Given Reel Spirituality’s aim in featuring movie reviews, Pacific Rim is a difficult movie to cover. In our reviews, we try to have conversations with movies. We let the movie decide the topic of conversation and the sophistication of the dialog, and we respond. A movie’s language is that of cinematic form, so we attend to those conventions especially. Perhaps most importantly, we look for questions over assertions, questions rooted in the narrative, its shape, and the characters at its heart.
Pacific Rim doesn’t really ask any questions, it barely has characters, and, while it is cinematically eloquent, that eloquence is mostly empty. There isn’t really much of a discussion to be had with this movie. Pacific Rim is tremendously fun. I never tired of watching the giant robots fight the giant monsters. My engagement may be due to del Toro’s sense of pacing, but it might also be due to the relative flatness of the non-fight scenes. I was loath to return to the expository parts. Like James Cameron’s (who was appropriately thanked in the end credits) Aliens, Titanic, or Avatar, Pacific Rim is thematically thin, but it sure is entertaining.
There is one interesting thread in Pacific Rim worth a few sentences. The threat of the monsters forces all the peoples of earth to lay aside international hostilities to work together to build the giant robots that are their salvation. The robots are themselves are too big to be piloted by a single human, so two people must share the mental burden, “drifting” their minds together in a form of technological empathy. I’m all for world peace and greater empathy. I just wish they were prompted by something other than a need to build bigger weapons to fight bigger enemies. But there I go, taking Pacific Rim way too seriously.
Now, I understand that we’re a bit of a weird bunch here at Reel Spirituality. We go to the movies to be impacted emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. We are people who have been touched deeply by films, and we seek out those moments of transcendence and seek to understand them.
Many people who go to the movies go “to be entertained,” to quote so many people I’ve talked to about their movie-going habits. This has always puzzled me, because I take that to mean they go to the movies to be distracted and disengaged. They go to have fun, and, for good or ill, “having fun” means being unreflective about what they see.
I want to proceed carefully here, because I don’t want to disparage “going to the movies for fun.” There is probably value in that, value I don’t completely understand, but value nonetheless. Perhaps to understand the fun in just having fun, i should think of movies as something other than stories I’m going to pay focused attention to for at least 90 minutes.
Maybe I should think of Pacific Rim as a morsel of food. A week ago, I was on vacation in Montana with my entire family. I had the pleasure of taking my father and brothers out for dinner at this remarkable steakhouse in Babb, MT, called The Cattle Baron Supper Club. The Cattle Baron serves the finest steak anyone I’ve ever spoken with who has eaten there has ever had in their entire life. I had eaten there twice before – once, years ago, with one of my best friends when I worked nearby and once a week prior with my wife.
Now, I can imagine serving up a Cattle Baron rib eye at home in my living room. It would be delicious, no doubt. There is value in the flavor (as strong and sweet as the first steps of a westward-bound pioneer) and the tenderness (as delicate as snow on the petal of an alpine flower kissed by the rising sun), and that value would be translated to my living room.
And maybe that’s Pacific Rim. Maybe it’s just the taste of the meat. Maybe going to the movies “to be entertained” is the equivalent of enjoying a great steak for the flavor and mouth-feel alone. I think I can understand the fun in that.
But serve me that steak in a remote supper club on the border of Glacier National Park in far northern Montana. Serve almost identical cuts to my wife and father and brothers and best friends. Do this after a week of hiking in the cloud-skimming regions of the Rocky Mountains where the breeze is glacier chilled. Tell me that steak isn’t going to taste just a little bit better than the one served in my living room.
Context matters. Visceral thrills in the context of complex characters and humble, candid questions about life make for better movies. Movies that simply entertain are just movies. Movies that seek to be entertained by their audience, movies that ask to be welcomed in and engaged emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually have the potential to be something more.