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5 Reasons Screenwriters Should Watch PACIFIC RIM

 — No *real* spoilers, though do note I discuss stuff like theme, character arcs, dialogue from a screenwriting craft POV, as ever —

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5. It’s Genre-Busting.

I can just see how **this** meeting went.

EXEC: We’ve got giant robot movies going back thirty years … and giant monster movies going back fifty or more! Bring me a goddamn giant robot vs. giant monster picture!!

And in my mind I can see DECADES of screenwriters attempting to offer up the goods – but you just know everyone screwed it up by being too whacky, too OTT or conversely too arty/serious. And then finally, someone somewhere pulled it out the bag and finally it gets greenlit. W000t, etc.

So when PACIFIC RIM turned up on my radar, I wasn’t too bothered about it. After all, it’s Giant Robots Vs Giant Monsters. Maybe I’ll watch on DVD. When I’m drunk.

And then the word on Twitter is: Pacific Rim rocks.

Giant Robots vs Giant Monsters got us through the door – the definition of a commercial hook, in a genre-busting movie.

And the rest made us love it … here’s why.

4. It’s not completely US-Centric. 

Look, you know I love Hollywood Blockbusters but let’s face it – white American men always save the world in these movies and really, when we say “world”? We really mean “America”. But that’s OK. I’m fine with that*. Really. I even enjoyed INDEPENDENCE DAY and its ludicrously stereotyped representations of soldiers round the world. Brits: “I say! The Americans have only gone and bloody done it!” (*Obviously in an ideal world there would be MORE VARIETY as standard, that goes without saying).

Yet PACIFIC RIM completely sidesteps this issue by not only trashing cities from around the world (a staple in disaster movies), but by including characters from those places, meaning we don’t JUST watch Americans kicking ass for once. Whilst I have to admit I was aching to see London get royally trashed by the Kaiju, it was refreshing to see the likes of Sydney disappear under the monsters and get a hint at why the Hansens do what they do.

What’s more, the story makes great use of a variety of backdrops, my favourite being the so-called “Bone Slums”, vibrant places of ethnic diversity, built from the bones of the monsters by enterprising humans who not only refuse to lay down and die, but use the situation to their advantage. If that’s not “Blitz spirit”, I don’t know what is!

3. The Dialogue is not the “usual”.

Before I watched the movie, I heard a lot on social media from screenwriters about how apparently terrible the dialogue was, so it’s fair to say I was expecting on-the-nose clunkyisms left right and centre. Remember, I am not a big fan of most movie dialogue; as far as I’m concerned there’s always too much of it. I do not worship at the altar of Whedon, Sorkin or Tarantino – or any other screenwriters celebrated for their dialogue.

So imagine my surprise when not only did I think the dialogue was not bad, I actually thought it was GREAT!

I think what people were disappointed about was not so much “terrible” dialogue, but the fact the dialogue was UNUSUAL for this genre … There are no Will Smith/Arnie-style comedy quips as the characters land in hot water; there’s no big overblown monologues about standing up for yourself and/or being ready to die; and there’s no whining about being misunderstood between the male lead and his love interest … who never once professes undying love; it is unsaid, thus all the more powerful.

Instead, the dialogue is understated throughout – such as Hercules’ pained “That’s my son. MY SON.” as Chuck goes out with Pentecost at the end. Plus there’s even Gallows Humour to it in places. Because, y’know, it’s the end of the world … and that Blitz Spirit is evidence.

2. The Secondaries rock. 

I’m seeing a trend in Hollywood movies towards really great secondary characters – and long may it continue. We spec screenwriters could learn a lot here … The secondaries in Pacific Rim are all nuanced and interesting, not to mention all differentiated from one another, without being too try-hard:

We have “twin” scientists Gottleib, the British fop who puts all his stock in numbers, cast against Newton, who might be a genius, but he’s also a wannabe scientific rock star. The element that unites them is they’re both petulant children, competing for the attention of father figure Pentecost – but it’s only when they finally realise they have to work TOGETHER, they make the breakthrough the mission needs.

Herc and Chuck Hansen are a father/son team who run the vastly updated Jaeger to our lead team Raleigh & Mako’s. The Hansens represent the new and efficient and essentially occupy the space Iceman had in TOP GUN, so it would have been easy for Chuck in particular to be Mr Nasty all the way through (until a last moment where he redeems himself). Yet Chuck is forced to go into battle without his father and his inevitable final journey shows his transition from boy to man admirably, having FIRST resolved his issues with Raleigh.

Even a peripheral character like Hannibal Chau, on screen for probably less than ten minutes, is hugely memorable … and amusing, too.

1. The dynamic between the two leads is hugely refreshing.

Quite a bit has been said about the supposed “woman problem” Pacific Rim has in that there is there only one notable female character in Mako Mori. But for me, screenwriter Geoff La Tulippe sums it up:

Geoff Tulippe

As does Wolfblood’s Debbie Moon:


What I really liked about PACIFIC RIM was its abject refusal to get embroiled in gender politics re: sexism in the workplace. Consider this:

There was no problem about Mako being “a woman” – only that she was a rookie.

Whilst **of course** sexism in the workplace is a worthy topic, PACIFIC RIM was not the place for this topic, largely because again, it’s so “usual”. Mako is a woman in essentially a man’s world, so it would have been easy to sexualise her, humiliate her, or intimidate her on the basis of her gender.

And again, it would have been really EASY to go down this path and subject Mako’s character to a long drawn out dialogue over whether it’s sexist – or conversely, not ! – to even let her in the robot. In the very least, you would expect a character like Chuck who has an antagonistic role function to make this point, if only to wind Raleigh up. Instead, Chuck insults BOTH of them by calling them “bitches”, suggesting not sexism, but that notion of how Chuck himself is a spoilt, jealous child who feels he could be usurped by BOTH of them, hence his assertion throughout Raleigh is a “has been”.

What’s more, the dynamic between Raleigh and Mako is really excellent. She is not sexualised or submissive; she is strong and if she doesn’t speak much in the robot, it’s because she’s concentrating cos it’s new to her. Raleigh’s benevolent mentor shows how he too has had to grow up since losing Yancy – and shows the bond between him and Mako, which we feel the moment they meet. In blockbusters, characterisation is typically paper-thin and though characters may “talk the talk” about trust, forgiveness, redemption or whatever, we rarely feel it FOR REAL. Here, in PACIFIC RIM, I genuinely cared about these characters and wanted them to survive – ALL OF THEM – and wasn’t always sure if they would make it. A rare treat.


So Giant Robots vs Giant Monsters is not your thing … Fine. But go see PACIFIC RIM to see how an uber-blockbuster *should* be done … and let’s have some more spec screenplays (blockbuster or not) that bring us something NEW and UNUSUAL, yeah?

And a last word from my homie Pedro, who touches on the notion of “art vs.commerce” here and how they NEEDN’T be mutually exclusive, as signified by PACIFIC RIM director’s Guillermo Del Toro’s career:


So what are you waiting for? Check it out!


Pacific Rim on IMDB

Pacific Rim’s writer, Travis Beacham, on Twitter

The Positive Anti-Bullying Message In Pacific Rim

All about theme

Hollywood: Mighty Machine

Genre: Don’t Overthink It

Genre Busting: What Does It Mean?

What Is A Marketable Screenplay?

Why We Don’t Need Any More Vanilla Screenplays

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16 thoughts on “5 Reasons Screenwriters Should Watch PACIFIC RIM”

  1. Fantastic film. In fairness, there were one or two clunky dialogue moments. But there was some terrific dialogue too. “For three hours, I burned” is one of the best understated lines I’ve ever heard. (Of course, it helps to have Idris Elba say it. But the line has to be good to get the performance from the actor in the first place.)

    And that’s just add this was an original movie written on spec by a writer without (I think) a huge Hollywood track record. In a world of sequels, prequels and remarks, we should be supporting it for that reason alone!

    1. Absolutely Debbie, no dialogue is ever perfect for sure – I just felt the discussion re: supposedly “terrible dialogue” was unwarranted. I loved the fresh feel of it and agree Idris’ line there was top notch. And again, agreed – spec blockbusters FTW.

  2. But, Lucy, “giant monsters vs giant robots” is not new at all. There is a hugely successful anime franchise with the same scenario: ‘Neon Genesis Evangelion’. I doubt very much that La Tulippe was unaware of this. Del Toro will certainly have been aware. He and the studio will also have been aware of the abortive efforts to make a live-action version over the last ten years. If you’ve read anything about Hollywood’s current malaise, then you’ll probably know decisions are increasingly based on ‘International’ returns (i.e. Asia). ‘Pacific Rim’ is a perfect example. Lots of tech action, minimal dialogue, and an essentially Japanese scenario. Hell, even the title connects California and Japan!

    Interesting you should enthuse about the characters. I’ve heard the opposite from otherwise reliable sources. (Not that I care either way. It’s not my thing.)

  3. “[Del Toro] and the studio will also have been aware of the abortive efforts to make a live-action version over the last ten years.”

    Exactly the point I was making — “genre busting” doesn’t **have** to mean 100% new. JURASSIC PARK was not the first movie to feature big scary dinosaurs, either.

          1. Well start actually watching the movies that I’m critiquing and I’ll consider it! 😛 LOL

  4. Lucy, I think your points about pacing and striking the balance of tone are spot on. Think it would be easy for this to have been a terrible, generic film in the hands of a lesser director. Wonder how much it changed from the initial Beecham drafts once Del Toro came on board.

    It seems they actually had an hour of essentially character scenes, and Del Toro stripped it back to the bare minimum. I think you can feel the weight of that work though in what remains.

    Following a spate of huge expectations met with disappointment of late (Prometheus, parts of Man of Steel and a lot of The Dark Knight Rises) I thought I’d just grown out of blockbusters, but it turns out I’d just stopped giving free passes to the bad ones. Long live Pacific Rim!

    1. Thanks Vinay, the 15 yo schoolgirl in me will always love blockbusters, but for me too it can frequently by the triumph of hope, over experience … PACIFIC RIM appears to have divided many people, but TBH I think that’s really the mark of a good movie! A producer said to me once, “If they don’t love it, at least they hate it – the last reaction you want is “I didn’t see it”.”

  5. It’s weird that all the things you liked about it are all the things I think are wrong with it, the worst thing being the dialogue. It’s the worst kind of cliched, exposition-heavy, tripe. I lost count of how many times someone said “Well as you know Bob….” I also think that not only are the secondaries paper-thin cyphers, the primaries aren’t much better, especially Charlie Hunnam who carries no weight despite the burden of his past, and as for Robert Kazinsky, well he must have really needed the work.

    The only truly interesting thing in the film – the neural bridge – wasn’t properly explored at all, even the fight scene between Rayleigh & Mako where they ‘felt’ a connection and ‘knew’ they were drift compatible was left high and dry instead of opening up that aspect of the story for exploration. At least then we could have watched them try to build and strengthen a connection through working together which would have made me root for them a bit more in the heat of the battle. Instead they let a rookie who almost killed everyone in a practice run go out on a do-or-die mission because supposedly there was no-one else Rayleigh could drift with – not that they ever tried anyone else to prove that fact. I’m going to stop now because I’m just getting angry….

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m as happy to watch giant robots battle giant monsters as the next guy – bring ’em on – they were fun to watch, but I didn’t give a tuppenny one for the outcome of any of them because I didn’t care about any of the characters involved.

    1. Well it’s your prerogative Robert, but getting actually angry about these things is a waste of energy IMO; it’s not going to change what the film is or other people’s responses to it, positive or negative.

      For me, PACIFIC RIM is proof positive the notions of “great characters” and “great story” are purely subjective and how concept really *is* king (as I always say on this blog), ‘cos it got us through the door … Regardless of whether we ended up loving it or hating it.

  6. Liked the movie!
    My friends though, neither did they watch it, nor do they stop telling me that I wasted my money..
    Can’t blame them.., the Indian media vastly thinks it’s Transformers at night!

    Personally, I wouldn’t have minded about 10 min more action. I found the amount (3 fights) of action inadequate for my senses. I guess the number of fights were cut down because they already had a sequal in mind. This was more like a ‘begins’ movie.

    The plot kinda bored me after the initial fight, but then when Gypsy cut through the flying Kaiju in half, I almost screamed, “Bad-f@€king-Ass”!

    It would be unfair to say the story is bad, because there was basically no story. I am not a fan of no-depth movies, but Pacific Rim amused me with its simplistic, no-nonsensical style.

    And, I love Rinko Kikuchi!

  7. Nice review, Lucy! Yes, I quite agree, giant robots vs. giant monsters was the draw, and I wasn’t expecting to care about the characters as much as I did. Almost everyone was spot on (Hannibal Chau, though great, was more of a caricature than anything else, but I still loved him). A romance where they don’t stare into their eyes, starry-eyed, and profess their undying love? A romance that might not even be a romance? Family dynamics, people who care about each other? Really awesome stuff. I’d see it ten times if I could.

  8. There’s also the fact that by having Marko as his co-pilot, Raleigh is able to have his Jaeger defeat three Category IV kaiju, and kill a wounded Category V. She’s actually a serious improvement over his brother as a Jaeger pilot, so I’d like to nominate this addition her character makes to the movie as well.

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