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Posts Tagged ‘Pacific Rim’

No, I haven’t seen it.

But I was reading a review, and it got me to thinking: the problem with all these “gritty” or “realistic” or what-have-you superhero movie adaptations is that they try to soft-shoe around the original material. “Look,” the filmmakers seem to be saying, “yeah, we know it’s based on a comic book (shudder), but it can still be A Serious Movie.” And they downplay all the elements that actually make the comic book awesome.

Take Doctor Doom.

Sideshow Collectibles' Dr Doom figure--look how cool this guy is!

Sideshow Collectibles’ Dr Doom statue–look how cool this guy is!

This guy is awesome, right? He’s a super genius ruler of his own small European country, a dictator, a scientist, he talks about himself in the third person, he does not at all care what you think for HE IS DOOM.

Awesome.

So why the heck would you downplay or straight-up remove all of that from your movie? You think maybe a European genius dictator named VICTOR VON DOOM is too goofy, audiences won’t buy it? Then why the heck are you making a movie with someone named Victor Von Doom in the first place? No, the only way to make a movie, a good movie, with a supervillain named Doctor Doom, is to thoroughly own it.

Own your premise. Don’t be ashamed. People who think comic book material is too goofy or low-brow or campy or cheesy or whatever are not going to go see Fantastic Four anyway, I promise. But you have to own it.

This is a thing in fantasy and sf publishing, too, this feeling that elves or lasers or time travel or whatever are inherently less serious than, I don’t know, whatever real life things people prefer to elves or lasers or time travel, so we have to downplay those elements, or say “but it’s really a metaphor for cancer!” or something. Why you would prefer real life to elves et al is a question I am not equipped to answer, but some people are embarrassed by fantastic (hehe) elements in their fiction.

But you can’t do that. If you’re telling a story about elves, or spaceships, or zombies, or a the ancient, bitter rivalry between the dragon kingdom and the unicorns (I would read that novel), you have got to own your premise, own it to the hilt. Don’t be embarrassed; shout it from the rooftops! Say, YES! MY MOVIE IS ABOUT GIANT ROBOTS PUNCHING MONSTERS IN THE FACE! And if you do that, with passion and verve, you may not have told a serious story (although you can sneak the serious stuff in there, I promise, Pacific Rim forever), the “realism” crowd isn’t going to love it (they weren’t going to anyway, it’s okay), but you will have made something AWESOME.

SO SAYS DOOM

SO SAYS DOOM

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Charlie Hunnam says he feels Pacific Rim sacrified character development for spectacle: but when you decide to focus your big budget kaiju movie on “character development” instead, you get Godzilla, a muddled mess of a monster movie featuring barely any monsters and, despite lots of screen time devoted to humans, barely any characters either.

 

Mr Hunnam, I think, is falling prey to a pretty common error, equating number of lines delivered with character development. Now, it is no secret that I think Pacific Rim is basically a perfect movie, divinely inspired, without significant flaw, and with a whole lot more than eleven measly minutes of bravura kaiju versus robot fisticuffs. But here’s the thing about film that people seem to forget: it’s a visual medium, with spoken dialogue and music where necessary to support the visuals. Practically all of PR‘s character development is visual, without a word being spoken. (I would argue that next in importance, at least in PR, is the score, and dialogue is actually the least important component, but I am getting myself distracted here.)

 

Character development. CHARACTER!

Character development. CHARACTER!

 

KAIJU-SIZED SPOILERS for Pacific Rim and Godzilla ahead.*

So then there’s Godzilla, which proves (in case there was doubt) that time spent does not equal depth. Godzilla spends loads of time with its characters, especially the military bomb disposal tech played with all the depth and range of a cardboard cutout by Aaron Taylor-Johnson. This is not Taylor-Johnson’s fault, but the material’s. There is simply nothing there for him to work with (and we know, from Avengers: Age of Ultron, that the man can act, if he’s given something to do). The rest of the excellent cast is equally wasted. Me, I would have liked a movie in which Ken Watanabe and Bryan Cranston’s scientist characters teamed up to do something awesome re: Godzilla, King of the Kaiju, but both of these men mostly grimace and scowl and mug, and at the end of the movie we know no more about them than we did at the beginning.

 

The audience learns more about Raleigh Beckett in the first few minutes of Pacific Rim than we learn about … sorry, I can’t remember Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s character’s name … in the entire two-hour run time of Godzilla. I haven’t the time to do a full analysis (nor do you have time to read one, probably!), but much of this difference comes from the visuals: not only how the character talks, what he says, how he says it, but how he moves, his facial expressions, the lighting and the colors of the surrounding environment, how he is framed in relation to the other characters and to his environment.

 

In a written work, one of course has narration, and can show the character’s inner life through words. In a film, the visuals must do the job instead, with the support of the musical score to give the audience aural cues on what the character is feeling or what aspects of the story the audience should be focusing on right now.

 

The visual language of Godzilla is pretty de rigeur Serious Action Movie these days, down to the predictability of the shots used to try to convey the emotional beats.

 

 

It’s all pretty paint-by-numbers stuff; this viewer, who gets emotionally invested in cat food commercials, didn’t get much more than a vague lift when Soldier Boy is inevitably reunited with Nurse Wife and Cute Moppet. (I was relived that Gojira was okay, though. Three cheers for Gojira! … Hey, if they really do a Pacific Rim/Godzilla crossover, will the King of Kaiju team up with the Jaegers? Cause that would be rad.)

 

Compare and contrast with the end of Pacific Rim, which contains characters rejoicing, and gives a sense of the heroism and sacrifice necessary to earn their celebration. In Godzilla, almost no named characters die (and the one who does is so pointless, one wonders why he was in the film at all), and despite loving shots of wrecked cities, one never really feels there was a cost to all the mayhem. With two wordless shots–not of wreckage but of characters–PacRim brings home the feels.

 

 

Keep an eye on Marshall Hercules Hanson (at about 1:54 if you don’t want to watch the whole thing), whose brave boy did not come back from the final battle. We get two shots: of his son’s bulldog, and then of Herc’s face, and in those two shots, without any words being spoken, we understand Herc’s grief in the midst of the general rejoicing. See how everyone around him is cheering and hugging and smiling? His stillness, contrasting with all the movement around him, underscores the pain he carries, in spite of the victory.

 

Now, I’m not hating on Godzilla; it had a lot of good things going for it. The kaiju looked cool, a lot of the shots were well framed, and it had a heck of a cast. But I do think it proves without a doubt that how much time you spend with your characters is less important than how well you spend it.

That said, I still would have preferred about ten times as much Godzilla in the GODZILLA MOVIE

That said, I still would have preferred about ten times as much Godzilla in the GODZILLA MOVIE


 

*I know, one is two years old and the other a year, but still. I hadn’t seen Godzilla until yesterday.

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Maybe you’ve seen the video going around titled “What if Man of Steel was IN COLOR?” Here it is, just in case.

 

 

The video’s taking some flak for tweaking the “original” sequences from the film to make them even more desaturated, if that were possible, and I mention this only in the interests of fairness and full disclosure, because the “original” clips in the video sure match how I remember MoS looking. I haven’t checked back on the actual film, because once was enough for me, thanks.  (I did think the “honest trailer” was accurate.)

 

 

Whether or not the VideoLab folks were being quite fair to Man of Steel and Zak Snyder’s grim-n-gritty vision, the re-touched clips look bright and appealing, and make me wonder how much of the negative reaction to the film is on account of the bleak, desaturated visuals. (The rest of the negative reaction is obviously on account of the script.) That in turn got me thinking about another recent sci-fi action movie with a distinctive visual style.

 

BWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAMP

BWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAMP

 

There’s a great article on the visual vocabulary of Pacific Rim, and anybody interested in telling stories in a visual medium ought to go give it a read. (Blue language for them as worries about such things.) The writer touches briefly on the use of color, and he’s spot on: Pacific Rim is an incredibly visually intelligent film. If you have a couple of hours, you might also check out Guillermo del Toro’s commentary on the film, which is packed with one genius observation after another. Yeah, I might be fangirling a little bit.

 

But listen, color plays a huge role in how we experience the world, and thus in how we experience stories. Different colors can cause different effects in us, stimulating different centers in our brain, and a savvy storyteller will know those effects and use them to give his story even more impact. Pacific Rim starts out with a fairly straightlaced “realistic” color scheme, and gradually brings in more and more hues until it’s a rainbow-colored phantasmagoria in the Hong Kong battle, heightening reality so that the audience can forget about “serious” stuff for a while and enjoy the spectacle of a giant robot smashing the hell out of a monster from the deep.

 

Check out these colors! We have the usual action movie orange and teal, sure, but also that vivid blue, and pink, and purple, and that band of lemon in the lower third.

Check out these colors! We have the usual action movie orange and teal, sure, but also that vivid blue, and pink, and purple, and that band of lemon towards the bottom.

 

And then of course there’s this:

 

Gratuitous backlit Idris Elba

Gratuitous backlit Idris Elba

 

I can’t stop.

 

Gratuitous Hellboy--er, Hannibal Chau

Gratuitous Hellboy–er, Hannibal Chau

 

Look at him! His suit is mauve! His shop is green! How often do you see these colors in films nowadays? (And his tie picks up exactly the green of the kaiju specimins behind him. That is attention to detail, man!)

 

Color is powerful and evocative, and while I understand that the grim-n-gritty aesthetic is a thing, I also think the directors of these monochrome films are missing out. Even a pop of color in the right place, or contrasting a colorful scene with a desaturated one, can add flair and drama to your tale.  A color can symbolize a character or an emotion, or tie elements of your story together thematically without anyone having to speak a word.  Colors can enhance emotions, suggest connections that the audience might not even be consciously aware of, like the connection between Mako’s blue bangs, the blue jacket she wore as a child, and the blood of the kaiju (you did read that article, right?).  Also, did you notice that Mako and Raleigh’s colors totally start matching each other once they are co-pilots?  Because they totally do. (Okay, I’m geeking out again.)

 

Or, you know, you could just keep everything kind of grey, if that’s what you’re going for.

Man_of_Steel281080p29_SCREENCAPS_KISSTHEMGOODBYE_NET_0891

I would just like to point out that the color of the sky in this picture…

... is grey.

… is grey.


All screencaps via kissthemgoodbye.net

 

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Still Alive!

It’s been a while!  I’ve written a number of highly amusing posts in my head, but unfortunately none of them have made it as far as the keyboard.  Running after a super-active mini-Viking (whose favorite movie was Pacific Rim for a while, and now it is How to Train Your Dragon; I am a proud mom, you bet!), finishing a novel (getting there!), experimenting with homemade soaps and other smelly things (science!), and still maintaining some semblance of an art career have meant little time for adequate sleep, let alone any time at all for blogging.

But!  I never did write about the awesomeness of Pacific Rim, and I want to blather a bit about Captain America: The Winter Soldier and the MCU generally, I have Many Thoughts on Frozen (ugh!), and someday I might even get back to telling you guys more about Why Thor Is Awesome.  Since the second movie is out on DVD, I think that’s past due, don’t you?

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