Pacific Rim: Tales from Year Zero by Travis Beacham
Despite the stunning success of Gravity this past Sunday at the Oscars (it got to the point that my fellow party-goers and I began predicting Gravity would win for categories it wasn’t even nominated in) and Her’s win for Best Original Screenplay, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences remains pretty skittish about awarding sf films the big awards. (Unless, of course, it’s February 26th, 2004, otherwise known as the greatest night of my preteen life.) Instead, they tend to get the technical awards. But Oscar did not even glance at one of the biggest film achievements of 2013: Pacific Rim.
Pacific Rim is fantastic for a lot of different reasons, but the reason it should remain on the tip of your tongue is because it represents what the future of action movies should be: diverse, character-driven, and earnest. Come for robots punching monsters and Charlie Day’s tattoos; stay because it’s about every type of love teaming up to save the world. It is not a perfect film (my glasses are pretty rosy about it because I had a perfect viewing of it), but if I lived in a world where all my summer action movies looked and felt like Pacific Rim, I would be a happy Clare indeed.
Part of its strength lies in its creative team—particularly the undoubtable god king of Monster Rancher Guillermo del Toro and ancient Egyptian enthusiast Travis Beacham, whose upcoming television show Hieroglyph boasts both fantastical elements and actual actors of color playing ancient Egyptians. del Toro’s monster designs and eye for detail are unparalleled, and Beacham’s handle on interpersonal relationships is a joy. And both deeply understand how worldbuilding needs to be done—after a short prologue bringing the audience up to speed, the movie barrels off like a shot, trusting that its audience is smart enough to catch up.
As Beacham states in the introduction to Pacific Rim: Tales from Year Zero, the story fits in the world, not the other way around. It’s wisdom for the ages, really, reminding worldbuilders to flesh out their world and not succumb to Worldbuilders’ Disease at the same time. And then he goes onto to characterize an interest in speculative fiction as wanderlust instead of escapism. In the words of AC/DC, she told me to come, but I was already there. Since Pacific Rim starts at the end of the story of humans versus kaiju, Beacham and company generated a great deal of “dark matter” for the project, unseen but necessary worldbuilding. Pacific Rim: Tales from Year Zero tells a few of those hidden stories pertaining to the main cast of the film.
Framed by a reporter trying to write a piece about why we fight the kaiju, we learn about—you guessed it—the relationships that have influenced our characters. The woman who discovers that love is what makes the Jaegers work when she desperately helps a pilot by sharing the neural load. Tendo Choi rescues his semi-estranged grandfather from Chinatown on K Day, only to have him die in his arms, telling him to endure the disaster that’s coming. The Becket boys come to blows over a love interest, only to reaffirm their brotherly bond. But it’s Stacker Pentecost, the quiet, intimidating presence so marvelously portrayed by Idris Elba in the film, who gets the most screen time.
In the film, we get to see Stacker as a father, but it’s here that we see him as a brother and a friend. He loses his sister, fighter pilot Luna, on K Day, when she sacrifices herself to destroy the first kaiju. And then he loses his co-pilot, Tamsin, when a cancer diagnosis removes the both of them from active duty. While Luna makes a deep impression, it’s Stacker’s platonic relationship with Tamsin that transforms the film for me. In the film, we get to see Mako Mori’s memory of how her adoptive father saves her from the kaiju. He’s bathed in a golden light, smiling down from on high to a lost little girl. It’s the graphic novel that tells us that it was Tamsin inside the jaeger at the time and shows us Mako meeting the woman who saved her as much as Stacker did. Oh, my heart.
Like all the best worldbuilding, it rounds out the universe. There are still plenty of blank spots for me to riot in (feed me Luna/Tamsin fic!), but it emphasizes all the same things that the film does—namely, that love and human connection of every kind will win out over the darkness.
Especially if it can power a giant mech.
Bottom line: Pacific Rim: Tales of Year Zero fills in some backstory by focusing on the film’s greatest strength—interpersonal relationships. Fantastic reading for fans of the film, but only fans of the film.
I rented this book from the public library.