Guillermo del Toro is a director of visually arresting films that continuously announce his love of cinema from the rooftops. His best works (including The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth) mix fantasy and reality into intoxicating concoctions, but even his lesser efforts (everything else) are imaginative and stylish creations.
His latest, Pacific Rim, is a fun and exciting adventure that mashes giant monsters and giant mecha into a wet dream of action, epic fight scenes, and pre-teen joy. It’s a big movie for kids and the kids in all of us, and that comes with both good and bad. The former outshines much of the latter, but it doesn’t excuse it. So how does del Toro’s commentary stack up against the film?
Will he talk about Charlie Hunnam‘s acting performance? Will he teach what amounts to a two-plus hour film class on how to make effects heavy movies? Will he acknowledge the script’s deficiencies including the silliness of punching monsters to death instead of using bunker-buster missiles or, I don’t know, a big ass sword? Let’s find out together!
Keep reading to see what I heard during Guillermo del Toro’s commentary for Pacific Rim.
Pacific Rim (2013)
Commentator: Guillermo del Toro (director, co-writer)
1. Del Toro wasn’t interested in chronicling the first Kaiju appearance or humanity’s initial triumph. Instead he wanted to talk about “the epic struggle of the resistance, when we were losing.”
2. The introductory prologue featuring fast clips of the mechs and pilots being celebrated while the monsters become little more than toys, late night props, and memories was directed by Matthew Cullen. He’s a lead with Del Toro’s company, Mirada.
3. Del Toro took a lesson from Paul Schrader’s observation that if you do a sequence once and do it well you won’t need to repeat it again. Audiences will remember it if you’ve done your job right the first time.
4. They “spent about a year texturing this world” as he wanted audiences to feel immersed in it all. The secret he says is in the details. Be sure to pause the movie and zoom in on all the control panels.
5. Del Toro isn’t interested in eye candy but instead like to create “eye protein,” because he believes “fifty percent of a narrative of a film is submerged in the audio/video details.”
6. Gipsy Danger was given the gait of a gunslinger like John Wayne. No mention is made of Hunnam’s weird walk.
7. Del Toro’s goal with Gipsy Danger’s opening fight was to enter a world he calls “gothic tech.” It’s an atmosphere created through rust, grime, and a tempest-like weather pattern, and it includes “quote unquote mistakes” like water-stained lenses, obscured cameras, and more details to give the sense that real cameras are there filming this action.
8. He compares this to a sports film where the once-rookie phenom is called back into the game well past his prime. It comes up several times including the first appearance of the cocky teammate, the “big dining room scene in a sports movie,” and their first big failure before coming back for a “touch down, slam dunk, or whatever you want to call it.”
9. Del Toro is no fan of films where victory is found solely in the form of the best weapons. Instead he wanted a film where the characters, all of the characters, contribute to humanity’s success. He feels that if he did his job right all of them will have their individual hero moment.
10. He gives a fun and informative background to the creation of the first Godzilla film including how the monster was originally meant to be a giant octopus, and it eats up over ten minutes of the commentary.
11. Del Toro shot the hand to hand combat between Raleigh (Hunnam) and Mako (Rinko Kikuchi) as a dance and a courtship.
12. Idris Elba came to del Toro’s attention through The Wire and Luther, and the director recalls asking (Luther creator) Neil Cross how “American” actor Elba had mastered such a good British accent. He was surprised by the answer.
13. Del Toro praises Charlie Day‘s acting during the scene where he first drifts with the kaiju. “When we did that scene… Charlie did over twenty takes, and he was literally in tears and shaking because I wanted more and more from him.”
14. He describes the difference between a robot and a mecha fairly succinctly. “The robot has some autonomy,” he says, while the mecha pilot is “basically putting on a gigantic suit of armor.”
15. Del Toro is proudest, “in technical terms,” of the battle of Hong Kong action scene that lasts over twenty minutes. His favorite scene though is Mako’s first attempt at drifting that descends into a nightmare memory.
16. The scene with Mako as a little girl being terrified in the alleyway by the kaiju was accomplished in part with a rigged set. Everything from the ground, walls, cars, and more were rigged with hydraulic jumpers causing it to shake with each of the monster’s steps. “That helped the actress, the little girl, to feel that fear of something gigantic really coming closer and closer to her.”
17. They spent months designing and fabricating Hannibal Chau’s (Ron Perlman) metallic shoes.
18. Del Toro mentions a quote from William Gibson about the film that pleased him greatly. “Anybody who doesn’t like it doesn’t like it for not not being what they want it to be, and they need to love it for what it is.” Not to take away from his joy, but both men neglect the possibility of people not liking it for more traditional reasons like its poor screenplay or lead actor’s wooden performance.
19. He breaks down the two different schools of thought when it comes to kaiju design. There are the “hardcore kaiju based on real species” like reptiles and insect, but “there’s also a crazier school of design” that saw funnier, wilder creations. Del Toro combined the two here.
20. He thanks the head of the studio for supporting their decision to give the sword moment to Mako, a female character, instead of the usual male hero. There’s no explanation as to why Raleigh and Mako inexplicably wait until the last possible second to reveal that sword though, as opposed to say pulling it out earlier and saving more lives. To be fair, del Toro does refer to this film as summer entertainment akin to dessert. “The rules as a filmmaker that you apply to a movie like this are different rules then you’d apply to a confection of a different flavor.” Presumably one with eye protein in it.
21. Del Toro says they originally planned to shoot the film in 3D, but scheduling caused them to drop those plans. Thankfully he believes they’ve made “one of the best 3D conversion movies ever.” He acknowledges that one converted movie in particular “brought a lot of bad rep to” the process, but he doesn’t mention Clash of the Titans by name.
22. The film was under budget which allowed del Toro to shoot three days of re-shoots after sharing the film with Alfonso Cuaron, Rian Johnson, and Alejandro González Iñárritu. All three men gave him suggestions, but it was Cuaron who gave Raleigh one of his final lines… “You’re squeezing me too tight.”
23. David Cronenberg gets a thank you in the credits due to the help he offered del Toro in crewing this production while filming and working in Toronto. Del Toro lives there now and is currently prepping his next couple of films in the city.
Best in Commentary
- “I’m good at this, and I’m good at that, but I’m not good at found footage.”
- “It’s a movie about togetherness. It’s a movie about connecting. It’s a movie about trusting each other, because we are all inside the same robot.”
- “This little red shoe is the heart of the movie.”
- “Lies are more believable when you fill them with little, strange, real details.”
- “Whatever age you are, you can believe in giant monsters, and you can believe in giant mecha again, and for a moment you can become a child.”
Del Toro is an immensely knowledgeable and highly enthusiastic commentator who delivers a truly entertaining listen. He’s very technical at times, but he covers the details as if he’s teaching a class. It’s actually pretty amazing. Pacific Rim has its issues, but there’s no doubt that the damn thing is fun as hell. Once you’ve watched the movie a couple times, give it one more go with del Toro’s energetic voice sharing his memories, knowledge, and joy with your ears.