My current joke about Pacific Rim (which all things considered, I am looking forward to) goes something like this:
Guillermo del Toro couldn't make an H.P. Lovecraft film (R-rated, natch) because no one wanted to back the project. He couldn't make a Godzilla film because someone else was already on that job. And he couldn't make a Neon Genesis Evangelion movie because that project's been stuck in development hell for god knows how long now.¹ So he got Warner Brothers to give him the money to make a combination of all three!
That said, why is it that every time I see trailers or posters for Pacific Rim, I keep saying to myself, "This film is going to tank bigtime"?
It took the most recent batch of trailers and promo material to really clinch for my why that was the case, especially since it came out right around the same time a flurry of Man of Steel ads hit the web as well. All of the Man of Steel advertising has been about Superman as a character, not simply as a plot gimmick.
Pacific Rim, on the other hand, has barely a human being in sight. Oh, we know they're in there, and a couple of the commercials have some token mention of what's required of the human pilots for the giant robots — but there's no sense of who those people are. They're just faces that flash briefly by and are swallowed up by the impersonal mayhem spilling across the screen.
I suspect Warner Brothers decided to come down hard on that aspect of the film — giant robots! giant monsters! — but they forgot a couple of things. Transformers was terrible stuff (you can feel your braincells curdling as you watch), but at least there was some sense that the figures in question had personalities, however cartoonish.
Pacific Rim's ads don't communicate anything like that. It's all about the machines. But nobody goes to see a movie about a car; they go to see a movie about the guy driving it. Heck, even The Fast and the Furious figured that part out, which is why those films have been at least entertaining. (#5 in particular was quite fun.)
As much as I want Pacific Rim to do well, I suspect it won't. I have a standing bet with someone that it won't even clear $100M domestic, and the total lack of non-hardcore-geek buzz for the movie is bearing this out. Man of Steel, on the other hand ... but if Man of Steel eats Pacific Rim's lunch, dinner, and breakfast, I am scarcely going to complain.
SF and fantasy in the movies are tough to get right. It's tempting to simply throw spectacle and speculation on the screen and call it a day. It's far harder to give us someone to care about, someone who's surrounded by all that spectacle and speculation, and see how it all affects him.
¹ Or more like, a live-action NGE movie would be a monumentally stupid idea no matter who made it, but that's just me.