Pacific Rim


Why does this giant robot have a trash bucket on its head?

Why does this giant robot have a trash bucket on its head?

(2013) Science Fiction (Warner Brothers) Charlie Hunnam, Rinko Kikuchi, Idris Elba, Charlie Day, Ron Perlman, Robert Kazinski, Burn Gorman, Max Martini, Clifton Collins Jr., Diego Klattenhoff, Brad William Henke, Larry Joe Campbell, Mana Ashida, Santiago Segura, Joe Pingue, Milton Barnes, Ellen McLain (voice), Robert Maillet, Heather Doerksen. Directed by Guillermo del Toro

When I was a boy, I used to love Japanese monster movies – men in rubber lizard suits smashing Tokyo to smithereens. My Dad and I loved the kind of cheesy earnestness of the movies and while we both moved on to other genres, we did share that one thing.

For my own son, it was giant robots. Transformers, dude. Things that turned into other things that grew huge and took on other huge things. That was what kids a generation removed from myself cut their teeth on. Now what about combining the two together?

That’s just what Guillermo del Toro, visionary director of Pan’s Labyrinth did. In the near future, Earth has been invaded by gigantic beasts that came out of the ocean – or more accurately through a dimensional portal that manifested at the bottom of the Pacific. These creatures wreaked havoc on the coastal cities of Asia and Australia as well as the West Coast of the United States. Conventional warfare doesn’t work on these Kaiju which is Japanese for “strange creature” but over time has come to assume gigantic size as well. In order to fight these creatures, giant robotic creatures – called Jaegers which is German for “hunters” – have been created. These machines are piloted by humans and are so intricate and complex that it requires to human brains, which are psychically linked by a “drift” which allows both pilots to share memories while operating both sides of the robotic brain. At first, these robots are successful.

However as time goes on, more and more creatures pour out of the portal growing larger and more deadly as they do. Raleigh Becket (Hunnam) is a pilot along with his brother Yancy (Klattenhoff) but in a battle with a Kaiju Yancy is killed while connected to Raleigh who experiences his brother’s death. Raleigh leaves the program and becomes a construction worker on a gigantic wall protecting the coastline which the government feels will adequately protect the people and cities of the coast.

Of course, that doesn’t work and the general of the Jaeger program, Stacker Pentecost (Elba) finds himself in need of pilots as the Kaiju have begun a counter-offensive that has pushed humanity to the brink of extinction. Stacker knows the only way for humanity to survive is to find a way to close that portal; he has scientists Newton Geiszler (Day) and Helmut Gottleib (Gorman) trying to find ways to do just that. But they’ll need pilots too, even burned out ones and Raleigh is recruited. Japanese scientist Mako Mori (Kikuchi) is his handler; her family died in a Kaiju attack and she yearns to pilot a Jaeger and get some payback. Raleigh might be her best bet for it – but both will have to get over their issues from the past and face gigantic odds because the creatures coming at them from the portal are like nothing they’ve ever seen before.

This might well be the most visually amazing movie of the summer – the battle sequences are worth their weight in gold all by themselves. This is high-tech stuff, even more so than the anime you might remember that featured the giant robots. Del Toro does himself the favor of creating characters with some meat to them, giving the audience a rooting interest which is more than a lot of summer films have been able to accomplish this year.

Hunnam, known to most audiences from his work on Sons of Anarchy is turning out to be quite a promising leading man. Here he has some pretty good cast members to work with, particularly Elba who is one of the best in the business. So too is Perlman (playing a black market Kaiju organ seller) but he has no scenes with Hunnam. Kikuchi is riveting when she’s onscreen; at a very young age she’s become one of the best actresses in the world.

Following a trend that has puzzled me all summer long, the film is a good 20-40 minutes too long; quite frankly the entire subplot with Perlman could have been eliminated or at least saved for a Premium Home Video release. At least however even if the movie drags near the end the eye candy you’re given makes it worthwhile and for geeks of all ages this is manna from heaven, ready to be gorged.

REASONS TO GO: Amazing visuals. Elba and Perlman always interesting; Hunnam is getting to be quite a leading man.

REASONS TO STAY: Way too long. Too much chest-busting.

FAMILY VALUES:  Plenty of action, plenty of violence and  a bit of bad language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Tom Cruise was originally considered for the role in which Idris Elba was eventually cast in.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/24/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 72% positive reviews. Metacritic: 64/100; the critics are pretty solidly behind this one.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Space Battleship Yamato

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

NEXT: I Melt With You

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Doppelganger


          I still don’t know whether to say I or we. I’m not, strictly speaking, myself. I’m a doppelganger, a copy; I’ve been duplicated on a cellular level by an alien species, something little more than a virus that hides in other life forms, changes them.

            It landed a hundred thousand years ago in the Antarctic ice. It lay there dormant for that entire time until a Norwegian research team found it and allowed it to thaw. They didn’t realize that the thing they’d found was still alive. It began to absorb and evolve, from the station’s dogs to the people. When the station was wiped out by the last remaining human survivor, one of the creatures that had mimicked a dog made its way to an American research station. The alien virus did it’s work there too, absorbing the humans until again only one was left. The station was blown up and the surviving human froze to death.

            The creature remained dormant inside a human named Childs, and when his body was brought home for burial, it burst out and began doing it’s thing. Before long, McMurdo station was completely contaminated and infected persons went to the United Kingdom, Norway, Argentina, the Soviet Union and the United States, among other places.

            The spread was slow but remorseless. I was one of the first Americans to get duplicated. I had been a medical doctor doing a routine exam of one of the McMurdo station evacuees. I put my stethoscope up to his chest and a great gaping maw opened up and tube-like tentacles fastened themselves to me and pulled me inside. I scarcely had a chance to scream before I died.

            You see what nobody tells you about the whole duplication process is that our human memories and personality is retained in the brain. I remember everything about my life; I’m still essentially “me,” only I’m not in control of my body or my mind. I long to scream a warning out to everyone I see but I can’t move my lips to form the words.

            I’ve been responsible for the duplication of dozens of people. My wife was the first. That was the hardest for me. My wife was a beautiful blonde woman, sweet and loving. She greeted me at the door and ran into my arms for a kiss. As our lips met, my face changed. Tentacles flew out of my mouth and imbedded into hers. My eyeballs changed into pincers and flew into her eyes. Her screams and cries were muffled by my kiss. Her blood flowed and I could feel her dying in my arms. I raged and screamed but the alien that I was felt nothing. It continued doing it’s thing until my wife’s tissue was completely absorbed and a duplicate of her created. Together we cleaned up the blood from the tile, saying nothing to each other and threw away her dress and underclothes which had been shredded in the process. Then we waited for the kids to come home.

            I can sometimes get images and impressions from the alien side of my body. I get the sense that this species is very, very old, perhaps dating back to the birth of the universe. It has sent emissary ships to nearly every planet there is, waiting in hibernation for life on each world to evolve sufficiently to find it and revive it.

            After that, it takes over. I’m not exactly sure what it’s/their agenda is. They seem to be something of a hive mind – they are able to function in pieces or as a whole. They aren’t really interested in the natural resources of the planets; there just seems to be some sort of biological imperative to take over every species that they can. They’ve been successful with countless races to date.

            Our human race is going to be one of them. Extinct. A distant memory in an alien hive mind. They have little regard for us. They neither hate nor pity us. Humans are merely fodder for their biological machine, the same as dogs, cats, horses and sheep. Every organic thing on this planet will eventually become part of this thing’s collective.

            There are enclaves of human holdouts still. They think that by keeping all other living things out of their remote camps that they’ll somehow escape notice or detection. They don’t realize that this species has interstellar travel – or one of the races they ingested, I’m not sure exactly. I do know that they absorb the knowledge and technology of every race, no matter how trivial or archaic, into their collective mind. They use then the most brilliant of every race to extrapolate that technology, to develop it to its logical conclusion. In this manner they get our innovation as well as our bodies. The bastards might even think that they were creating a more efficient and productive race. Doing us a favor.

            Of course, they don’t even consider us in the equation. This is just another day at the office for them and we don’t even figure into their plans. We’re a necessary nuisance, like filling out tax forms. We’re a chore to be completed as quickly and efficiently as possible.

            I weep inside because I know what the fate of our species is. I have seen it in the fate of other species in the viral mind. We will be filed away in their common mind archives, our bodies allowed to run until they break down and fall apart. Then the tissue will be used for spare parts.

            They have no concept of joy or pride. No emotion whatsoever – they just are and they do. Their minds are cold and hard, like frozen steel. They don’t understand love and they don’t want to. They look at us the same way we looked at flies; pests that are meant to be eradicated.

            I don’t see a way out. I can’t even control my own body, let alone figure out a way to stop the process. It’s doubtlessly too far gone by this time to even consider it anyway. Our species is doomed. And there’s nothing I can do but watch it happen. I can’t even scream. But I can weep. Once in awhile, I can force a tear from my eye if I concentrate hard  enough. At least I can do that much.