Sunday, July 14, 2013

Pacific Rim (2013)

With the exception of the original 1954 Gojira, a grim anti-war masterpiece about the effects of nuclear war and the neverending arms race it produces, Japanese giant monster movies, known as kaiju, are best when the plot stays simple. The movie can't consist completely of monsters beating each other up, otherwise we'd get bored. There needs to be a human element there to contextualize the attacks. But the more elaborate and convoluted your human story becomes, the more silly the whole thing gets. Movies like The X from Outer Space, Invasion of Astro-Monster, and Godzilla vs. Megalon all featured out there plots involving moon men, ancient civilizations, espionage, intergalactic space travel, and other bits of silliness that only managed to get in the way of what the audience really wanted, which is monsters beating each other up.

The smartest thing Pacific Rim does is find a way to keep the people a vital part of the story without distracting us from the action. Pulling from a wide range of influences including mecha anime, kaiju, the Cthulu mythos, and Top Gun, Pacific Rim is a giddy, breathless action movie that revels in it's trash fiction roots. Self aware but not overtly so, this movie is not afraid to get dumb if it means being able to have more fun. This approach could have killed this film, but under Guillermo Del Toro's direction it gives the movie a quality that instead makes it an absolute joy to watch.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Sharknado and SyFy's Instant Mix

According to urban legend, when Betty Crocker first introduced their instant cake mixes, the kind that only needed water, initial sales were disappointing. The executives were confused at this, since by all reports housewives across America wanted a quicker, less time consuming process for baking cakes. Then, one executive got the idea to take out the powdered egg already in the mix and make the customers add their own fresh eggs to the process. The reasoning behind this was that people wanted to still have the experience of making "homemade" cakes, so by forcing them to add their own egg, they would feel more accomplished and satisfied with the results. It worked, and Betty Crocker became a household name.

The "so-bad-it's-good" movie has been having something of a comeback in recent years, thanks to the Internet and the ability to access almost any movie with a few clicks of your fingertips. Troll 2, The Room, Birdemic: Shock and Terror, and others have found new life as the next evolutionary step to the midnight movies of old, watched by a bunch of friends crowding around a laptop, or shared via YouTube supercuts. The participatory nature of these movies, whether it's giggling at viewing parties or sharing through social media, are essential to their success. We don't just want to watch these misfires, we want to joke and quip about it with others, asking disbelievingly how it's possible this thing got made, or how they possibly missed this and that and the other thing.

But these types of movies are usually the exception, not the rule. It takes a special blend of elements to make a beautiful trainwreck. Yet the SyFy network wants to force this. They recognize the internet's obsession and want nothing more to indulge and cash in on this. These are not people trying to make the best with what they got. This is a cold, calculated, predatory approach to trick profitable demographics into laughing at purposefully bad art. It's appropriate, then, that the channel is so obsessed with sharks, such as their latest attempt at internet mockery, Sharknado. This piece is not a review, because of course Sharknado is terrible. Rather, this is a look at SyFy's attempts to make bad movies on purpose in the hopes of people MST3King it, and how by doing this they are potentially killing the genre.