'Pacific Rim' director Guillermo Del Toro discusses his favorite monster movies
'Pacific Rim' director Del Toro was behind the Oscar-nominated film 'Pan's Labyrinth.' 'Pacific Rim' hit theaters July 12.
The appeal of "Pacific Rim" isn't complicated.Skip to next paragraph
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Like the kind of boyhood fantasy that delights in flying men and relishes dreams of dinosaurs, "Pacific Rim," the latest film from director Guillermo Del Toro, is predicated on the simple, childlike thrill of seeing big ol' robots and big ol' monsters slug it out.
But while summer spectacles have grown ever larger in recent years, the monster movie – the original city-smashing genre – has mostly ceded the multiplexes to superheroes and more apocalyptic disaster films. But 14 years after Roland Emmerich's forgettable "Godzilla" remake, Del Toro's "Pacific Rim" constitutes a large-scale attempt to bring Japan's beloved Kaiju movies – their monster films, of which Ishiro Honda's 1954 "Godzilla" is the most famous – to American shores.
"Monsters have always spoken to a part of me that is really, really essential," Del Toro, the Mexican director of the Oscar-nominated "Pan's Labyrinth," said in a recent interview. "All of my life, I felt out of place. The tragedy of every monster in every movie is that they are out of place. That's the essential plight of monsters."
In the 3-D "Pacific Rim," which Warner Bros. will release on July 12, the 25-story-high Kaiju emanate (as is tradition) from the sea one by one, each uniquely grotesque beasts. To combat these monsters and defend the coastlines of the Pacific, equally giant robots called Jaegers are built, each controlled by two brain-connected pilots.
Since he was a child, Del Toro has compulsively drawn monsters, beginning with sketches of the Creature from "Creature from the Black Lagoon" and the Phantom from "Phantom of the Opera." He's still an obsessive drawer (he has a book of drawings for every movie he makes), but creating the creatures and robots of "Pacific Rim" meant working in an entirely different scale.
While the Kaiju films of Toho studios were a formative influence on Del Toro, he boxed up his DVDs before starting work on "Pacific Rim," intent on making a movie that wasn't a mere homage. Instead, he took inspiration less from Japanese monster films than paintings like Goya's "The Colossus" (which depicts a passing muscular giant, with fists raised, surrounded by clouds) and George Bellows' visceral boxing paintings of hulking combatants.
"I wanted to bring the awe and spectacle of when you watch something so big that the scale is inhuman," says Del Toro. "I kept thinking of the Goya painting because it seemed detached from ethical judgment. It's so beyond human. It's like watching a tornado and a hurricane clash."
Del Toro speaks majestically about monsters and robots, which might sound comical if he wasn't so earnestly heartfelt. With "Pacific Rim," he sought the operatic grandeur of Goya and Bellows, attempting to capture what he calls "a beautiful monster pageantry." Battles would take place in the middle of the sea, with swirling storms and torrents of water.