The verdict is in: Pacific Rim is most certainly a movie you should see. It’s garnered a thumbs up from critics and even Kanye West sang the movie’s praises (though we’re sure he at least let the movie finish).
But under the very enjoyable surface of big cool robots fighting big cool monsters, this film is a love letter. It’s packed full of homages, references, and influences that were near and dear to the hearts of the writers and director Guillermo del Toro. Some are obvious and a few are a little harder to pick out amid all the action.
For those who aren’t gamers, Portal is a franchise of popular videogames based around shooting a portal gun to solve various physics puzzles. Put out by American developers Valve, the game earned devoted followers for its wit, clever gameplay, and for its villain, an evil AI named GLaDOS. GLaDOS, short for Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System, is a malicious computer that provides cruel and deceptive instructions and is most known by “her” distinct computerized voice—a sound that made many fans sit up in their seats when they heard it in the Pacific Rim trailers. (Yes, the voice of the computer system to the robots, Jagers in the film, is the same voice actress who voiced GLaDOS.) Del Toro had to get special permission from Valve and copped to the inside joke, saying in an interview with the Toronto Sun: “I wanted very much to have her, because I’m a big Portal fan. But just as a wink.” He also went on to clarify that in the movie, GLaDOS was benevolent, not seeking to kill the pilots like her evil game counterpart. Observant viewers may also note that the portal in the sea that the monsters—the Kaiju—escape from is ringed blue and orange, the same colors of the portals from the game.
It might not be such a coincidence that Del Toro was also slated to helm an H.P. Lovecraft movie. The monstrous Kaiju in the film could easily pass for Lovecraft’s Elder Gods, a race of hideous monsters, the most famous of which is Cthulhu, who comes from the sea. One ongoing Lovecraft theme was the cosmic horrors that would cross over from other dimensions and the spaces between to wreak havoc on any humans unfortunate enough to come across them, not unlike Pacific Rim’s Kaiju.
Mecha has always been a popular genre in Japanese animation and has flourished simply because it’s much easier to draw giant robots rather than film them. From Macross to Gundam, the mecha genre has been around for decades. In an interview after a screening of Pacific Rim at LACMA Thursday, Del Toro copped to being influenced by one of the earliest mecha animes, Gigantor, a 1964 series in which a large metal robot fought crime. Yet many have been quick to point to another show as the spiritual ancestor of Pacific Rim: Neon Genesis Evangelion, the most famous anime of the ’90s. In it, the world is devastated by an attack known as the First Impact, which was caused by aliens dubbed “angels,” who a band of teens must fight in giant robots in order to fend off the apocalypse. Like in Pacific Rim, the monsters become increasingly difficult to fight and the pilots suffer tremendous mental stress to pilot the robots, called Evas. In the universe of Eva, the primary language is Japanese with select organizations Nerv and Seele being in German, drawing comparison to the Kaiju (Japanese for monster) and Jagers (German for hunter). While Del Toro has denied the Evangelion connection, the film’s screenwriter, Travis Beaham, has admitted to being a fan and putting some nods in the film, perhaps the knife used by Jager Gypsy Danger in one battle that bears a striking similarity to a knife wielded by the Evas. The two-pilot system in the film may also sound familiar to fans of tabletop RPs, particularly the Evangelion-inspired game Bliss Stage, in which two people with a connection pilot a robot and the closeness of their relationship correlates to their performance in battle.
Japanese Monster (Kaiju) Films
Not surprisingly, Japanese monster movies, known as kaiju films, had an big impact on the making of Pacific Rim. There is an obvious parallel to Godzilla, a mega monster movie that at times empathizes with the monster. Many shots of the fights throughout the city echo Godzilla and other Japanese monster movies, perhaps because parts of the fights were done with models rather than computer generation. As far as other specific Japanese monster movies, Del Toro has mentioned Frankenstein Conquers the World and the sequel, War of the Gargantuas, the latter of which features two giant monsters clashing. A large, violent green monster that comes from the ocean must do battle against an equally huge, but docile brown monster amid the buildings of Tokyo. To those who have seen the Pacific Rim, the opening of Gargantuas—in which the good giant saves a ship— should be a clear wink to the classic monster movie.
Whether you’ve seen Pacific Rim, are about to go see it, or are revving up to go see it again (it’s that good), you can appreciate how much care went into the production of bringing so many diverse pieces of pop culture to life in a battle that is simultaneously a throwback and a new adventure.