Nobody on the Pinewood, Toronto set would tell Moviehole how much Warner Bros and Legendary pictures were spending on ”Pacific Rim” except to say it was ‘not as much as you’d think’.
Thankfully, director Guillermo Del Toro is practised at getting magic from very low budgets. When horror films were clogging up the multiplexes even a decade ago, his $4.5m The ”Devil’s Backbone” showed all the Hollywood remakes how it was done. He made the best (some would say the only good) entry into the ”Blade” franchise for $54m, and the $85m ”Hellboy II: The Golden Army” is the most expensive film he’s directed.
But one look at the trailer and stills for ”Pacific Rim” reveals one essential element; size. Can even Guillermo Del Toro pull off what looks like the big screen blockbuster of the year?
How do you fit your usual themes of fantasy and a very child-like outlook into a movie about giant robots?
I don’t come in with a checklist. Ultimately when you work with material you end up living some evidence of your time there. If you force it then it really destroys the spontaneity of the material.
Where did you get your love of the kaiju genre?
When I was a kid Mexico was full of anime, Japanese kaiju movies and Japanese horror. We got Lake of Dracula, Gamera, Astroboy, we got everything. So I had an infancy that was fed by all those things.
What I didn’t want to do with Pacific Rim was go back and do a revision of all that material. It’s in my gut as a creator and has been all my life, but what I want to do is my own thing with that, as opposed to something I saw in a movie. I love the kaiju and anime and manga, but I didn’t want to revise it. I just wanted to honour the things I love.
Many of your best movies are the small ones. How do you hang on to your distinctive qualities in something this size?
I approach each movie with the same degree of creativity and try to visually create different universes. Each movie I do that’s successful on its own terms, I’m happy. I don’t approach them thinking they’re a certain type. All of them are personal – even Mimic was personal.
What made you agree to direct Pacific Rim [Del Toro was initially on board only as a producer]?
I’ve fortunately learned a lesson over the years to have three or four things going on because some of them will not happen. I mean, The Devil’s Backbone took more than 12 years to get made. Hellboy took seven and a half years.
The space can get really crazy between movies, so you have to have several things going on all fronts and then one of them happens. Pacific Rim was shaping up so beautifully and as producer I was really envious of who was going to direct it. Then, one Friday afternoon In The Mountains of Madness collapsed and on Monday afternoon I was signed to direct Pacific Rim.
Did you consider shooting it in 3D?
We did, but when you have an object the size of the kaijus there’s no parallax. When you’re 200 yards from a 250 feet tall creature, if you walk 20 metres there’s barely any movement. So you can only force that movement by having an object in the foreground pass by. And if you force the creatures to move and you see something move behind them, you essentially miniaturise them, like you’re looking at a guy in a suit. So part of the scale is to remove a lot of that 3D.
It would have been great for some scenes but for the main fights you would have wondered what was going on. When Jim Cameron was doing Avatar I was able to spend some time with him and when he was creating the big shots of Pandora he made it a point not to have a lot of parallax movement because otherwise it makes the jungle look like a miniature from the air. You need to give it scope and I choose not to go that way because of the battles.
You’ve written, produced and had a hand in so many movies over the last few years. What’s keeping you going at this crazy pace?
I would love to have made 10, 20 more movies. By the time I die I’m going to have told a fifth of the stories I would like to have told.
Do you try to pick up the pace because you feel a clock ticking?
I don’t have the money to make movies on my own, I’m a terrible businessman. I’d like to shoot every year but you just can’t control it. But I have my rubber monsters and my horror library and I bought a house to have my collection with secret passages everywhere so I’m a very happy man.