialogue alone. (They don't portray her as particularly incompetent either; they're orthogonal to that aspect of her.) I'd be interested in reading if there were other aspects of her visual characterization that show that she's able to play in the same sandbox with the boys, without needing one of them to help her do so.

    Though I do have to say that I loved Del Toro using Mako in his cheeky attempt to discredit, or at least play around with, Mulvey's theory of the male gaze in the scene which visually mirrors Anthony Perkins in Psycho!

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  55. Wonderfully written piece...this movie really nails the visual language that is prevalent in Anime. Symbolism so strong that it you could (and the critics maybe should) watch the Blu-Ray when it comes out with the sound off as to force the brain to absorb and process more of the visuals. Someone here mentioned Speed Racer and I loved that movie as well. It is another movie that did as much storytelling in symbols than it did with words.

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  56. I've seen it three times now and it's a movie that the more you think about what you saw, the more pieces of story you pick up.

    Knowing Beachem created a a very detailed world, I knew there would be more to learn about Pacific Rim. Del Toro said there was some trimming here and there, plus about 10 minutes of scenes cut.

    Off to the bookstore to get the novelization and Travis Beachem's prequel graphic novel. Reading them and then going back to see the movie again gave the characters even more depth. Look at the scene where Raleigh and Chuck are fighting, Mako is in the background hoping around with both fists in the air waiting to join in. When Mako engages the sword, Raleigh just watches her in awe.

    The Russians, the Chinese, and the Aussies all get more lines and background.

    I highly recommend getting both books.

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  57. Yeah I picked up on the color imagery through the film like your girlfriend did. However,it did not convince me that it was a good film. That one event is not enough to really flesh out the character. I hadn't noticed that she didn't say much and i agree film don't have to have good dialogue to be a good film. However, the film was still lacking in plot and character development. Yes the sets, outfits, and CGI (what every film basically is now) were pretty and all but it was lacking in style. Del Toro has amazing mise-en-scene, but that's about it. I was disappointed in the cinematography, especially in the fact that during the fighting sequences instead of showing us everything from interesting angles they used the average "american shot" for these fights(and most of the film). That was frustrating. Here I was actually expecting to see them fight and it was more of me wishing i could more than just a close up of a robot fist making contact with a kaiju. I'd also like to point out that the film critics didn't say anything about the "message" of the film being bad. Films with clear messages get good reviews too, not just ambiguous ones. I mean Kings Of Summer was not morally ambiguous and it got better reviews than Pacific Rims but that's probably because the film just had more style. I'd also like to point out that Del Toro has made better films in the past which I believe probably has to do more with the fact that he didn't make them through the Hollywood system. Unfortunately, Hollywood probably held him back from doing everything he wanted to. My theory is that he needed the budget to make the film and had to go through the system to get it but Hollywood has a way of restricting artistic directors. That's why the critics who pointed out that Del Toro was making fun of Hollywood were spot on.

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  58. I could hug you right now. Thank you for making all the arguments people NEED to hear. (I'll forgive the snipe at Dark Knight Rises... like Pacific Rim, it's not a film for everyone.)

    Another often-spurned movie that deserves this kind of in-depth analysis is Ang Lee's Hulk. Visual metaphor abounds in that flick. I actually wrote an article about it myself -- nowhere near as detailed as yours, but along the same lines: http://www.geeksofdoom.com/2008/06/13/movie-review-hulk

    Thanks again for a great read!

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  59. I m excited for the Fifty Shades of Grey movie.i cant wait for releasing date of The movie Fifty Shades Of Grey

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  60. I definitely loved every part of it and i also have you book-marked to see new things on your site.

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  61. A wonderful article that has inspired me to see the film (which I adored!) again. I also want to thank all of the responders who added to the theme of the article. I do love this sort of thing.

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  62. "Cynicism used to be the radical thing. Now it's as mainstream as Greenday."
    Yes, but on the plus side, this means we're making progress. Some wise person once said (and I'm very much paraphrasing) that the three stages of figuring out existence are Pollyannaish Satisfaction, Adolescent-Style Cynicism and Rejection of All the Stuff that Sucks, and Figuring Out How to Transcend or Fix the Stuff that Sucks. (This is why I don't come up with deep aphorisms.)

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    1. don't think i've ever seen/heard it in those words but i've heard of the idea of the three basic stages of 1. original 2. deconstruction (points out everthing wrong with the original, takes it apart and examines the innerworkings, taking the original and going to logical extreme with it) and 3. reconstruction (takes the deconstruction, looks at what it pointed out, tweaks them and fixes them the end result resembling something between the deconstruction and the original). TVTropes explained it pretty well.

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  63. Great post. I love how your girlfriend saw the film without the biases and reservations that usually come with formal education. Despite my fascination with Mako's blue hair, I saw it as kaiju blood and didn't make that connection with her clothes --thanks for pointing that out!

    My boyfriend has ADHD. When he tunnels he sees details I never would've considered. It allows the both of us to look at things from two different perspectives. It's worth noting that ADHD usually comes coupled with another condition, which may or may not be influencing how she perceives language.

    I would agree that the script could have been better but it was visually satisfying--- I was geeking out about that the entire time.

    Interesting comments too. One of the comments reminded me of a piece I came across when I was in freshman year "Why is A Classic a Classic". Who's to say a person is the authority when it comes to "scholarly" and intelligent critique?

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  65. Excellently written.

    I must admit, I've yet to see it (I'm overseas - it won't be out here for weeks), but all my friends back home say it's a great movie. Your article has made me that much more excited to view it.

    Could you ask your girlfriend to watch Cloud Atlas next? It would be very interesting to learn her impression of such a visually-packed film.

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  66. i am thoroughly amazed by the depth of this review. i completely agree! i am a linguistic-metaphor person myself, but i've always strived to read deeper into visual imagery since nature decided i'm to be a visual processor and learner; i'm guessing it's the system of education that has trained me to analyse linguistically first and foremost. all that is to say i absolutely loved this movie the first time i watched it (my man went back for a 2nd time alone as i was too busy!). ive always been a robot-lover, but to know and be made aware of the symbolism and visual language in this film makes me wanna watch it all over again!

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  67. I don't usually comment on blogposts anymore because you know, life, but OMG your post made me so very happy. There's so much depth to the movie (and not just because of the sea rift), and I've gotten so much flack of absolutely going batshit over this "transformers+iron man rip-off".

    You, good sir, have made my weekend!

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  68. My boss actually turned me on to your article, and I found it wonderful! I will admit, my boyfriend was the one who had to drag me to see Pacific Rim. So, I obliged him, mainly because I always say I'm up for anything...

    Boy. Was I in for a treat...

    One thing that caught my attention (that I feel was fairly obvious, but maybe not) at the beginning of the movie was when Raleigh has to drag Gipsy Danger to the shoreline, after his brother is killed. It was striking visually. A large machine usually piloted by two people, moved by one. It struck so deeply because of the loss; it looked the way you feel after losing someone. You only function to survive, not live. You struggle to do what you have to, while the void left by this person chokes you...wow.

    I have a couple of friends who are art majors and they definitely see things the way your girlfriend does. It is why I love going to movies with them; we always have a pow-wow outside of the theater afterwards to discuss our thoughts. ^_^

    I hope to read more about your interpretations as well as your girlfriend's.


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  70. Excellent analysis and review. Thank you for this, and to your girlfriend as well, for sharing her gift with you.

    This film is by far one of my favs, as well as another that I feel has the same level of visual and auditory power - Scott Pilgrim vs the World. I was quite stunned by the similarities and was convinced that the touch of blue hair was a tribute to Knives Chau.

    Thanks again

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  71. I disagree with Sam's conclusion that cynicism used to be the radical thing - at least from a big picture, long term view of history.

    This is to say that I don't really think it has become more radical to say we can accomplish amazing things when we work together rather than to say something sour and bitter and cynical - I think that it has always been that way.

    The idea that we can accomplish great things when we work together is actually the new and radical statement. This may sound cynical, but I believe it's actually quite optimistic because if this new radical statement really takes hold, then I believe it will lead to the continuation of our species.

    This leads me to the idea I've had recently that we as a species are on the cusp of a new kind of evolution. Or more accurately, an evolutionary step that will affect our mental and emotional state more than our physical state.

    If you look at our history over the last couple hundred years, you start to see patterns that indicate we are stagnating as a species - our technology is increasing by leaps and bounds, but our patterns of behavior are not changing much at all.

    As I see it, we are long overdue for that next small evolutionary step that changes our physiology in a way that affects our behavior rather than our physical structure. This evolution would manifest in the brain of course, as some small but significant change in how different parts of the brain interact with one another or when and how certain chemicals are produced, but the subsequent effect would be extraordinary. I view this radical statement, this preliminary understanding that we can accomplish amazing things when we work together as perhaps a precursor to this evolutionary step.

    To be honest about it, I should say that I HOPE we are on the cusp of a new step in evolution, because if we are not then our own unrestrained, uncontrolled growth will ultimately lead to our destruction. I don't view that as a cynical statement, but one born of observation. The one failing of truly malignant cancer is that it always destroys the host.

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  72. I love what you said about learning and discounting nonverbal imagery, but I think you didn't quite get what feminist critics mean by counting lines.

    The visual cues can tell you a lot about a character - and certainly do about Mako. But when the subtext of your life is for people to care what you look like long before they care what you say (if in fact they ever do) you are more than averagely aware that visual information in fact reveals a much smaller part of the truth of an actual person than others believe.
    Knowing that, it's hard to be satisfied with even the most nuanced visual cues - and yes, the ones in Pacific Rim were well done - as the central forces of character development. It does stick in your craw when you don't get to hear more of what she might have to say because you're *used* to not getting to hear from women, and no matter the reasons, not hearing from yet another woman in a male-dominated movie is going to carry that context.
    If your basic thesis intentionally divorces artistic choices from cultural context, it's perhaps not the best idea to use critics principally using a cultural context lens as your sole counterpoint.

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  74. I'ma huge fan of Kaindonovskys as well, and one of the many reasons I really enjoyed their characters despite the lack of lines is that they didn't have that stereotypical (and frankly annoying) 'eastern european' accent that's often used in movies produced in us to establish characters ar russian. Nobody in real life who speaks english on daily basis actually has such a distinct accent (not to say there isn't any accent at all, but eastern and middle european english is more defined by using a mix of us and uk english, which sometimes sounds odd), and the fact they didn't use this cheap kind of characterization made me instantly fall in love. I still think about the meaning of cherno alpha. As much as it would sound cheesy in english, it doesn't in russian. Technically, it should be cherniy, and I wonder whether it's a nod to chernobyl. (Not that I actually did any reading on this matter, yet!)

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  75. Wow, this is a fantastic thread!

    If I may, I'd like to add add my 2 cents about Charlie Hunnam's performance as Raleigh Becket, which I feel is *REALLY* underrated. Most people don't seem to notice, but in a time span of two hours Hunnam essentially portrays 3 almost completely different Raleigh Beckets.

    The first Raleigh we get to see is the young, overly eager and overly self-confident Raleigh Becket who basically views himself as a combination of Michael Jackson and Fedor Emelianenko. The fiery spirit of that first Raleigh Becket however is utterly decimated when he experiences the death of his brother while being in the Drift with him, yet he still somehow manages to single-handedly defeat the fist Category 3 Kaiju, and then march a heavily damaged Gipsy Danger to the coastline.

    The second Raleigh Becket we see soon after is completely different: A broken man who has lost his fire and edge, and who ekes out an base existence by voluntarily doing very dangerous/deadly jobs in order to collect ration cards, no longer really caring if or when things eventually go bad. When Marshal Pentecost finds this wreck, he is still wallowing in self-pity and apathy, until Pentecost bluntly relays the reality of the situation to him: "We're all about to die real soon anyway, so where do you want to spend your last moments? Around here, going out like a bum and a nobody, or fighting to the death in a Jaeger making your last stand?!" You can see how in that moment, somewhere deep down an old flame begins to re-ignite in Becket.

    The third and final Raleigh is the one that we waking up in front of our eyes during the Kendo training scene with Mako, when he realizes that Mako is highly Drift-compatible with him. Both Raleigh and Mako are heavily traumatized and damaged individuals, and they feel that the other fills up the gaping void they both have inside of them. This newly awakened Raleigh is much closer to the first one Hunnam portrayed at the beginning of the film: He rediscovers his spirit, self-confidence and aggression, first shown during the hallway fight scene when he knocks the teeth out of Hansen Junior, begins to openly question and challenge Pentecost's decisions and leadership skills, straight up to the point where he is literally shouting at his commanding officer in public, chasing him in the hallways and physically pulling at his arm. He is so out of control that Pentecost has to viciously pull rank on him, just in order to get him back in line. The old Raleigh has been reborn, more seasoned, more toughened and more focused.

    I was really impressed by how Charlie Hunnam portrayed three different versions of his own character in this movie, and I'm sort of surprised few other people seem to have picked up on any of this.

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  76. What about the more obvious visual jokes? The punch that goes through the office building and destroys everything, then ends up tapping the desk-toy-hanging-ball-thingy. There were a couple more of these in the fight scenes that made the action sequences that much more enjoyable.

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  77. Interesting article. I guess I disagree with the idea hat just because Mako has somewhat of a well-developed background and timid agency, this is a movie that holds water from a feminist slant. To say that her character is developed visually--that's a great point, but as you also point out, it's a medium that is perhaps less valued. To have to pick visual/text-based development is of course a somewhat false dichotomy, and maybe not a concern for many male characters, who get to be rounded out in both formats. And yes, I loved the Russians and their dynamic, but this was, in the end, a movie swarming with bit parts that were seemingly all written for (and given to) men. Not to say that it wasn't fun and enjoyable and even merits further critical analysis, but from a feminist perspective there's a lot of room for growth.

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  79. I love absolutely EVERYTHING that you've written here. It's absolutely perfect. As perfect as the movie to be honest. I saw the movie last Tuesday and only because it was either pacific rim or despicable me 2. Now don't get me wrong, I love despicable me and I still want to watch it and I love animation but the thought of sharing a theater with all of those little kids yelling and making unnecessary noises turned me off because it would ruin my experience of the movie. Pacific rim was my only other option and I was reluctant to go watch it because like the fool that I am, I read the critic reviews and allowed them to form an opinion that I hadn't had the privilege of forming myself. But when I left that movie theater I felt like I had just seen one of the most amazing works of art and one of the best movies ever to be made. I couldn't put my finger on it but there was something about the movie visually that appealed to me. It wasn't eye candy and it wasn't because I'm into graphics and 3D animation (and pursuing a career in the field) it was because the film used these visual elements in order to transcend beyond its, admittedly, weaker dialogue and story.
    It acted like a spell and now I can't not have the urge to buy everything with pacific rim on it. Currently in the process of locating and buying the movie companion and maybe a toy figure.
    Thank you for putting this inner feeling into words because you described it perfectly. The only aspect of this whole conversation that makes me sad is that most people are either too conditioned to understand or are too stubborn to understand the reasons why this movie is so epic. Beyond the awesome robot/monster bashing of course.
    Another thing that want to add here that I loved about the movie is that there. Wassss. Noooo.
    Unnecessary onscreen romance or sexualization of characters. And I will love the director and screenwriter forever for that.

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  80. I just saw this movie and a friend recommended I read this article. I agree that Pacific Rim didn't suck, and requires a viewer to engage with it on a visual level to enjoy it. However, I did not think the movie was a complete success. Those of us who view it critically and find it wanting are not "doing it wrong." That's because people value different things in a movie.

    It is a little high-handed to tell people their way of viewing the movie is wrong. As long as you are factually correct when you reference the original text, your interpretation is just as valid as anyone else's. Yes, the visual experience of this movie was intense, exciting, and pleasurable. However, I engage with more than just the visuals. There were plot holes you could drive a truck through.

    Why were the jaegers decommissioned? In favor of a wall that was torn down before it was even finished. Supposedly the jaegers were failing to keep the kaiju under control and were thus discredited. Yet we saw that with only 5 active jaegers, all the kaiju in the movie were effectively kept under control. Huh? Come up with a better inciting incident. It wouldn't be that hard.

    So one wonders why the governments of the Pacific EVER agree to decommission the jaegers. If the few they had didn't do the job, build more of them. Never have nations in the midst of war just chosen to disarm. They would have built an army of kaiju. The US alone would have built a hundred of them--nothing like an excuse to kick the war machine into high gear. I can't imagine Russia or China being outdone, either. The whole decommissioning angle was very, very silly. Could have easily been fixed, honestly. The wall idea was stupid, because that wall was apparently made of tissue paper, both as a plot device and as a deterrent to kaiju.

    Lastly, while the dialogue was fine, the sacrifice of Stacker Pentecost was such a telegraphed punch that I could not help by roll my eyes at it. I liked the storyline between him and Mako, and the love story between Mako and Raleigh was just right.

    So overall, it was a visually thrilling movie-- A+ for that. And I enjoyed it greatly on that level. Some aspects of the story were fine. However, I cannot fully enjoy a movie unless the storyline also thrills me, and this one did not. That does not mean I'm doing it wrong. It means that I am an analytical, left-brain thinker. I liked explosions and monsters and robots as much a the next person, but for $28 for a matinee, I want a little more.

    I'd give it 3 out of 5 stars.

    But hey, CHARLIE HUNNAM'S ABS in 3D. That visual can make up for a lot of plot holes ;)

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  81. I've noticed a few people comment saying "the visuals don't make up for the blank," which sounds to me a lot like "it wasn't perfect, so nyah." Which is odd, because I don't remember reading that you thought it was perfect. That aside, what you say this movie does? It's what writers are told to do with words. Mannerisms, clothing, body language - they replace dialogue & exposition. It's showing instead of telling. I would think a book would be praised for doing that, so it's interesting that this movie is getting little credit for doing the same thing.

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    1. But there was SO MUCH TELLING. I felt bad for Charlie Hunnam and Idris Elba, who are both very smart, outstanding actors. They (esp Hunnam) do a lot of explaining out loud, and narrating. The writers didn't give the audience enough credit. Several times I turned to my mate next to me during the movie and said, "Sssssh, Raleigh. We get it. Sssshhh."

      There was so much potential here. I kind of wish this movie was an HBO miniseries. I wanted to see the story of the Russian couple, the triplets, Pentecost raising Mako, etc. In 2 hours, we got lots of silly stuff, a plot line that had a billion holes in it, and too much exposition. It was a good effort but not a great one.

      Wanting a cool idea to be a great movie is not "doing it wrong." People want different things from movies. I do want great visuals. But when I invest in characters, which I did in PR, I also want to feel like they are in a story that deserves them. This movie did not provide that, so I felt unfulfilled at the end.

      I was not doing it wrong. I was prioritizing different things when I watched. Different strokes.

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  82. Two metaphors I was immediately taken with were: 1) the opening narration explains how everyone thought terror would come from outerspace but instead it came from deep within the Pacific expresses how the horror is not from "without" but from "within"; and again the warning that you cannot work with someone like Raleigh because he's "an open wound", suggesting that the Kaiju are the wounds and pain carried inside humanity. And 2) when the slightly-more-crazy scientist demonstrates his little digital diagram of the breach he says they call it "the throat" and you see a visual that connects the two worlds looking quite like an esophagus - feeding one end means shitting out the other, which is what the Kaiju are doing (the mind-meld is the "two way feed") and what needs to be done to defeat them.

    I felt feelings.

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  83. I loved the Kaidanovskys at first sight... they just seemed so fierce and awesome. Really really wish they have had some more participation on the movie plot. I came out of the movie theater talking only about them... that's how much they surprised me.

    Also, Mako IS the true protagonist of Pacific Rim. I just loved how brave and direct she was... and her apparently controlled hunger for revenge.

    I'll give this movie a second look... I really want to catch more of the Hansens and Raleigh.

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  84. Second order incompetence?

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  85. "There are other feminist criticisms of the film--like the overall number of women in the ground crew, for example--that are totally on point, I think."

    So if I become a feminist critic, would I have to bean count the number of women in every crowd scene from now on? It sounds exhausting.

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  86. I just have to say, this.

    THIS IS WHY WE NEED DIVERSITY.

    Sorry, it had to be said. :)

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  88. It's interesting that the choice of pejoratives is "dumb" which can mean "stupid" and "unthinking," but can also mean "not using words."

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  89. The Kaidanovskys are definetly as close to stars as secondary characters can get (and it's funny how every time I log onto AO3 the number of Pacific Rim fics grows by at least a hundred... we are talking in the lapse of a day here). Sasha gets a couple of lines in russian that honestly made me laugh with joy (I'm ukranian), and I can't say I cared much about how feminist or un-feminist this movie was... I can't say I care much about feminism in general. But man, you made me want to watch this movie for a third time. It has never actually occurred to me that people could be watching a movie and be blind to visual language. I mean this thing had tons of little details and you just made me realize I haven't noticed or managed to understand half of them. So thanks.

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  90. In support of the idea that this film was feminist in part Del Toro speaks on how he made the film with his two daughters in mind [vid], making a different kind of female character: http://www.vanityfair.com/online/oscars/2013/07/the-weekender-pacific-rim-guillermo-del-toro

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  91. This article increased my appreciation of the film. However, just as the visual communication should not be overlook, neither should dialog or plot. The Han Solo quotes and Sci-Fi cliches are likely intentional which lends to the idea that the movie is dumb and knows it.

    The monster's have asian (sounding?) names; likely an homage to the Japanese monster movies Pacific Rim emulates. The robots are called Jeagers. Is this an homage to what the writers were drinking that night. Granted it is German for "Hunter", which is appropriate, but why the switch to German?

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    Replies
    1. It's Gratuitous German: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/GratuitousGerman

      Just look at the anime/manga section, the Japanese love this trope.

      Delete
    2. Helps that right now there'a a very popular anime/manga about a guy called Eren Jaeger who fights against a breed of giants that have pushed mankind to live inside the gigantic walls of a single city and now have smashed through that as well.

      Delete
  92. Good read, but you got the names backwards on the Kaidanovsky's - Sasha is the guy ;)

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  93. Seen the film, yesterday. My humble opinion follows.
    Focusing on visual elements can enrich an interpretation, but there isn't much to be interpreted here,I'm afraid: the fact that Mako had issues elaborating the grief and also getting fully independent from the paternal/heroic/mentorial figure represented by Pentecost is clearly pointed out throughout film in several ways. We don't need blue hairs to hint at that. There aren't hidden layers of interpretation disclosed by the details you point at, even in your analysis I fail to find a link to somthing else than a simple indication. An actress cought in the backround gives an interpretation of the character... and? This is the least she has to do. She practically doesen't have a line in the entire film, I think she had plenty of time to work on a subtext for the character!

    I agree with those who think that they could have done less, but better. One example above all: the drift. It reminds me of that Evangelion's episode, in which two of the main characters have to fight in perfect synchronization even if they both have severe psychological problems that constantly lead them to avoid deep connection with others. In Evangelion the importance of the forced connection made sense, here in PR it doesen't because the hint remains just an hint, as many others disseminated in the plot.
    The things are there, but tey somehow had to make choises, because like that the whole film is mor like an index that an opera. Maybe postmodern in a way, surely shallow in an other.

    Rather... what would have Freud said about the red shoe? Guglielmo, naughty boy!

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    1. About the Evangelion reference... my first thought when I saw the scene where Mako fights Raleigh was "both of you, kung fu fight like you want to win!".

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  94. So, basically everything I would say has been said.

    I do, however, want to point out that you got the Kaidanovskys names wrong - the wife is Aleksis, the husband is Sasha.

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    1. Actually, no one's sure. Some sources mix the names up and no one knows who's who anymore O;

      Delete
    2. The names are indeed a bit tricky - Sasha is unisex, while Alexis is not even a Russian name (various forms can be feminine or masculine depending on country).

      HOWEVER, the credits make it pretty damn clear. Robert Maillet as Lt. S. Kaidanovsky, Heather Doerksen as Lt. A. Kaidanovsky.

      Delete
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  96. This was an excellent read. And to those who complain about weak characters, storytelling, etc:
    1. Weak characters? In what way? Just because the characters were able to work through their issues without being broody, revenge-ridden sadsacks like Batman? Raleigh went from aimless to focused in a manner that's realistic, for a guy who loses someone and grieves, what else can he do? He certainly can't hang out around the Jaegers where his brother was killed in, but he doesn't have a job, and the wall is something that gives him a place to stay and something to do. Not until he's told full on that everything is hopeless does he go back.
    Mako is complex and interesting in that she's both COMPETENT and REALISTIC as a young woman. She's got a crush, she gets giddy, she's capable of being happy. I hate all these thin, bad characterizations where once a character has gone through something traumatizing, they're angry and sad forever. No. Mako shows joy, she shows emotional vulnerability, she shows anger and love and strength and she's multi-faceted, not flat.

    Good god you guys have NO IDEA what it takes to make a good character if you think these characters were "bad". God forbid a girl show interest in a man she also likes to challenge and respects. God forbid a man show interest in a woman that's not sexual.

    In films where humans fight for their survival, narratives don't get to breathe. It's survival, it's drop you into the world, show you the people, and how they save it. That's it, it's formulaic, and it's brilliant because it shows how people can come together and FIGHT for something good and dear god, Pacific Rim more than showed it.

    It's Rise of the Guardians all over again. The only ones who said it sucked were cynical, uncreative, unappreciative idiots who don't appreciate visuals and the spirit of the film. There are flaws, certainly, I can name so many of them. You didn't like it? Fine. But just because you didn't like it doesn't mean it sucks. That's rule number 1 of criticism, which A LOT of people have failed to follow.

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    1. The characters were weak because they were cliche and overused archetypes, not because they were inherently bad.

      Delete
  97. I would just like to applaud, loudly, and proclaim my love for this piece of writing. Bravo. I was one of the many who adored Pacfic Rim for what it was, without ever describing it as "self-aware dumb fun" or the like... but damned if I could express why I felt that way. Reading your list of visual cues and, most especially, Sara's reactions to scenes, crystalised the inputs my brain had already received without (you guessed it) converting them into written language form. Thank you both so much - I'm even more excited, now, to see the film a second time and share it with my nine-year-old daughter.

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  98. Your girlfriend must have loved American Beauty. I remember people only pointing it as a cynical statement against the American way of hiding life under the carpet. For me it was mainly a beautiful work of art, where every detail was a chip of a Rosetta stone that prepared you to appreciate fully the final scene. It really stunned me at the time.

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  99. Your girlfriend's observation about Mako's hair being a relic of her memory is confirmed by GDT about 1/3 of the way into this interview: http://www.kcrw.com/etc/programs/tt/tt130802guillermo_del_toro_p - he says the blue-tinted day has "stained" her hair.

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  100. " If this film really, truly was "dumb," or knew enough to just be dumb and not aspire to anything greater...

    ...Would that conversation really, earnestly be possible?"

    Yes, because if you stare at something long enough (i.e. Your extreme analysis of the Russians' personalities based on a few seconds of screen time), you can spin it any way you want it. You underestimate your own fandom, and any fandom like it. No matter how dumb or simple something is intended to be, a group of people will take it and give meaning to it, even when there is none.

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    1. So the only thing that matters is what the original intent is? You must have a very narrow view on interpreting art then.

      Delete
    2. Yeah, weird. I interpret art based on what the artist wanted to say. How narrow of me.

      You're seriously an idiot.

      Delete
    3. Actually, you are the one being overly narrow... "death of the artist" means exactly this, and it's not something Sam randomly came up with.

      Delete
  101. I'll definitely have to watch this again with the things you've said in mind. My main criticism was the formulaic nature of the story arc (losing someone in the beginning, being the last one left, et cetera). But visual storytelling is a subject I want to understand better. I really got hit over the head with it for the first time watching 'Serenity' on DVD. I don't normally listen to commentary, but I did listen to Whedon's commentary, and much of it was about the visual language he was employing. I thought, "This is GREAT. Where can I find out more about this?" But I must confess that search has been a bit lackluster.

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  104. Sam! Thank you so much for writing this article. I absolutely LOVED Pacific Rim, but still found myself describing it to others as a "stupid film that is honest about it," and even felt a little guilty for adoring something so silly as gigantic robots punching out Godzilla's decedents.

    Not only did this make me feel better and shift my perspective, but it also sparked a lot of "ah hah's" - new or reminders. Here's a few:

    1) I hated learning Shakespeare etc. in high school by delving into the wording. Yes, I could see that the wording was clever, but I had no feeling of love for any of Shakespeare's works until I SAW them in various visual mediums. And that's the point - plays are meant to be watched, to be experienced, not to be read. The magic is in the speaking and the delivery, and the visual cues that go with it. When I read Neil Gaiman's take on a Midsummer Night's dream, watched Kenneth Branagh and Joss Whedon's adaptations of Much Ado About nothing, or saw a performed version of Romeo & Juliet that plays up (using the same words) how much both the main characters are idiot teenagers - I realized not only are these plays genius, but they're FUNNY! And enchanting.

    2) Sadly I think you're right about the bias of written depth and cleverness over visual versions, which is a shame because its been proven as a valuable medium over and over. Alan Moore proved it in comics with Watchmen, and Neil Gaiman several times over with the Sandman. Angles, frames, timing, color, lighting, these are all *intentional choices* by someone or other, which is something I tend to forget when I'm just deep in experiencing it - which is actually fine because its my subconscious experiencing it instead of me :)

    I appreciate people like you who remind me to examine a story's structure, presentation, and functionalities, not just its content and the emotions it evokes in me. Sometimes I hate it, because it's upsetting when someone takes a scalpel to dissect something I thoroughly enjoyed - facing that idea that maybe a story I love is in fact incredibly sexist or racist (see some Doctor Who episodes by Steven Moffat, *sigh*), but in this case, it's enriched my experience and I thank you for it. :) Cheers!

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  105. Just want to point out that you got the russian names wrong. Sasha is the man and Aleksis is the woman. This is only vaguely stated in the movie as you can hear Aleksis saying "Sasha" when she calls for him. In the credits it's clearly visible who plays what character. :)

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  108. I concur wholeheartedly with this post, but to the extent that I actually came out thinking they needed *less* dialogue. I found a lot of the dialogue clunky and often unnecessary; eg why does Raleigh need to shout orders/affirmation at Mako when she's already inside his head? Knowing the basic premise before seeing the movie, I was actually looking forward to them doing *everything* in sync without the need for any verbal communication, which could've resulted in some imaginative ways to convey immediate events. I also didn't understand the need for a comic relief duo.

    Yes, it was visually rich & arresting, not to mention super-exciting, but there were so many missed opportunities. I long for the greatness this movie could have been.

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  109. Your girlfriend sounds like the kind of person who I would love to go see movies with.

    Now I really want to see Pacific Rim again.

    I've never felt that Pacific Rim is just a dumb action movie even if it is honest with itself. It's one of those "It's not a smart movie, but it's a smartly made" kind of movie. But, even if we look at it that way, then I'm just willing to outright call Pacific Rim a smart movie because it knows what it's trying to do and it knows how to achieve it. I think when people like to talk about smart movies, they're probably talking about the content or subject matter of said story, which isn't really too off base, but it's movies like Pacific Rim that show that even movies about Giant Robots fighting giant alien monsters are still worthy of serious discussion.

    Thank you for writing this article, it's really starting to make me think about a lot of things now.

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  110. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  111. Hey, this is a great article. I was pretty proud of myself to notice Mako's colors during the film, it's pretty awesome Sara has it so easy :)

    I'd like to recommend a film to you specifically because it has almost no lines of dialog, and the two main protagonists share, maybe, five lines between them. Still, it's a gorgeous and amazing film. It's Korean, released in Korea as "Bin Jip" and in the US as "3-Iron". It's one of my favorite films and I'd be interested in hearing your take on it.

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  112. I've been having trouble articulating why I so deeply loved this film, and why I'm almost offended when people write it off. This article is incredibly moving for me because you pointed out a few details I hadn't noticed before that only deepen the experience for me. I'm seeing the film for the fourth time tomorrow (second time in theatres, and I watched it twice via a hilariously bad quality camrip that only made me crave seeing it again in the theatre). Anyway, thanks to you and your girlfriend for making this an even better film for me. It's so much more than what it seems.

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  116. I found your interpretation and the insight from your girlfriend to reveal even more depth behind this movie than I had seen in the ten viewings I've attended (so far.) I have told people that this is one of the best movies I have ever seen, and though they dismiss this as hyperbole, I am utterly serious. It's brilliant, it's deep, it's fun... I'm can't say enough about Guillermo del Toro and how fantastic this movie is - and now there's another reason to sing its praises. Thanks for posting your comments!

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  118. This post is pretty cool. I've read through most of the comments and they reiterate what a lot of people have said about the dialogue in the movie in the past two months. I still haven't gotten an answer to my question of what people wanted out of the movie's dialogue. Personally, went into PR with no expectations for layered discussions on screen cause I'd seen enough featurettes to know what I was getting into. Other viewers apparently went in, looking for something bordering on Inception which I don't understand. It was made clear that PR is simplistic. As for the acting, I thought it was apt for the movie. Only things I had an issue with were Raleigh and his mouthy ways in the jaeger. They should VO-ed those parts. The imbalanced representation; other pilots dying so soon into their introduction and the editing. It was sub-par. Apparently the time between the last two attacks was supposed to be four days; not double digit minutes. I wish they would have released PR in the three hours GDT made it in the first place.

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  119. So, I was watching a review of Crimson Typhoon's toy. As the reviewer took note of the details on CT, I noticed that there's a Chinese letter painted on each of the right arms and one on the leg. As we all know, CT had triplets for pilots and I had wondered how it was operated. You see where i'm going with this? Anyway, that was all it took for me to realise that each of those letters represented who is controlling which part. One pilot for each right arm and also only one for the specialised legs. Furthermore, CT crew logos are on the left shoulders & arm and the abdomen. That shows those areas are controlled by every pilot. The arm-focused pilots were situated at the front while the leg-focused pilot had to be in a special compartment behind them. Well, I could be wrong.

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