Thursday, June 12, 2014

Go Home, Screenplay, You're Drunk: Pacific Rim

Following in the footsteps of my international sensation "Scenes I'll Never Write In Screenplays," I've decided to start a new segment here on The Fabulist, wherein I take the basic storytelling elements of movies I enjoy or admire (usually big blockbusters) and attempt to restructure or slim them down into more understandable, more digestible versions thereof.

I'm calling it "Go Home, Screenplay, You're Drunk" and, for my inaugural post, I'm starting with a very popular movie from 2013, especially among the "Timothy's girlfriend" demo. That's right, it's time to do some unasked-for script work on:

So, spoiler warning, obviously.
The film opens in Tokyo, 2016. We follow a 10-year-old Japanese girl as she runs frightened and crying through the streets, pursued by an enormous, building-destroying monster. As she does, we hear voice-over narration from an unknown voice (Charlie Hunnam), explaining the film's basic premise; massive monsters, known as kaiju, started appearing out of a portal in the Pacific Ocean, attacking coastal cities. We were defenseless against them.

As the little girl hides down an alley, suddenly a massive robot appears, which the V.O. describes as a Jaeger – a weapon designed by humanity to finally start battling the kaiju back. We watch a brief, exciting tussle between machine and monster, while the child cowers beneath a dumpster. Finally, when the monster is defeated, the girl emerges from hiding and is summarily rescued.

Title drop.

Flash forward to the Shatterdome, the headquarters of the underfunded Jaeger progam in Hong Kong. Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), now an adult, works to repair on a decrepit old Jaeger by the name of Gipsy Danger. She's summoned by her superior, Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), to report for physical compatibility training. As she hustles to the training room, we see her cross the Shatterdome, revealing its three massive Jaegers. Along the way, she briefly banters with the crews of Crimson Typhoon and Cherno Alpha, the Chinese and Russian Jaegers, respectively, hoping today will be the day she finds a co-pilot for Gipsy Danger.

In the training room, Mako roundly defeats all her challengers in unarmed combat. Pentecost is not pleased, however, explaining that the purpose of the training isn't to best your opponent, but to anticipate their moves. He explains that piloting a Jaeger takes teamwork, requires a partner who's drift compatible and who shares some underlying experiences. Pentecost claims to have rounded up other survivors of that initial attack on Tokyo for her to train against, but none of them seem to be compatible with her. She's technically proficient, but very emotionally walled-off. This seems to give him an idea.

Pentecost is quickly accosted by a pair of scientists, Newton (Charlie Day) and Hermann (Burn Gorman), who present their competing theories about the kaiju's origin. Hermann explains the physics of the Rift and his theory that a properly placed bomb would succeed in severing the link between the dimensions. Newt's theory, however, is deemed substantially more dangerous – using the technology that allow Jaeger pilots to meld minds to drift with a kaiju. Pentecost dismisses this idea, tells Hermann to begin development on a bomb and flies off to Alaska to follow a hunch.

In Alaska, Pentecost unearths Raleigh Becket, a scruffy, partially crazed former Jaeger pilot, revealed to be one of Gipsy Danger's original pilot. Raleigh's exact past is kept mysterious, but he's offered a life rope and a chance to once again pilot a Jaeger. Raleigh is skeptical, claiming that no one on earth could possibly drift with him again. Pentecost says he's got someone in mind.

Pentecost and Raleigh arrive back at the Shatterdome and he's introduced to Mako and the other pilots. Upon returning, Pentecost learns that, against his orders, Newt went and drifted with the kaiju anyway. He explains what he learned – the kaiju are merely weapons, tools of colonization used by their intelligent designers in the parallel dimension. Claiming he could learn more, Newt is sent on a side mission; locate a man named Hannibal Chou, acquire a second kaiju brain and gather what intelligence he can.

After a short series of tests, Mako and Raleigh are proven to be physically compatible. During a dry run aboard Gipsy Danger, however, Raleigh loses his cool and Mako is given a glimpse of his flashback; during his last run in Gipsy Danger, Raleigh's brother Yancy was killed mid-drift. In this heightened emotional state, Raleigh nearly destroys the whole Shatterdome, but Mako manages to calm him down. Afterwards, they have a conversation about his past, about how there's a hole in Raleigh's mind that, with the tragedy Mako's also suffered, only she can fill. They talk about grieving and moving on and some real emotional shit.

Newt travels through the scummy streets of Hong Kong, seeking out Hannibal Chou. When he finally
locates the gangster, we learn a little bit about the kaiju black market and Newt must convince Chou to help the war effort by lending him a brain. Fortunately for Newt, there's about to be a kaiju attack – a powerful motivator.

Back at the Shatterdome, an alarm goes off – a double event! Two kaiju are coming to attack the city and all three jaegers are scrambled to defend Hong Kong. Crimson Typhoon, Cherno Alpha and Gipsy Danger all rush out to the bay's defense. The two more experienced Jaegers take point, while Gipsy Danger hangs back to defend the city. On account of their nationalistic rivalry, Crimson Typhoon and Cherno Alpha have a difficult time working together and are nearly destroyed, but Gipsy Danger rushes to their air. In the ensuing melee, Crimson Typhoon loses one of its three arms and one of its three pilots. Cherno Alpha is also sunk, its pilots drowned but its rig more or less in tact.

Alone, then, Gipsy Danger must defeat both kaiju and save Hong Kong. Scene plays out pretty much the same as it does in the film.

Gipsy Danger is victorious, but there's no time to celebrate. According to Hermann's calculations, there's a triple event due any moment. While the crews hastily repair Crimson Typhoon and retrieve Cherno Alpha, Newt returns with a kajiu brain. When he and Hermann drift with the creature, they learn an important secret – the rift will only open for a kaiju. Meanwhile, Raleigh has a brief scene with the crew of Crimson Typhoon, telling them there's life after a drift partner is killed.

Gearing up, the two remaining Jaegers prepare to march towards the breach and deliver Hermann's bomb. Originally, Gipsy Danger attempts to claim the responsibility for the bomb, but Pentecost reveals that he can pilot Cherno Alpha alone and carry the bomb. He's revealed to be the man who rescued Mako, back in the day when the Jaegers only had one pilot. Mako begs him not too, saying the strain will be too much and he'll die. Pentecost disregards her and climbs into the Jaeger all the same.

Together, all three Jaeger move towards the breach. Two kaiju emerge and give them battle before they can arrive however. Crimson Typhoon manages to hold both of them off long enough for Gipsy Danger and Cherno Alpha to slip past, sacrificing themselves in the process. Before they can deliver the bomb, however, a Category 5 comes through the breach, the biggest kaiju we've yet seen. It summons the one surviving kaiju from Typhoon's battle back, which Gipsy Danger slays, tosses to Cherno Alpha and Pentecost leaps into the breach.

As Pentecost and Alpha fall between the dimensions, Raleigh and Mako do battle with the Category 5. Over the course of the battle, Mako and Pentecost talk briefly on the radio, about what he sees and the life Mako should lead now that he, her adopted father, will be gone. Eventually, Gipsy Danger defeats the Category 5 and they debate leaping in after Pentecost. Suddenly, however, the breach closes!

The shockwave destroys Gipsy Danger and ejects both pilots onto the surface of the ocean. They're revealed to both be fine and are rescued by incoming helicopters.

  • Mako is the protagonist, rather than another boring white American male.
  • Mako is devoid of troubling "I'll defend her honor" implications in the original.
  • The Australian rivalry is entirely removed because of its numerous plot-holes including, but not limited to: Who cares? A dog doesn't make you more sympathetic. How petty are you, random Australian tough guy, that you'd bully a fellow pilot over exactly nothing? Why the fuck doesn't Leatherback just destroy Striker Eureka after its EMP knocks the Jaeger out?
  • The Newt/Kaiju brain plotline doesn't include that weird "hive mind" subplot that randomly dead-ends.
  • The compatibility thing isn't just thrown away towards the end of the movie when we suddenly need to have Pentecost pilot a Jaeger.
  • Also, no fucking GLaDOS. I'm glad he got permission, I guess, but the whole idea's just creatively bankrupt. I like Portal, let's put Portal stuff in my movie too, rather than coming up with my own idea? Sloppy.
Thoughts? Complaints? Angry defense of del Toro? Leave 'em below!


  1. I've got to say I like Mako as the main. If for no other reason than to have a chance to further develop what I found to be the most interesting dynamic in the piece, Pentecost/Mako. Because family is complicated and complicated is interesting.

    1. I agree. She's an actual three-dimensional character, whereas Raleigh, to me, always felt like a wet noodle audience insert.

  2. Sounds like the movie everyone TOLD me this was, rather than the movie it actually is.

    1. Good! That's more or less the aim of the whole thing.