Wednesday, August 7, 2013

What Pacific Rim Can Teach Writers

I saw the movie Pacific Rim last week. From the advertising, I was expecting something big, loud, and dumb.
pacific rim poster
I mean, can you blame me?
But surprise--I loved the movie. Guillermo del Toro (screenwriter and director) and Travis Beacham (screenwriter) created an interesting, well-thought-out dystopian world where robots battle alien monsters from another dimension (I know, I know--but trust me, they pull it off!).

In the traditional post-movie analysis with my husband, I figured out the reasons I liked the movie so much, and I realized that a lot of them relate directly to novel writing.

1. Pacing.

Getting the flow of events right is vital to successful action movies--and there are a lot of films that do it wrong. Ever heard the advertising claim "nonstop action?"

more explosions

The problem with this is it doesn't give your characters (and therefore your viewers/readers) time to process what's happened or what's about to happen. Pacific Rim did a great job of blending robot-monster fight time with slower moments of character development. Which brings me to #2...

2. Character Consistency.

Sure, the big fight scenes in Pacific Rim were special-effects triumphs, but the only reason they worked for me was because I cared what happened to the characters. The movie gave us just enough backstory to make us sympathetic to the protagonist, and then it backed up our original impression of him by keeping him in character throughout the movie. He was a competent guy who thought before he acted, so he didn't suddenly start making rash decisions or crumpling under pressure.

The female lead (played wonderfully by Rinko Kikuchi) had a similar consistency of character. She was just as competent as the male lead, but had a tendency to get overly emotional--and this was consistent throughout the movie.

Hollywood movies often get this wrong--inconsistency of characters is a frequent complaint in unfavorable movie reviews--but spotting when it's done incorrectly can help you as a writer too.

3. Subtlety

So now you're looking back up at that poster and wondering what could possibly be subtle about this movie, right? The truth is, the little details and lack of big, loud moments are what really appealed to me. There's a love story, but it's basically just implied (the characters don't, for example, pause in the middle of fighting aliens to make out--because that would be ridiculous, right?). There's a touching evolution in the relationship between one of the secondary characters and his son, but it's painted with such a light brush that it feels real.

I don't know about you, but when I'm writing, I have a tendency to spell things out too much. If I've come up with a neat bit of character development or plot, I want to make sure the reader doesn't miss it. But this doesn't mean I should hit them over the head with it. If I keep the moments little and subtle, that doesn't mean the reader will miss it, it just means I'm trusting their intelligence.

Who would have guessed I'd learn so much about writing from a big, loud, dumb movie? Not me. But believe me, I'll be keeping an eye out for lessons when I go see Elysium next week.


  1. Thanks for the review. My kids want to see this movie, but I didn't think it looked like my kind of movie. Maybe I'll give it a second thought.

    Love how you applied the movie experience to writing by the way. I try to think like a movie when I'm writing - see and experience the scenes in my head.

  2. You are the second person who's given PR a good review. Perhaps I will have to give it a chance - I initially wrote it off as another cheesy block buster. :) Thanks for the review!