Pacific Rim Uprising: Battles bright and clear

The jaeger-kaiju battle scenes in Pacific Rim: Uprising are shown in broad daylight instead of under the cover of darkness, rain or fog.
The jaeger-kaiju battle scenes in Pacific Rim: Uprising are shown in broad daylight instead of under the cover of darkness, rain or fog.PHOTO: UIP

Pacific Rim Uprising director Steven DeKnight wanted the jaeger-kaiju battles shot in broad daylight - a challenge for the computer graphics team

The science-fiction fantasy Pacific Rim (2013) had always been a love letter to Asian film concepts.

Director and co-writer Guillermo del Toro borrowed the fighting mechas idea, called jaegers in the film, from Japanese animation and combined it with the martial arts cinema of Hong Kong.

And, of course, the monsterattacks-city conflict at the heart of the movie is taken from the many Godzilla movies made by Japan's Toho Studio.

The film earned more money in China than it did in the United States - US$114 million (S$150 million) versus US$101 million - in part thanks to how familiar its ideas were to Chinese audiences.

That success has prompted the release of a sequel, Pacific Rim Uprising, which opens today.

New director Steven DeKnight says that the new film, like the previous one, features an ensemble cast playing a team of heroes who have to learn the value of team work.

"You may have someone extraordinary, but they can't do it alone. That is definitely a part of Asian cinema," he tells The Straits Times on the telephone from Los Angeles.

"I always go back to Ultraman - Hayata could turn into Ultraman, but he still needed the help of the Science Patrol. It's more interesting to watch than one person doing everything," he says, referring to the 1960s children's television show from Japan that was dubbed and exported all over the world.

 

In Uprising, set a decade after the last film, the threat of the kaiju - city-destroying monsters that emerge from the Breach, a fissure on the floor of the Pacific Ocean - has been eliminated. Jake Pentecost (John Boyega) is a low-level gangster, despite being the son of Stacker (played by Idris Elba in the last movie), one of the greatest jaeger pilots of all time and the man who helped close the Breach.

When the kaiju reappear, Jake must put aside his self-doubt to meet the expectations of his father and the world to pilot a newer, more powerful generation of jaegers.

In Hollywood, blockbuster sequels tend to be longer and louder, packing in more action and explosions, but in Uprising, the opposite is true. The film is 113 minutes in length, about 20 minutes shorter than the original, and feels tighter, more streamlined.

"When I first signed on... what I wanted was a fast, fun movie that was two hours or under," he says.

The director might be making his feature film debut with Uprising, but he has been working in television since the late 1990s, writing for Buffy The Vampire Slayer (2001) and its spinoff Angel (2002), and most recently, directing an episode of the Marvel series Daredevil (2015).

He says he wanted to take the action even further by giving clearer views of the jaeger-kaiju battles. In del Toro's version, battles tend to take place at night, in or under the sea, or in fog and rain - such environments lend colour, but they also help disguise the fact that the scenes are created on a computer.

DeKnight challenged the team to show battles in broad daylight, with cameras held steady, and to make them all look realistic. He thinks he succeeded.

"It was much much harder for the computer graphics team to create the scenes in full daylight... but we really wanted to do that and to give the audience something new."

• Pacific Rim: Uprising opens today.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 22, 2018, with the headline 'Battles bright and clear'. Print Edition | Subscribe