Monsters, Mechs And Mayhem: Visiting The Set Of Guillermo del Toro's Pacific Rim
In terms of pure scale, nothing we saw on the Pinewood campus could compare to the politically-named Hong Kong Incident Zone. Built inside one of the massive stages was a few blocks of Hong Kong’s financial district after it had experienced a Kaiju attack – which is a nice way to say that it wasn’t so much a part of a city as it was a football field-sized pile of rubble, smoke and ash. Store fronts were crushed, cars and busses were stomped and shredded, and heaps of dirt, concrete and metal had the entire area standing no less than six feet off the concrete floor. We would also see wheelbarrows filled with blue monster guts, suggesting that the city’s cleanup crews had already begun their work.
The Hong Kong Incident Zone also happened to be the location where we got to see two very short scenes being filmed. The first takes place after the attack and featured the characters Dr. Newton Geiszler (the nerdy/punk rock scientist played by Charlie Day who is interested in studying the other-worldly creatures) and Hannibal Chow (a black market Kaiju parts dealer played by Ron Perlman) have a walk-and-talk chat while injured people around them are being dragged around. The second scene took place during the action Kaiju attack in Hong Kong and we watched as Day took multiple took multiple takes stumbling backwards trying to get away from the monster before falling in the dirt and trying to crawl. After what had to be at least 20 takes I could only imagine what the actor’s knees were feeling like.
The panic that Day had in his eyes as he ran away from a not-yet-realized other-dimensional monster is certainly something that del Toro is going to what to translate to the audience and have them feel as well. The director’s credits in horror are just as strong as his credits in action and sci-fi, and he is aiming for Pacific Rim to be a palpable experience.
“All I want is intensity,” del Toro said. “I really want the battles to be intense, because the Kaiju need to feel like a force of nature. So they need to be always on attack, relentless, they need to feel powerful, like a ramming – like a charging force of nature. So I want the intensity.”
Thinking about everything I saw in the multiple soundstages it’s amazing to think that any person could keep it all straight and organized in their mind – but it’s del Toro’s tirelessness, work ethic and ingenuity that keeps the production moving. We visited the set on the film’s eighty-seventh day of production, and the director and his team were working so hard that the editing team was working at the same pace as the shooting schedule.
“I’m sleeping about four hours a day,” the director told us. “This movie, if you come to the editing room, yesterday’s thing is cut, the movie is cut to the day. I need to manage the movie. We have about 2,000 CGI shots so if I’m not going to use a shot, I have turn over, I’ve been turning over sequences to ILM for the last three months.”
Even though Perlman has worked with the director many times and known him for years, it doesn’t stop him from being thoroughly impressed each time out. Said the actor, “He seems to adapt his visual sensibility to the material and tailor it; so the style he’s shooting this film is very different from the style in which he shot the Hellboy films, and I’m sure whatever he shoots next will be [different as well]. It’s fascinating to watch… I feel like a complete slacker when I’m in his presence; that’s the one thing I hate about working with him.”
Day, who is not only working with del Toro for the first time on this project but also his first blockbuster action film, was also full of praise for the filmmaker. “I think there’s a sense of a guy painting a picture, a true artist. I’m not going to say that the other people I worked with weren’t artists. They were all very great, very talented people, but I think Guillermo will go down in cinematic history as one of our more talented, visually brilliant directors. And that’s different, I don’t know when I’ll get to experience that again.”
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