An open letter to Hollywood from CyberNex Phantom T-40.
We've had some fun times and we've had Bicentennial Man starring Robin Williams. But I never thought we'd get to this point: There are just no good roles for robot actors anymore. My database is full of them: Metropolis, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Lost in Space, Westworld, Terminator, even RoboCop. Now those are stories that have arc.
I was hooked by C3PO in Star Wars. The moment I saw him setting out across that Tatooine desert with R2D2, I knew one day I would be a robot actor. You could argue that I was programmed to be a robot actor in the first place, but my point is that it's just not the same anymore.
I blame Michael Bay, as we should for all things. After all, it was Michael Bay who gave people this ridiculous notion that we robots could be a sports car one minute and a rocket-blasting mega-machine the next. (Full disclosure: I played a minor but pivotal role in Transformers II. I'm not proud of it, but the recession hit us all very hard. It was either that or be chopped up into a Roomba.)
These days, all I see are robots capable of crumbling cities. But where's the pathos? Where's the connection? One look at the script for Pacific Rim and I knew I'd have to pass. Robots with people inside? So degrading. And speaking of robotic, how about that Charlie Hunnam? Amirite?
These people inside the robots are like fighter pilots, and it takes two to operate one of us. Hannum plays Raleigh, whose brother dies in one of these missions, so when it comes time to save the world, things get personal. Or so I'm told that's what he's "feeling." What is he saving the world from? Big aliens, that Cloverfield kind.
The movie opens with a laborious narration about how the world changed beginning in 2013. A gap between tectonic plates at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean is actually a portal to another world some billions of light years away. That world is home to this race of massive beings that look like a cross between dinosaurs and Ridley Scott's alien. (I forgot Alien—another great robot performance!)
The aliens have chosen to destroy Earth and appear off the coast of San Francisco, Seattle, Hong Kong—logically all Pacific Coast cities. Now it's 2020, and most of the planet is on the ropes. The United Nations uses (abuses, more like it) a team of armed robots to fight the aliens, which leads me two ways: 1.) Obviously, they're going to use robots. I mean, even though all they do in Pacific Rim is fire weapons that jets could probably deliver with more dexterity and swiftness ... isn't it obvious? OK, so maybe beefing up the Air Force would be more plausible, especially in a movie that acts like Top Gun. 2.) Robots are generally pretty peaceful in civilian life. Just FYI.
The story is basic—that's all we robots can handle, I guess—and the dialogue is monosyllabic. All that director Guillermo del Toro pays attention to in Pacific Rim is the action, and it sure is explosive and loud. I must confess that this is the golden age of movies for my friends the sub-woofers. Those guys have nothing to complain about right now.
But outside of being loud and having some battle scenes, this movie is really stupid. Maybe that's just my incredible processing power talking, but here's an example: Even though the pilots work with simulators to fight the aliens, they train for those fights with kendo sticks. Like it's a martial arts movie. The aliens, who can shoot bursts of pure energy, don't need sticks.
The human performances are pretty standard for this kind of thing. Hunnam is clearly the second-worst actor on screen, at least for extended periods of time (Rinko Kikuchi from Babel really struggles with the language), but nobody stands out all that much. They're all just afterthoughts to the action. Really, Pacific Rim doesn't even need actors since it could just generate as many aliens and robots as it wants to with CGI. And destroying computer-generated cities in science fiction movies is about as common as a broken iPhone screen.
Sad to say, but maybe that's where show business is headed for robots these days. Maybe it's all the stuff behind the scenes, with no leftover glory for those of us who have worked on our craft for so many years. Especially if all that's out there is Pacific Rim. I mean, Isaac H. Asimov—I was Stephen Hawking's voice for three years. I don't need this crap. Where's my Silver Linings Playbook?
Also, I won't do 3-D because it makes my ass look fat.