Super-Sizing Movie Monsters

Wesley Morris was impressed by Pacific Rim‘s scale:

Del Toro is a dreamer. He’s a visionary. If you give him a pile of money to make enormous robots fight enormous monsters at the end of civilization, he will work to make Pacific Rim a movie that makes you feel all the enormousness. He will put you at the feet of the monsters and inside the bellies of the beasts. He will do what a movie about big reptiles and big machines is supposed to do: make you look up, make you feel as if the screen is grossly inadequate to contain what’s on it, even though, if you’re charmed — or strategic — you’re already watching the movie on the biggest screen you possibly can.

Tasha Robinson ponders the meaning of the massive monsters in the movie:

[Del Toro’s] discussions of the film suggest its overriding message is “Japanese monster movies were totally badass.” He seems more interested in enthusiastically paying homage to entertainment he loves—rubber-suit monsters and anime from Voltron to Neon Genesis Evangelion—than in tapping into current cultural or societal anxieties. Certainly returning to the nuclear panic of the 1960s, the heart of the kaiju boom, would feel dated at this point.

If you need a metaphor, though, I think you can dig one up: Pacific Rim’s kaiju are a devastating worldwide threat that can hit anywhere at any time, and dealing with them is expressly beyond the resources of any one country.

As del Toro said in his interview with Slashfilm, he wanted them to feel like “a charging force of nature.” So if there’s a metaphor at work, I’d say it’s global climate change, and the fear that it’s producing increasingly deadly events like the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the 2011 Japanese Pacific-coast tsunami, and the 2010 Haiti earthquake, not to mention disasters like Hurricane Katrina. The kaiju could well be symbols of these huge, unpredictable events, and the need for a unified global response.

Jeff Yang relates the monsters to Japanese culture:

In Shinto belief, all objects have spirits, and all spirits have the ability to become gods — or demons. “Japanese monsters, or yokai, were originally called ‘bakemono’ — literally, ‘transformed thing,’” says [Matt Alt]. In Japan, “robots are an anthropomophization of the power of technology, [and] the organic kaiju are an anthropomorphization of the power of nature, or of the effects of human technology on it.”

As a result, the titanic clashes of the kaiju and mecha genres aren’t just sequences of gleeful destruction for destruction’s sake — they’re metaphysical conflicts; wars of ideas as much as anything else.

Matt Singer focuses on another aspect of the film. He couldn’t stop wincing while listening to Pacific Rim star Charlie Hunnam, who is British, try to pull off an American accent:

[W]e keep getting these uncomfortable performances from hunky international heroes like Hunnam, Worthington, and Butler, who look great but sound terrible. Maybe that’s another manifestation of the rise of international box office as a driving force in Hollywood. Massive special effects travel; regional cultural nuances do not. Movies made for a global audience put spectacle at a premium over everything else. In most foreign markets, the dialogue is going to be subtitled or dubbed anyway, so the spoken word moves even lower on the film’s list of priorities. People come to see Charlie Hunnam fight the monsters, not talk them to death.

Forrest Wickman, on the other hand, thinks the increasing importance of foreign markets isn’t all bad. He notes that they “offer the incentive to make use of more diverse casts, and to tell more stories whose heroes aren’t exclusively American.”