Wednesday, July 17, 2013

"Pacific Rim"

When Star Wars: Special Edition was released in the late 90s, I went. I saw A New Hope three times on the big screen, Empire Strikes Back twice, and Return of the Jedi a single solitary time (yub nub). My dad smiled every time I went, and when I got the VHS tapes we would occasionally watch them together. Dad likes to tell stories and one day regaled me with how excited he was when he first saw Star Wars in theaters. I got to hear about finding the one theater that had it, not knowing what to expect, and the payoff. Dad was and is a huge sci-fi and fantasy nerd (although he wouldn't use that word, he'd use one like aficionado). Until recently my parents' basement was filled with nearly 2,000 cheap paperbacks. Dad introduced me to Roger Zelazny's world of Amber and I still have his yellowed copy of Frank Herbert's Dune. Dad knows his stuff, and he spoke of Star Wars in a reverential tone. This, he told me, was the movie of his childhood. It took all the stories of his youth and managed to translate them, cohesively, to the big screen. I love Star Wars, but I can never enjoy it like Dad does.
Pacific Rim is my Star Wars.
After seeing the movie all I could think about was how it was a near flawless execution of a mission. Guillermo del Toro had a vision and it shone through on the pitted metal carapaces of the giant fighting robot Jaegers. This movie took my childhood, my life in the 80s and 90s and turned it into a blockbuster. Everything was there. The robots vs monsters trope found first in Voltron and later in Might Morphin' Power Rangers. The awe inspiring robots of Transformers as well as the very clear good against evil of that and other toy peddler GI Joe. Underneath all that was the ideas of other team based heroes, uniting against a greater foe. Even though it was not nearly as potent as it might have been during the childhood of Mom and Dad, I still had formative years during the end of the Cold War, so the idea of the big bad Other loomed large, and the idea that we could fight and defeat that Other by working together and using our greatest weapon, our science, was tangible. Then came the 90s with the big budget disaster movies - we have to save the world from this unstoppable threat, again, using our mind, the human spirit, and celebrating our independence etc etc. Pacific Rim hits all these notes without pandering. It manages to be a story unto itself while also drawing from all these influences. Hell, it even borrows a line from A New Hope and it comes across not as pleading with the audience to get it, but as a sign that del Toro gets it.  He understands that he is standing on the shoulders of giants and that this movie would not exist with the media listed here and many others (the video game Rampage and the Godzilla franchise to name two that I do not connect with nearly as well). 
Pacific Rim is more than a movie, in many ways, it is a collection of my childhood memories and a realization of my imagination. With almost as many giant robots fighting giant monsters.

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