Pacific Rim

pacific-rim_02So, like Prometheus, Pacific Rim is a science fiction movie by a director known for his visual style and attention to visual details, and like Prometheus it suffers from a script not overly burden by internal story logic.  So why have I gone to see Pacific Rim twice in the theater, and yet can’t bring myself to watch Prometheus again?

Because Pacific Rim is FUN.

Prometheus told a lot of its story visually, and if you weren’t watching and just trying to follow the spoken words, it made even less sense.  Pacific Rim has that in spades, and it works a little better because there’s less story to follow.  In Prometheus, there are metric fucktons of levels of “The Engineers came before us and they might be trying to undo us, so should we fight them?  Can we?”  In Pacific Rim it’s an intro voiceover and a single line later: “The kaiju were here before us, now they are back, and we are going to kick their asses.”

Both had the wrong protagonist, though.  Prometheus really should have focused on David and Pacific Rim should have focused on Mako.

Ultimately, Prometheus was an auteur’s dialog with another auteur, and an existential philosophy piece, and an attempt to create a creation myth for another story cycle.  Pacific Rim is a fanboy’s tribute to awful rubber-suit genre movies.  It’s not emo, it’s not trying to deal with an important theme.  It’s Dance Dance Revolution meets Real Steel.  With a sprinkling of the Cthulhu Mythos.

And I am a SUCKER for Cthulhu Mythos nods.  I mean, Chuck Hanson even mispronounces Raleigh’s name “R’yleh” several times!  The breech is deep in the center of the Pacific, where R’yleh is, and the End Boss, the Category 5 kaiju, is exactly an Elder Thing except with muscular arms.  Del Toro updated Lovecraft, or riffed on him in a modern genre; as my friend Fran pointed out, it’s pretty much Charles Stross’ take on the Mythos, although the kaiju aren’t interested in any stinkin’ Benthic Treaty. (Her blog on the movie is about what cheesy stereotypes the scientists are; not at all Lovecraft’s dread-ridden antiquarians.)

There were other fun easter eggs as well – the Russian jaeger being made from (and named for I assume) the A cooling tower of Chernobyl.  A jaeger pilot named Chuck (Chuck Jaeger).  A few Top Gun references that I hope were on purpose.  A flyover in lieu of kissing (THANK GOD FOR NO KISSING).  And a nod to Del Toro’s brief stint on The Hobbit as Gandalf Quest-Giver Pentecost gets the Reluctant Hero Becket on his way, staged at a moss-and-corrosion section of a pipe fitting that recalls Bilbo’s front porch perfectly.

I finally watched Prometheus.

It was a sub-optimal viewing, as in order to convince my son that he didn’t want to watch it, I had to let him watch part of it. Not every movie with spaceships is Transformers, but he won’t believe me. Fortunately, the movie was just enough like a real movie that I could tell when shit was going to go down, and got him out of the room just before it did.

I probably need to watch it again, but I am going to start a stream-of-consciousness critique, which I may or may not edit before posting. In fact, I probably should edit, because I’m going to need to separate my indulgences in lit-crit goofiness like “Prometheus as a retelling of The Wizard of Oz,” “Each character in Prometheus mapped to a Famous Sacrifice,” and “Why there weren’t Prometheus Happy Meal toys.” from the real analysis. Also I think the movie might map to the Major Arcana.

The TL;DR version: It fails as a cinematic narrative in much the same way Finnegan’s Wake fails as a literary narrative. It’s obviously a philosophical mythopoeic work, but it’s a crappy science-fiction movie. Of course, no one’s tried to make The Golden Bough or The White Goddess into a movie before, I don’t think.

The long version, with spoilers:

It was GORGEOUS. I agree with those who say that it was as much a Blade Runner prequel/sequel as an Alien prequel…and I think the Kubrick discussion isn’t far off either. In fact on some levels it can be read as a response to Kubrick.

I had no idea Ridley was a pastafarian, but it does seem to be an argument for the Flying Spaghetti Monster and His Noodley Appendage.

I don’t think I’ve seen that many penises and vaginas in a movie since Caligula.

There are a TON of references in this film to other works of art, most of which you should pick up on (Lovecraft, 2001, Yeats, both Shelleys, etc.) That might be a post in itself, if no one’s done it. I’ll add two that didn’t inform the film, but which are related:

The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson
The Girl-Thing Who Went Out for Sushi by Pat Cadigan

Ultimately I think Scott (and his writers) are too mired in Christianity as a base state to really work with their theme well, and while Alien was held up as a feminist touchstone, this movie reminds us that that was totally accidental. I wish that instead of trying to revisit Ripley and have a Final Girl, they’d just gone ahead and made David the main character that he so clearly was, thereby stitching Alien and Blade Runner even more closely together and really underscoring Scott’s career question “What does it mean to be human?”

Bit by bit:

1. The opening. All the reviews I read prior to seeing it seemed to indicate that hyper-muscled bald dude was CREATING life on EARTH. Sure, it looks a lot like the uber-myth of the god-king being sacrificed willingly to create life. I concur that the myth is present, but I don’t think he was creating life…based on the story, I think he was destroying a human-like life (maybe humans on Earth, maybe humanish on Earthish) in favor of tentacle life. I’m not sure any of the myths say that the king took out the dominant life-form with him at the end of his term and replaced it with cephalopods, so I think this scene is best understood on two levels – it gives us the symbolic basis for the film (sacrifice of self to create and destroy) and it gives us the story resolution (the Engineers are editing their work).

2. The anthropologists. Looking forward and looking back. Mostly this introductory scene seems designed to call back to the intro via the landscape and foreshadow the exploration of the Engineers WMD base via the chipping into an underground cavern and reading the art.

3. Suddenly we’re on a space ship. Massive narrative disconnect for all audience members; this isn’t how stories are told. Why is David being a creepy memory-Peeping Tom on Shaw out of all of them? Mostly her memories tell us she’s Christian by choice not by default, that she married a guy who looks like her father, and that this movie is still about death and belief. Also that David’s a creepy bastard.

4. David. Nice Michaelangelo shout-out in the name. Also an interesting flip in revealing the Replicant on the crew right away. Might as well call him a Replicant even tho they call him a robot in the movie. If Holloway had ever called him a skin job I would’ve been very happy not only for the BR nod but it would’ve helped explain why David chose to slip Holloway a mickey.

Oh. Crap. David’s in love with Shaw. That’s the only explanation for his actions in watching Shaw TV and impregnating her via Holloway while removing Holloway. That’s lame.

Totally awesome that David resonates with Lawrence of Arabia. I had to have the hair-bleaching scene explained to me. David’s identification with movie Lawrence explains his motivations later, so this works. Plus it introduces the B theme, “Who’s the alien here?”

Nice “Hello David” HAL nod from the language teacher.

5. Wake up and meet the crew. Shaw has morning sickness already? Otherwise why is she the only one barfing? Does cryosleep interact badly with Christianity? (Many jokes possible about that). Vickers does push-ups before cleaning off the after-birth, so she’s “more human than human?” LIFE and WET are clearly associated symbols in this movie.

As in all of human myth, so OK.

It would’ve been nice if we actually, you know, MET THE CREW during this “meet the crew” scene. I never figured out who anyone was except Idris Elba and the anthropologists and Vickers. But then, I didn’t care either. I miss Harry Dean Stanton. Too bad I’m spoiled for Vickers’ identity, because I bet we were supposed to think she’s a Replicant also…oh, no, she’s TRYING to be one to please the old man. Who is, quite obviously, her father. And has bought out Tyrell Corp and moved into Tyrell’s offices, apparently.

I guess Vickers picked some of them? Which ones? Why not all? Who picked the others? Did David hire them from craigslist? WHAT IS HER JOB?!?

Why does Weyland bother lying to the crew about his death?

And who is running Weyland while the ruling family is away on Dad’s spa day?

6. Tour the ship. Why are there two piloting stations? Why are there normal planetside sinks? Drinking game starts for how soon and with whom the med-bed becomes an important plot point. Vickers’ quarters are the old man’s bedroom from 2001.

7. Explore the new planet. Let the Stupidity Games begin! Of course we brought dudes who want to bring weapons, but of course the anthos say no. Because no anthropologist in the history of ever has brought spear-carrying bearers just in case. Why wouldn’t you bring weapons? Maybe because then everyone will say later “Oh, the Engineers think humans suck because they always have weapons” and it will be as deep as the Dagobah tree scene in The Empire Strikes Back? Or maybe just because Scott wanted to red-flag that characters will now start making totally unrealistic and bewildering decisions? Or to force me to link to TV Tropes with every sentence if I recap the action? I don’t know.

8. Explore the tunnel system. As a long-time Lovecraft fan and Call of Cthulhu player, my first reaction is “Cthonians!” Turns out I’m not wrong. My 8yo son’s comment is “They’re in a spaceship?” and he’s not wrong either.

I so totally want those probe scanner things. Someone make those already! But have them have a unique signal for “I’m at a door and need help by something with thumbs.”. Also I’m curious how they can differentiate between a door like that and a wall…but they do.

I don’t think it really counts as “terraforming” but okay…as long as you understand it was just this underground installation and they didn’t intend to do the whole planet and you don’t take–

–your helment off. Oh well, dumbass. Fortunately no one else is dumb enough to follow your lead without observing the effects over more than 30 seconds.

OK, you all deserve to die.

Also, why aren’t you noticing all the writing on the walls? IT’S OKAY DAVID’S ACTIVATING IT. Oh good, the CCTV still works. Why are you running after them? I’m so confused. In the future people don’t think right. Maybe it was the cryosleep.

9. I can’t go on. From here on out, other people have done a far better job than I can at pointing out the painful plot and character nonsense. Let’s just get into

10. MEANING and SYMBOLISM. Other folks somehow think the black goo reacts to the nature and intent of those wielding it, but I’m not sure I see that. Maybe I could buy that it reads souls, but I really think it’s just ichor. When it senses life, it activates, unstitches the life’s DNA into something else, and starts reproducing into tentacles. So little worms turn into penis-vagina cobras.

I’m not being overly Freudian here btw. Tweedle-Dum and Tweedle-Not So Smart refered to the snake as “he” when it was a tune with a knob head. When the labia cobra hood unfolded they called it “she.” Also shot comp, as it rises up from between Tweedle’s legs, and it’s appearance intercut with two sex scenes.

Hey, maybe this film has a life-reproduction-creation theme?

I’m also not sure I buy that Jesus was an Engineer and they got pissed off because we killed him. If I accept (and I do) the film’s theme of “sacrifice creates life” then I have to believe the Engineers would be down with the Jesus story – it’s just another sacrificed god whose death grants life to others. Also, I don’t see ANY textual support that Jesus was an Engineer. Yes, something happened two thousand years ago…I guess…actually I have to talk about crap science again here.

Shaw and crew find the decapitated Engineer, stick a skewer in him, and say “He died 2000 years ago.” I guess that’s Earth years, but we don’t know how many Earth-years it took for the Prometheus to get from Earth to LX-Whatever. (OK, checked Wikipedia, 2089 is discovery, 2093 is arrival. Assuming Shaw and Holloway got to talk to Weyland immediately, the connection to “live forever” was made immediately, and ship was created, funded, crewed, etc. immediately, trip took 4 years. Seriously? Science fail AGAIN. In fact, I can’t believe all that would’ve taken less than 4 years so whatever, my brain hurts). And wait, I was going to focus on SYMBOLISM AND MEANING rather how nonsensical this story is…But if we go with 2093, that would mean Jesus would have been killed in the Year of Our Lord 93, and simultaneously the Engineers ran into the urn room and one got decapitated…

Nope. We’re back to “Narrative Mess,” not “Thematically Persuasive.”. I also don’t see the on-screen connection between “thing Earth humans did” and “Run for the urn room right now.”

(This reminds me…due to the multiplicity of Erth cultures the Engineers apparently husbanded, and due to the existence of Aliens in space but not Earth, I assumed that the Engineers made humans on lots of planets, or, any that would work. I also saw multiple planets in the navigation rock band room, and they had to highlight Earth, so same assumption. Apparently I’m in a minority with that assumption.)

I forgot the one writer wrote the ass-pull that was Lost. WHERE’S THE POLAR BEAR?!?!? But Scott doesn’t film what the writers write – just ask the Blade Runner writers. So I think I need to get back to WTF are you trying to say, Ridley?

So far I’ve got themes of sacrifice to create life, refusal to die causing destruction, creators editing their creation, fertility and moisture and cthonian primordial ooze vs. Arid and barren and Apollonian straight lines, who is the alien, and under/over everything, What does it mean to be human?

I also see a real and painful tension between a longing to believe that the Romantics were right, and humans have value…and a paralyzingly fear that we don’t. That there isn’t anything special waiting for us, and that we were created just because someone could.

And any day now, that creators “Human Period” may end, to be remembered only in retrospective exhibits and art history classes, and the creator will move into his “Tentacles and Teeth Period” which everyone will agree comprises his masterworks.