I don’t do very many set visits these days, mainly due to me being very very selective and because being in REHAB tends to be my top priority. However, when Guillermo and Legendary offered the PACIFIC RIM set visit – it wasn’t an immediate “YES” for me. You see, the set visit was during SXSW well over a year ago now. And the day I was to be on set… that day I had an opportunity to do a one hour talk/panel with just me and Paul Williams, he was in town in conjunction with the fantastic documentary PAUL WILLIAMS STILL ALIVE… I met Paul at the premiere of the film – and had an opportunity to speak with him – learned he was working with DAFT PUNK, for his two contributions on DAFT PUNK’S RANDOM ACCESS MEMORIES. Somewhere in that conversation, I got the message on my phone regarding this PACIFIC RIM visit. Since I was talking with Paul I mentioned Guillermo wanted me on set, and Paul told me that he and Guillermo were working on a musical version of PAN’S LABYRINTH for the stage. He also felt I had to go to Toronto for the set. SO when Swan recommends you fly north, you fly.
Obviously the other reason to go was to see Guillermo, plus I had read an early draft of PACIFIC RIM by Travis Beacham. I always try to read Guillermo’s scripts for his films… mainly because knowing Guillermo’s fetishes – it is so wonderful to dream of a Del Toro movie before he’s envisioned it. Because, without fail, his vision surprises and delights beyond what is suggested upon the page… that being said… HOLY SHIT! Beacham’s PACIFIC RIM wasn’t merely the geek fantasy of a Kaiju vs Giant Human Driven Mecha-Robots… It was a completely envisioned place and time.
The film that we’re all getting ready to see – I’m giddy for. I know I get giddy often, but then I generally ecstatic with life – so I don’t question my passions… BUT – I am terrified that this film might not catch on. I want it to desperately.
The majority of this film takes place well after Kaiju have been unleashing nightmare after nightmare. Society is scarred by it. It changes life fundamentally. Society has become adjusted and even maladjusted by their appearance. There's a church made out of a skull of a Kaiju. Dimensional Rifts that allow truly giant monsters with toxic poisonous blood, with energy weapons and biology that just defies everything that we know about life here. But then… the Jaegers have been fighting these things for a while. Beacham didn’t leave the world there… and when Guillermo came in he pursued that even further.
I was on set for Day 78 on a shoot that was scheduled to go over 100 days. That’s a long shoot, longest of Guillermo’s career. This is an enormous film. Guillermo focuses on every aspect of his film with a masterful eye. Guillermo is taking a boyhood fantasy… Giant Robots vs Giant Monsters… but this isn’t just a boyhood fantasy, it’s been made by MEN & WOMEN that are making it absolutely real.
When you’re on-set and you see the intricate Hong Kong sets, or an underground shelter that’s been crashed in by a Kaiju… it is probably a traumatic moment in the film. Ron Perlman’s lair is that of a man that deals in Kaiju parts. He and his team harvest their parts for various buyers of these illicit substances that have a variety of effects. It was here that I met a part of a Kaiju that wasn’t Kaiju, but a Kaiju parasite – think of Roly-Poly bugs that you can roll up and roll across a floor where they safely uncurl and go about their walking day… the size of a really fat lazy cat. And they’re a bit Lovecraftian. Anyway, there’s a big liquid tank of them that is just killer. They’re all animatronic and are set to move and wiggle about. When Guillermo saw my face, he decided to give me one of the critters to have haunting the basement for that 1st Season.
Now – if you’ve seen the footage of the Drift space in PACIFIC RIM and the Jaeger B-T-S – you’ve seen a good representation of the coolness going into this film. Talking to Charlie Hunnam and Diego Klattenhoff, who play the brothers that pilot Gypsy Danger early in the film… shooting their piloting of the Jaegers was less of an exercise in acting and more of a torture device that came straight from the twisted wonderful mind of Guillermo Del Toro. In talking to Shane Mahan, one of Stan Winston’s right hand men – now with Legacy Effects… He talked about how Guillermo wanted the rig to make the actors feel like they had to work to move it. So when you see them in that torturous Elliptical nightmare – realize – that’s an Elliptical with a lot of resistance pushing against them – not just that, but they also had a harness that on the men, squeezed the gonads to a painful point – and was hard on both men and women. Not only that, but then the whole interior Giant Mech head would jostle about as it was on a Gimble that would emulate essentially the neck. If a Kaiju hit the Jaeger’s head, the actors were knocked back… and Guillermo doesn’t pull his punches. Diego told me he had calluses in his nether regions – and I did not ask for proof. Instead, I know what he’s talking about, in Rehab, sometimes they put me in the “Mary Martin harness” as I call it, and it definitely squeezes the hell out of the boys. But one must power through the pain – and Charlie and Diego – just know… they’re both mighty uncomfortable, but if they didn’t have that harness with the wires to steady them, when the Kaiju hit that rocks the Robot head happened… you see, their feet are locked into place, one wrong move and their ankles would have snapped like a wishbone at dinner.
Charlie Day was fishing for a Kaiju Brain from Ron Perlman during my time on set – and when I asked what a Kaiju Brain looked like, Guillermo showed me this amazing Great Pyramid of Giza shaped brain that was enormous. Just wait till you see this sucker! Personally I can't wait to see interiors of Kaiju scenes from PACIFIC RIM. Gonna be so cool.
You know – it’s so weird talking about this film having still not seen it. One day on set is hardly anything to draw conclusions from. The fact is… my day on set was a pretty much dialogue day. The Kaiju Brain leads to some fun stuff in the script, but again, that was an early draft and there’s a lot that I know has changed.
Shane Mahan joined me for lunch and we were mainly geeking out on various projects and frankly talking about the loss that we felt when Stan Winston left us too soon. He gave me one of the Pacific Rim helmets to attempt to put on. The attempt made me think of Chris Farley’s “Fat Kid in a little coat” moment, but when I actually did squeeze my bean in there… the burrito didn’t split… see?
I have to say… sometimes I amaze myself by how much I can bottle my geek up. I’ve known of Shane Mahan since reading the articles on the effects for THE TERMINATOR and ALIENS and PREDATOR… I was obsessive about those films and how they were made – and checking his work out in person was a very cool. Legacy built 34 different full pilot suits – which all have to be built to the person in them. In addition, Winston’s wizards built the hydraulic system that the actors were placed in. When all initial bitching about the Harness (the one part not made by Legacy), Charlie Hunnam in particular talked about when he was in the suit, his mind was filled with the thought of kicking this monster’s ass… and that when he took a step and came against that hydraulic resistance and the sparks flew and the water sloshed about… he believed he was controlling a giant robot.
Let that sink in.
Charlie Hunnam got paid to basically live out a fantasy that I know I’ve had since I played with Shogun Warrior robots in the mid-Seventies. And as an actor, Mahan and the Legacy Effects team managed to create a very real machine that was tracking telemetry data that they’ve been studying and developing at Winston’s house since making a Giant T-Rex move about and take a step. Now they’ve created a suit that straps into an enormous and complicated hydraulic computer controlled marionette device, all built atop an insane gimble which could tilt the whole head in all manners of directions. I tell you what – if I were Universal Studios or Disney – I’d be bidding for the theme park attraction right now and have their wizards and Legacy’s wizards strap people in for a virtual experience that would blow people away.
Guillermo actually created a set environment, where Charlie Hunnam had absolutely no problem believing the second to second existence of being Raleigh Becket inside of Gipsy Danger – and lest you think it is all Dance Dance Revolution up there – I can guarantee some pretty powerful emotional bang in that head. It weighs in at one thousand nine-hundred & eighty tons. 260 feet tall. We know it has weapons, rocket propelled fists… but what other amazing badassery is in play? It’s kind of agonizing knowing that the print exists out there and that I have about 20 friends that have had their minds fried by the film. They’ve all been excommunicated by me for a bit of time, cuz there is a tone in a friend’s voice when they’ve seen something you haven’t. And it can make one hate them. So – I just know that it whups unholy ass and that I’ll see it on July 8th – and I just have to come to accept that.
Now here’s the thing folks – I’m gonna level with ya. There are spoilers that I got out of people that go straight to the root of holy fuck of this movie. You’ve only seen a few of the Jaegers and a glimpse here or there of a Kaiju. These things there are more things. Things not shown yet or hinted at and they are unbelievably cool. I was just listening to my tour of the Art Department – it is a 40 minute tour – some of the artwork was just sort of mind bending. At about the 2:04 second spot, you would hear me let out a “WoooooooooooW” in an awed reverence as my faithful guide described the reality of what I was looking at. And I know – you really want to know. I just can’t do it, not because anyone has told me not to. I’m sure some one will spoil the living bejeesus out of this thing – but let me put it to you this way… Do you want to know who Darth Vader is before seeing EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and having things revealed.
I mean seriously – at this point I kind of have to wonder… How are you not on board?
My favorite character in the script I didn’t get to meet on set. I’m talking about Mako Mori, who is being brought to life by a real Anime Voice Star and the coolest thing in one of the coolest movies of 2008… THE BROTHERS BLOOM… Rinko Kikuchi. Her character’s story is just killer and Rinko couldn’t not be the coolest character of the film. If you agree after you see PACIFIC RIM, then check out THE WARPED FOREST with her. It will complete you.
Another example of just knowing too much – there was an actor on set the day I was there… Who does not appear on IMDB’s page. It’s not a huge cameo to unfortunately about 96% of ya, but for that 4% that absolutely fucking worship this man… That should be a surprise for ya. A happy surprise, but – he and I spoke for a very long time about all sorts of things, but mainly how he awaits every DVD PICKS & PEEKS column as though his life depended upon it – then he chastised me for being late – and how I was one of those Comic Artists… the ones that write to their own deadlines and that’s why he loves to hate & love me. And that was killer. He then handed me a set of his epics on BluRay all region that are frankly a prize in my collection. And awesome. They’re difficult to get here, if folks even know to hunt them down.
Just know that there’s so many more creatures and things that fight them… that it has twists and turns that will blow your eyeballs in a tantric manner that will leave you just wanting seconds, constantly. And I really don’t consider that hyperbole. You see, Guillermo knows the genre he’s mining. And he knows that it has yet to be realized to this capacity before… but that he’s going to make it do things that make you feel like you just discovered AKIRA for the first time again. Only this time it was for really crazy real looking.
The ILM audition reel for this movie – I watched it a couple of times… ILM was told to take one Jaeger design and one Kaiju design and with no direction from Guillermo… impress him. ILM took 8 weeks to create what I feel is still the most amazing fight between Kaiju and Giant Robot that I’ve ever seen. Since I haven’t seen any of the final fights, I do know that the finished images that I’m seeing in trailers and commercials is just incredible. But there was just something about that sustained fight – that has me just freakishly giddy to see this. Especially after I got to see all the monsters and all the badass robots and that other stuff.
This was what Guillermo said in that reel:
“When I was a kid there was a genre that is almost forgotten & that’s Adventure. Movies that make you dream of what it would be, to be a Cowboy or a Spaceman. I would say they were inspirational. We want to give you a sense of not of a War Movie but an Adventure movie.
In the very near future a breach opens up between two dimensions and creatures begin emerging from the sea. They are so huge, so brutal that by the time we stop them they have already destroyed large amounts of populated areas. We need to create a weapon that can grapple them and take them down. We create these fantastic robots that are handled by two pilots.
It’s one thing to see robots… it’s another thing to BE a Robot. To be inside and to literally be 25 stories high. We’ll put you right there in the pilot seat and it’ll make you feel what it is like to suit up, hook up and take the robot for a ride.
The Kaiju is almost a genre unto itself, it’s a Giant Monster that appears mostly in Japanese films. They are magnificent… beasts, we wanted to evoke the sheer awe and terror that you would feel if you see one of these creatures. So we gave them a HUGE scale.
We’re going to take you underwater, we’re going to take you to a fight in a city, we’ll go to places that are actually impossible to construct.
It’s not about the machines and the monsters ultimately, but about how brave the people inside are.
We cast the movie for the stars that they are going to become. We have Charlie Hunnam as the lead. Raleigh is uncomplicatedly good. Very very brave, a guy that has been struck by tragedy. He has something enormous to prove. Rinko Kikuchi as Mako, she really impressed me with how strong and delicate she was. She’s a girl that dreams of being a pilot more than anything else. Idris Elba is the moral center of the movie and an incredibly strong character. It is through him that we recruit the pilots and we watch him form this band of brave fighters. “
We hear Idris’ Stacker Pentecost exclaim “How would you rather die? Here or in a Jaeger?”
“Charlie Day plays this off-kilter, very eccentric highly charged super strong character and guides you through the science of the film as an adventure. Not as unnecessary explanation.
The whole point about the movie is to eliminate how brave the central characters are. And that ultimately we are only complete when we are together. In order to demonstrate and show you, we create an arena where the odds are such a gigantic scale that we are in awe.
I tried to make a movie that resurrected the spirit that I don’t think exists in movies today. It’s going to be unlike anything that you’ve seen before. “
Ultimately what will set this film apart from the rest of the crowd this summer is Guillermo’s personal desire to make this film, this passionately. If you have to know everything you can about the film before it is out, the Making of Book hits Bookstores and Amazon today. With that, you’ll see just how deep this rabbit hole goes.
Guillermo is creating a world where this adventure is possible and believable. He’s torturing his actors and putting them through hell and they love him for it because they see and feel the results. Seriously, the love that pops off these actors when they’re talking about Guillermo is palpable. You go into the art department and people love him. The reason is Guillermo is a details man. He appreciates the details, he fetishes them up, makes it feel impossibly real…
Guillermo was also intensely focused upon the scene in front of him. Never really had a chance to sit down and do a full on interview with him whilst there, but I didn’t really need one. Everything I was seeing told me everything I needed to know. His sets are a marvel, because he wouldn’t accept anything less. But he always brings it back to character and the themes of the film. Sure, what I quote Guillermo from is the pitch reel they showed me… but really, I think that’s the pitch.
This is an adventure. Shane Mahan conjured up the film DAS BOOT when talking about PACIFIC RIM – that was an amazing adventure. If Guillermo has made the film I think he has… Then we have something original, breathtakingly unlike any movie we’ve ever seen before, but that might be the dream I had when I had my giant Shogun Warrior fighting Godzilla in front of my GUNS OF NAVARONE play set, while all my Star Wars characters were being stomped.
I think this is the movie that Calvin grew up to make. And for us, Calvin is a cuddly half mad all brilliant Guillermo Del Toro.
There’s so many layers to the adventure we’re about to go on. And what if the hype is right? What if this film really has the capacity to create new dreams for kids, reawaken old dreams by all us big kids? At a surface level, it’s a kid’s fantasy realized by a man that not only understands how fun the concept is, but how to make the best film out of it.
At least all indications are… PACIFIC RIM is going to make us remember Summer 2013, this isn’t like anything we’ve seen before. We claim that’s what we want. Films made for the biggest most amazing screens.