By now, most of you will have seen the trailer for Guillermo Del Toro’s ‘Pacific Rim’, and if you haven’t, you should look at it in HD on a big TV screen.
I’m a sort of fan of GDT; he’s not a favourite director of mine by any means; I loved ‘Cronos’, not so much ‘The Devil’s Backbone’, and I have an uneasy relationship with his other films (especially, surprisingly, ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’, considered by most to be his directorial peak).
The interesting thing, though, is that despite not considering him to be a true auteur, I do have certain expectations of him, and I’ve found myself ebulliently outlining these to people in the past month or so. You see, ‘Pacific Rim’ looks terrible. Really, really terrible. The effects look tacky, the concept is stupid, and it’s 3D. On top of that, and as much as I hate to judge a book by it’s cover, there appears to be little to no effort at giving us any kind of insight into what the story might be. It engenders no curiosity whatsoever and, more often than not, this means that there is nothing to be curious about.
So why have I been trying to convince my friends, all of whom seem to be sharing my opinion on the trailer to the letter, that this film will be good?
Because, of course, GDT is an ‘artist’, and so his stab at a big-budget, Michael Bay type film will be much, much better. Won’t it? Doesn’t that make perfect sense? That a director who, in my opinion, made his finest film right off the bat with a low-key, atmospheric foreign-language horror film would take the helm of a special effects monstrosity with a godlike mastery is the most natural thing in the world. Except it totally isn’t. Anyone would right scoff at the notion of Michael Bay or Paul W.S. Anderson doing the reverse, yet I won’t be the only one shouting from the rooftops that ‘Pacific Rim’ will be the finest film ever made of its genre.
Which brings me onto the idea of ‘comfort zones’.
*WARNING. Controversial, unsubstantiated, opinion incoming*
Mainstream, even outer-mainstream, artists don’t work well out of them any more. I wrote a piece for a magazine a while back about rock stars, and how differentiation and experimentation over the years has actually narrowed many people into many pigeonholes. The same applies here. Yes, Francis Ford Coppola made a wide array of some of the finest genre films ever made – the arty, lo-fi, ‘Rumble Fish’, the most ginormous film ever made in ‘Apocalypse Now’, sprawling, talky, gangster epic ‘The Godfather’ – the list goes on. But these films were made during a time when true masters, Coppola included, were all in cahoots, all innovating, and all, crucially, paving the way for many others. They were students of the early masters, true, but moreso they were students of themselves and each other.
The problem, or perhaps not a problem at all, is that nowadays, with ‘ways’ very much ‘paved’, mainstream filmmakers are siloed in who they are students of. Many will see Spielberg as ‘the director’ to emulate, or Kubrick, or a combination of a few but, essentially, they are still very much following.
This is why GDT is going to fail everyone, probably, with ‘Pacific Rim’, in a way that, perhaps, his forebears may not have. He doesn’t have the drive, the evolutionary need to innovate outside of his comfort zone. Without that pressure on him, he’s just having a stab at something wildly outside of what he should be doing.