Friday, June 28, 2013

The Fate of Giant Robots in Cinema

[in progress 7/1/2013]

There is some real content here: and it is the following.  First, that Pacific Rim is an example of a video game character / voice makes the transition from games to film.  In this case, its the voice of the computer in Portal and it is also the voice of the computer in the giant robot, I think.  It is usually the other way around (e.g. from movie to game).   Second, that water in visual effects is hard, very hard.  And big water, e.g. water that is scaled up is even harder.  I don't care how fast your computers are, although that helps, it is a very tough problem for reasons we can go into later.  Third, the plot device of the "neural bridge" has amusing psychosexual implications, I hope they make good use of it.  Fourth, its been a long time since we destroyed Tokyo in cinema, I hope the filmmakers are up to the task.


Minor Spoiler Alert, but nothing you would not learn from any trailer.

The very future of Giant Robots, the apex of sophistication of all cinematic art, is at risk.

This important subgenre, pioneered by the Japanese and others in the far east, was created and nurtured in the field of Anime. But then it jumped out of that subgenre and into the world of mainstream filmmaking through the genius of Michael Bay, that underrated director of robotic conflict, whose Transformers can be said to have changed the very face of the cinema, transforming, as it were, the worn and old-fashioned ideas of story, character, mere plot and nuance into a vigorous and renewed art form of the clash of giant robot on giant robot.

Whereas previous narrative was limited to "person vs nature", "nature vs nature" and so forth, we can now add "robot vs robot" and "robot vs alien" greatly expanding the range of narrative possibilities.

No more weak cop buddy movies for Hollywood, or High Noon in space, or a repeat of Halloween XIII, all were swept away by the magnificence of the Transformers films. But as geniuses are wont to do, Michael Bay became bored with the genre he had helped to create and lost his way. And the genre of giant robots itself fell into decay, fallen from its former glory.

Now the entire field of Giant Robots in the hands of a tyro, a beginner to the art form, Guillermo del Toro, who is an esteemed but imperfect filmmaker. His first Hellboy was a triumph, and so were some of his earlier low budget films to a varying degree, but Hellboy II was a disappointment for reasons that were entirely under his command.  He recouped some ground with Labyrinth of Pan, but one could hardly call Labyrinth a giant blockbuster hit and, as we all know so well, in American all that really matters is money.

Thus the fate of this important genre may ride on the box office performance of Pacific Rim. Hollywood being what it is, were Pacific Rim not a "monster" at the box office, and failed, it would impose a chill on the financing of other giant robot projects, no matter how worthy. That is the normal craven behavior of Hollywood and is just a fact of our lives.

The premise of Pacific Rim is sophisticated and rich in nuance. Giant aliens menace the earth from under the seas, not from outer space, and proceed to destroy civilization and small children while we are powerless to stop them. Perhaps we have a homage here to Godzilla, even though of course Godzilla was not an alien, but an earth creature mutated into its cinematic form through the plot device of nuclear mutations. So the first thing we know is that the plot premise "aliens attack and try to destroy earth" is totally original.

From out of the alien rift comes this aquatic menace to destroy Tokyo

The second important element of Pacific Rim is that all our weapons fail to stop this menace, and we are reduced to one last chance, one last resort, a vintage, early-model Jaeger, which is a giant robotic device controlled by not one, but two, humans in concert.

Is there any science in this fiction? Well, there might be. It is generally believed by those who study such things that a large part of the brain mass of different creatures is proportional to the size of the creature. In other words, whether or not an elephant or a gorilla is intelligent (which they certainly are), a certain amount of their very large brains is used up by the sheer mechanics of controlling their large bodies. The larger the body, the larger the brain, so this argument goes.

The two buddy giant robot controller team

Thus in Pacific Rim, we need not one, but two, humans whose combined brain mass, roughly divided left and right, is necessary to control the Jaeger in its sophisticated war against the sea aliens. The two humans are brought together in "neural fusion" which is a privacy destroying mechanism in which all their dreams, mistakes, fears, emotions and memories are fused. Anyone who agreed to neural fusion must be a very brave person indeed, who would want to be fused with their girl or boy friend? You would break up at once.

The incredibly hot Japanese martial artist teenage lust object robot controller

So through this plot device we actually have a nice undercurrent of sex/relationship politics. Do we have two beefy guys in a homosexual neural fusion, or do we go the heterosexual route, particularly with a hot oriental martial arts master. We do go the heterosexual route, indeed, and it could be fun. Will the neurally fused couple be able to stay together long enough to beat up the giant sea aliens, or will their relationship break apart, will they start throwing things at each other instead of the deadly Kaifu, leading to the defeat of all humanity?

For those of you who are interested in mere visual effects, there are a number of interesting challenges to this film and they generally have the word "water" in them, lots of water.  Water in scale.  Very hard to do.  Very expensive, very annoying.

Pacific Rim has another first to the best of my knowledge.  A voice character from video games has made the transition to feature films.  You may recognize the voice of "Portal" in key places in Pacific Rim as the voice of (what I think is) the computer that helps manage the Jaegers.  If you listen carefully near the beginning of this trailer, you will hear a very recognizable voice say "Pilot to Pilot connection: engaged".

So much is riding on this one film, I hope Guillermo doesn't "fuck it up" as they say.


Pacific Rim on IMDB

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