November 18, 2017

Posted July 12, 2013 by D. K. Holm

Pacific Rim is the biggest, most expensive H. P. Lovecraft story ever put on film.

It is not based on actual story, but director Guilermo del Torohas been trying to make an adaptation of At the Mountains of Madness for some time, and there are Lovecraftian elements in his tale.

This summer tent pole released in 3-D is set in 2020, and concerns a long-term battle between civilization and Godzilla-style monsters that emerge periodically from the deep seas. Humanity fights them with bicameral-commanded robots 50 stories high. The bulk of the tale focuses on one last attempt to defeat the monsters before time runs out. To that end, the head of the robot unit, Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), enlists the aid of Raleigh Becket (TV’s Charlie Hunnam), a disgraced robot pilot complicit in the death of his co-pilot brother. With the help of two comic-relief scientists, the team faces the increasingly stronger and emboldened monsters for one last confrontation.

Aside from cobbling the story together from numerous antecedents, everything from Independence Day and Armageddon to Top Gun and Avatar, del Toro and his team have blended a subtle environmental message into the mix. The monsters are aliens who were posing as dinosaurs for several millennia before being driven to the center of the planet, where they awaited the chance to return to the surface when the Earth’s atmosphere was toxic enough for them to breath. We would never have seen them had we not used so much fossil fuels. This may or may not make sense if one examines it too closely, but the message at least is clear.

With the message also comes the Lovecraftian elements, which is the famous Cthulhu mythos of many of Lovecraft later stories. At the Mountains of Madness is about the discovery in Antarctica of hidden city of Elder Things, who are ancient astronauts who interfere with human destiny. These Elders in some cases have fanatical religious followers among human beings, and in Pacific Rim, the scientist Newton Geiszler (Charlie Day) has an almost love-hate relationship with the beasts, whom he’s never seen in person. That changes quick. His being in love with “death” does, however, lead to his discovery of the monsters’ background.

I’m leaving out a lot of detail here, such as how the minds of the pilots meld, or the names of the monsters and the robots, and the various love story and competition subplots, which add color, and fake verisimilitude, and a pleasing jargon for the fans, but which get in the way of the film’s first 45 minutes. In fact I wasn’t liking the film too much for its first two acts, but began to be won over when the Charlie Day subplot begin to run in tandem with the main plot in a pleasing and interactive manner. This is where the wit of the story kicks in. Del Toro alternates arty horror films with bombastic high-tech kids’ adventures, but in Pacific Rim del Toro seems to have taken a few steps towards fully integrating his two sides.