Guillermo del Toro talks thoughtfully wrecking cities in ‘Pacific Rim’
Guillermo del Toro is first and foremost a movie buff, which has been causing him a distinct amount of unhappiness. You see, del Toro has been so busy making movies — particularly his latest, the giant robots vs. giant monsters blockbuster “Pacific Rim” — that he hasn’t had any time to actually watch other people’s movies. Or at least that’s the excuse he gives for not having seen “Man of Steel” or the first installment of “the Hobbit,” which was originally pegged to direct.
There’s been a lot of criticism about the levels of carnage shown “Man of Steel.” Your film also features a great deal of urban destruction. How do you keep that from crossing the line from fun into too realistic?
Well, kaiju movies by definition bring a completely escapist fun in these type of fights. When you’re a kid and you’re watching Godzilla stomp a bunch of tanks or jets or cut through a city, the proportions of these things are so enormous that you cannot correlate them to anything real. What I do is I then bring in visually a very different sense of style from reality. I have these super-colored lights illuminating the rain, so it looks like a living comic book or a living anime. And the thing that I do very, very consciously is I vacated all the streets so they would be empty of people. So you’re never thinking, “Oh, the kaiju just crushed 600 people.” Because the streets are vacated and everybody’s in a refuge, all they can destroy is buildings and vehicles when nobody’s there.
Have you seen “Man of Steel”?
No, I haven’t. I haven’t seen many movies because I’ve been making one. The only two or three times I’ve gone to the movies in the last few years have been to movies that my daughters want to see. So I went to “Les Miserables” and I went to some animated movies — movies that I would not necessarily have gravitated towards. But that’s being a parent, taking your daughters to see the Justin Bieber concert movie.
Does that mean you have to go see the One Direction movie later this summer?
No, no. [Laughs] Actually my daughters are not into that stuff.
Are you planning to do another non-English language film anytime soon, or do you live in Hollywood exclusively now?
Yeah, I would love to. I produce a lot of movies in Latin America and Spain and I’m producing a movie right now in Mexico. As a director I would love to do it, but I need to find a story that suits me. It’s not like I have a drawer full of stories in Spanish and in English. [Laughs]
What determines if a story is better told in Spanish rather than English?
You cannot aspire to do a movie that is as quirky as “Pan’s Labyrinth” in the Hollywood machinery. It would get tested and noted by executives to death. It would end up having a happy ending and all that bulls—. And at the same time you cannot end up with a movie that is as spectacular and huge and magnificent in showmanship as “Pacific Rim” if you do it in Mexico or Spain. So depending on the scale of the story, depending on if you need to protect the production value and spectacle or if you need to protect the content and quirkiness of the story, you go from one [end of the] scale to another.
“Pacific Rim” introduces audiences to numerous “kaiju” — giant monsters from another dimension — and “jaegers” — the giant, piloted robots mankind creates to fight them off. It’s a movie clearly made at least in part with action figures in mind. Among the jaegers and kaiju in the film, do you personally have a favorite?
“Yes,” he readily admits. “My favorite jaeger is Cherno Alpha, because I think he is adorable. It’s kind of this heavy, sort of clumsy, very old-fashioned, almost steampunk-y jaeger, and I like that. It looks like a giant iron boiler. And my favorite kaiju is Leatherback, the gorilla-esque one, because I fully identify with his beer belly.”