July 14, 2013 [Pacific Rim]

Here's some typically Japanglish cockeyed poetry: neon-genesis-evangelion—three words in a row without any clear connective thread, but evocative: a "neon genesis" would be quite a thing, all pale yellow and pink and aqua and Kelly green—and an "evangelion"; what could that be? Some kind of evangelizing hellion?

Don't be silly: Neon Genesis Evangelion is one of the brightest jewels in the anime crown, silly-sexy and startling and surprisingly complex and comic-book straightforward, depending on which episode or incarnation you happen upon. The one I saw at the movies, though, came in through a side door: Pacific Rim, Guillermo del Toro's love letter to that pastel cartoon—even more so than an homage to big monster rally movies, although there's plenty of those. And along the way are hints of H.P. Lovecraft and Thunderbirds Are Go! and sundry pop-apocalypse movies and comics and animations.

After Transformers, people who like movies were understandably skittish about this one. But del Toro is reliable, whether campy (Hellboy) or Gothic (Cronos) or surreal (Pan's Labyrinth)—and always somehow moving, as he is most of all with The Devil's Backbone.  I'd heard at one point he was supposed to direct The Hobbit—and I was relieved; I knew he would've approached a beloved children's book with affection and respect, no matter how extravagant the effects.

Instead, though, he found an outlet for untrammeled extravagance in Pacific Rim—and it might not have worked if approached with anything resembling restraint.  He often likes to mix-n-match genres and moods, and that kid-at-play instinct serves this movie well—although it manages to keep its head and, unlike Transformers movies, actually lets us see what's going on. The action sequences are—what word can suffice? "Gargantuan"? "Monumental"? "Colossal"? They all sound self-evident—or Golden Age Hollywood overcooked, the kind of thing the ad department would scream all over posters for DeMille pictures. What I remember is the beauty of it, the shining water cascading over light and silver, the deep dark overlaid with flashes and a glow that made me care less what was happening, as long as I could keep looking at it.

Children know how to watch movies better than anyone because they're so good at seeing—not the analytical stare of the critic or the "male gaze" that claims ownership. No, children look not at something but within it—and not with "empathy," exactly; that's too moral a vision. They see something for not only what it is but what it is to them—no, that's not quite right either. All I know is that children—if you haven't damaged them or told them to stop daydreaming—can look at the bark of a tree or a wallpaper pattern and not be bored. Their gaze seems simple; actually, it's deep and untrained, so it's free to keep gazing, a constant act we cease as we become adults—but one that a lucky few revive, sometimes just watching giant robots splash around.


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