barometry: ([h50] danny hands up)
[personal profile] barometry
This post is slightly delayed because I spent the last week -- through all those record highs you've been seeing on Tumblr -- in the unairconditioned woods at scottish country dance camp (actually for reals), but I've been seeing a lot of Pacific Rim on my Tumblr dash and so I feel like there are some people I can have this conversation with.

Here's the thing: I enjoyed Pacific Rim. I also think it was a pretty terrible movie.

My theory (I always have a theory) is that I enjoyed it because I was watching at least two different movies at the same time: the actual movie playing on screen, and a sort of idealized panoply of all the movies it could have been, in my head. The former pretty much continuously failed to follow through on its awesome conceptual potential, while offering wooden dialogue and unconvincing narrative structure; the second was an amazing investigation of the meaning of personal identity and altered perception embedded in a movie where soulbonded pilots use giant robots to fight giant aliens.

The second movie was awesome, but it is not the movie that they actually made.

The most serious problem I had with the movie-as-made (as opposed to the movie-as-missed-opportunities) was that it was built around a bunch of profound and important personal relationships that they told us about but that weren't really shown.

Now, I do feel like they successfully sold the father/daughter relationship between Stacker Pentecost and Mako Mori. I understood their motivations with respect to one another, and I felt like relatively little time was spent telling me about their Feeling Regarding One Another. I was also sold, however briefly, on the relationship between whosits-main-dude ("Raleigh Becket" apparently?) and his brother ("Yancy Becket"? Seriously for real?).

...and that's about it. The relationships around which the entire movie revolved are the Instant Bond of Copiloting Sympathy between Mako and Raleigh, and Mako's apparently deep seated emotional need for revenge. I was told, in words, about both of these things, but I cannot say that I saw them on screen.

Let's take a step back and think about exactly why the Instant Bond of Copiloting Sympathy is crucial to the plot. For one thing, without that bond it would not be relevant whether Stacker did or did not want Mako piloting a Jaeger. But we are also told, in the opening scenes of the movie, that you need to be "drift compatible" with someone in order to copilot a Jaeger, and they claim that this requires a history of "shared memories" (though since nobody actually remembers things the same way as their childhood friends or siblings, lets sort of handwave that into something more plausible). At any rate, every single piloting team we see pre-Mako/Raleigh is a close family connection -- in the clip reel at the very beginning, we see what appear to be identical twins, subsequently we see siblings and/or parents with children. Shared memories can't be enough for drift compatibility, though, or there never would have been a shortage of Jaeger pilots -- there's clearly something more required for drift compatibility.

So then Raleigh's brother (Yancy? Really?) dies while they are still linked, and Raleigh manages not to fry his brain too badly piloting a Jaeger solo, but he can't pilot ever again because drift compatibility is so rare. But then five years later they're like: well now we need a pilot, so apparently that's not a problem any more, please stick fight with all these dudes and on that basis we'll decide if we should plug your brains into each other.

Even allowing for the fact that shared memory/history is going to play no role for the remainder of the movie, surely there is some kind of brain scan that would produce more reliable results.

But anyhow: Raleigh, who quit everything he knew and went into an extremely dangerous profession because (and here I'm filing in narrative the movie didn't bother with) he was dealing with the trauma of feeling his brother die while they shared a brain, is like: Mako, you and I totally clicked when we chatted for like 20 minutes and then hit each other with sticks a few times, we share a Special Connection and I am now 100% ready to move past my trauma, let's go convince your dad that this is a super awesome idea and we should be allowed to pilot billions of dollars worth of rare military technology.

I was sold on none of this, as you might be able to tell. Of course, at this point they just abandoned the entire pretense of "drift compatibility" in order to get Idris Elba into a giant robot -- which is a goal I sympathize with, don't get me wrong, but I'm not buying his "I bring nothing into the drift" zen bullshit, or his "I figured out your daddy issues long ago" swipe at Australian dude. And can I ask about these "daddy issues"? I mean yes, Australian dude is a jerk, we see that, but this is otherwise another relationship they tell us about without giving any actual supporting evidence. And what was the point about how Jaeger pilots got too overconfident and that was their downfall? I thought their downfall was that the giant aliens got bigger and stronger and more frequent, but maybe that's just me.

Let's not even talk about how hard this movie failed the Beschdel test. I was waiting, on the edge of my seat, for Mako and the Russian sister to say something, anything, to each other, however brief and/or perfunctory. They did not. It would have been so easy for this movie to get a technical pass:

MAKO: "Is your Jaeger operating at peak efficiency?"



(Mako also did not exchange words with the only other speaking female character in the movie, who I believe is credited as "Chinese Girl in Anti-Kaiju Refuge", just fyi.)

Now that I've ranted about my problems with Pacific Rim, let me tell you about the awesome movie I was watching in my head.

When the movie first introduced technological soulbonding, and then within ten minutes someone died while still plugged into someone else's head, I thought this was going to be amazing: the whole movie could be about questions of personal identity, what it means to share consciousness, etc. -- and what it might mean within this weird subset of crazy pilots who tap into one anothers' minds to be only (in a weird way) half a person. I was expecting Raleigh to have persistent numbness and paralysis in his arm, after it was torn off the Jaeger, and to continue to hallucinate the presence of his older brother. These issues, combined with lingering trauma and shunning from other pilots who don't want to think about what would happen to them if their co-pilot died, would explain why he was no longer working within the Jaeger program, and would prefer to lose himself in the business of building that totally idiotic Wall of Life.

But then Idris Elba needs old pilots to come help him save the world at the last minute, so he convinces/shanghais Raleigh to come along. But Raleigh is in important ways missing half his head -- or has half a head too many -- and he is almost phobic about trying to drift with anyone. Also, we're going to take seriously the idea that you need some kind of shared background with someone to successfully drift, so the list of candidates is short, and the try-outs don't involve stickfighting.

Raleigh connects with the technical lead of the Jaeger program, Mako Mori (I was sold on them as Bros, just not as Instantly Connected Robot-Piloting Soulmates), who wants to fly and is qualified pilot, but as an orphan of an early Kaiju attack has no blood relative who she could conceivably be drift compatible with.

At this point there are TWO OPTIONS. Both of them are successful metaphors about found family!

In option one, which is slightly more Hollywood mainstream, Raleigh encounters in the Jaeger program a former fellow pilot -- possibly one whose copilot is also dead -- who has always been his Rival. Whether or not they have shared childhood memories, they have shared memories of the Jaeger program, have similar experiences as pilots and as pilots who lost their copilots, and it turns out that they're drift-compatible, much to both of their chagrin. We now have a ready-made Rivals-to-Comrades story arc! (I really thought this was where they were going with Australian dude in the actual movie. Anyone else? Also, the fic would practically write itself.)

To preserve Mako's role in the plot, we have a parallel arc about how she might not have blood relatives, but she does have Idris Elba as the best adoptive father ever. But if he gets into a Jaeger he will die! Oh no! The fulfillment of her life-long dream would mean his death! But in the end there is no other way to save the world, and they pilot a Jaeger together to close the Rift. He dies floating in a raft as she holds him in her arms, and it is super tragic and also more touching than his actual death in the film.

In option two, which I just made up right this instant, it is not so hard Hollywood script doctors, we have an actual narrative effort to build parallels between Raleigh and Mako's life experiences. Nobody thinks they would be drift compatible, because the explicitly stated prerequisites are missing, but it turns out that though they have vastly different experiences, there are underlying correspondences within them -- of loss, of joy, of trauma, of success -- that allow them to successfully link with one another. It is a profound story of stepping beyond our assumptions about family and shared experience, and finding people with whom we really connect.

So yeah, that's the movie I wish I saw. It's a great movie! It still has the hilarious scientist side plot stuff, and the giant robots, and we can even leave in the stupid sword that you activate by pressing the "sword" button in your giant robot cockpit, and the Dance-Dance-Revolution piloting scenes.

Can I ask people what they liked about this movie? Not conceptually, or in its potential -- because I thought those things were awesome too! -- but in the actual movie on the screen? I'm honestly curious, and open to rewatching the whole thing (though not in theatres), but I'm kind of at a loss at where all the love I'm seeing on Tumblr is coming from.
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Barometry Jones

October 2014


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