Pacific Rim ’s initial announcement was an inauspicious affair, billed as a re-team between Legendary Pictures and Travis Beacham, the screenwriter responsible for the underwhelming Clash Of The Titans remake.
Legendary announced the project on 28 May 2010, with the film pencilled in as a potential summer tentpole.
Plot details were at a premium at this juncture, aside from the basic outline of humans fighting off marauding aliens some way into the future.
Not the most novel of set-ups… or so we thought.
Enter del Toro
Legendary initially invited Guillermo del Toro to take a look at the script in an advisory capacity, and the Mexican director’s interest was piqued from the get-go.
“I came into Legendary to discuss the possibility of making a movie together,” says del Toro.
“They had a very small pitch about what they thought Pacific Rim would be.”
“I started developing Pacific Rim from the start,” he continues.
“I developed the screenplay from the get-go so I've been involved with it for more than two years.”
At The Mountains Of Madness
However, at this stage del Toro had his heart set on directing an adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s At The Mountains Of Madness , having been sitting on a script since 2006.
Having spent years trying to find a backer for the project, it was announced in 2010 that Universal would make the project, with James Cameron attached as producer.
“I’m putting all the chips I have accumulated in 20 years as a director and betting them on a single number,” said del Toro of the project.
“This is not just a movie and then move on to the next. It’s do or die time for me.”
Sadly for del Toro, Universal would go on to pull the plug on production, with director and studio reportedly at loggerheads over releasing the film with an R-rating.
Del Toro would also go on to suggest that the arrival of Ridley Scott’s sci-fi epic Prometheus was a contributing factor in the project’s demise, with the two stories sharing a number of similar plot points.
“The title itself gave me pause,” said the director. “I assumed the Greek metaphor alluded at the creation aspects of the HPL book. I believe I am right and if so, as a fan, I am delighted to see a new Ridley Scott science fiction film, but this will probably mark a long pause - if not the demise - of ATMOM .”
One Door Closes
With Mountains Of Madness seemingly dead in the water, del Toro’s schedule was suddenly freed up, allowing Legendary to make an approach for him to helm Pacific Rim .
Having been involved in the project from an early stage, del Toro accepted, and was officially announced as the film’s director.
“We started developing PAC RIM a while ago with the mad passion and enthusiasm of a project unwatched and unchecked by politics or comparisons,” said del Toro in an official statement.
“We designed and shepherded the movie we want to make. We start shooting in September and we hit the ground running because we are so in sync. My partnership with Legendary represents, both in scale and creative demands, a huge step forward for me.”
Despite the obvious disappointment of seeing one passion project come to naught, del Toro quickly threw himself into his new role, billing the film as his opportunity to create one of the biggest monster movies in history.
“So far, knock on wood, it’s the greatest experience of my life,” gushed the director back in 2011.
“I’m having a blast, designing like crazy. I’m now hiring actors, which is always a good sign, always a great sign when you’re casting.”
“The other thing that we’re heading towards is an impending start date the first week in November,” he continued.
“So we have 20 weeks to start shooting the biggest giant monster movie ever made.”
Monsters vs. Robots
At this stage, plot details were still few and far between, save for the fact that a futuristic Earth would be coming under attack from a race of marauding monsters, and would be defending herself with a fleet of souped-up robots.
A fairly sparse premise then, but one that del Toro was happy to promote with typically fanboy-pleasing abandon.
“It is my duty to commit to film the finest fucking monsters ever committed to screen,” began del Toro, “and it is my duty to create the greatest fucking robots ever committed to screen.”
Consider us sold.
Back when Mountains Of Madness was a goer, Tom Cruise had been del Toro’s first choice as leading man, with the two having met on a number of occasions to discuss the role.
With Cruise seemingly on del Toro’s wavelength, the Mexican attempted to convince his star to rejoin him on Pacific Rim .
Cruise was in the market for a sci-fi project, but a deal couldn’t be struck, with the pint-sized A-lister eventually signing on for Joseph Kosinski’s Oblivion .
Happily, however, a replacement was waiting in the wings…
With Cruise dropping out of the running, del Toro went in another direction entirely, casting Idris Elba as his leading man.
Still known primarily as a TV actor, Elba represented something of a gamble for the director, but del Toro was in no doubt that he’d signed the right man.
“Literally, objects start moving when the guy enters a room,” enthused del Toro.
“He’s an actor of uncommon power and uncommon humanity. Javier Bardem is another one. They’re like Rodin sculptures. They represent pure humanity.”
Elba wasn’t the only TV star to get the nod from del Toro, with Sons Of Anarchy ’s Charlie Hunnam soon confirmed as Elba’s co-star.
Having screen-tested for Thor , Hunnam had long been flirting with a big-screen breakthrough, with Del Toro snapping him up to play one of the military types carrying the fight to those invading aliens.
His name? Raleigh Antrobus. Lovely stuff…
Hunnam had actually had previous with del Toro, with the director having considered him for a starring role in one of his earlier films.
“Charlie was one of my only two choices for the prince of Hellboy II: The Golden Army ,” revealed del Toro.
“I met with him. He screen tested. I loved Charlie before Sons Of Anarchy . He always brought a certain honesty. He’s the kind of guy that women will love who guys won’t hate.”
“He’s the right side of honest and good looking that you don’t want to punch him in the face. You want to have a pint with the guy. You want to take him to the pub. There’s male bonding energy with this guy that I thought was perfect for the character.”
Announced with a little less fanfare was the casting of Japanese actress, Rinko Kikuchi, whose addition was only picked up on when her name cropped up in a press release announcing a Pacific Rim panel at Comic-Con.
Kikuchi was recruited to play Mako Mori, another member of Earth’s resistance movement, involved in the piloting of one of the aforementioned giant robots. Speaking of which, it’s probably time we had a little more info on those…
Whats It All About?
While an early synopsis had been touted around in 2011, the first official outline of Pacific Rim ’s story only arrived in May 2012, confirming several assumed details and adding in a few more for good measure.
“ When legions of monstrous creatures, known as Kaiju, started rising from the sea, a war began that would take millions of lives and consume humanity’s resources for years on end. To combat the giant Kaiju, a special type of weapon was devised: massive robots, called Jaegers, which are controlled simultaneously by two pilots whose minds are locked in a neural bridge .
“ But even the Jaegers are proving nearly defenceless in the face of the relentless Kaiju. On the verge of defeat, the forces defending mankind have no choice but to turn to two unlikely heroes - a washed up former pilot (Charlie Hunnam) and an untested trainee (Rinko Kikuchi) - who are teamed to drive a legendary but seemingly obsolete Jaeger from the past. Together, they stand as mankind’s last hope against the mounting apocalypse .”
If that all sounds a little obscure when shrouded in PR bumpf, allow del Toro to shed a little more light on how the Jaegers actually work.
“The pilots wear suits that are neurologically linking them,” says del Toro. “They have a spinal clamp that links their spines.They have relay gel in their helmets that transmit their impulses to one another. They move in synchronicity. One is handling the neural network of the left side of the Jaeger, and the other is handling the neural network of the right side of the Jaeger. They are connected between them.”
Therefore, Hunnam and Kikuchi’s characters will have to work together in perfect harmony to get their craft working like a well-oiled machine.
However, that might prove more complicated than it sounds…
It Takes Two
While much of the film’s marketing has understandably revolved around the robots vs. monsters angle, Charlie Hunnam is at pains to point out the more human element of the story.
“It’s a love story without a love story,” he explains. “It’s about all of the necessary elements of love without arriving at love itself: I need to trust [ Mako ] and respect her and open up my mind to her.”
“It’s so fascinating, the whole caveat of how we operate this machine – which is through a neurological bridge – we’re neurologically connected. So everything in my head is available to [ Mako ] – and vice versa. If you imagine that – I mean, we’re all very careful about how we present ourselves and what we say, and how much of ourselves we let out… it’s really the heart of the film.”
Kikuchi and Hunnam’s characters are bound by more than just a giant robot.
They also share a similar sense of loss, thanks to the ongoing war with the Kaiju.
“They both lost a lot in the past,” explains del Toro, “and when they meet, one of the ideas in the script is that two people who are really, really hurt can become one, both in the realm of metaphorically or in life. They meet with their two empty pieces and connect almost like a puzzle.”
“For two very damaged people who have decided they’re going to keep it all inside because they’re terrible human beings who have made so many mistakes... to go through a process of opening up enough to allow someone access to your head, it’s really a big proposition.”
For those cynics who might be doubting just how much character development will actually be present amid all the crash-bang-wallop mayhem, del Toro is at pains to stress how much love and effort has gone into the crafting of his cast of players.
“There is a whole universe that we were talking about when making this movie,” he says.
“I wrote biographies for all of the characters in the film.”
“Those biographies expanded very much where the movie hadn't.... We ended up generating a document that we called a bible, and that was probably about 100 pages long.”
Returning to the Jaegers briefly, there few more nuggets of info to be dealt with, including the fact that despite the unified front presented by Earth against the Kaiju, there are still key difference between the robots based on their geographical origin.
“Each of them comes from a different country,” explains del Toro. “We have Cherno Alpha, which is a Russian robot. Crimson Typhoon, which is a Chinese robot and so on and so forth. They each have a name and they are as much characters as the pilots. I wanted each robot to have a personality and for you to feel when they get hurt or when the robot wins.”
“Also, the pilots name their robots very much depending on where they come from. The American robot has nose art like the WWII planes. The bombers name their planes. There’s an affection and there’s a plausibility to the robots.”
As has been mentioned before, Earth’s aggressors are a race of extra-terrestrial beings known as the Kaiju.
However, while they may be alien, they’re not from outer space… they’re from under the sea,
“There is a geological fault at the bottom of the ocean,” explains the director.
“But in the film you'll see the inter-dimensional portal above that."
And it’s from this portal that the Kaiju spring forth.
The location of said fault? You haven’t been paying attention, have you?
Check that title once more…
Although the film is set further in the future, del Toro explains that the first Kaiju invasion took place in 2013, with the director relaying a whole back-story that leads us to the situation in which the film’s players find themselves.
“The first monster took very long to stop and the material / human loss was huge,” explains del Toro. “Kaijus targeted populated areas and vector weapons (missiles, tanks) etc. took too long to react against the Kaiju's ever-changing strategy.”
"The first few Kaijus were stopped in this manner for over two years,” he continues.
“Then the first gen Jaeger was tested."
Turns out they were something of a game-changer!
The next piece of casting announced was something of an eyebrow-raiser, with comedy actor Charlie Day added to the growing ensemble, as part of the tech-team behind the Jaegers.
“It's the kind of thing that I actually always really wanted to do,” says Day.
“And I just assumed I would never get the opportunity to do it unless I had, you know, 10 or 15 films under my belt.”
“Fortunately, Guillermo was a huge It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia fan and he just thought I was right for the character and I thought I was right for the character - and so it's a happy marriage.”
However, despite being a comedian cast in a predominantly “straight” sci-fi movie, Day is determined not to be reduced to the irritating comedy foil.
“You don't [ want to be Rob Schneider in Judge Dredd ],” he says. “I mean, I think I look funny and sound funny, so people will want to laugh at me. There's definitely some levity that I bring to a dark film.
“But then I go through a harrowing experience,” he continues, “and hopefully it becomes very unfunny and real and frightening after a point…”
Big Ron Returns
Having teamed up with del Toro on a number of occasions, most notably for the Hellboy movies, Ron Perlman was a less surprising addition to the cast.
“This is our fifth movie together,” said Perlman of his reunion with del Toro.
“Our relationship goes way, way beyond just a professional association. There’s so much history, so much brotherhood, so many ups and downs… being with him is like being with family.”
Awww. Who knew he was such a softie?
“I’m a black marketeer in this film,” reveals Perlman. “I have this relationship with the powers that be whereby I have the rights to all of these fallen monsters to sell on the black market to rich people who have way too much money and are looking to collect rare and exotic strange shit.
“So I have no morality,” he continues.“I have no moral compass. I have no scruples whatsoever. I’m just a profiteer. In this case a war profiteer, but the war is not among countries, it’s a war against time for all of humanity.”
3D Or Not 3D
When you’re talking about a movie of this kind of scale, it’s only a matter of time before 3D technology is mentioned, and sure enough, the question was put to del Toro during the film’s Comic-Con panel.
“I didn’t want to make the movie 3D," said del Toro, "because when you have things that big, the thing that happens naturally is you’re looking at two buildings at 300 feet. If you move, the buildings don’t go like this (moves his hands closer together)… there’s no parallax.”
“They’re so big that you barely notice anything no matter how fast you’re moving, so to force the 3D effect on robots and monsters that are supposed to be that height, you’re making them miniaturised, you’re making them human-scale. I knew that the 3D effect sounded like a great idea, but it was gonna be counter.”
However, Warner weren’t so thrilled with the prospect of an exclusively 2D release, and issued a press release in September 2012 stating that the film would be getting the 3D treatment after all.
The studio’s thinking was thought to be influenced by the potential of losing the Asian market, with China only releasing American films if they are presented in 3D or IMAX format.
Given that much of the film’s action takes place in Asia, Warner took matters out of the director’s hands in order to maximise their commercial return…
With Warner seemingly going against del Toro’s wishes, it looked as though there might be a creative row on the cards.
However, regardless of what might have been said in private, Del Toro’s public stance was a conciliatory one.
“What happened was, in the weeks and months following Comic-Con, what I asked from the studio was to agree to four points that I wanted to do,” explained the director.
“The more the ILM shots arrived, the more I realized that there were only a few shots that would miniaturize. I asked the studio, number one, that we would not hyper-stereo-lize the thing. That we would not force 3D on the beauty shots. That we would keep the giant dimensions. They agreed.”
Now that 3D had been insisted on by the studio, del Toro was determined to ensure that the technology was implemented correctly, allaying fears of a money-spinning rush-job in post-production.
“Warners agreed to something very unusual,” says del Toro.
“Normally a conversion takes a few weeks. I asked to start it immediately so we could take the full 40 weeks to do the conversion. As an example, Titanic took about 50 weeks to convert.”
“The final thing that I asked that they agreed to, which was amazing, was that I asked them to give me an extra budget, which is considerable, to actually have ILM composite the shots that are CG native 3D.”
“We’re not giving elements. ILM is giving the composite in 3D from the get-go. That’s a huge, huge element. Now I’m going to be involved in supervising it. What can I tell you? I changed my mind. I’m not running for office. I can do a Romney.”
Del Toro has always been a firm advocate of using as many practical effects as are possible, and according to Charlie Day, Pacific Rim provides some of his finest efforts to date.
“He’s found a different way to shoot CGI,” enthuses Day. “Every set I walked into was built to a T, to the nines. I saw almost no actual green screen; I would be running from a monster and cars would be flipping over behind me - real cars - over my head.”
“I’d be like, ‘Oh that almost killed me,’ and I knew that at some point they were gonna paint a monster in there but it’s very real for me in this moment. So it was awesome and I think it’s gonna be a really great movie.”
Under The Hood
Del Toro’s obsession with the practical expanded as far as the design of the Jaegers, with the director determined that his creations should be plausible as well as awe-inspiring.
“When you see the robots, you’ll see them move and you’ll see the mass, but between the mass, you’ll see so many little parts doing the work,” explains del Toro. “We designed them as practical machines. We didn’t design them as something that we just put bullshit moving.”
“We went in and said, 'this is where they refuel them, this is where they put the new cells.' You can see all the port markings as if it were a giant helicopter. We took a lot of reference from giant (real-life) machines.”
Attention To Detail
Obviously, this kind of eye for detail comes as part of an intensely methodical directing style, with Idris Elba remarking that del Toro is unlike any director he’s worked with previously.
“He loves actors,” says the star. “You realize when you see the playbacks, that we are part of this huge comic book that’s in his head, and he’s moulding us, as actors, bit by bit and frame by frame and line by line.”
“He’s very, very pedantic,” continues Elba, “and he shoots in small sequences, which is great, but it’s a very different discipline to learn.”
The first official look at Pacific Rim came in the pages of our very own magazine, with Idris Elba looking mean and moody in his jet black combat armour.
Could Tom Cruise look that imposing? We think not.
Elba’s character was revealed to be Lieutenant-Commander Stacker Pentecost (another excellent name), the commanding officer of Hunnam’s washed-up pilot.
Expect the sparks to fly when those two go head to head…
The abiding impression we took from that synopsis is that it sounded big, and sure enough, Guillermo del Toro was thinking along the same lines when we spoke exclusively to him a month later.
“When we’re talking about the physicality of the fight scenes,” explained the director, “we ended up building several blocks of Hong Kong… and literally demolished them. We built a building and then we took down the buildings.”
“We built command centres of the robots that were the size of the house. We started them on hydraulic rigs that shoot and elevated them and moved them round so you could really get a sense of the physical nature driving a robot like this.”
To do justice to such bravura filmmaking, del Toro and his team employed RED EPIC cameras in order to present the jaw-dropping robots in all their glory.
“Not only do you get much more information from the RED,” begins the director, “but I also found the colours to be very saturated. The RED gave us the closest to what we wanted (without having to do much in post-production).”
“We used absolutely gorgeous lenses… we had about 15 cameras on the movie, because we were running five on the cockpit, three or four on action… if you have a really good cinematographer, then digital looks gorgeous.”
Del Toro freely admits that many of his reference points for the film are rooted in Japanese popular culture, but he was adamant that the film should not be a mere rip-off of the genre classics of yesteryear.
“I wouldn’t compare it to a Godzilla film,” he says.
“I think that what it is, there are two subgenres that are very popular and very powerful in Japan. One is the Kaiju and the other is the giant robot subgenre. Occasionally they mix together, mostly on TV series, but on film I thought these were things that were part of my nutritional makeup growing up. I literally was raised watching these movies.”
“One of the things I made clear to my designers, every head of department, was we should not reference other movies. We should not re-watch Gamera or re-watch Gojira or re-watch War Of The Gargantuans because we love them. So we felt, 'Let’s create the world that we’re doing.’ It falls in here and falls in there, but we should not be doing a referential film.”
Del Toro is understandably excited by the large-scale battle scenes contained in the film, with several robot / alien skirmishes taking place in some unusual locations.
“We had a Tokyo scene that we shot here in Toronto,” del Toro told us back in 2012.
“We had several Hong Kong scenes and a few scenes in Australia, through the television. We briefly see the Kaiju take over San Francisco. The whole Pacific Rim needs a sense of danger.”
“We take the battles far and above! Two or three of them happen in places where there have never been a battle between Kaiju and robots. From the bottom of the ocean to the atmosphere of the Earth. We have a battle in a storm at sea. Every battle we try to do differently. One is seen from the point of view of a single person. We never cut away from that point of view.”
The First Poster
The film’s first poster arrived at Comic-Con, featuring a pair of Jaeger pilots standing upon the shoulder of one of the giant robots.
Placing a pair of human figures in the frame for context really helps with the sense of scale, while the Jaeger itself looks pleasingly battle-hardened.
This isn’t one of your fancy-dan, show robots… this one has seen some action.
While much of the focus has understandably surrounded Pacific Rim ’s visuals, the project also scored big with the appointment of Ramin Djawadi on composing duties, having justifiably impressed del Toro with his sterling work on Game Of Thrones .
“His scores have a grandeur, but they also have an incredible human soul,” says del Toro of Djawadi.
“It’s the first time I’ve ever had a meeting where I come out and I feel that in the first stroke, he got it.”
The film began to really work fans into a frenzy in November of last year, with the establishment of a viral website, compiling a series of Jaeger blueprints, before beginning to drip-feed the first few snippets of footage from the film.
Throw in a countdown clock and a letter from the British Air Command offering pilots to the Jaeger program, and excitement was beginning to build amongst the online community.
And they wouldn’t have long to wait before more was on the way…
Of all the viral material released online, one of our favourites was this retro propaganda poster, proclaiming “Victory”, in a style familiar to students of the Second World War.
Who wouldn’t feel like joining the resistance with a big old robot like that one batting for the home team? Where do we sign?
The viral campaign got up and running with the release of a brief teaser video showing a test sequence for the Kaiju Emergency Alert System.
Naturally, there wasn’t even a sniff of an actual Kaiju anywhere to be seen, but it helps to set the sense of apocalyptic dread rather nicely…
Now this is more like it… taking the form of a breaking news report, the second teaser video showed us our first glimpse of the Kaiju as they begin to wreak havoc upon San Fransisco.
“I can only pray that this is the end of it,” says the newscaster optimistically.
Thanks for jinxing it, pal…
The First Trailer
After weeks and months of viral teasing, the first trailer finally landed just before Christmas 2012, and it certainly didn’t disappoint.
Combining jaw-dropping visual effects with some thunderous action sequences, it was every bit as big, bold and beautiful as we’d been led to believe, with some fist-pumping one-liners thrown in for good measure.
In case you missed it, you can check it out again in the player above…
Shortly after the trailer dropped online, del Toro joined MTV to talk fans through what they had just seen, explaining some of the key moments and how they will fit into the finished film.
For example, that opening shot of a young girl standing in the middle of a war-ravaged street is actually a flashback taken from the middle of the film, and depicts a younger version of Rinko Kukuchi’s character.
“This is how she decided to fight Kaijus, and what happened to her as a kid,” explains del Toro, before proclaiming, “the idea for me is to create a movie that my head would explode if I was 12 or 10 years old.”
If you were watching particularly closely, you might have noticed a fanboy-pleasing voice providing the dulcet tones of Pacific Rim ’s resident AI.
Yes, Portal fans, that was indeed Ellen McLain, the actress who voices the villainous GLaDOS in the popular videogame.
However, in the finished article, her dialogue won’t be quite so recognisable.
“There’s no A.I. I’d rather have than GlaDOS,” chuckles del Toro.
“The filter we’re using (in the finished film) is slightly less GLaDOS. Slightly. The one in the trailer I wanted to be full-on GlaDOS.”
Apologies if all the above is Dutch to you… Go get yourself some cake.
The film will arrive in UK cinemas on 12 July 2013, and as far as del Toro is concerned, it may well turn out to be his finest film to date.
“To me, this movie was a big, big growth for me as director. I wanted to show what I could do with more support and freedom… to me Pacific Rim represented that on another scale.
As a director, I concentrate on things I felt personally I needed to improve from the other films and concentrate on things I hadn’t tried.
“I shot the movie very differently in many ways, but with the same philosophy and visual style. It was a huge experience, the best I’d had on any film set in all my life. I enjoyed absolutely every moment.”
The Blu-ray should be worth a few of your hard-earned pennies, with del Toro promising a fair amount of deleted scenes for the home-entertainment release.
“I think when the Blu-ray comes, there will be a good 30 minutes of deleted scenes,” says the director.
“It’s mainly logic-following stuff. They are not expensive scenes, they are scenes of character moments, science being explained, plot being explained.”
“There are no deleted scenes that took an enormous amount of time to shoot. It’s additional explanation that in retrospect, I think isn’t needed.”
The film might not be in cinemas for another six months, but that hasn’t stopped Legendary from giving the green light to a potential sequel.
“We certainly started tossing ideas for possibilities of a sequel and Travis Beacham and I are writing a proposal of ideas,” said del Toro, “but at the same time I know I don’t want to do that next. I want to do something else, I want to do something in a different genre that’s not so big.”
If Pacific Rim proves to be the success many are predicting it to be, don’t be surprised if the studio finds a way of twisting his arm…
And as if he didn’t already have enough on his plate, del Toro is also keen on a prequel story, to be told through the medium of graphic novels.
Legendary Comics is a subsidiary of the film’s main production company and has backed the director’s plans to pen a three-volume comic-book run, telling the story of Elba’s character as he rises to the rank of Commander.
“We are not doing just a spin-off,” says del Toro. “It's not an ancillary market decision to go to the comic. I created one that allows us to set up and expand and explore things that are spoken of in the movies… this is another kind of creative important endeavour.”
The Second Trailer
A variation on the original trailer landed on our screens just two days ago, showing off some new footage of the Jaeger – Kaiju face-off, while giving Idris Elba the chance to show off his badass military persona.
All together now… “we’re cancelling the apocalypse!”
Stick that on a t-shirt, someone…