Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Review: Pacific Rim: Man, Machines and Monsters from Titan Books!

I may have struggled with the human characters (and their terrible fake Australian accents) but I cannot fault the brilliantly audacious and over-the-top production design of Pacific Rim. We can debate character development and dialogue until our faces explode, but the simple fact is, if you don’t enjoy monsters fighting robots then you are dead inside. Nothing is quite so outlandish and epic as Del Toro’s loving tribute to the kaiju battles of old and, in terms of sheer wonder and excitement, Pacific Rim had me hooked.

Since seeing the film I have been very eager to get a closer, more detailed look at the cast of robots and kaiju that quickly flashed across the screen. And I always enjoy movie art books, so I was excited to learn that our good friends at Titan Books were the ones producing Pacific Rim: Man, Machines and Monsters by David S. Cohen.

They were kind enough to send me a copy and I’ll tell you everything you need to know about Gipsy Danger, Striker Eureka and all the squishy monsters... after the jump!

I have a lot of goodwill towards Guillermo Del Toro as a filmmaker, and always find a lot to like in his work. He kicks off the book with a very sincere foreword, written at a time where he did not yet know how the film would be received. But there’s no mistaking the passion that he poured into what is essentially a very personal project, tapping into all his childhood loves. There’s a lot of Del Toro inside this book, via interviews, quotes and pages from his journal. In many ways this is not just a collection of art but a “making of Pacific Rim”. It’s not incredibly exhaustive, but it’s a solid enough overview of the process. Del Toro calls it a “glimpse”, but there’s plenty to see.

One of my favourite film art books this year was The Art of Iron Man 3 which gave us a very welcome look at the complete set of armours, many of which were difficult to pick out on the screen. The Art of Pacific Rim has a similar appeal as we get to study each of the jaeger mechs over multiple pages, tracking their development from early sketches to production art and blueprints ; and we get to really appreciate the individual characteristics and thinking behind each of the film’s kaiju monsters.

The art is predictably stunning but it’s also great to read the snippets of trivia that compliment each design. Did you know that the three-armed Crimson Typhoon was initially intended to be four-armed and house four pilots, but the production team could only find Japanese triplets? (And I guess didn’t want to CGI in an extra guy?). You’ll get to see designs for the four-armed version in the book.

And did you know that one of the monsters is called “Slattern”. Del Toro, you know what slattern means, don’t you - or is this another Avengers “mewling quim” scenario where they assume that most people don’t have access to a dictionary? Here, I’ll help you...

Slattern. noun
1. a slovenly, untidy woman or girl.
2. a slut; harlot.

God bless, Slattern! The sluttiest kaiju ever!

The humans of Pacific Rim are far less interesting to me, but further insight into their costume design makes the character section just as appealing. I’m especially a fan of the work that they did on the look of the female pilot Mako. (Actually, full credit, I like her character too). You can clearly see how the various mechanical suits reflect the individual personalities of the pilots and Del Toro provides insight on what he was aiming for. I’ve criticised the film’s stereotypes, but hearing the justification in Del Toro’s own words somewhat lessens the blow. For example, he describes the cartoonish Russians as “theatrical” and it’s far easier to accept this choice as a visual flourish as opposed to bemoaning the lack of depth. The Russians virtually have zero dialogue so their entire characters are pretty much conveyed with visuals, so I can understand the urge to paint them with a broad brush.

(However, I did learn that Max Martini had six weeks of training, including a dialect coach, in order to pretend to be an Australian. I hope they were able to get some of that money refunded).

The rest of the book is very much what you’d expect - storyboards, maquettes, and sections covering specific locations. One of the most intriguing inclusions, however, occurs towards the end as we see detailed production art of the Kaiju dimension with its mysterious overlords. This is probably the part of the film that raises the most interesting questions so I was curious to not just read the surrounding lore but also get a really clear look at who was pulling the strings.

Titan seem to be aiming for a diverse audience with this release. Although there is plenty to appeal to an adult film enthusiast, they have also included a sticker insert, and various blueprints, ID cards, images and documents are presented as separate items that have been glued into the book. It’s gimmicky, but it’s also fun and effective, adding to your immersion as you flip through all the various bits and pieces. 

There’s also a mysterious large envelope at the back of the book which contains two large, fold-out propaganda posters (my favourite of which is Russian) warning against the Kaiju attack. These are the same posters that Del Toro and co-writer Travis Beacham had been signing at cons. It’s a cool inclusion, and the art is brilliant, but they would be problematic to actually display considering that they have been folded many times to fit in the envelope and are forever creased into a grid. A small art print would have been far more practical, but perhaps cost prohibitive considering how much is already packed into this book. 

So, if you’re a fan of the film, or even just a film art book collector, then I do recommend this release. It felt tailor made for me as it collects all of my favourite aspects of the movie, presenting them as a sprawling visual buffet that is a lot of fun to dig into.

You can pick up your own copy right here from Titan!

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