Robots and human heroism
GUILLERMO Del Toro is a big man – in girth and in personality. While showing images of the development of two of Pacific Rim’s gigantic monsters fighting at Lucas Film Industrial Light and Magic in San Francisco, he quips – “This looks like a Saturday night with my wife and me at the Del Toro residence. But it can happen any day, I’m open all week. I’m a category two in weight and volume.”
His language is littered with sexual references and colourful statements.
Best known for the Oscar-nominated Pan’s Labyrinth, and the two Hellboy films, he is the perfect director to helm Pacific Rim, out in South Africa on Friday, a movie inspired by Japanese cartoons about giant monsters and the massive, human-piloted robots who fight them.
The film stars Sons of Anarchy’s Charlie Hunnam and Ron Perlman; Rinko Kikuchi and Idris Elba. Which movies shaped you as a child? I was a child of the 60s, a golden time for monsters: you had the Hammer films, and Mexico was under a huge pop culture invasion from Japan. On TV we had the same TV programmes that a Japanese kid would have in Tokyo. I read voraciously, a book a day until I discovered girls. Then I stopped reading for a while. I watched as many movies as humanly possible. A strange upbringing for a child. In Pacific Rim, the world unites against a common enemy – is that what it would take? An alien invasion? A common enemy makes the world come together and then politicians take it apart again. They say: “We’re gonna build a wall”. Politicians are really good at building walls, but very bad at building bridges. Every decision we took with this film was trying to make it more humanistic and show that you don’t win a battle like that with firepower, but with self-sacrifice, ingenuity, and trust in each other. The movie shows that no matter what colour, creed, race, you are; your work is to trust each other and be together. I wanted to go against the regular movie of one country saving the world. I wanted an international feel. I wanted kids to see an adventure movie, with beautiful ideas. If we ever do a sequel, the idea will be based on the concept that as soon as everything is alright, the world divides again. How did you create the details of the monsters? The creation of the Kaiju, the giant monsters, is to create something so big it’s almost a force of nature, like a hurricane or a bad tornado. The Kaiju are so huge they target populated areas. In the face of that immensity, the best of humanity becomes true. Designing the monsters and the Jaegers you have to redesign the whole world because after years of war the world would change. I had to design computer screens, the consoles, cars. We designed the entire world, even the signs on the floor because a monster is like a little animal, when you buy a lizard you put it in a box with sand and water. When you design a monster you have to design a world for the monster to live in and make it real. You reference the real textures, never other monsters. You reference real animals – sharks, turtles. I call it a National Geographic approach. Then you can go a little crazy. The worst thing you can do is say you want them to be like the robots in Star Wars. You create the machines based on real machines. We referenced the T-series tanks from Russia to design Chiron, as well as locomotives. We referenced real machines because we may be creating an outlandish concept but we want to make it real. Then you add biological or physical details to make them feel used. You break it a little. The monsters leave scars. You chip the textures. When we spoke to Charlie Hunnam he mentioned you pushed
Pacific Rim. him, physically, before you said “action”, to get specific responses… I don’t normally push actors before I say, “action”. But with Charlie, he’s a physical guy. He has been in his share of fights. You get to know your actors and sometimes you need them to be off balance. When an emotion is not coming, I try different things. I had to get physical. You do whatever you need for the actor. How difficult is it to take an audience into your imaginary world? You create the rules of your world and take people through them. Either they follow or not. Some can’t get past, “once upon a time”. They say, “f*** that, when?” And you go, “shut-up”. And they go, “But, where?”, you go, “f*** off ”.
You create the genesis. The Kaiju were thinking weapons. They could change their minds and grapple with the rules. If you want to checkmate that idea with bunker busters, you win. For me, under the rules of science fiction and my visual approach to general story telling is that of a fantasy movie. The colours, the way I approach the images, and detail, is to have a more humanistic, “once- upon- a- time”, feel to it. If you want hard-core scifi, it’s not what I do. Mine is more fairy tale. I’ve never been a hardware guy. The only thing I love in sci-fi hardware are the robots – since I was a kid. I’m not a guy into the paradoxes of time travel, design of spaceships, ray guns. What peels my banana, is robots. I love them.
That floats my boat. I wanted to approach Pacific Rim from a simple tale of human heroism. I like to make the movie sophisticated and uncomplicated. I come into the theatre to have fun. Afterwards, I say, “that was complex, beautifully done, but I got a charge”. A lot of people smile when they think of kittens and puppies. I smile when I think giant robots and giant monsters. So I want to make it an exercise in joyful, non-real, world battle, of two forces. The greatest thing about the Kaiju movies is that you can watch a thing take a city and not think about it in the real world. There are no real world repercussions from this movie. It’s purely beautiful escapist, fun film. Idris Elba mentioned that when he met you, he was left alone in a room filled with moving monster figures. Do you collect them? I started collecting when I was a child. I have everything I bought. I have two houses for me, and one for my family.
I live in the family home and work in my two houses. They are organised in libraries, one for horror, history, art. I have about eight or nine thousand books, and 50 000 magazines and comics. I have 580 original pieces of art, acrylics, oils etc. I have 12 life-size figures of monster writers, and authors, creatures I have commissioned specifically for the house. I have thousands of toys, statues and collectables. I have secret passages behind bookshelves.
I have a room where it rains all day and night. At the age of 48, I live the life of a well-financed 12-yearold. I love reading there. If my wife and daughters are in Mexico I sleep in that house.
MONSTER BASH: Idris Elba, left, Rob Kazinsky and Guillermo del Toro on the set of