Tag: Pacific Rim

2013: The Surprises

Courtesy Fox

There was a lot that took me by surprise in 2013. Some surprises were good, and others were not so good. Rather than dwell on the negatives, I’d like to look back on some of the things that came along in both an unexpected and pleasant way, at least in the realm of entertainment.

In all honesty, I shouldn’t have been as surprised as I was by Sleepy Hollow. I had already plowed through all of Supernatural, so I’ve already galvanized myself towards television dealing with all sorts of fascinating scenarios dealing with the unknown, the strange, and the mythical. It’s especially been proven that this works even better for me when the characters are interesting and the storylines decently written. So, Sleepy Hollow fits that bill pretty effectively. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting, really: the level of camp in the show is nowhere near as high as I thought it might be, the use of practical effects and sets is actually incredibly endearing and unique in a world inundated with CGI, and the diverse and talented hero cast keeps everything coherent and thoroughly watchable.

On the other hand, I really have no idea where Almost Human came from. Cyberpunk certainly hasn’t gone anywhere, and while the show does seem to call back to the likes of Blade Runner and Deus Ex, it has an aesthetic and realization all its own. Like Sleepy Hollow, the core of the show is an excellent hero cast at the top of their game. The future envisioned by the show doesn’t seem ridiculous, and many of the cool gizmos simply exist in scenes, instead of getting lengthy technobabble explanations. It feels like a living, breathing world, and the fact that it’s populated with complex, interesting characters makes the show a must-watch for me.

However, I think the biggest surprise to me in 2013 was Pacific Rim. I knew the film would be a fun time at the movies, but I was thoroughly surprised at how good it is. Gulliermo del Toro probably could have skated by merely by virtue of the hook: giant robots fighting monsters with modern aesthetics and technology. However, Pacific Rim explodes with imagination and color, wrapped in the drive and atmosphere of classic supernatural disaster flicks like Independence Day or any given Godzilla movie, and features characters that aren’t as one-note as they easily could have been. It tells a coherent and well-paced story, it has a killer soundtrack, it informs its characters through action instead of exposition, and yes, it appeals to the basic child-like desire to pilot a robot just as big as a giant monster so you can punch said monster in the face. I know it isn’t perfect and I know it’ll have its naysayers, but when I think about Pacific Rim, I can’t help but smile. It’s just too damn fun for me to dwell on its flaws, and I really can’t wait to see it again.

What surprised you the most in 2013?

I Like Big Bots (And I Cannot Lie)

Courtesy Warner Bros

The more I think about Pacific Rim, the more I like it. Yes, the characters can be somewhat stock, and the plot is fairly straightforward, but the scope and spectacle of the film are awe-inspiring. I think if you had told me even five years ago that big robots would be on the big screen in America all on their own without an anime series behind them, I would have balked at the idea. As much as I’ve been a fan of big robots since I was a child, and piloted robot fiction for a decade or two, I didn’t think it would happen. It’s something of a niche genre.

Still, big ‘bots have been a part of my entertainment since I was young. The original Transformers animated series made me look at boring old traffic in a new way. A sports car, a tractor trailer, even a construction vehicle could, at any moment in my young mind, become a giant robot ready for a fight. My first piloted mecha show was either Voltron or Robotech. As much as I enjoyed all three of the series that got jammed into the latter show, the portion in the beginning, Macross, captured my attention the most.

One of the first shows I sought out on my own was Macross Plus, the OVA (original video animation) that followed the Macross series. With beautiful animation, a haunting score by Yoko Kanno, interesting character dynamics, and Sharon Apple, it remains very much up my alley to this day. I was introduced to Neon Genesis Evangelion and my first Gundam series (Gundam Wing) at about the same time. Evangelion is very different from just about any other mecha series you’d care to name, damn close to a perfect deconstruction of the genre. It’s still talked about today, 18 years after it premiered. That’s right – there are people today, who might be reading this, who do not know what it was like to live in a world without Evangelion. Or the Internet. … Let’s move on before I feel too old.

It was always a shame to me that The Big O didn’t get more than a second season from Cartoon Network. The infusion of noir sensibilities and greater mysteries into piloted robot antics worked very well. Not long after that, I saw some of the massive body of work that is Getter Robo. It and Mazinger Z are pretty much the urtext of the other series I’ve mentioned, and while I haven’t checked out any Mazinger, I’m a fan of Go Nagai’s other work. And then there was Shinkon Gattai Godannar, which may take the prize for the most fan-service in a series that isn’t adults-only that I’ve seen. I mean, it’s a good series outside of the fan-service, and that theme song is catchy as hell, but… damn.

And then, most recently, there is Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. I went over that one in detail previously, and looking back on everything I’ve seen already, I do think that it stands head and shoulders above the rest. Maybe it’s just that stories that involve the indomitability of the human spirit get under my skin in ways others don’t. A lot of mecha tales approach this idea, from revolutionaries refusing to give up to human consciousness overcoming programming and restraint, but Gurren Lagann feels unique in the way it treats the fighting spirit of the human heart as a power source, and a nearly inexhaustible one at that.

I think that’s one of the things that sticks with me about Pacific Rim. Arch as the characters might be, many of them have that never-say-die attitude that I can’t help but admire. There’s also the fact that these shows are at their best when the big robots are less important than the people inside them. As cool as the Jaegars are, they are only animated when their pilots enter the Drift with one another. It’s something the film has in common with shows like Evangelion or Gurren Lagann, and why it sticks out in my mind as a good story, and one worth watching again.

Though, I could simply be biased towards big bots.

The Power – And Scarcity – Of New Ideas

Courtesy Sony Pictures & ComingSoon.net

One of the chief complaints I have about Star Trek Into Darkness is the way it treads old ground. It was a fear I had going into the movie that turned out to be justified, and while I still enjoyed watching the film, the overarching problems I have with the very core of the narrative continue to bother me. It’s an endemic issue I have with a lot of genre films, and I think it’s not limited to those, so let me get right into it.

Sequels. Reboots. Prequels. We see more and more of these cropping up throughout Hollywood, from mindless iteration of the most basic, lowbrow, idiotic comedies to what was once high-concept science fiction. There are some that do it right – Nolan knocked it out of the part with his Dark Knight trilogy and I have higher hope than I thought I would for Man of Steel – but for the most part, there’s at least part of this storytelling that feels lazy. I may be inclined to like Marvel and its superheroes, but they’ve been around for decades, and as much as their big-screen realization continues to satisfy, and while I’m curious to see what’s next for them, I’m not as thoroughly intrigued by them as I am by other titles coming our way this summer.

Consider Elysium and Pacific Rim. Both are coming from writer/directors that have been described as visionaries, and rightly so. Neill Blomkamp of Elysium gave us the fantastic District 9, and Guillermo del Toro not only brought Hellboy to the big screen, he also crafted the haunting original vision of Pan’s Labyrinth. Not only are these films powerful stories with excellent execution, their ideas are practically brand new. On top of the fact that neither is a derivative work, they come from different cultural perspectives – Blomkamp is South African and del Toro is Mexican – which color the nature of their ideas differently than those that come from Hollywood’s old and somewhat creaky idea machines.

These story ideas are best described as breaths of fresh air. I have to wonder, however, if their novelty is actually enhanced by the amount of derivative drek that permeates the media. I consider it a shame that new ideas are so scarce, but at the same time, their rarity may lend them even more weight and power. This may be a paradox intrinsic to the entertainment industry: as much as there’s nothing new under the sun, there’s only so many ideas that can be shifted or reborn in new ways to really capture the attention of the audience.

What do you think? Are new ideas more powerful for their rarity? Or would they be just as welcome if every idea was brand new?

Original(ish) Sci-Fi Rises

Courtesy Warner Bros

People have talked a lot about a lack of original ideas in Hollywood. When we went to see The Hobbit, some douche behind us commented that ‘there aren’t any original movies anymore’. I’d like to cite just two examples of how wrong that sentiment is.

One of them is Oblivion. “Now wait,” you might be saying, “isn’t Oblivion based on a graphic novel and therefore not an original movie idea?” Normally, you might be right, but since the director of the film is also the author of the graphic novel, I’d say this qualifies. Post-apocalyptic sci-fi isn’t anything new, but the concept of this one has a unique feel to it: When Earth is invaded, mankind apparently has its act together enough to evacuate. Jack Harper is one of those left behind, grabbing what resources he can and repairing the drones that defeated the invaders but left the planet a bit scorched. Not all is as it seems, however, as Jack discovers humans on the planet’s surface…

What fascinates me about Oblivion is its acknowledgement that, even in the wake of sweeping disaster, life goes on. The world doesn’t simply wink out of existence. There is an aftermath to be dealt with. There’s a lot of lonely desolation in the trailer, juxtaposed with the shiny technology the actors are using, and the austerity of the visuals feels very striking. Plus, the author of the graphic novel and director of this film also directed Tron: Legacy, and other critics be damned, I liked Tron: Legacy.

The other film I’m very much looking forward to that exemplifies original sci-fi is Pacific Rim. Now, again, there’s clearly a heavy influence on the project, but rather than one source, Pacific Rim is more inspired by a genre than a single work, and that genre is the daikaiju films that usually feature Godzilla or Gamera. Instead of being post-apocalypse, we witness the start of the apocalypse as giant interdimensional monsters rise from the depths of the sea to wreck devastation upon mankind. To fight them, we build giant robots called Jaegers that match them in size & stature, and pilots use neural links to control the Jaegers from afar. Things are apparently getting worse, though, as the monsters are barely slowed down by the Jaegers and it seems to be a losing battle…

This is a notion that feels truly international. Daikaiju are mostly Japanese, yet here we have an American film with an extremely similar feel with a multi-racial cast directed by Mexican geek favorite Guillermo del Toro. Given his success with the Hellboy films (both of which I really like) and Pan’s Labyrinth (which made me weep like a child but in a good way), I’d trust him with pretty much anything, but this feels so uniquely his idea it’s staggering. I’m really curious to see what he does here. Oh, and is that Ellen McLain voicing the Jaeger AI? Definitely count me in, even if they don’t turn evil or constantly berate the humans involved.

What movies in 2013 are you looking forward to? And what do you think of the sentiment that Hollywood has no original ideas?

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