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Double Feature: July 2013

Pacific Rim

Pacific Rim

Warning! Sitting around watching hours and hours of video will totally fry your brain! But if you do it right, watching movies back-to-back can illuminate wildly different details, create a whole new viewing experience, and totally BLOW your MIND. Plus, it’s fun! Here’s your monthly guide:

A robot the size of a skyscraper drags a cargo ship down a street, lifts it like a 400,000-ton baseball bat, and cracks it into the skull of a colossally nasty dragon monster. The sheer geeky giddiness of this action is grounded by the comforting knowledge that this movie, Pacific Rim, is in the hands of a creature feature master.

Guillermo del Toro brought us a frighteningly depraved vampire nightclub in Blade II; an ass-kicking demon in Hellboy; a child-eating ghoul with eyes pressed into his palms in Pan’s Labyrinth. But then his fans were dealt two festering bruises to their hearts: First, he spent years in New Zealand, entangled in the troubled production of The Hobbit, before deciding to walk away. Second, he spent another huge chunk of time developing H. P. Lovecraft’s At The Mountains Of Madness, an epic horror dream project he wanted “to be as intense as possible” – only to have Universal get cold feet and squash it.

It has now been five long years since his last directorial effort. But on July 12, he’ll unleash a crew of beasts onto the big screen that would send Godzilla away with his disastrous tail between his legs and turn Lovecraft’s foreboding frown upside down. Which inspires this month’s double feature:

First up:
King Kong
Dir. Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack, 1933
DVD/Blu-ray – available now

“Listen – I’m going out and make the greatest picture in the world. They’ll have to think up a lot of new adjectives when I come back.” Awesomely ambitious words from a man about to release terror upon Manhattan and get a whole bunch of people killed.
The image of King Kong ascending the Empire State Building clutching ultimate damsel in distress Fay Wray in his fist is about as iconic as film gets. But the real heart of the movie pumps wildest on Skull Island, where danger comes in many forms.

Willis H. O’Brien, pioneer of stop-motion animation, modeled his scenes of prehistoric fantasy on actual animal behavior; so even to our CGI-trained eyes there is a vibrant sense of life in his creatures’ herky-jerky movements. Kong fights a T. Rex with a messy savagery that’s reminiscent of the stunned exhilaration you get when you watch that completely insane “Battle At Kruger” jungle skirmish on YouTube.

And then there’s that scene where Kong shakes and pounds a log bridging a ravine, sending a half dozen men to their blunt deaths below. Because of the limitation of the visual effects, we mostly watch this mass killing from a static, cold-blooded distance – which actually makes it even more shocking. And yet, you cannot stop watching.

Next:
Starship Troopers
Dir. Paul Verhoeven, 1997
DVD/Blu-ray – available now

Hands are being severed, heads lobbed off – human body parts mingle explosively with arachnid alien pieces. This is one of the most outlandishly gory big-budget movies of its time, seemingly a big stupid popcorn pic about a pack of high school friends recruited to fight in an interstellar war. But its subversive themes color it with wicked humor.

Robert A. Heinlein‘s 1959 book uses this situation as a means to show the folly of communism and the strength of violence. “Naked force has resolved more conflicts throughout history than any other factor,” says a military professor in the flick, championing the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima. But the wiliest of all the sex-and-violence directors of the ’80s/’90s, Paul Verhoeven (Robocop), uses the material to aggressively satirize fascism and mindless bloodlust.

He peppers the flick with cartoonish recruitment ads, news reports, posters, costumes, and emblems that are directly borrowed from Nazi designs and propaganda. “The only good bug is a dead bug!” screams one man in a promo, while a woman claps gleefully at a cluster of children stomping cockroaches.

“To fight monsters, we created monsters!” the heroes of Pacific Rim proclaim. It’s not the moral murkiness that gets our butts in seats. It’s the adrenaline-rush assault to the viscera. We crave these images and shell out obscene amounts of money to view glorious catastrophe.

Watch a toddler learn to stack wooden blocks higher and higher. It becomes pretty clear that the main reason for this achievement is to make a bigger crash. Even the cutest little monsters have an appetite for destruction.

— Rob Fagin

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