io9 was on set for the most anticipated movie of the summer Pacific Rim. And this is what we saw and what we learned about the biggest monster movie of the year.
Pacific Rim was shot at Pinewood Studios in Toronto. The scale of this feature is massive, they took over the entire lot. Bits of giant robot parts were practically falling out of the doors, and the whole setup was amazing and gigantic.
We witnessed the aftermath of a giant Kaiju attack being filmed on one of the sound stages (and yes it was being shot by director Guillermo del Toro himself). The scene centered on Dr. Newton Geiszler (played by Charlie Day), fleeing the mayhem. Newt is dressed like a little punk rock scientist, but he's all beat to hell, and he's scrambling to get out of the destroyed city.
While the city's skyline was green screen, everything else on the set was practical. Crunched cars, crumbled buildings, and the insides of homes were splayed all over the ground. The rubble was made up of all sorts of garbage. Newt is on all fours in a crab stance, shuffling away from some sort of monster.
Unfortunately we didn't get to see this monster (as it would be added via CG later) but we did get to see the absolute horror in Newt's face. And later when we spoke to the actor in his trailer, we couldn't help but notice even more detail added to his stress. He was wearing bloodshot contact lenses, that made him look like he'd been whipped in the head a few times. Seriously this movie doesn't miss a thing, and it really helps ground the film in reality. Even if it's about giant monsters.
Plus it helps the actors to have all that practical chaos around, as Day explained: "There's a giant set full of rubble. It's on fire. There's leaking fire hydrants, and every car I run past flips over into the air, so to me, there hasn't been too much of something not being there. I'm running and chaos is actually happening behind me. As soon as I hit the ground and turn around, I guess yes, there's something that's not there — but sometimes you work with actors who aren't there, so you figure out how to get through the day."
In the middle of all this insanity, we learned a lot more about the secrets of Pacific Rim, including some major spoilers. Here are the answers to your biggest questions about Pacific Rim!
How did these giant monsters get on Earth?
Through a portal. The whole backstory (which is lightly touched upon in the trailers) centers on a mysterious portal that opens up in the Pacific Ocean in the year 2013. Pacific Rim is set 12 years in the future, after most of humanity has banded together to try and figure out a way to fight the swarms of monsters that are popping out of this portal. Thus creating the 250-foot to 280-foot-tall Jaegar robots.
So why set the film 12 years after the monsters arrive?
Guillermo del Toro explains:
GDT: "The part that I was interested in was the part where things are hard. I cannot tell you how much I didn't want to make it a war movie. I wanted to make an adventure movie. I wanted to contrast the moment when it was going well but you were deep into it. If you start with the origin [of the problem], then you have to go with investigative characters, which are hard for me to relate to. Like a reporter, or military forensics. If it doesn't come from a point of view that I can relate to. For me it has to be a character that has something against him or her, from the get-go. A character that starts already oppressed or down on his/her luck, for me to be interested in them."
Why are all the Jaegars different from each other?
Because diversity! GDT wanted each robot to be cool in its own way — plus it would be boring to have a collection of similar robots. There's the Chinese Jaeger (Crimson Typhoon), the Australian Jaeger (Striker Eureka), the (pictured) Russian Jaeger (Cherno Alpha) the American Jaeger (Gipsy Danger), and a ton more. Gipsy Danger is THE robot that the audience will spend the most time with, and is the giant Jaegar piloted by the two main characters, Raleigh Becket and Mako Mori. Gipsy has a SWORD.
Why two pilots per Jaeger?
As you've probably heard, one pilot is for the right side of the brain and the other is for the left. The robot creators attempted to build the Jaegers using a single pilot, but the mental load damaged the early volunteers' minds. Plus this makes the drama inside the Jaegar a lot more interesting, and physically demonstrates a larger theme of the film, as del Toro explained to us:
GDT: "I wanted to explore some of the characters that would not get along in real life — [that] actually hate each other — but they're good at something together. I was never a great dancer, but as a kid I saw couples that fought all the times, but they danced beautifully together. I thought it would be great to have two characters that hate each other, but when the time comes, they can pilot. They're good at that, and they can blank out all their differences and come together. They're there in the movie is not an individual thing. Coming together is what saves us. The Kaijus are completely individualistic, sheer force, and the pilots need to join. Most of the characters in the movie don't get along. They come together, and it works somewhat. Which I think is the essence of what is being human.
[This theme has] been in Hellboy, and Hellboy 2... and to some degree, I was preoccupied by that, and I thought it would be great to have two guys. One of the things I love most in the bomber plane movies, is the communication between the cockpit and the crew, and I love that dynamic. I wanted to give the dynamic of being really there. There's always so much more when you have somebody looking at someone, and sharing an experience, but being alone. I thought it would be interesting... if you have a girl and the girl sits next to you and you have to share everything you are in a single session, best, worst memories, she knows what music you like, she knows you pick your nose, all in one instance, and then they can fall in love, I thought that was really nice. I thought that's really quite beautiful."
Are the Jaegers really our only line of defense?
NO! A big part of the movie takes place inside various safe houses and large safe zones constructed in Japan. Also in Alaska the government is trying to build a 300-foot wall across the Pacific Coast.
Will this be the typical Guillermo del Toro "sympathetic monster" movie?
NO! Guillermo GETS Kaiju. There won't be a small boy cuddling the fallen giant face of a monster — Kaijus are Kaijus, and they fuck shit up. Just take it from del Toro himself:
GDT: "I have used monsters in a identifiable, sympathetic ways, and the Kaiju are like an earthquake, or a tornado, or a hurricane...a force of nature. They are essentially blind to any moral or ethical circumstances, their path is their path. If there's a city or a highway, they just move. That is a big difference."
How many Kaijus are we going to see stomping around our cities?
The audience will witness about eight to 10 monsters in battle. But they will also see Kaiju carcasses, and a closer look at Kaiju brains and intestines and skulls. There are A LOT of monsters, and when the Jaegers win, the body of the Kaiju falls where it died. Leaving a giant rotting carcass. The future humans have found away to make these dead things work. We even saw a bit of concept art where the skeletal remains of a Kaiju had been turned into a church, worshiping the monsters. No clue if that art made it into the movie, but it stuck with us.
Why is everything blue?
That's KAIJU BLOOD. Giant monsters have a crap load of giant BLUE blood in them. And it gets everywhere. The entire world is starting to turn blue. One particular scene set on Belcher street in Hong Kong is basically swimming in Indigo dye because of the seepage of monster blood. Pacific Rim costume designer Kate Hawley explains:
Kate Hawley: "Things are turning blue literally. We start to play that up a bit. You can overdo something like that. So there's subtleties, subtle elements of that, that you will see. You will see it more in the incident zone where all around the creature is stained blue from the blood from whatever its fluids are. You only meet communities briefly...when we go into Belchers— and I don't know if you've seen the amazing concept, it's one of the first images GDT worked on is Hong Kong, but people have built their houses amongst the creature that died.
So we went, 'Well, if they're living in that world and their houses have adapted, we want to use this motif of Kaiju blue.' And so we found ways of treating it like an asbestos that was in the atmosphere it was dragging through the lungs. Everyone wears those little white masks in the Asian countries, so we've played it like the blue is coming through so its almost like a poison. Some of it is quite subtle in little layers, and there's blue going through the bottom of the clothes that you find in the rain and things like that. When you get to the scavengers then it becomes more theatrical when we meet the world of Hannibal Chau the world gives GDT license to play we go to Hannibal Chau's world, the guy is in this sort of..back room, and they're cutting out pieces so the monster blood is all over them.
Are there any other monsters besides the Kaiju?
Yes! We saw a collection of giant bug parasites that fall off the dead Kaiju. They're about 5 feet long and look like Roleypoleys, which is also what they're called. Some are remote controlled and others will be CG, and they are DISGUSTING.
How heavy on the references to other monster movies will Pacific Rim be? Are we going to see a "man in a suit" kind of monster?
Negative. There was talk of using motion capture, but it was dismissed due to the scale. The robots are huge and so are the Kaiju, so the monster makers wanted to stay true to the laws of physics. So the monsters would need to be balanced, move a certain way, have a certain type of physicality that would make their presence believable. So a man in a suit type fighting wasn't going to cut it. But there WILL be classic Kaiju movie shout outs (GDT just wouldn't tell us what they are).
Why is Charlie Day from It's Always Sunny in this movie?
We were shocked (but also stoked) that Charlie Day was cast as Newt, the obligatory monster science guy. Why was he cast? Because GDT is a HUGE It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia fan.
GDT: "I'm a huge fan of Philadelphia, and I'm a huge fan of Charlie without thinking of anything. One day in one of the episodes of Philadelphia, he has a monologue about rats. He comes out with a stick, and he has a monologue about what it is to hunt a rat in the basement, and he was very funny, but coming from character. He was really mourning and lamenting job, how inhuman it is, and I thought this guy is really great at shading, and is great at comedy, and there are moments in the movie where he delivers them both. I'm extremely happy with that. I didn't know any movies he had done, I had only followed Philadelphia from the beginning until now. I'm addicted to that show."
And why Idris Elba?
Because GDT is a huge fan of Luther (and also because Idris is a BAD ASS).
GDT: "I wanted to have Idris not to be the blonde square jawed, anglo super hip, marine that knows, I wanted somebody that could bring a lot of authority, but that you could feel the weight of the world on his shoulders. When I watched Luther, that's the essence of the character. I was watching Luther and I was like this guy makes much more out of Luther. Luther is carrying literally the evils of the world on his shoulders. He's doing penance for all humanity. Idris is one of those actors that is capable of embodying humanity, in almost like a Rodin sculpture type of way, larger than life, almost like a Russian realism statue, big hands, all the turmoil of humanity in his eyes. I wanted somebody that you could have doubts internally, and very few guys can do that. He's fortunately good.
Why does Ron Perlman look like a pimp?
Perlman's character is Hannibal Chau, dealer in black-market Kaiju parts. He sells Kaiju bits for everything from "fetish games" to medicinal purposes. And he makes big time cash. Apparently the character took his first name from his favorite historical character, and the second from his favorite Sichuan restaurant in Brooklyn. It's ridiculous and amazing all at the same time. But we'll let the man himself tell you the rest:
Ron Perlman: "He's got this arrangement with these government guys, these anti Kaiju fighting guys — whenever a Kaiju falls and the government is done doing with them what it is they need to do scientifically or research-wise, Hannibal Chau has the rights to sell these Kaiju parts to his bevy of collectors, who have nothing to do with money, but by exotic, illegal things, or illicit things... He's kind of a pirate, a black market guy. He worships money, the turning of a dollar. He pretty much wears his heart, his wallet, on his sleeve. he's adorned with the accouterments of someone who puts his things that he owns and has managed to collect through his meanderings, in bold display. He's rather garish, and larger than life, more style than substance."
Hannibal and Newt (Charlie Day) have an entirely separate sidestory from all the monster battles. These two odd couple it up looking for a piece of Kaiju anatomy, for reasons that we're not going to spoil right now. Personally, we think they're going to run away with this movie.
Charlie Day: "One day [Perlman] put a butterfly knife up my nose. Ron always plays these big, tough action guys and he's tough down to his core, but he was a bit clumsy on the day, so I was a bit worried that knife was going to go through my nose. But, we ended up getting the shot, but he's great."
But then again giant monsters fighting giant robots is kind of hard to take your eyes off of.
Are we going to see real death in this movie?
There are giant monsters destroying cities, how is this movie going to show death and maintain a PG-13 rating? By not showing it. The battles are more focused on the 300-foot creatures not the human victims. You will definitely see crowds running around in Hong Kong, Sydney or San Francisco. There's collateral damage but nothing is graphic. No massive death scenes.
NOTE: Warner Bros. paid for io9's travel and lodging expenses for this set visit.