Pacific Rim Is Delightful Science Fiction Porn
I wasn't sure what to expect from PACIFIC RIM. I knew that one of my personal idols and a favorite director of mine, Guillermo del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth, The Devil's Backbone, Cronos, and of course BLADE II), created the film, but I also knew that it had the potential to be a Michael Bay-sized disaster. del Toro explicitly said he didn't want to do GODZILLA, but how can you do giant, city-destroying kaiju without channeling the monster-of-all-monsters?
Unsurprisingly, del Toro found a way, as he always does. His monsters are so deliciously-unique, so un-earthly in their size and structure that Godzilla is more of a distant uncle for del Toro's beasts than a DNA-clone. For fans of science fiction, this is NOT a great achievement in hard science, but it IS teenaged fun that I haven't experienced in a movie theatre since, well, I was a teenager. PACIFIC RIM isn't a perfect film -- the script is so awful it's almost funny ... almost -- but it's a film that knows exactly what it is and why it exists.
del Toro, famous for his lengthy and splendidly-intense artistic process, clearly spent the bulk of his time laboring over the art and design of the kaiju and jaegers, and very little time knotted around a vacuous narrative. The monsters and robots carry his aesthetic in every pore and joint and dent, and del Toro's quiet, childlike fear as a storyteller is lost to the BOOMFUCKYOUKAIJU! As a writer, it sucks admitting that the script didn't matter, but not once during the movie did I care that the script sucked. That's bad, right? I should care. We all should care!
But when giant monsters are fighting giant robots, what else do you need?
It's science fiction porn. There's little substance in the narrative (other than a decent amount of humor tucked into the script), but when your pants are down and your eyes are glistening with shiny, colorful pictures, do you really need tortured poetry?
It's an interesting debate. It seems like audiences often choose one or the other, and Hollywood seems to follow that trend as well (why wouldn't they if audiences aren't clamoring for more substance?). There are rare exceptions, of course, where science fiction and poetry collide, where art can be fun and meaningful at the same time, and del Toro is one of the few directors who has shot (and succeeded) for that tone, most notably with PAN'S LABYRINTH.
Is there room in the medium for big & savvy science fiction? STAR WARS accomplished both, although it discarded savvy with the prequel trilogy and beyond (fingers crossed, J.J. Abrams), and STAR TREK has always been on the cutting edge of that difficult duo -- though the television series never had the budget for big -- but outside of the major franchises, both writers and filmmakers (and their bankrolls) always seem to shy away from epic/smart.
It's not a problem in the medium as a whole -- fantasy has huge successes in television and film with epic/smart content -- it's a science fiction problem, and it really shouldn't be. Science fiction literature is filled with the richest, most awe-inspiring content in the written word. Period. If you don't believe me, read "The Left Hand of Darkness," read "Pump Six," read practically anything in the genre and you'll be blown away. The scale, grandeur, and brains of science fiction literature is unmatched by any other genre, and yet the translation between novelizations and stories into other medium always leaves science fiction underwhelmed.
PACIFIC RIM could've been so much more, but in the theatre, pants around my ankles, giant kaiju battling skyscraper-sized robots, it was hard to think about anything else. I'm just excited to see what del Toro can do now that he's proven to Hollywood he can play their game and make them money. If anyone other than consummate sci-fi lord J.J. Abrams is going to do smart/epic, my bet is on you, Guillermo.