Wednesday, July 24, 2013


Leviathan / Pacific Rim

As I sat watching Pacific Rim, feeling partially numb as I just learned of the George Zimmerman verdict less than an hour earlier, I was strangely reminded of Leviathan (2012) - the experimental indie documentary about the fishing industry and the dangers of being a fisherman. In Pacific Rim, a 3D science fiction/Godzilla homage about giant military robots (controlled by humans) that fight off equally sized monsters from destroying planet earth, we see quite a few battles between the robots (the good guys) and the giant monsters (the bad guys) that take place in the middle of the ocean. These battles in Pacific Rim, enhanced by the 3D factor, reminded me of the feeling I got when I first saw Leviathan where I felt like I was right there on the boat with the other fishermen in the middle of the ocean risking my life to reel in net-fulls of fish.

Without getting too abstract, it’s pretty obvious that both; Pacific Rim & Leviathan are slight reworkings of the age-old tale of "man vs. nature". In Leviathan, the man (the fishermen) vs. nature (the dangerous environment around them) aspect is pretty obvious while in Pacific Rim it isn't that obvious right away. The giant creatures (or Leviathans) that terrorize the planet in Pacific Rim are believed to be aliens transported from another dimension but at one point in the film its hinted that the creatures could be evolved deformed beings from all the years of pollution and toxins found in the sea (the creatures always come out of the water before they attack a city). Water is obviously an important factor in both films. So while the robots in Pacific Rim represent man (they're operated by humans) the giant monsters represent nature being that they're a product of water.

I wanted the movie (Pacific Rim) to be about humanity, about how we have to learn to trust one another because in the end the only thing that will save the world is the world, nothing and no one is going to come and save us. The idea is that we are all inside the same robots – Guillermo Del Torro

Although I personally believe there’s a lil' bit of B.S. in that quote, at least Guillermo Del Torro put SOME thought in to the story

Leviathan & Pacific Rim have quite a bit in common. Although each film caters to a different audience, I'm still surprised no one has made the connection (they were both major releases within their respective markets this year). Each film is shot utilizing some of the latest technology in filmmaking. As I already mentioned - Pacific Rim is shot in 3D for IMAX while Leviathan is shot with a bunch of small digital water proof cameras (strapped to the fishermen) in order to get as close to the action as possible (I'm sure this technique has been done before in film but it seems like Leviathan is one of the first to gain some real notoriety). Although indie & art house cinema has dipped in to the 3D realm with recent stuff like Pina & The Cave Of Forgotten Dreams (both films coincidentally made by German directors from an older generation), 3D is still more of a staple within modern studio/big budget cinema whereas digital filmmaking is more commonly associated with independent filmmaking. That's not too say that damn near all studio films today aren’t shot digitally, but with the exception of Michael Mann (and probably a few more studio directors I'm forgetting) indie/art house filmmakers were the first to really utilize and embrace digital filmmaking because of its accessibility (Bernard Rose, Spike Lee, Hal Hartley, etc). When you think of indie cinema you subconsciously imagine a guerrilla filmmaker running around with a small camera shooting from the hip.

Leviathan (1989)
Another interesting connection between these two works, besides water and the ocean, is that if you were to take all the elements from Pacific Rim and all the elements from Leviathan (2012) and mix them together in a blender you'd end up with the 1989 Peter Weller/Ernie Hudson sci-fi epic also named Leviathan (the movie some of you probably thought I was comparing Pacific Rim to when you read the title of this entry)

I don’t mean to turn this write-up in to a cliché David vs. Goliath/indie cinema vs. big budget studio cinema thing. Drawing a parallel between these two movies may even seem pointless to some of you. To compare the budgets alone between Pacific Rim (almost $200 million) & Leviathan ($43,000) is pretty fucking laughable. But in my opinion Leviathan managed to do what Pacific Rim really couldn’t fully accomplish (at a FRACTION of the budget) which was to make the audience feel like they're right in the middle of the action. And Leviathan managed to do this without the use of 3D or special Christopher Nolan IMAX cameras. Yes, Leviathan is a documentary film but it’s also, if you'll allow me to reach just a little bit, an action/adventure film - lives are at risk, there's danger around every corner, harsh weather, man versus mother nature, etc. This is the kind of film that would make Werner Herzog jealous (you could even go so far as to say that there are traces of Aguirre: The Wrath of God and Incident At Lochness in Leviathan). Just the basic set-up of Leviathan alone sounds like a John Carpenter movie from the 80's; a group of fisherman stuck together on a boat in harsh weather conditions.

There was A lot of physical pain. Being crushed by the magnitude of nature, entangled in it. Feeling fully alive and an inch away from death – Verena Paravel (co-director of Leviathan)

Leviathan / Pacific Rim

Not since The Perfect Storm and that half hour in Forest Gump has there been a film that shows the dangers of being a fisherman at sea. But the difference here with Leviathan is that it's very real. I still don't consider it to be this perfect ground breaking film that everyone is making it out to be but it was an honest attempt at trying to do something new in film and possibly push the art forward. And although Pacific Rim was really bad, I imagine Guillermo Del Torro also set out to make a boundary pushing film in terms of special effects. I put an emphasis on special effects as opposed to overall cinema being that the script/dialogue in Pacific Rim is pretty awful. Del Torro's latest is quite a paradox at times. Putting the special effects and technology aside, this movie managed to be the simplest yet most complicated story ever. On one hand the film deals with parallel universes and mind melding while the script has some of the most simplistic dialogue ever. It’s the type of dialogue found in a script written by a 16 year old boy who still plays with action figures. I also don't know if I'm supposed to take Pacific Rim completely seriously or not. Is the campiness intentional, in the vein of Paul Verhoven (Starship Troopers, Robocop,etc) or does Del Torro honestly just not get it and thinks people will take all the ridiculously corny moments in Pacific Rim seriously?

Sensory overload is another huge issue with Pacific Rim. I felt like an old man while watching it. The movie was too loud, I didn’t know what was going on half the time, the camera work was a little too chaotic and overall it was just too much. Watching Pacific Rim felt like listening to the audio of a trash compactor half the time (the numbness I was feeling from hearing George Zimmerman being found not guilty was soon replaced with a mild headache thanks to Pacific Rim).

Leviathan / Pacific Rim

Leviathan is also a Paradox. I honestly didn’t see what the big deal was the first time I saw it. Actually I was a bit disappointed. I remember thinking; "THIS was the great film that everyone has been praising so highly?!" Not to say that it was bad or anything but the way everyone was talking about it (with the exception of Chris Funderberg) made me feel like Leviathan was gonna be a game changer. I've now come to the realization that Leviathan is a pretty important modern film in terms of both; filmmaking & storytelling, yet it’s still slightly overrated. 

This is the closest thing to a 3D movie without actually using 3D technology. Putting a conch up to your ear is one thing but because of the up close & personal filmmaking style in Leviathan you really get the ripples & crunching of the waves, the blowing of the wind and even the sound of the knife used to gut the fish plugged directly in to your ears. But on the other hand, Leviathan is very boring at times. Yes some parts of the film straddle the line between being hypnotic and boring, but other parts are just undeniably boring to the point where it almost puts you to sleep (ironically, one of the most memorable scenes in Leviathan is an uninterrupted straight-on shot of a fisherman watching a fishing reality show, nodding off, fighting sleep).

Pacific Rim was one of the most anticipated films of this year but in all reality it's just a SYFY channel movie with an amazing budget. I understand movie dialogue is becoming a lot simpler in film in order to cross over in to other countries and appeal to more people but the script to Pacific Rim would seriously have you believe this was the first time Guillermo Del Torro picked up a pen to write a script. Simple is one thing, but Del Torro kinda insulted the audience’s intelligence in some parts. However, he does give the audience credit in other areas making Pacific Rim the paradox that I dubbed it earlier.

If anything, Leviathan serves as proof that indie and/or art house cinema can appeal to anyone and it isn’t always artsy, elitist or strange. Think about it - with all the sensationalized outdoorsy reality shows on television today, how could Leviathan not be enjoyed by the average non-cinephile/movie nerd? Leviathan's only downfall is that there's absolutely NO direct dialogue or voice-over narration in the film. This doesn’t bother me, although it doesn’t exactly help how boring the film can be at times, but to people not up on experimental/non-traditional cinema, this aspect could be very off-putting. And Leviathan still has a strong connection to art house cinema and doesn't alienate the crowd it was initially made for - art house heavyweight; Claire Denis was the first person to view a rough cut of the film and give criticism on it (I wouldn’t be surprised if Verena Paraval & Lucien Taylor were subconsciously inspired by Denis’ L’Intrus) and Leviathan also draws many similarities to Godard’s Film Socialisme.
But even with all of their flaws, films like Pacific Rim & Leviathan are needed to balance each other out (especially for a guy like me who is more prone to watch serious depressing art house stuff).


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