Pacific Rim 3D review (3D Blu-ray)

FILM REVIEW | Stuart Barr  In the near future a pan-dimensional rift opens deep in the pacific ocean from which spew beasts dubbed Kaiju (a Japanese word that translates as "strange beast"). The Kaiju cause vast devastation and although the first wave is repelled, the cost in lives and hardware is immense. The world’s nations come together, pool resources and birth the Jaeger defence programme. Jaegers are human-piloted mech warriors capable of going fist to claw with the invading behemoths. These titans require two pilots to link their consciousnesses in a kind of mind-meld called "the Drift". Soon the tide of the war changes and the humans start to win, Jaeger Jockeys become the new rock stars. Of course this is the set-up for a fall, soon larger, more ferocious Kaiju appear. The fight is on!

The bulk of the film takes place in a devastated world in which humanity is on the brink of extinction. The global government, disillusioned with the failure of the Jaegers, cuts funding to divert the Earth’s remaining resources and faith into the construction of a giant wall. The last battle-scarred Jaegers are to protect the construction before being decommissioned. This isn’t going to fly with the programme’s determined general, the magnificently monikered Stacker Pentecost (Elba). Pentecost decides to go it alone, transforming an officially-sanctioned military into a resistance. Y’see, he has a plan to end the conflict once and for all. To execute this, he needs to re-enlist washed out pilot Raleigh Becket (Hunnam), whom he needs for his experience to co-pilot an early model Jaeger.

Becket is assessed by Rinko Kikuchi (Mori) a young woman raised by Pentecost. Kikuchi proves herself to be the best choice for co-pilot, but the commander’s protectiveness creates friction. Also in the mix are a pair of bickering scientists Drs Geiszler and Gottlieb (played by Day and Gorman in a manner strangely reminiscent of Simon Mayo and Mark Kermode). Geiszler is a Kaiju expert who believes the animal’s behaviour holds the key to victory, Gottlieb is "a numbers man" who believes that the maths is everything.

Pacific Rim is an oxymoron of a film. Its plot and structure are highly derivative. Its influences obvious and copious. However, in its visual style and in the way it compiles apparently familiar elements is to be found a strange originality. Epic in scope, huge in action, and deafeningly loud, but made oddly intimate by its characters and their relationships. Like the Jaeger’s themselves, a hard carapace of iron and steel hides fragile human heart(s).

Directed by the extraordinary Del Toro – one of those rare filmmakers to actually earn that most overused of trailer voice-over adjectives, "visionary" – the film’s visual style is one of its greatest strengths. Presented in 3D, the film takes place either in rain, fog, or underwater in environments where Del Toro uses volumetric particles to fill the screen creating space and depth. It will no doubt set off alarm bells to hear the film favours nighttime for its scenes of bombastic mega-biffing, but light loss is not a problem as the colour scheme is by Haribo. Kaiju bleed phosphorescent blood, and have neon varicose veins. A major battle takes place in a Hong Kong that is lit up like a Christmas tree. Light glints of the Jaegers' hard metal bods (more on hard bods in a minute) then refracts in the shattering glass of toppling skyscrapers. It is retina-searing stuff and brilliantly realised. This is the first 3D film of 2013 genuinely worth the irritation of plastic glasses.

Luminously photographed, the live action visuals are as impressive as the CGI effects. Unlike many a sci-fi epic, the human figures are placed in what look like massive sets rather floating in front of a green screen waiting for the world to be dropped in afterwards. The Jaeger cockpit’s are particularly impressive, a combination of tank and elliptical training machine that looks like an industrial BDSM dungeon. Production design is outstanding and marshalled by Del Toro in a concerted effort to build a fully-realised world.

If all of this sounds like a glowing unconditional rave, there are also issues that cannot be ignored. Kikuchi’s character is the only female of any note in the entire film. It has already been noted by several commentators that the movie fails the Bechtel Test spectacularly badly. This is a genuine failing, and disappointing from Del Toro who has been much better than this in the past. There is also a perfunctoriness in the exploration of the reason behind the Kaiju attacks. Much is made of Day’s character trying to enter a "drift" with a recovered monster brain. Hints about a greater purpose to the creatures' attacks are dropped throughout the film. Sadly when the secret is revealed, it is boringly generic and feels like an afterthought. Pacific Rim is a really interesting film masquerading as a very stupid one, but there is more genuine depth here than you might expect.

3D QUALITY ★★★★★ | Stuart O'Connor As with most great film directors who get their hands on the 3D technology – James Cameron, Martin Scorsese, Peter Jackson, Robert Rodriguez, Ang Lee, Baz Luhrmann, Sam Raimi, Joe Dante and Alfonso Cuaron – Del Toro has doen a wonderful job with the 3D here. The foreground, mid-ground and background are well defined and well used in almost every scene – whether thay are scenes of city-wide destruction, battles between the Kaiju and Jaeger warriors or deep inside the Hong Kong military base. And Del Toro doesn't use the "coming-at-you" technique overly much – just enough, in fact, to have the requisite impact. Pacific Rim really is a film made for the big screen, but it does stand up to viewing on the smaller flatscreen TV at home, and the 3D definitely adds to the overall experience.This is about as close as you're get to a 3D cinema experience at home, and is further proof that in the hands of a really, REALLY good filmmaker, 3D is a worthwhile feature.

EXTRAS ★★★★★ | Stuart O'Connor The three-disc pack contains a 3D Blu-ray of the film (with no extras ... but hey, the 3D version of the film is pretty sweet!), a 2D Blu-ray with the film and several special features, and a second 2D Blu-ray with more special features. Also included is a code for redeeming an HD Ultraviolet copy of the film. The 2D disc has an optional audio commentary with Del Toro, in which he talks about the development of the project from the story and characters, to the mech and creature design; and 13 Focus Point featurettes (62:26), available individually or together, which go into more behind-the-scenes detail. The third, Special Features, disc contains: The Director's Notebook, an interactive presentation of Del Toro's notes created during the film's pre-production; the featurette Drift Space (5:24), a breakdown of the film's four Drift sequences; the featurette The Digital Artistry of Pacific Rim (17:10); The Shatterdome, an archive of the key design art from the film; four Deleted Scenes (3:45); and a Blooper Reel (3:52).

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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