BattleTech was my intro to the world, but it wasn’t my only outlet. Still, it was my primary vehicle for understanding the simple idea that giant mechanical battlesuits punching things in the face are awesome. I don’t know when, exactly, it began, but I do know it started with a copy of CityTech. I didn’t read the rules the first time I tried playing and, as such, I had no fucking clue what was going on. Still, I was hooked on the idea of BattleMechs.
The ‘90s were not necessarily a good time to be in love with that sort of thing. I read all of the BattleTech novels and I filled my imagination with the ‘Mechs and their MechWarriors. When I was in eighth grade English class we were supposed to journal our thoughts at the beginning of class every day. Instead I wrote the origin story of the Goliath Marauders, my Inner Sphere mercenary unit. It was pure fanfic, but it did lead me to write the sci-fi company that published the BattleTech novels and attempt to get published. I received a form letter with highlighter marks indicating the important parts.
I never wrote that BattleTech book. I mean, I started it, but I never finished it. I can say that about a lot of other things I’ve done since then.
When it came to the wider world nothing quite lived up to my imagination. I fondly recall Robot Jox and Robot Wars, which were about the closest anything came to living up to my BattleMech dreams. I watched the BattleTech cartoon and EXO Squad. As I got older and computer games were more of a thing there were the MechWarrior and MechCommander games, which were pretty good but still…blocky and somewhat less than immersive.
I briefly got into Gundam, but I’ll just lay this out right now: anime isn’t my thing. I’ve seen enough to know what’s going on but, for whatever reason, I never wanted to get too far into that world. Why? I don’t know. Life’s like that sometimes, y’know?
I’ve known about Pacific Rim for the better part of a year.
From the moment I learned about it I wanted to know more. I watched every trailer I could find. I watched them all multiple times. I went to the website and clicked on every link I could find, hoping in vain to see more.
I knew three things: there were monsters, there were humongous mecha, and the monsters and humongous mecha punched each other in the face. I was in love.
The entire Godzilla genre passed me by almost entirely.
I wasn’t that interested in movies that featured guys in rubber suits stepping on cardboard cities. Still the weird cross-cultural-contamination that comes from life as a geek left me aware of the genre and its attendant tropes. Some of it came from MST3K. Some of it came from that episode of Arrested Development where they were trying to convince the Japanese investors that Sudden Valley had more than a single model home. Some came from reading what other geeks who did care had written about the movies about giant monsters destroying Tokyo.
That’s the great thing about life as a geek. I cared about BattleTech. I knew that BattleTech came from RoboTech and Super Macross and all that, but I didn’t have to care. I knew that BattleTech shared a sort of cultural niche with Godzilla but I didn’t have to care. I dreamed of BattleMechs and I knew that other people dreamed about Godzilla and we could all have our own dreams.
I knew that Pacific Rim had nothing to do with my beloved BattleTech.
When I dreamed of humongous mecha I dreamed about piloting a Battlemaster and leading a company, battalion, or regiment against another similar unit comprised of similar humans piloting similar machines. My world of humongous mecha didn’t fight monsters. They fought other humans with their own goals, desires, dreams, and plans.
When I dreamed of humongous mecha I dreamed of people who became monsters to fight other humans who also became monsters.
As such, there’s absolutely no reason why I should have waited for Pacific Rim with the sort of taught, active anticipation that marked the past few months of my life.
The older you get the more you learn that anticipation is the enemy. At least, the older I’ve gotten the more I’ve learned that anticipation is the enemy. Anticipation leads to expectation. Expectation leads to overestimation. Overestimation leads to disappointment.
I’ve learned to make expectation management a key component of all things I do.
I was in Dallas a couple weeks back. The week before I was going to be down in Dallas I was walking out of Ogilvie Transportation Center on my way to the office when a bus passed with an advertisement for Pacific Rim. I put two and two together and sent my friend who lives there a text with a simple query, “You know what’s happening on July 12th?” It meant we could go see Pacific Rim when I was in Dallas.
I wasn’t practicing expectation management. I’d thrown all caution to the wind and decided that Pacific Rim was the greatest thing ever and no matter what happened it would be everything I wanted it to be and more. I was in a dangerous place.
In the car on the way back to my hotel my friend started picking the movie apart. There were all kinds of problems with the film, mostly because there were any number of things that made absolutely no sense. His biggest problem, though, was that the movie didn’t engage in anything even remotely resembling character development.
I realized a few years back that the most important story is the one that doesn’t get told. I was working on a novel and I had a character I loved and who had a crazy-ass backstory that I wanted to tell. I didn’t tell it. I described the character and made sure that I gave enough details to explain who he was and why he was in that place and doing the thing he was doing and decided to leave the rest up to whoever happened to read the book.
Not telling the entire story is an act of faith. It invites a compact with the audience to say, “I’m not going to tell you everything and I’m going to trust that you’ll realize that this character is as awesome as I think they are.” Too little entertainment today asks the audience to make that compact. It’s sad, really.
In not telling the entire story the storyteller invited the audience to live in the world. He or she says, “Come, join me. There’s a giant universe here filled with stories as yet untold. Let’s tell those stories together.”
I tried to explain the concept to my friend while we were in the car. I saw Pacific Rim as a masterpiece of storytelling. It had a specific story to tell and a collection of characters who needed to drive that story forward. Those characters arrived fully formed and played out their roles on the screen. They were a bit cartoonish and stock, yes, but the story itself was cartoonish and stock.
It’s difficult, sometimes, to realize it’s possible for a thing to be both a masterpiece and a cartoonish, stock story. When you walk in expecting to see a big budget story about humongous mecha punching giant monsters in the face it’s easier, though. I wasn’t expecting Pacific Rim to approach the enduring cultural level of, say, The Great Gatsby. I did want to see something that was the ultimate culmination of all of my fantasies about giant robots punching shit in the face.
On that Pacific Rim delivered. Oh, my god, did Pacific Rim deliver.
Friday night I was talking to one of my old professors. The conversation had turned to movies and I’d just launched into my explanation of why Pacific Rim is a brilliant movie. I was in full-on geek mode and it quickly became obvious that my full-on geekery was amusing the hell out of him.
I should point out that by that time I’d seen Pacific Rim again in glorious IMAX 3D. I’m not a big fan of 3D movies, but I am a huge fan of IMAX and I knew I had to see Pacific Rim in the big format before it was gone.
I’ll admit that I was worried. Guillermo del Toro was talking about Pacific Rim 2, but the box office was talking about, well, Grown-Ups 2. So I went to see Pacific Rim in glorious IMAX 3D as a sort of act of desperation. It seemed that people didn’t respond to the movie like I had. Why? I don’t know. Maybe no one else cares about humongous mecha punching shit in the face. Those people are sad, sad people.
They used a rocket elbow. Did I mention the rocket elbow? Rocket elbow. ROCKET. ELBOW.
I geeked out about Pacific Rim to my dad. By that point it wasn’t just the humongous mecha rocket elbowing giant monsters in the face angle. I’d had my mind blown by the sheer technical beauty of the glorious IMAX 3D presentation.
He was surprised. He told me that the critics weren’t exactly on board. I was confused. I convinced my dad to go to the Sunday matinee showing in glorious IMAX 3D.
As we walked out of the theater I said, “So…was that not awesome?”
He replied with, “I realized a few minutes in that the trick is to not think about it too much.”
My dad got it in one.
I say this as someone who has now seen Pacific Rim three times. I’ve devoted way too much brain space to Pacific Rim over the past…however many months it’s been a thing. I’ve just now written nearly two thousand words on the subject.
I say this as someone who intends to go see Pacific Rim one more time in glorious IMAX 3D. There are some things that require no thought. There are some things that require a lot of thought. There are some things that are best if they’re only thought about in anticipation or in review.
Pacific Rim doesn’t make a goddamn bit of sense. The entire movie is basically the perfect storm of fridge logic and rule of cool. But it’s both earnest enough to pull it off and silly enough to let you know that, yes, everyone involved is aware of the absurdity of the entire exercise. It’s also brilliantly done from a technological perspective. I avoid 3D like the plague but this movie has single-handedly convinced me to reconsider that stance. Even in the regular old 2D non-IMAX format the cinematography is brilliant.
The biggest thing, though, is that at no point does the movie screw up the scale. That’s the hardest bit to pull off in something like this. The Kaiju and Jaegers are always unfathomably large and never feel like anything remotely human in scale. That’s the thing that strikes me every time I see the movie.
Pacific Rim is brilliant. You should go see it, preferably in glorious IMAX 3D before Friday, when it will be replaced by The Wolverine.
But when you get there do yourself a favor: don’t think about it too much.
When I say “fanfic” I mean that in the purest sense. The Goliath Marauders were named after the BattleMechs piloted by the two founders of the unit, who were members of the Gray Death Legion left for dead during the Clan Invasion. Said founders were also, if I recall, me and my best friend.
I basically took the Goliath Marauders story I’d already created and moved it around. I think I figured out at a very early age that fanfic isn’t actually a good idea, but that if I made it more generalized I had a winning idea. So I moved the key elements and made my ragtag band of Clan survivors into a Draconis Combine unit caught by the Smoke Jaguars or Ghost Bears. It probably wouldn’t have gotten anywhere no matter what happened, though, since I totally missed out on a lot of the development in the larger BattleTech universe and had the unit equipped with stuff that they simply shouldn’t have had at the time. In my defense I was, like, fourteen.
MechCommander 2 remains one of my all-time favorite games. A couple years ago I revisited the cartoon universes. The BattleTech Saturday morning cartoon was awful. EXO Squad held up surprisingly well.
No one read the book, for the record.