Screenwriter Travis Beacham on “Pacific Rim” The Movie & The Graphic Novel
Pacific Rim, the long-awaited and much-anticipated new film from Guillermo Del Toro about giant monsters fighting giant robots, hits theaters on July 12, and I couldn't think of a better birthday present. Ever since my hopes and dreams were crushed nearly 15 years ago by the Roland Emmerich/Dean Devlin iguana-monster disaster they called Godzilla, there's been a crushed little boy inside me that was supremely disappointed in cinema as a whole. Since then, however, nerds have taken over everything. Not only is there a fresh Godzilla movie due to hit next year from Legendary Pictures, that same company is also giving us Pacific Rim. It looks absolutely amazing.
We have Travis Beacham to thank for that, since he was the impetus that got this ball rolling. He co-wrote the screenplay with Del Toro, and he's also giving us a prequel – Pacific Rim: Tales From Year Zero – in graphic novel form, due out on June 5. In it, we'll see the first attack from the Kaiju – the monsters – as well as the rise of the Jaegers – humankind's giant robots, helmed by a pair of pilots working in mind-linked unison. I recently spoke to Beacham about both projects, and I may have lost some of my journalistic objectivity in the process due to my eagerness. But you have to understand – Godzilla 1998 made me so angry that I wanted to sentence Emmerich to a life of having his genitals leapt upon by fat guys in cleats, and yet, the need to channel and vent that nerd rage resulted in the first time I ever actually reviewed a film, so I also kind of owe it my current career – something I've just realized while putting together this article. My feelings are complex and confusing!
The bottom line, though, is giant robots and giant monsters on my birthday and I couldn't be more excited. Let's talk to Travis Beacham about it, shall we?
CRAVE ONLINE: First things first, I just want to say thank you, because after the mess of Godzilla 1998, I was convinced I would never see a giant monster movie taken seriously enough to work the way it looks like Pacific Rim is going to work.
TRAVIS BEACHAM: I hope so, yeah.
Was part of the genesis of this project a response to that – the need to make a monster movie right?
Absolutely, absolutely. Ever since I was a kid, I've been nuts about that stuff. I remember watching Voltron, I would burn out the local Blockbuster and all the old Godzilla titles and everything. I come at it from a place of these being the first movies and first narrative experiences I'd ever had. When I'd gotten into the industry, I was thinking "they should really do a modern robot vs. giant monster movie," and then at some point I just realized that I was the 'they' in this equation. I was a screenwriter, and if ideas couldn't come from me, what was the point? Yeah, I just really, really wanted to see that kind of movie is basically the most honest explanation of where it came from.
Thank you again for realizing that. However, once you get past the initial idea stage, how do you go about writing this and grounding it in a compelling reality? Because it's such a difficult task to make a movie at this scale while also giving it a human element that we actually care about – and we're not just waiting for the next giant robot/monster scene.
When I first had the idea and just wanting to see that on a movie screen, it's not necessarily an idea to begin with. It's just a scene that you want to see. I knew the monster stuff was going to be fun to write, and I knew the robot stuff was going to be fun to write, but I didn't have any idea at all until I knew the parts in between were going to be fun to write. The notion that really changed what the movie was and really allowed it to come together was the realization that it took two people to run the Jaegers. Not only did that make sense practically, based on the size of the machine and how many functions the machine had, but it put the relationship between two people at the core of the movie. How it worked really depended on how well they worked together. They're neurally linked up, you know, their minds are connected. That let the story spin from human character stuff in a way that made sense to me, and that made it an exciting movie to do. Otherwise, I think I would have been at a loss and would never have had an idea to pitch anyone. But it was really the idea that you have two different pilots and their relationship is the engine of this machine that really allowed the emotional subject of the story to come to the surface.
How exactly does that telepathic connection work? Is it all mindspeak or do they actually talk to each other despite the linkup or something else?
They do talk to each other, but they are kind of emotionally synched up, and their thoughts are bleeding back and forth. While they're talking, they're kind of thinking the same thing in an abstract way. The explanation I give is that – when you see the trailer, you see them moving in sync, and I've had people ask why they have to move in sync, and my answer is they don't have to move in sync, but they happen to be moving in sync because their minds are connected. So that's part of what drives the robot, but the whole reason that they're in sync to begin with is that they're kind of thinking the same thing – not in a Borg-like hive-mind mentality kind of way – they're not totally synthesized into one being. They're still two distinct human beings there, but there's a definite flow of thoughts between them. That's where a lot of the conflict of the movie comes from. You have to trust the person next to you so implicitly and so naturally that you can't just be thrown in there with some stranger. You have to make a decision to trust someone and be vulnerable to them for it to work.
Now, the graphic novel is a prequel to the film – does that give us the origins of the kaiju or just their first appearance? Do we ever get the origins of the kaiju?
The movie takes place about a decade or so into the war, as it is. Already, in the first scene of the movie, we're years ahead of when the first kaiju arrived, and Jaegers have been around for a little while, so it drops you in. That's not to say that it's confusing or anything. I think it explains everything you need to know for the movie's sake – you can watch the movie and totally see it as a complete work. The graphic novel is in the same world, but it takes place earlier and shows you how our world became the world of the movie. You get to see the first kaiju attack and you get to see the first Jaeger, and you get to see what it's like to train to be a Jaeger pilot. You meet a few of the characters in earlier phases of their lives. It sets up the world of the movie in a really organic kind of way.