The thing that may be most interesting about Pacific Rim is that in a movie that uses so much technology to tell a story about machinery, there’s so much humanity. But then again, Guillermo del Toro has always managed to take some truly unusual ideas and infuse them with a shocking amount of relatability; who else would make a character like Hellboy a forlorn romantic lead?
Daily Dead spoke to del Toro earlier this week via telephone, where the filmmaker explained how he conceived the film with typical effusiveness. In addition to talking about, yeah, the mechanics of his monsters-versus-robots story, he explored the larger, humanistic underpinnings of telling a story that, again, superficially seems to be about special effects and action. Finally, he told us a little bit about the work he’s done so far on a couple of new projects, Crimson Peak and The Strain.
Given the different ways this material has been introduced to audiences, what is this story to you? Is it a monster movie? Is it a redemption story for Raleigh?
Guillermo del Toro: Well, what is funny is for me, the movie tries to reproduce the awe that you feel when you are an 11-year-old kid. People ask me what was the biggest struggle, and I always say Hellboy 2 was technically not as big, but as technically complex as this, easily. I was handling as complex a set of tools as on this one. But what is really, really different for me is that I tried to reproduce and shoot the movie through a really difficult sort of simplicity. I shot it almost the way I would have liked to see it when I was a kid.
And the template I decided to use was the template of an adventure film, which is a genre that is very hard to approach without getting all retro. And the movie is not a hip, one-liner-driven jingoistic, supercool paean to modernity. It’s almost a throwback in how simple it is in terms of basically showcasing ten characters or so that represent the best features of mankind – uncomplicated heroism, leadership, ingenuity, self-sacrifice, son on and so forth – and allow them to face something that is so huge that it’s like a massive force of nature, you know?
And if we are able to put a – there’s a little speech in the movie where he says, “if you see a hurricane, you’ve got to get out of the way, but in a jaeger, you can face the hurricane and win.” For me, that’s the spectacle – the spectacle of riding a mechanical force of nature and clashing against a living force of nature, and the resulting spectacle has a very nice, pure human heart at the center. So it’s a mixture of things, but it has a purity – hopefully the purity of a movie that you saw when you were a kid. A giant monster movie or whatever you want to choose.
How did you find the right balance between introducing the unique language of this world – terms like “Kaiju,” “Jaeger,” and so on -- and not overloading the audience with details that might distract them from the characters or story?
Guillermo del Toro: What I knew I would do even from the beginning, even from the first draft, was I knew I wanted to do what Anthony Burgess does in the book Clockwork Orange: he prefaces the book with a big glossary of terms. He tells you what moloko means, what a droog means, and it explains to you all of the language you’re going to hear Alex narrate the story. So I wanted to open literally with a glossary defining what a Kaiju and what a Jaeger is, and then the first nine or ten images of the film, guided by me and perfectly in tune with the movie, we go into a small series of images, like two minutes of a real-world type of footage, where we show you the construction of the Jaegers, the readers of the news, which I had my company Mirada do, and had my partner Matthew Cullen assemble a guide.
The one thing I’m terrible at is found footage; I always end up designing the images too much. So Matt collected a bunch of footage that either we shot at Mirada or we shot in the field in Thailand, and we were able to assemble a really good real-world feeling where Charlie lays out the lay of the land. Then we go into the world of launching a jaeger, and what I do there is I shoot it piece by piece by piece: you need to know how the literally assemble the suit, how they hook up the suit, how they hook up the head to the robot with the pilots inside. I make it completely exciting, but diagrammatic, so that you know exactly what you’re looking at.
And the guideline there for me was, of all things, Gerry Anderson’s The Thunderbirds, because in The Thunderbirds, you always saw one piece of the rocket go into another piece of the rocket to the next, and then you saw the rocket racheted out and then finally locked. And I shot a Thunderbirds launch of a jaeger.
So after that, when the Jaeger hits the water, literally, we have no more rules to dispense. The audience is in for the rest of the movie. We have to fortify some walls here and there, but you’re ready. We gave you a little manual on how to do that. And then Travis and I came up with two terms – I came up with “neural bridge” and “neural handshake,” Travis came up with things like “Shatterdome.” We came up with a lingo that felt effortless and not overloaded.
Even when trafficking in the conventions of a genre they love, filmmakers often come up with scenarios that they’ve never seen before, or always wanted to see executed. What was the sequence in this film that you were most excited to pull off, if only for your own edification?
Guillermo del Toro: I think most every set piece, and I can tell you why, but basically live-action-wise, there has never been a movie feature that deals with robots and monsters of that size, A, or B, fighting together. Never. Ever. I mean, there has been some TV series that have very different-looking types of robots, or mechanical men fighting Kaiju. There’s anime that deals with robots versus some form of alien, mostly alien suits or robots that come from another planet – but that’s the reason why I jumped into it so fast.
But that aside, the Drift, the fact that two pilots make the Drift alone, is completely original and a great thematic device. *Spoiler: Highlight to read: I don’t want to spoil it but if you could put a spoiler warning, I’ve never seen a pregnant Kaiju give birth to a baby with the umbilical cord strangling it. I have never seen tonally the tone that I was looking for was exotic and fantasy-oriented and not hardcore, how would you say, “hardware sci-fi.” It almost evokes fantasy, particularly in the sequence that is very beautiful and dreamlike and poetic, when Mako goes back to her memory, which is almost like a little fantasy sequence where a girl is rescued from a dragon by a knight in shining armor, you know? Or the fact that they need to navigate the innards of a Kaiju to obtain the brain, or the fact that the final set piece happens at the bottom of the ocean – and so on and so forth. Or the fact that we need to go to another world, literally another dimension, to finish the movie.
And I can go on and on for a while, but I think I wanted to make everything about this movie something made by people who love the genres of mecha and Kaiju, but it’s not a fan movie. I didn’t want it to be a fan movie. I didn’t want to be quoting and quoting and winking and nudging. I wanted it to stand on its own two wet feet. And I can tell you everybody who was there with me grew up on the same movies and anime I grew up with.
I grew up with every series, animated or not, that a kid was growing up in Japan with; that was my childhood in the 60s in Mexico – the exact same pop culture. And it was right at the apex of the Kaiju movie movement; I was going opening weekend to Kaiju movies when I was a kid. And the reason why I loved the two genres is because mecha, unlike the way we have a relationship with technology in the west, which is a very guilty message where we’re always warning ourselves, beware of technology, it shall be your downfall, Japanese culture embraces technology to the point of almost religion. And it allows the mecha to be these beautiful, clocklike warriors, that have a childlike sense of awe – a mythical sense of awe. And there is also unbridled, completely amoral adoration for monsters. In other words, in both instances, when you see the movie, whether you like it or not, you can see me getting high on my own supply.
How much control can you exert over these projects that you choose to tackle in terms of them going forward and being fully realized?
Guillermo del Toro: I have full creative control of those things that I remain attached to. I have full control of not doing the ones I don’t think are going to work with me. But I have no control whatsoever about which ones happen, because I have no control over millions of dollars of a power structure. But as a result, each of those projects that stay with me for three or four years, I complete the screenplay, in some instances I develop a visual world, a visual bible.
I put in hundreds and hundreds of hours and I turn around and my daughters are two years older, my wife took a vacation with my daughters without me, and I’m leaving bits of life everywhere, and those projects are not happening. But I still pursue them! I still pursue them, and I think I have the hope that even the other ones will happen one day, but they happen in a haphazard way.
For example, Crimson Peak, which will be my next feature, Legendary read At The Mountains of Madness, Crimson Peak, and The Left Hand of Darkness, which is the Count of Monte Cristo, and they chose Crimson Peak. They said, “we love this one – we want to make it happen.” Would I like for them to have chosen one of the other two? With equal glee, of course. But I cannot tell them where to place their bets. I would have never ran from getting the blessing of that 8-page treatment of Travis Beacham to basically save my sanity. It was basically like heavens parted and I saw a Kaiju singing “Glory, Glory Hallelujah” to me. It was just so beautiful to find those pages – and I had no idea.
How far into the process are you on Crimson Peak given that you’re still obviously promoting Pacific Rim?
Guillermo del Toro: Well, in my head I already conceptualized the ghosts, and I can tell you they are unlike any ghosts ever put on screen in the history of film – ever. Not only are they original, but they’re going to be scary as hell. We’re designing the mansion – we started the design work about eight weeks ago. We have a full art direction team in place. We have scouted for approximately nine weeks. I went scouting in Toronto during one of the downtimes for Pacific Rim, and I go there right after we launch Pacific Rim; the next day, I am in Toronto pre-producing Crimson Peak and The Strain at the same time.
We’re shooting The Strain in September, and continuing to prep Crimson Peak – which is technically much easier than Pacific Rim. And what I’m doing is working with the actors, characters, set design, wardrobe design, to make it a really exquisite piece. But technically, it’s like a breeze – the scale is completely the opposite scale of Pacific Rim. It’s all about humans, and intimate.
All I’ve been receiving since people have been able to see the movie is the great blessing of not only what it is, but what it’s not. For so long, people were saying, “it’s like this” or “it's like that,” and finally for the movie to be able to stand on its own two feet and say, no, whatever you think? I’m that. Every time you helped, I thank you from my heart, and keep spreading the word – God bless and let’s see where we go.
Directed by Guillermo del Toro, Pacific Rim will be released on July 12th and stars Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day, Ron Perlman, Robert Kazinsky, Max Martini, Clifton Collins Jr., Burn Gorman, Larry Joe Campbell, Brad William Henke, and Diego Klattenhoff. Catch up on our recent coverage by visiting the following links: