So after Monday evening Colin and I came out of "Pacific Rim" at the SilverCity Gloucester (where there were possibly a dozen people for the Monday night showing), I said, "Neon Genesis Evangelion this is not, but I enjoyed myself."

"This reached entirely new levels of bad," he said.

"Yes, but it was visually BEAUTIFUL," I insisted, with a rather giddy grin.

I think it was Madeleine L'Engle who said that the good thing about getting older is that you are still all the other ages you ever were. And one of the ages I have been was a girl of seven or eight, who did not yet understand English that well, but who adored watching "Batman: The Animated Series", and whose few glimpses of "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers" and the animated "X-Men" set a fire inside her and a longing for more that has not quite died in twenty years.

I didn't _care_ that the dialogue may have been awful; I didn't have the English to care. Yes, there are people who say that this is why Hollywood blockbusters with dumb scripts do so well in overseas markets. I say, "And is that a bad thing?"

The more subtle the script, the more each line of dialogue sings and packs a punch, the more inaccessible it would be to people outside the culture. Even with a good translator. A great script relies on being more than the basic words on the page by picking up the audience's absorbed cultural knowledge; someone from outside the culture would just have the words on the page, and to her some of the ways the characters behave may simply be incomprehensible. I would adore to pieces a work that referenced Shakespeare, Auden and Yeats every third line; someone who had not read Shakespeare, Auden and Yeats would find it as bewildering as you would if you read some brilliant parody of something you’ve never heard of and went, "Why is this listed as a humorous work?"

A skilled translator can do a lot, but it takes a certain kind of genius in its own way to convey genius into another language. I've done enough of this kind of stuff that I know.

What does translate is beautifully-shot SF that does not depend on a particular cultural sphere. The other cultures make their own movies, hopefully, that have the delicately subtle scripts that reference their own poetry and political slogans and advertisers and pop songs and the truth of living there (and subtitled versions of which which people in the Western English-speaking world get dragged to by their arthouse-film-fanatic friends and go "I don't get this at all, and I was bored out of my skull”). What they go to Hollywood for is to do what Hollywood does best: throw a bunch of very beautiful CGI for an easily translatable concept.

You know what else is easily translatable, on a grand scale, with dazzling visuals and music, overblown emotions, and often criticized for dumb plots? Opera. Afterwards, reading about the film on Wikipedia, I encountered the quotation from Del Toro: "Del Toro conceived the film as an operatic work: "That was one of the first words I said to the entire team at ILM. I said, 'This movie needs to be theatrical, operatic, romantic.' We used a lot of words not usually associated with high-tech blockbusters …" This. This is totally it.

Frequent readers of mine know that I've ended up watching at least eight operas a year the last two years, possibly more than I do movies, as I love the art form. Superhero films, mecha and kaiju films, are the opera of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, even if the soundtrack is overdriven guitars. And I suspect the departure from the grand overdone traditions is why most twentieth-century operas are not the hits and crowd-pleasers of Verdi, Puccini and Mozart, _because_ they try to be more psychologically realistic and script-focused and approach theatre, to their detriment. Operas about sea monsters and giant robots, on the other hand, would be totally awesome; I did, after all, love "Rinaldo" to pieces by interpreting it as "Dragonlance" on stage with da-capo arias and fioritura runs. It doesn’t _matter_ that it’s in eighteenth-century Italian!

(I was relieved that they didn't show the Sydney Opera House getting destroyed by one of the kaiju. I was all ready to complain, "Oh, what did opera ever do to you?")

But I probably should write a very long essay on the relationship between opera and the superhero/epic fantasy genre, and this is not that essay. So what did and didn't I like about "Pacific Rim" seen as a movie rather than an opera?

Larry Niven has many flaws, but one of his points that made me go, "This; this is absolutely it" is the concept of a "playground for the mind." As a child, I watched "Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers," and "Batman" and "X-Men" and the "Street Fighter II" and "Mortal Combat (I)" in the video arcades I would tag after my older brother to on the way from Russian school, and they were fascinating to me for the world. I didn't understand the dialogue; I had the imagination to supply my own, to layer my own dreams on top of these settings and the people who dressed like that and could do these things. To learn that there are such worlds out there, and the rest is up to me.

There are films that are criticized for existing as "merely" a method of selling toys: Pixar's "Cars," My Little Pony, the merchandising empires that got built around these same Batman and Power Rangers.

Perhaps they did make children nag parents to spend money better spent elsewhere on the action figures. But what that meant was that the child, with a fifty-dollar action figure or with a hand-drawn paper doll, went and _created_ something that never existed before.

Adults do the same; they may just write fanfic.

Am I claiming that every act of creation, play-story or fanfic, is sacred and wonderful? No, from a professional standard, 99% of fanfic is staggeringly awful. But then when Joshua Bell or Midori first picked up a violin, they were, I guarantee it, staggeringly awful too (unlike the piano, where you can kind of pick out a melody and sound tolerable on a first try, the violin is THAT kind of instrument). They _kept_doing_it_. With enough practice, bad art becomes good art.

My point is, even a bad piece of art can inspire good art. And it's a piece of art that is _flawed_ but had other qualities that may inspire the best art. A beautifully-written cheaply-shot film may inspire a director with a bigger budget to do a remake (this doesn't often end well, but that may not be the director's fault, and on rare occasions, it might work). A beautifully-shot cheaply-written film may inspire someone to try to think of other stories set in that world, or in a world that they will file off the serial numbers and make deeper and make theirs: the old SCAMPER model we were taught about inventions in grade school: Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Modify, Put To Other Use, Eliminate, Reverse/Rearrange. (I went to grade schools that would do a student invention convention. Twice.)

What were the flaws in "Pacific Rim" that would make the kind of person I am think, "Go. Play. And do better"?

Not the dialogue, as such. Nor the acting. I know that people who make it even to the part of “seventh construction worker on the left” in Hollywood, unless they are Paris Hilton, have usually gone to theatre school for years, have survived a cutthroat competition, and can act circles around you and me. Acting is damn hard; I know, I’ve done it. I will blame most failures of believability I see on the director or the script, not the actors.

But the fact that the film raised a whole bunch of cool concepts and didn't go farther with them.

- There are monsters coming through a portal between worlds, at the bottom of the sea. That concept is taken completely at face value, other than by the two scientist-types (I rather liked them; at least, for Hollywood, they were treated with love rather than with the concept that something is wrong with them and by the ending of the story they would fix it), to colonize whilst being a hive mind. It is analyzed at the Hollywood-physics level, but not the philosophical level. What does it mean to come from another world? What does it mean to face beings that were completely alien, that didn't have the same laws of physics? (That’s my head-canon explanation as to why the beastie can fly, deal with it; I am going to pretend the line about "DNA" doesn't exist or was a simplification as much as "supermarket barcode.”) "Neon Genesis Evangelion", if I remember it correctly after seven years, milked that theme to pieces and shards, as to what the coming of otherworldly aliens mean for us as humans, and as God's creatures (within the religious framing of the series). If "Pacific Rim" even tried, this was left behind on the cutting-room floor. Go. Play. And do better.

- To manage the giant mechas, the pilots have to work in pairs, decided by compatibility (somehow revealed through jo-do sparring). Does that show compatibility of mind or compatibility of body? It is important that your copilot move at the same speed of you (see Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth dancing) _and_ think similarly to you (the "minds" that we see are all visual). Does being an auditory thinker rule you out as a Jaeger pilot? The movie does explore, to a certain extent, the issues of trust. But how do the pairs that are family (brothers, father and son) differ from the pairs that are a sexual couple, or an unrelated but mostly non-sexual couple such as the protagonists? Go. Play. And do better.

- The names seemed to _almost_ make sense at first, seemed to have been chosen for a reason, and then make less and less sense the longer you look at them. Stacker Pentecost: what about him is ascendant, and what does he stack, and why would anyone name their child Stacker? (But then, I admit I do feel strange about English personal names derived from surnames derived from professions, such as Parker, Taylor, Harper, Carver: if you name your child Patience, Faith, Hope, Grace or Victor, you at least imply you want them to have those traits; if you name your child Taylor, does that mean you want them to be skilled at sewing? But then I come from a culture that very clearly delineates personal names from surnames, and for centuries had the Church, and later on the registration office, rule over what names you can give your children.)

Gipsy Danger - what on earth is that supposed to reference? I think several people have pointed out that the name reinforces stereotypes against the Roma. I have the sense that the screenwriter was trying to get the connotations of freewheeling, unconventional, unpredictable, not stuck in one place (reinforced by Mako's comment that Becket is unpredictable) but the combination of "Danger" just doesn't make very much sense. All of the jaeger names just seemed to be "cool word + cool word" with the hope that this will be more than the sum of its parts.

The Russian jaeger is named "Cherno Alpha" which just means "Black Alpha" or literally, "alpha, blackly." Oo-kay. According to online sources, however, this is supposed to be a reference to Chernobyl --- blithely ignoring the fact that the word "chernobyl" actually means something in Russian and Ukrainian: "has-been-black" or "black legend,” literally; more practically, a word for ‘wormwood.”

And…I'd rather not believe that it’s a reference to Chernobyl. I'd rather not believe it because then, as a former nuclear power worker who had had family affected by Chernobyl fallout, I will get angry. How FUCKING CRASS do you have to be to name a Cool Giant Robot after A NUCLEAR ACCIDENT OF INCOMPETENCE AND CORRUPTION THAT DIRECTLY KILLED HALF A HUNDRED PEOPLE AND SICKENED AND DISPLACED HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS? I don't see the Americans naming mecha "WTC." Or "Three Mile Island." Or "Triangle Shirtwaist Fire." No. Cherno Alpha means "Black alpha." It may be dumb. But it's not offensive. I'll be kinder to del Toro than perhaps I should be.

(In case you wonder, Black people in Russian are called "black-skinned" or "dark-skinned" or a word derived from "Negro"; Russian has many racially charged words, but 'black' by itself isn't one of them, at least as far as I know slang.)

Go. Play. And do better.

- Indeed, in the edited version (there are suggestions in the Wikipedia article that there is another hour of character arc footage out there that didn't make it into the theatrical release) the minor characters didn't get enough screentime at all, while I wanted to know more. I don't think the Chinese triplets even get a full-face shot. The Russian pair, the Kaidanovskys, I actually found fascinating. The touch that Sasha, ice-blonde to the last, wears bright red lipstick into battle is an interesting touch, and I would have put in a shot of her putting it on if I were director. And I cracked up right in the theatre at her saying "V rozhu evo!", translated roughly as "Sock him in the face!" (may not be the right subtitles, but the subtitles were accurate).

"Rozha" is an mildly insulting word for face, always meaning a human face. There is a more insulting term, "morda", used to describe an animal's muzzle. If you say about a person "V mordu evo!", that is a term of great scorn, and at first I thought it would have been a more appropriate term to show Sasha's battle-fury; however, "morda" is a completely appropriate and not-at-all-insulting term for what English would call the 'face' of an animal, such as dog, shark, or kaiju, and would not have the insulting impact. I'm still thinking about that word choice, because I think about word choice. Or rather, Russian linguistics.

Anyhow, I was sad and disappointed when those two other crews died, and I wasn't clear what FOR. They had defended the Siberian coast for six years; what error did they make this time? Yes, there were two kaijus involved, but the fights were choreographed as engaging them singly, so that made the mistake of not being clear why one kaiju killed both crews. What did they die FOR? Go. Play. And do better.

Also, the apparently-Asian-American technical director of the jaegers; I didn't think I even caught his name but Wikipedia says it's Tendo Choi. Looking for any reference to Evangelion (there wasn't much) I mentally dubbed him Major Katsuragi, and so he stayed for the rest of the film. He will always be Major Katsuragi to me.

On the other hand, I can completely imagine that more scenes that solidify the characters were actually shot, and the producer replied, "You've only got two hours! People come for the monsters and robots, not this! Less talk, more whacking!"

- One story choice that completely threw me off was in the opening scene, where Becket and his brother save the shipping boat, and then his brother gets killed and Gipsy Danger half destroyed by the kaiju. I was completely expecting that the fishing boat crew would be the ones rescuing Becket from the carcass of his jaeger. That would be the kind of mythical reference that Hollywood tends to love to do, since it DOES pander to the lowest common denominator --- so many cultures have a story analogous to the Aesop's Fable of the Mouse and the Lion: "Help the small today, for tomorrow you may yourself need help." All of a sudden, the fishing boat disappears (I was never clear whether it was destroyed or not) and instead these beachcombers appear for one scene. Was this an editorial decision? Gimme that fishing boat back, because it may be a hackneyed trope, but it's in every culture because it's TRUE.

- One theme that they really should explore more is the fact that the jaegers are more valuable as defenders than the wall because of the morale issue. It is more uplifting to people to see humanoids duking it out saving their lives, instead of just a wall for the kaiju to smash against/just smash. Anne McCaffrey had it right with her own model of a threatened world --- the grubs may be effective at eating Thread, but the Pernese colonists need to _see_ heroes on dragons in the sky, KILLING THREAD WITH FIRE. There is a hint at this theme, the role of the media, at the beginning with the Australia attack (again, what did the Sydney Opera do to you?) but it could definitely be explored deeper. Go. Play. And do better.

In summary, I enjoyed “Pacific Rim,” for the same reason I enjoy opera. For the same reason I enjoy superhero movies. The world was very well-rendered; the art directors and cinematographers definitely earned their pay and then some, and created a world to inspire dreams.

I can think of many ways to make the movie better. All of them (except for smarter names) are also ways that make the movie _longer_, and I can see why the decision was made to cut in favour of more pretty, pretty robots fighting pretty, pretty monsters, with lots of pretty, pretty explosions that would make WANO and INPO split their sides in disgusted laughter, to account for the money we blew on that CGI and to keep the movie to two hours and ten minutes. But if a director’s cut does come out, with that extra hour of character-development footage, I would be very interested in seeing it.

It will definitely be BEAUTIFUL.
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