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Pacific Rim: Blu-ray + DVD + DigitalHD UltraViolet Review

Pacific Rim (2013) movie poster Pacific Rim

Theatrical Release: July 12, 2013 / Running Time: 131 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Guillermo del Toro / Writers: Travis Beacham (story & screenplay), Guillermo del Toro (screenplay)

Cast: Charlie Hunnam (Raleigh Becket), Idris Elba (Marshal Stacker Pentecost), Rinko Kikuchi (Mako Mori), Charlie Day (Dr. Newton Geiszler), Ron Perlman (Hannibal Chau), Rob Kazinsky (Chuck Hansen), Max Martini (Hercules Hansen), Clifton Collins, Jr. (Ops Tendo Choi), Burn Gorman (Dr. Hermann Gottlieb), Larry Joe Campbell (Construction Worker), Diego Klattenhoff (Yancy Becket), Brad William Henke (Construction Foreman), Mana Ashida (Young Mako Mori), Robert Maillet (Lt. S. Kaidanovsky), Heather Doerksen (Lt. A. Kaidanovsky)

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Blu-ray Combo Two-Disc DVD Blu-ray 3D Combo Limited Edition Blu-ray 3D Combo Instant Video

There has always been a disconnect between the amount of respect Guillermo del Toro commands and his body of work. Most agree that Pan's Labyrinth has been the high point of his 25-year career. As one of the few critics who would express a dislike of that film,
I'm often left wondering where this Mexican writer, director, and producer's clout comes from. It doesn't seem to be his Criterion-inducted feature debut Cronos or his ill-regarded Hollywood start Mimic. Since then, there's been Blade II, the two Hellboy movies, and, in between them, the aforementioned Pan's.

Since that 2006 fantasy won three technical Oscars, del Toro has served as a consultant and producer on number of DreamWorks animated films been and attached to a number of big projects his involvement failed to materialize on, most notably, The Hobbit trilogy, which still assigns him a screenplay credit. His most significant creative credit over a recent period of four years was the screenplay for the horror dud Don't Be Afraid of the Dark. And yet, the movies he touches as an executive producer, like this year's Mama, emphasize his input by mentioning his name in trailers and on posters.

Over the summer, Del Toro added the first directing credit to his resume since 2008. Pacific Rim was his biggest directing gig to date, with a production budget of $190 million, a theater count of nearly 3,300, and a release date in the middle of July. At last, here was a chance to justify the substantial weight of his name. That the movie looked like a Transformers spin-off suggested its commercial impact and technical achievement might be greater than its artistic value and critical appeal.

Marshal Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) re-opens the Jaeger program after world governments shut it down. Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) returns to the world of Jaegers in need of a drift-compatible co-pilot.

Pacific Rim opens by defining the two terms that drive this film: Kaiju, a Japanese term for monster and Jaeger, a German word for hunter. In the near-future it depicts, these opposing forces have a drastic effect on the state of the world. The Kaiju, giant alien creatures, emerged from the depths of the Pacific Ocean at the edges of Earth's largest tectonic plate to wreak havoc on coastlines. Jaegers, equally massive robot warriors piloted by two human individuals connected by a "neural handshake", have fought back against the invaders, protecting the planet from destruction as needed. The Kaiju, however, are constantly evolving and the human technology is struggling to keep up.

The United Nations shuts down the Jaeger program not too long after our protagonist, Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam), gets out of the piloting game and into construction, working on building giant walls that are soon found to be obviously susceptible to Kaiju destruction. Five years after their deadly last mission, Raleigh's old supervisor, Marshal Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), tracks him down and invites him to join Pentecost's resurrected Jaeger program in Hong Kong.

Though reluctant, Raleigh is swayed to return to his important, high-pressure calling. He is reunited with his old vessel, Gipsy Danger, an old mission controller (Clifton Collins, Jr.), and a one-time colleague, Australian hero Herc Hansen (Max Martini), while also being introduced to a new wave of pilots and researchers. Raleigh's search for a co-pilot leads to Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), a gifted mind who has to overcome the reservations of her protective, father-like mentor Pentecost.

While Pentecost is trying to stretch his limited resources and manpower against an impending apocalypse, a pair of researchers ("It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia"'s Charlie Day and Burn Gorman) with opposite personalities and theories look for vulnerabilities in this potent alien race.

The Jaeger known as Gipsy Danger proudly struts among the neon-lit skyscrapers of Hong Kong in "Pacific Rim."

Del Toro's status as an active director is certainly renewed with this ambitious production. His status as a genius filmmaker, however,
remains very much open to debate. The good news is that Pacific Rim is definitely superior to all three Transformers movies. The bad news is that's not saying a whole lot, as Michael Bay's lucrative, soon-expanding trilogy is the bane of modern tentpole filmmaking. Del Toro's robots do not talk or transform into cars; they are somehow gracefully dropped into the ocean and directed to perform like a sophisticated, skyscraper-sized version of a Rock'em, Sock'em fighter.

Though the film avoids being simply alien vs. (human-operated) robot for as long as it can, there's no getting around that central design. You can't have a film with that concept and not expect a climax of massive bodies in combat. Del Toro and his co-writer Travis Beacham (2010's Clash of the Titans) lean heavily on the Japanese tradition of "Mecha" fiction, a genre that has influenced everything from "Power Rangers" to Avatar. Such clangy material is expensive to produce, requiring extensive visual effects work throughout, and seemingly at odds with intelligent cinema. But del Toro does succeed at grounding that loud, high-concept fodder in characters he cares about enough to develop.

Every actor in the international cast, which is void of movie stars but full of familiar faces, seems to have a different understanding of the movie they're making. Each faces an obstacle, whether it is in speaking English intelligibly (Kikuchi) or maintaining a consistent American accent (Hunnam). The oft-acclaimed, suddenly high-profile Elba has undeniable screen presence, but too often opts for scenery chewing, most noticeably in a corny motivational speech that crescendoes with "Today, we are canceling the Apocalypse." On the other hand, Day, who has no experience in this kind of movie, is a natural fit, providing gentle comic relief throughout as the "Kaiju groupie." His scenes with Ron Perlman, an obscenely gold-shoed Kaiju black market kingpin, are a welcome cutaway from routine Earth-saving heroics.

As usual, production design is of chief importance to del Toro, who once again does not disappoint on a technical level. While the film can be quite bad at times, feeling like the world's priciest B-movie, it remains watchable. The title doesn't appear until 17 minutes in, long after you figured out where the opening will take Hunnam and the unrecognizable actor (Diego Klattenhoff) playing his close brother and "drift-compatible" co-pilot.

Dr. Newton Geiszler (Charlie Day) turns to black market kingpin Hannibal Chau (Ron Perlman) in an effort to experiment on a living Kaiju brain. Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam) gets a look at co-pilot Mako's traumatic Kaiju experience as a child (Mana Ashida).

The director's cinematic know-how is never in doubt. Of course, the big battles occur on a rainy night in colorful Hong Kong for maximum visual intrigue and power. The fights, which are a lot easier to follow than the frantically-edited action sequences of Bay's movies, play out with some surprises, with the Jaegers utilizing such random weapons as an oil tanker and a sword arm. Along the way, this film that sets a record for bloody noses manages to immerse you quite fully in its complex mythology whose logistics are admittedly somewhat murky.

Pacific Rim easily became the highest-grossing work of del Toro's career to date (though by tickets sold, i.e. adjusting for inflation, Blade II handily bests it). The film's commercial success was the subject of spirited debate this summer. Only narrowly eclipsing the no longer impressive $100 million mark domestically defines this as a flop. But unsurprisingly, the film was a much bigger draw in foreign markets, where it has grossed over $300 M and is still rolling out. The domestic flop/international hit has become a standard model in modern cinema. Basically, any movie expensive enough to have its underperformance draw attention is usually saved by overseas moviegoers who love a big 3D spectacle. Pacific wasn't as doomed domestically as the likes of Battleship, John Carter, or, to use a more timely comparison, After Earth. It also was more formidable in foreign markets than each of those. As for whether it is actually profitable, one never knows for certain and Hollywood accounting practices are little help. Plans for a sequel, usually the clearest way to confirm success, remain up in the air, perhaps dependent on home video sales. It seems safe to say that studios may hesitate to spend so much on an original screenplay's filming in the future.

Meanwhile, Pacific Rim hit stores today in a two-disc Special Edition DVD, the three-disc Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD UltraViolet set reviewed here, and a four-disc Blu-ray 3D combo pack that's also available in a limited edition with a Jaeger sculpture.

Pacific Rim: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD UltraViolet Combo Pack cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

1.78:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: 5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), 7.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish, Portuguese)
DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish; BD-only: Portuguese
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: October 15, 2013 / Suggested Retail Price: $35.99
Three single-sided, dual-layered discs (1 BD-50, 1 BD-25 & 1 DVD-9)
Blue Keepcase in Lenticular Cardboard Slipcover
Also available as Two-Disc Special Edition DVD ($28.98 SRP), Blu-ray 3D Combo ($44.95 SRP), Limited Edition Blu-ray 3D Combo ($64.99 SRP) and on Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Pacific Rim is one of the increasingly few films to occupy the narrower of the two prevailing widescreen aspect ratios in use, an apparent concession to the large scale entities of its universe. Utilizing every pixel available, the Blu-ray's 1.78:1 presentation is fantastic. The picture is colorful (a refreshing change from many modern tentpoles), highly cinematic, and pristine.

The original English soundtrack is offered in both 5.1 and 7.1 DTS-HD master audio. Neither will steer you wrong. As you can imagine, this is a loud and aggressive mix engaging all your speakers on a regular basis. Happily, dialogue manages not to get drowned out by effects and score. The film's occasional foreign dialogue (mostly Japanese) is translated by stylish burned-in subtitles.

As seen in the Focus Points, "Pacific Rim" made use of real sets and production design as well as visual effects to be added in post-production. Ever wonder how Kaiju are born? With crude computer animation.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Pacific Rim is the rare new film to draw multiple standard Blu-ray discs. That's no gimmick, either, since its data usage slightly exceeds the 50 GB capacity of a dual-layered disc.

The feature platter includes an audio commentary by writer/director/producer Guillermo del Toro. Though his voice isn't the easiest to spend over two hours listening to, his screen-specific talk makes his passion for the film evident. He discusses wanting the film to play like a sports movie,
the archetypes that inspired characters, the "Gothic tech" look, the deliberately saturated colors, the film's assortment of famous fans (from Kanye West to Howard Stern), the different techniques allowing him to "paint with film", his belief in the story and his desire to make the film without postmodern irony, and the experience of converting the film to 3D with some guidance from James Cameron. For a solo track, this is pretty lively and rewarding.

Joining the movie and commentary are a group of thirteen Focus Points, which form an epic making-of documentary (1:02:26) should you select an unmarked icon. The content serves up a wealth of cast and crew interview remarks plus copious looks at the green screen-assisted production. The short, topical segments turn our attention to designs, influences, practical effects and sets, actors' training, characters, and the score.

The Director's Notebook gives us access to Guillermo del Toro's conceptual notes and drawings for "Pacific Rim." "Drift Space" dishes facts about characters like Dr. Newton Geiszler (Charlie Day).

The bonus Blu-ray's extras, also all in HD, begin with "The Director's Notebook", an interactive feature that allows you to look through a digital reproduction of nine pages of del Toro's notes. You can magnify portions and get the English translations, and view related galleries and video pods that provide clearer looks at his drawings. It's a unique presentation that fulfills the rear cover's claim of taking you "inside the mind" of del Toro.

"Drift Space" (5:24) dissects the film's drift sequences, applying dates and details to the images briefly glimpsed in the mind melding scenes. It's cool information that adds to our understanding of Raleigh, Newton, Mako, and Hermann.

Guillermo del Toro is a hands-on director when it comes to visual effects, as "The Digital Artistry of 'Pacific Rim'" illustrates. A wealth of concept art like this is found in the galleries of The Shatterdome.

"The Digital Artistry of Pacific Rim" (17:10) celebrates the extensive ILM visual effects work that brings the film to life. Footage shows del Toro to be extremely personally involved in the post-production process.

The Shatterdome houses five silent animatics (9:56) -- moving pencil storyboards -- of major scenes from the film. It also provides concept art galleries for twelve Kaijus, seven Jaegers, two groups of costume designs, and eight environments. Presented with optional remote usage, the small galleries require a lot of trips back to the menu, but it's good content you rarely see on Blu-ray these days.

Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam) gets paid in food at his construction job in this deleted scene. Ron Perlman reveals his gold-plated smile when cracking up in the Blooper Reel.

Four short deleted scenes (3:45) show us Raleigh being paid with pre-packaged meals at his construction job, an additional Newton/Raleigh exchange, Newton breaking in to a lab,
and a tense conversation between the Australian father and son.

The extras conclude with a blooper reel (3:52), which shares with us giggles resulting from prop malfunctions, Charlie Day ad libs, and fumbled lines.

The first disc of the 2-Disc Special Edition DVD being sold at Warner's standard price point, the DVD here only includes the del Toro commentary.

The Blu-ray opens with a static ad for the graphic novel, an UltraViolet promo, and a trailer for Seventh Son. The DVD opens with the same, then adds trailers for Prisoners, Man of Steel, and the video games Batman: Arkham Origins and Guardians of Middle-Earth.

All three discs employ Warner's standard menu design of scored poster art, with listings placed along a riveted border. The Blu-ray resumes unfinished playback, while the DVD's submenus feature the same degree of artwork and photography that the studio had recently discontinued.

Topped by a lenticular-faced slipcover (which alternates between a Kaiju and a Jaeger), the standard-sized blue keepcase stacks the two Blu-ray discs across from the similarly-labeled DVD and code-dispensing UltraViolet insert.

Pilots Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) and Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) are all ears as their supervisor delivers his motivational, Apocalypse-canceling speech.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Pacific Rim is the effects and action feast advertised, but with slightly more story and human characters you'd expect. Guillermo del Toro's futuristic spectacle is always watchable and sometimes kind of fun, but never any better than its dumb giant robots vs. giant aliens premise allows it to be.

Warner's combo pack piles on substantial bonus features, with an obvious focus on production design and visual effects. Those less intrigued by the technical and visual aspects of filmmaking won't find too much of interest here. Nonetheless, the Blu-ray's dynamite picture and sound are of the highest quality the format allows.

Buy Pacific Rim from Amazon.com:
Blu-ray Combo / DVD / Blu-ray 3D Combo / Limited Edition Blu-ray 3D Combo / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
From Guillermo del Toro: Mama Don't Be Afraid of the Dark Hellboy II: The Golden Army The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Sci-Fi Action: Transformers: Dark of the Moon Transformers Godzilla vs. Biollante Real Steel Cloverfield Battleship Skyline
New: After Earth Fantastic Voyage Gravity Iron Man 3 The Hangover Part III This Is the End World War Z
Idris Elba: 28 Weeks Later | Ron Perlman: Season of the Witch | Charlie Day: It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia: Season 8

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Reviewed October 15, 2013.



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