Pacific Rim (2013)
The lovechild of Guillermo del Toro, Pacific Rim is one of the most interesting properties to be released during the Summer months in several years. A homage to both kaiju cinema and the mecha anime genre, Pacific Rim is del Toro’s first production since 2008’s Hellboy II: The Golden Army. The reason for the lapse in the popular director’s career were the production hells of The Hobbit and The Mountains of Madness. It was just three days after Mountains fell apart due to preproduction negotiations that del Toro signed up for Pacific Rim, with complete creative control. He wrote the script with Travis Beacham, who although has not gathered much attention has put significant effort into building the world of the film before he even began work on the screenplay. This can be seen in many promotional posters and the graphic novel “Tales from Year Zero”, which acts as a prequel to the film and narrates the creation of the Jaegars.
For this epic conflict between giant monsters and collosal robots, del Toro turned to Ramin Djawadi. Djawadi is most known for Game of Thrones, whose music started off poorly but has gained a stronger presence in the years. He also composed the music for Iron Man and Clash of the Titans, both of which were poor contributions to their films. With those two soundtracks he sacrificed complex orchestrations for banally simple melodies; style over substance at its most blatant. With Pacific Rim Djawadi manages to keep a fine balance between the two philosophies.
For Pacific Rim del Toro wanted a union of orchestra and rock elements, a musical style most blatantly exploited in the Iron Man trilogy. We see this with the opening cue “Pacific Rim”, and we immediately receive the benefit of Djawadi’s collaboration with guitarist Tom Morello. We get a powerful melody that executes the strengths of both an orchestra and rock, that although repetitive at times remains memorable and avoids having the rock guitar overwhelm the orchestra. Electronica elements are also employed, but not excessively so. This cue is also the first time that we see the Humanity motif, which we will see one last time in “Go Big or Go Extinct”. One of the albums biggest problems is the lack of unifying themes. “Gipsy Danger” is very familiar to “Pacific Rim” in tone and style, although it is lacking the opening cue’s memorability.
With “Canceling the Apocalypse” we get a cue that employs the rock guitar as a sympathetic force, rather than an empowering one. Although not exactly uncommon in cinema – we can look at Elliot Goldenthal’s “S.W.A.T.” – it is not so often we see one in a summer blockbuster. This execution is most welcome, but the guitar gives way to the orchestra so that it can give some insight into the characters.
With the next track, “Just a Memory” we not only get our first fully orchestral piece but also our first sight of the Kaiju motif. Although an exciting piece, mention should be given to just how bare bones the Kaiju motif is. At essentially just brass being played at their height with percussion pounding between each blast, it is a horribly simple representation of the villains of the film. The Kaiju are more than just monsters – they are everything humanity fears in this near futuristic age. They have radically changed every aspect of human culture. By all extents they are a walking natural disaster. How can something so complex be given such a simple musical identity?
The frank answer is that it doesn’t. It barely touches the surface. When composing for the original Godzilla in 1954, Akira Ifukube produced a complex orchestral work, and the titular monster was given a varied and franchise defying theme. The Kaiju of Pacific Rim have nothing on this scale.
“2500 Tons of Awesome” sees the return of the Kaiju theme, with some minor alterations. It can essentially be thought as a summarization of the motif, while “Just a Memory” was our introduction.
“The Shatterdome”, “Better Than New”, “Pentecost”, all make use of synthesizers designed in the style of Vangelis. Even more so, they are done in unison with the orchestra, instead of overruling theme. The two musical ideas work together to great effect, and to see this happen is a rare treat in modern film scoring. “The Shatterdome” is also one of the few times that Djawadi will use chorus – but unlike previous efforts where chorus was nothing less than screeching wails, the chorus in “Shatterdome” takes on an almost patriotic tone. The words seem to be a language of sorts, rather than just the wordless “ahhs” that seem to be so prevalent in modern Western soundtracks.
“Mako” in contrast makes use of a single, intimate female singer, but she sings wordlessly. The cue creates an emotional film for Rinko Kukichi’s character, who was one of the survivors of the initial Kaiju assaults. The cue does a great job of establishing the troubled past of the character, but avoids the pitfalls of displaying her as someone in need of rescue.
“Call Me Newt”, and “Jaeger Tech”, are the most lighthearted tracks of the score. The electric guitar makes a return in both, although in very different ways; “Newt” harkens back to the opening minute of “Canceling the Apocalypse”, while the bombastic execution of “Jaeger Tech” is similar to the first two tracks. They are entertaining enough, but not exactly memorable. It is hard to recall a defining series of notes from either tracks.
“To Fight Monsters, We Created Monsters” is another action cue and essentially begins the acceleration of the soundtrack. From this point on the music just gets louder and more aggressive. Although slightly slowed down by “Better Than New”, the speed is preserved the trilogy “We Are The Resistance”, “Double Event”, and “Striker Eureka”. “Resistance” begins far too slowly, but once the chorus makes a return around the :40 mark the cue becomes one of the most defining of the soundtrack. The guitar acts as an undercurrent to the orchestra in “Striker Eureka”, and along with the fast paced strings creates a thrilling action piece.
“Physical Compatibility” tries to use tribal drums along with guitar to create a sympathetic cue, but the results are unevenly mixed.
In “Category 5” we see a return of both the “Kaiju” motif (this theme employed with chorus) and the “Jaeger” motif from “Gipsy Danger”. The cue itself is one of the most exciting of the entire score, and manages a fine balance between the horror of the situation and the adrenaline rush of the battle.
“Pentecost” is the theme for Edris Elba’s character, Stacker Pentecost who acts as the commander of the Jaeger program. Intermixing the Vangelis electronics along with solo horns, he creates a theme for a character that has the weight of the world on his shoulders. The cue does a good job to examining those facts.
“Go Big or Go Extinct” sees the singular return of the “Humanity” theme from “Pacific Rim”, and the return is well welcomed although overly brief. It would be better suited if Djawadi had sprinkled snippets of the theme throughout the score before employing it at its fullest in “Go Big”. A theme needs to deserve the right to be played fully, and just executing it once at the beginning does not earn that right. Djawadi needs to look at John Willaims’ “Superman” to see how to properly execute the reprise of a theme.
With “Hannibal Chau” we get a musical idea that mixes dark humor with a grim tone…to surprising effects. Making use of Chinese instruments, Djawadi gives us some insight into a man that is willing to sell Kaiju organs for his own gains.
“No Pulse” is the shortest cue on the score, and it is the most unmemorable. It barely does anything with its rock elements and orchestra to elicit much of a response. It is over before it even began.
“Deep Beneath the Pacific” and “The Breach” are most likely the final battle cues, and they show in their complexity. Djawadi interweaves layers of horror with thrilling action to create memorable pieces of music that properly displays the stakes of the fight.
Ultimately, the score’s biggest downfall is the lack of a thematic unison. It has motifs, but they are not developed enough to become themes, and it is hard to understand why the primary villains get such a nonexistent motif. Despite that nearly all of the tracks are memorable, with the “Humanity” cue being especially hummable. The rock elements avoid the mistakes displayed in “Iron Man”, and the orchestra is fun and fierce. The chorus, how rarely it is used, is used intelligently. Unlike most recent summer action scores, “Pacific Rim” is a fun and dynamic one.