You think you know all about Pacific Rim, the robots-stomping-monsters epic that opens tonight? You haven't even scratched the surface. We went deep inside the making of Pacific Rim and talked to the stars and VFX crew, plus director Guillermo del Toro. And we learned the Pacific Rim secrets they didn't include in the trailers.
So why don't we just nuke the Kaiju?
Because some of them can withstand a nuclear blast. They get frozen, they get blown up, they get hit with missiles, and they just keep coming, according to Digital Model Supervisor Paul Giacoppo. "They take damage. They boil, they're sliced," he adds. The VFX crew spent a lot of time modeling not just the skin of the Kaiju but also their insides so we could see their veins and muscles when they're damaged. There was a whole team of people at Industrial Light and Magic who were responsible for "yucky, gooey simulations" involving Kaiju bodily fluids.
There was supposed to be a Mexican robot in the movie
In the early stages of this film, they had a Mexican Jaeger named Matador Fury, that they just couldn't fit into this movie. But del Toro says that if they make Pacific Rim 2, Matador Fury will definitely be in there. Also, the second movie (if it happens) will make the first one "look like Howard's End" by comparison, del Toro told reporters. "We are going to go nuts." Adds screenwriter Travis Beacham, "Seriously, it's going to be badass."
This film originally had a different opening sequence
In the original opening that del Toro shot, we see Charlie Hunnam's character, Raleigh Becket, working out compulsively as a way to try and get over the death of his brother. And then the film flashed back to the brother's death, so we could see why Raleigh was so desolate. (In the actual final cut, we start with a voiceover and explain the backstory of the robot/monster war, before we see the brother's death.) Hunnam spent hours working out every day, after filming Sons of Anarchy, to get in shape for that sequence.
So why is Ron Perlman playing a Chinese character?
In the original script, Hannibal Chau was an Asian character — he's a black-marketer who lives in Hong Kong — but at the last minute, Guillermo del Toro had a change of heart. Since Hannibal Chau is "really full of shit," as Perlman puts it, del Toro decided, "'Why don't I get a Jew from New York to paly this Asian intervention?' It was really very whimsical. But once [del Toro] had the idea, it started to grow and grow and grow." In the film, Hannibal Chau says his name comes from his favorite historical character and his second favorite Sichuan restaurant in Brooklyn. He's a P.T. Barnum-esque, larger-than-life war profiteer, according to Perlman.
"Tonally, Ron Perlman allows the Kaiju to exist," says del Toro, "because he's more outlandish than the Kaiju." Del Toro hates the term "comic relief" and prefers "comedy balance" — like the comedy is "a light point in a chiaroscuro."
Charlie Day has to bring some real intensity to his moments
Day was eager not to be just cracking jokes in his role as the science advistor, Newt Geisler — but he is very funny in parts, as he spouts exposition and talks about being a Kaiju fanboy. At the same time, there's one key sequence where Day is supposed to be basically breaking down after an intense experience, and they shot 20 takes until he actually broke, and was trembling and seemed as though he had really "cracked," as Travis Beacham puts it. And his relationship with his fellow scientist Burn Gorman goes past "funny pairing," becoming kind of emotional and sweet by the end of the film.
So is this another movie where everything is shiny and saturated in light?
No, in fact this is more like the original Star Wars or Alien, in terms of the look and feel of the technology. Guillermo del Toro really wanted the Jaeger robots, and the Shatterdome where they're housed, to look used and functional. We saw tons of concept art and closeups of the sets that show the insane level of detail that go into these mechs and their surroundings. The Jaegers are mostly old and used, and we saw glimpses of how ILM's Alex Jaeger designed them to have huge sheets of metal held together with massive rivets. There are paintings and decals on the robots, amongst the scuff marks and signs of major damage that's been badly repaired. The main hero robot in the film, Gipsy Danger, has had an arm replaced. When another robot's chest opens to reveal missiles, or Gipsy Danger launches its "rocket elbow" action — or a robot's giant head is lowered into its neck clamp — the action is believably mechanical, thanks to tons of simulations. These robots were also conceived in a way that reinforces that they weren't designed by one person, but built by different cultures over a 15-year period. "I love ancient technology," Guillermo del Toro told a group of reporters. He wanted gears and pipes and the look of steam engines.
At the same time, the ILM guys were giving him shots that had a very "Anglo" sort of saturated color, and del Toro kept telling them, "embrace your inner Mexican." He wanted more bright, macho colors in the big action scenes.
This film is sort of a love story
At least, both Charlie Hunnam and Rinko Kikuchi see their characters as having a romance. When Hunnam's character is searching for a co-pilot to become mentally linked via the robot control systems, someone he's compatible with on a deep level, he sees that as "a nice metaphor for love." The whole notion of letting someone inside your head, so they can see "every single thought and memory, and every fucked up thing you did," is a scary thought — Hunnam wouldn't do that with his real-life girlfriend of seven years. Hunnam says Raleigh sees in Mako a "gentleness and a compassion," that make him willing to take this huge risk with her. And by the end of the film, he absolutely believes the two of them are falling in love. They even filmed a kiss, but it didn't make it into the final cut of the film — which is good, says Hunnam, since that would have reduced Mako's role from "badass" to love interest.
There's a lot of World War II in this film
Not just because we're fighting off unjust invaders — but also the whole look and feel of the movie evokes World War II imagery, says del Toro. Looking at these huge machines in their massive hangar, you're supposed to think of battleships and fighter planes, with the Jaeger pilots being like WWII bomber pilots. Del Toro gets a glow on his face when he talks about the movie's "robot porn" (that's the phrase he kept using) but he also keeps coming back to the WWII aesthetic, as well as the need to keep everything real. "There's a temptation to do the super cool shot," says del Toro. "You go, 'Wow, that's not real.'" He was keen to avoid the usual problem with computer-generated action, where nothing has any weight and everything just feels like "it's made of air."
These robots screw up
Del Toro talked a lot about one of his favorite shots in My Neighbor Totoro — where the father is putting his slippers on at home for the first time, and at first his foot misses the slipper. It took "a lot of money and man-hours" to show the father making a small mistake, but it shows that all of this is real. In the same way, del Toro decided the best way to "transmit drama" with the robots was to show them faltering. "You can make a mechanical object expressive by building in those mistakes," says del Toro.
"I'm not a scifi guy," del Toro said in another group interview. "Big ships don't float my boats. Lasers don't float my boat. But robots, I have a huge boner for." He finds robots "incredibly moving," and the image of a giant robot collapsing onto a beach or being maimed is really affecting. "I find them golem-like," he adds, so adding an element of "decay" to the movie helped it feel more like fantasy than science fiction.
When del Toro was making Blade 2, Wesley Snipes said "something beautiful" to him — del Toro had designed an amazing, massive gun for him to use, and Snipes thought it was too much. "It's not the hardware," Snipes told del Toro. "It's the guy."
Each Kaiju has its own name and personality.
We saw tons of concept art and test footage of these when we visited ILM. There's Knifehead, the big stomper whose name refers to the fact that he has a knife coming out of his head. There's Onibaba, a big crab-like creature that stomps Tokyo. There's Otachi, one of the biggest Kaiju ever, who can spray acidic glowing bile out of its split-open lower jaw — and fly using hidden bat wings. Leatherback is a big gorilla who can use an EMP to disable the giant mechas. Raiju is a ginormous crocodile or alligator who walks upright. Scunner is basically a massive bull whose horns are deadly. And finally, Slattern is the biggest and deadliest of them all — it's 900 feet tall, the size of the original Starship Enterprise. See a list of Kaiju here. Oh, and the Kaiju have skin parasites, who are the size of a golden retriever and hideous.
There's a post-credits sequence, which was added later
Without giving too much away, we learned that the hilarious scene that appears halfway through the credits was actually a late addition, after three or four screenings of the film — because there was a loose end that everybody felt needed to be tied up.
Del Toro gave the castmembers "gold robot" awards at the end of filming
According to Rinko Kikuchi, it looks sort of like an Oscar statuette, but it's a big robot statue, and hers says, "I survived Gipsy combat." Kikuchi grew up watching monster movies and robot movies, so this film was a "dream come true" for her.
A lot of the action is rooted in the familiar and the small
You've seen that bit in the trailers where Gipsy Danger uses a huge tanker ship like a baseball bat. "The ship is the anchor" in that sequence, del Toro says. But there are lots of other bits in this movie where familiar objects — especially small objects — are used to root the action in reality. Including one powerful sequence involving a tiny shoe. And a funny bit involving a piece of office decoration. At one point, Gipsy Danger uses shipping containers like brass knuckles, too. "This movie is about the largest things, and the smallest things," del Toro says.
Is this one of those movies where thousands of people are dying in every fight scene?
This is something people have complained about lately in other movies — but in Pacific Rim, del Toro was adamant that the cities absolutely must be empty of people in the big fight scenes. He devoted a lot of energy to showing that the civilians get out of the cities and into refuges, like big bunkers. The only carnage in the film is in the early sequences, at the start of the war when we're still learning to fight the Kaiju. The reason for this is because del Toro didn't want to "fragment the scene" by having to show the reactions of people on the ground — he wanted only the vantage point of the robots and their pilots. If he'd had people on the ground, he would have felt the need to put in "a funny joke about somebody saving a dog, or somebody in a bicycle." Which would have broken up the action.
Above: Concept art via Concept Art World.