Pacific Rim and Our Inner 12-Year Old

14 07 2013

I saw Pacific Rim this weekend, and if your inner 12-year old self likes watching big mechs fight big monsters (and whose inner 12-year old doesn’t), then this is your movie. It was a fun way to spend a couple of hours, but don’t expect any sort of “lessons” or “deeper meaning” to come from it. Go for the fun. But (and there is always a but), the concept stretches credulity, even as far as fiction goes. I discuss information that will give away important plot points, so continue at your own risk.

Yes, The Mechs Are Super-Cool

The mechs in the story are very, very cool. And they’re huge. They’re several dozen stories high. Each has an impressive array of weapons, but piloting one involves martial arts skills, not just the ability to pull a trigger or press a button. The whole concept of the paired pilots is an interesting idea, and allows for character development (such as it is) between two linked individuals.

But the story itself isn’t exactly full of surprises. I didn’t find myself going “wow, where did that come from?” at any point during the show. I won’t go so far as to say you know exactly who is going to die and who is going to live. The writers didn’t telegraph it that obviously. But there really aren’t any mind-bending plot twists in this thing. It’s a roller coaster, but the route is going to be pretty familiar.

You’d Never Fight That Way

Artistic elements aside, the reality is that you would never conduct a war the way they do in the movie. It makes zero logical sense. The idea that “big monsters” need to be fought with “big machines”, from a tactical, strategic and economic point of view is something that the 12-year old that likes big mechs would conjure up. Why do I say this?

First, the Kaiju always enter our world at the exact same location, the rift near Hong Kong (which would put it somewhere in the South China Sea). With the sensors they had in place, they know exactly when one of these things is arriving. So why on earth would you need to station equipment all around the world? They arrive in one and only one location, you put all of your equipment in one location. Moreover, you have your combatants patrolling that location 24/7. When one crew is finished a rotation, a new crew arrives to replace them. None of this waiting to see where they end up nonsense. When you know exactly where your enemy is going to be, that is where you engage them.

Second, just because they are big doesn’t mean you go big as well. Imagine if we decided to hunt animals that way. I’m a small ape hunting a big elephant. I need to make myself as big as the elephant! Hmm, maybe I’ll just develop a proper weapon that does the job instead. One that I can use without having to get within the elephant’s effective combat range. The Jaegers are big, expensive and time-consuming to make. The loss of one is a devastating blow, because the rate of loss exceeds the replacement rate. Just ask the Empire of Japan or the Third Reich how that worked out for them in the first half the 1940’s.

The Jaegers contain weapons and technologies that appear to be viable in smaller form, on smaller machines. Rather than building 1 big mech with a pair of those plasma cannons, why not have 100-200 aircraft with smaller versions of the same thing? Seriously, with what it would take to maintain a fleet of those massive machines, it would be possible to create air, land and sea vehicles in the hundreds or thousands (depending on their size), and simply overwhelm each Kaiju when it appears. Station several hundreds ships, which would include carriers with plasma-cannon equipped airplanes, along with escorts with their own plasma cannons, and you’ve got a far more effective fighting force. Put small, fast and nimble attack submarines (like the older Soviet Alpha class) on station around the breach, and hit them the moment they appear. And all of this is cheaper and faster to build than a mech would be.

Nuke The Hole Over And Over

I get that you can’t just drop a nuclear warhead down the hole to close the breach. The breach is effectively sealed against just such an attack (as explained in the movie). But, given that there are sensors telling you exactly (and I mean exactly) when a Kaiju is coming, and you know the size of it, you just start dropping nukes one after another. It is quite possible (and even quite likely) that they would have sealed the breach purely by accident, given that a warhead could easily have followed a Kaiju corpse back into the breach while it was still open and after the creature has been killed.

Okay, so maybe you aren’t as indiscriminate, and you actually do try to capture one of these things in some manner. It would make sense to at least try. Clearly the attacks are getting more frequent. The idea that “we’ll just keep killing them and hope they go away” isn’t one that is viable, given that the arrivals continue to increase in frequency. Of course, there probably wouldn’t have been the concept of the Drift, and thus an attempt to “mind meld” and learn the nature of the breach itself. So the Jaegers and the dual-pilot system was needed for that little plot device to work.

However, even without it, it wouldn’t take a genius to see that, since any warhead more or less “bounces off” the breach interface when it is open, clearly the breach has unusual characteristics that maybe, just maybe, require the presence of a Kaiju. There are a lot of really, really smart people in the world, and since everyone is working together, the probability that one or more smart guys would figure it out is actually pretty good. Particularly since virtually all time, effort and resources is being focused on fighting the Kaiju and not much else (until some genius decides that a wall is a more effective way to keep them out). I would like to think that at least one country would have more than a mismatched pair of emotionally dysfunctional scientists working on the problem.

Doesn’t Diminish The Fun

Those problem aside, it is still a fun movie. I don’t feel like I wasted my time or was ripped off. The story moved at a good pace, the characters were just deep enough to make you want to cheer for them, and the effects were impressive. Besides, who doesn’t want to see a big mech beat up a big monster?

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