BY GENE TRIPLETT
SAN FRANCISCO — At 48, Mexican-born director, screenwriter, producer and novelist Guillermo del Toro is an unabashed fanboy.
He grew up on Japanese anime and live-action TV series with titles such as “Space Giant,” “Giant Robo” and “Gigantor.” He was always one of the first kids in theater seats for the openings of some of Japan’s biggest Kaiju movies (Kaiju is Japanese for “giant beast”) of the past 40 years.
But it’s robots that he loves the most. Big ones. Like, 25 stories tall.
That’s why the opportunity to co-write (with Travis Beacham) and direct “Pacific Rim” was the fulfillment of a long, tall wish list. It’s del Toro’s homage to the Japanese Kaiju genre he loves so much, its origins dating to 1954, when a prehistoric monster named Godzilla rose from the sea, awakened by nuclear radiation, to lay waste to Tokyo.
“In sci-fi, monsters can be horror at any time,” del Toro said during roundtable interviews at San Francisco’s Four Season hotel, hosted by Warner Bros. Pictures.
“But sci-fi robots I find incredibly moving,” the director said. “And I don’t know why. I find it incredibly moving to see a robot collapsing on a beach or a robot being maimed or trying earnestly.”
The robots of “Pacific Rim” — or, more accurately, the two humans who pilot these towering mechanical warriors known as Jaegers (ya’gars, German for hunters) — are the heroes of the piece.
These mighty machines are invented by mankind as a line of defense when a breach in the floor of the Pacific Ocean unleashes the Kaiju, creatures larger and more ferocious than the world has ever seen.
The Jaegers are operated by two human pilots, one controlling the robot’s right hemisphere; the other the left. To make that work, the pilots have to be in perfect sync, connected to the robot physically and to each other in mind. It’s a mental fusion called “The Drift,” which puts the two pilots inside each other’s heads, privy to every thought, memory and emotion.
Scientists have learned it’s best to pair people who already have some kind of relationship and trust. Consequently, most Jaeger co-pilot teams are related, as in the case of Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) and his brother, Yancy (Diego Klattenhoff).
The rest of the human cast includes Idris Elba (“Thor”), Oscar nominee Rinko Kikuchi (“Babel”), Charlie Day (“Horrible Bosses”) and del Toro regular Ron Perlman, star of the director’s
comic book-based “Hellboy” films.
‘Aahhh!’ and more
The Kaiju and the Jaegers were brought to uber-realistic life by the visual effects alchemists at Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), who choreographed the mammoth battles that explode across land, sea and air in the film.
Del Toro admits he’s not been easily impressed by the special effects that have been devised for his past films, but this first collaboration with ILM was something different.
“I mean, I’m always problem solving,” the director said. “But I can say this. In this movie, ILM gave me at least three times a week a big grin. I would be alike, aahhh! And I never had that in any other movie. Ever.”
The bearded, portly del Toro, clad this warm afternoon in black suit over black crew-neck shirt, seems unexpectedly cheerful and good-natured for a man known as the crafter of such dark fairy tales as “The Devil’s Backbone” (2001) and the critically gushed-over “Pan’s Labyrinth” (2006).
Maybe that’s because he’s finally made the boyhood dream movie he describes in the production notes, “visually, atmospherically and emotionally … an unstoppable, thrilling adventure about human pilots and giant robots up against monsters, the likes of which we’ve never seen.”
But del Toro and co-writer Meacham are quick to add that “Pacific Rim” is more than just a machines-versus-monsters sci-fi slugfest.
“What let me know that there was a fun story to tell was that there was somebody in those robots and driving those robots, that their relationships mattered to how the robots worked,” Meacham said. “Without that, I don’t think there would be a movie at all.”
Del Toro agreed.
“The idea was, can we have two characters that don’t trust anyone, trust each other,” he said. “That was very simple.
“But what is curious, I’m not a sci-fi guy. Giant ships don’t float my boat. Laser beams, they don’t float my boat. Robots, I have a huge (passion) for.”
And if audiences share del Toro’s passion for supersize cyborgs, there will definitely be a “Pacific Rim 2.”
“Oh, we are gonna go nuts,” he said. “Look, either we will or we won’t. We’ll find out in a couple of weeks. But if we do, we’ll go nuts. It’ll make this look like ‘Howards End.’”
Travel and accommodations provided by Warner Bros. Pictures.