Precious little information has been made available about Guillermo del Toro's much anticipated Pacific Rim, this summer's "monsters vs. giant robots" movie that opens on July 12. It all changes right now.
We flew to Toronto back in March 2012 to visit the Pacific Rim set at Pinewood Studios on day 87 of a scheduled 103-day shoot. As we walked around the production offices (the film's working title was Still Seas) and the massive set of "The Hong Kong Incident" and chatted with del Toro, the cast and crew, we gleaned insight into the secretive production about giant monsters called Kaiju that have risen from a "bridge between two dimensions" beneath the Pacific Ocean to wage war against mankind in the near future. In retaliation, humans have constructed Jaegers, which are giant robots controlled by at least two pilots, to combat the monstrous reptilian creatures.
1. What we know about the Kaiju
"Kaiju" is the Japanese word for "weird creature" or "monster." They have been sent (by whom or what, we do not know) from another dimension called the "antiverse" to harvest our planet. The Kaiju have been given names like Knifehead, Axhead, Onibaba (a crablike Kaiju), Leatherback (a Kaiju with gorilla qualities) and Slatern (a Kaiju that del Toro describes as having a "grin like Jack Palance"). There are human scavengers that collect Kaiju organs and body parts and sell them for holistic purposes, like aphrodisiacs and curing ailments. Some people even find religion with the Kaiju and build temples out of their massive skulls.
2. What we know about Jaegers
Jaegers are the robots created after the second wave of Kaiju attacks and are transported by giant helicopters. Two pilots are hooked up in the control pod and have a "shared consciousness" between themselves and the Jaeger to control its movements. Gipsy Danger is the Jaeger piloted by the film's hero Raleigh Becket, played by Charlie Hunnam. Crimson Typhoon is the Chinese Jaeger piloted by three identical triplets (the only Jaeger to have three pilots), Australia's Striker Eureka is the biggest Jaeger, and Chernabog Alpha is the Russian Jaeger. It took two hours to get the actors set up in the pods inside the Jaegers.
3. Practical locations vs. sets
Only three practical locations were used: a beach, a power plant and a street shot in Toronto that is meant to be Tokyo. The rest was shot on eight giant soundstages at Pinewood Studios, including the Megastage—the largest purpose-built stage in North America. The Megastage housed the "Hong Kong Incident Zone," a section of Hong Kong that is destroyed in the movie and was filled with actual cement and rubble many feet deep. Trashed cars and buildings were everywhere, and you could see the remnants of a Hong Kong Reserve Financial building. One Jaeger "conn pod" constructed on stage 8B moved around on a massive gimbal to shake actors around for realism, which del Toro insisted on instead of moving the cameras. It was 70,000 pounds and 30 by 25 feet. The g-force was significant and the whole gimbal was controlled by a miniature version not unlike how the jaegers are controlled by humans in the movie.
4. Executive Producer Callum Greene talks scope and del Toro's energy.
"If you thought about the scope you would sh** yourself," says Greene. "We pulled it off. There is never a budget big enough; there is never enough time. I've been marveling at del Toro's energy since 5:14 this morning. He has an energy and humanity that is very inspiring, and his humor brings out the best in everyone." Del Toro adds, "I sleep very little, maybe four hours a day. I edit every day. I need to manage the movie and we cut very quick. All day Saturday I do second camera of hands pushing buttons. I don't have a life."
5. Charlie Day on being cast as Dr. Newton "Newt" Geizler, mind-sharing with the Kaiju, and stealing socks
"I was a huge fan of Pan's Labyrinth," says Day. "I got a call to meet [del Toro] and I was in this white-bread neighborhood and I was looking for [a house] with a demon on the top or something. Then I saw a house with blacked-out windows and two muscle cars parked in front and said, 'This must be the spot.'"
"[Del Toro] said he was a big It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia fan and asked me to quiz him, but I said that wasn't necessary. He said he had me in mind for this part. I like the idea of the movie and said yes just to work with him. I was worried they would push more towards comedy but Guillermo keeps pushing me to the more dramatic stuff. People will either love it or crucify me."
Newt is looking for a Kaiju brain and is obsessed with "drifting," which is sharing a mind with the Kaiju and getting a glimpse into their world. It doesn't work out too well, and Newt's eye is all bloodshot. "For lack of a better term, he's a nerdy scientist, so he goes with a Sid Vicious kind of look," says Day. "I'll be honest, I've stolen a few pairs of Newt's socks. He has these great red plaid socks and I have a few on rotation. Once I realized the budget of this movie, I figured they could afford to have a couple pairs of socks go missing."
6. Ron Perlman on playing Kaiju-parts salesman Hannibal Chau and how he infused his own personality into the character
"There is a larger-than-life aspect to the character that was supposed to be played by another ethnicity," says Perlman. "He is elusive and hard to pin down. He's a collector of endangered species, so he surrounds himself with exotic accoutrements. I have the right to all Kaiju parts to sell to strange, twisted collectors.
"It's nice not being covered head to toe in red makeup no matter who I am working with. I believe of all the people I've been fortunate enough to brush up against in my many years in the business, [del Toro] is the closest to Leonardo da Vinci."
Yours truly asked Perlman about what aspects of his own personality did he infuse into the flashy, gangster-looking Hannibal. "Guillermo communicated to me a set of things I should be thinking about because there's a theatricality to this guy," says Perlman. "He saw them and said, 'No, they suck.' Something began to click with the guy. He's definitely big, and it's a scary to play big because, if you're wrong, you'll go over the edge and look like an idiot. Once we arrived at it, it was nothing like either of us planned. It felt phenomenal because it was such an important character for Guillermo. He's a delicious invention—this guy has gone to the head of the class."
7. Tom Cruise was almost the star of Pacific Rim?
"We talked about it, but he wanted to do Mission and we wanted to use actors that were new to an audience instead of stars," says del Toro.
8. Del Toro explains why he didn't film Pacific Rim in 3D.
"3D entered the conversation, but the problem is when you have something as big as a building battling another building, you don't get the exciting depth," says del Toro. "They don't look big, so we didn't do it. It's the first digital movie that I've made. I think the scale and tone is different than anything that I have ever done, but I feel at home."
9. Did del Toro make any compromises to get a PG-13 rating?
"In terms an adventure movie like this or Hellboy, I know that we are going to go for a fun tone with very intense violence," says del Toro. "I wanted it to feel very visual like your are in the cockpit and feel the hits and like it's a tough fight. We don't have any human gore, but we have monster and robot action. All I want is intensity. The Kaiju need to be relentless and powerful like a charging force of nature."
10. Don't call Pacific Rim a "war movie."
"I wanted to show small stories of people coming together to survive," says del Toro. "I didn't want to make a war movie. All the characters all over the world have great differences and come above it. There's a point where a character says, 'In order to fight monsters we had to create monsters of our own.'"
11. About the mysterious "antiverse" where the Kaiju come from
"Sometimes I feel if you know everything, the mystery goes away," says del Toro. "Instead of closing the mystery, it opens a new one. You get a few minutes of antiverse [in Pacific Rim]."
12. Pacific Rim hero Charlie Hunnam didn't have the right face for del Toro's Hellboy II: The Golden Army.
"I wanted to cast him as the prince in Hellboy II," says del Toro. "I thought he had an earnest nature—he has an earthy quality and seems like someone I could have a beer with. His bone structure was too broad to play the prince."
13. Del Toro didn't want to make Pacific Rim "postcards from Monsterland."
"I wanted to make it a global thing, so we show San Francisco, Sydney, Russia, Hong Kong, Tokyo and Alaska," says del Toro."I didn't want to marry the monster with the landmarks. You know, the monster goes to Paris and destroys the Eiffel Tower. The scene in Tokyo is seen from the point of view of someone from the street. I didn't want to do big aerial shots. I didn't want to make it postcards from Monsterland."
14. What happens when the Kaiju take monster dumps? Del Toro thought about this and more when considering the world the Kaiju enter.
"What happens when beachfront property is the worst you can buy?" asks del Toro, since the Kaiju are primarily targeting urban coastal areas. "It's a ration-driven society. The cost of food skyrockets. Only three ports are open and the rest is closed to ship traffic. We planned that and asked, 'What happens to Kaijus when they fall or take a dump?'"
15. Will we see more Kaiju and Jaeger action on-screen beyond this movie?
"I don't know because every time I try to guess what I am doing next I get hit in the head with a four-by-four," says del Toro. "I love the characters and I love the world, but I don't know."
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