So what's the deal with using giant robots to fight equally giant monsters? That was one of my first questions for "Pacific Rim" screenwriter Travis Beacham. Beacham, who also wrote 2010's "Clash of the Titans" remake, worked with director Guillermo del Toro to bring to life a world ravaged by kaiju, rampaging monsters of all shapes and sizes which emerged from an otherworldly fissure beneath the sea and have risen to flatten the coasts and anyone who lives there.
But how did it all start? Beacham answers that question, in part, with this week's comic tie-in, "Pacific Rim: Tales From Year Zero." Set twelve years before the start of the film, the comic will lay out the origins of, among other things, the might Jaegers: the towering, monster-fighting mechs at the center of the film in a series of stories illustrated by artists artists Sean Chen, Yvel Guichet, and Pericles Junior.
"We had a way of fighting them when they first showed up that didn't end up working that well," Beacham tells me about humanity's first efforts to combat the arrival of the kaiju. He says that after San Francisco was leveled, "nothing short of the nuclear option" was going to bring the monsters down. "With giant robots, the idea was that we needed something with the kinetic energy of a nuclear bomb," he says about the origins of the multi-storey mechs--a way of avoiding the wholesale destruction of the coastal cities while trying to swat down the monster menace.
Beacham has a lot of answers like this, telling me during our call that he was sitting next to the bible for the film and would-be franchise. "Tales From Year Zero" is just one piece of that, providing, he says, an opportunity for the reader to see the stream of logic "as to how they went from nukes, to let's build robots, to the robots need two pilots." Beacham promises that viewers of "Pacific Rim" the movie won't be left out in the cold about some of the specifics of the world, but "Tales From Year Zero" allows him the opportunity to embellish on some of these details. He says that even if they don't use all of the elemtns of the bible, they're great to have in case Legendary Pictures wants to return to this world sometime in the future.
When I asked if we might see something like a "Star Trek"-style technical manual for the Jaegers and the kaiju, he said he hoped so--the bible represents a massive, coffee-table crushing work filled with story details from the first kaiju attack to a murky period after the film as well as sketches and designs.
Looking at the designs of the Jaegers, Beacham says that they didn't want to go for a direct human analogue or some kind of simple mocap in the film's special effects. "You're not really constrained by the limits of human movement," Beacham said about the look of the mechs which include embellishments like rockets on the back of their elbows to propel their punches. The writer was thrilled to see not only these Jaeger concepts on screen, but also things like the massive cockpits for the mechs built out as actual sets. When writing the script, Beacham says he "tried to be as broad as possible" to allow what he describes as the "monstrous" talents of the team of designers headed up by Guillermo del Toro to create the most specific vision. "Where that worked in the favor of the graphic novel is that [the kaiju] came out of that design process."
The pages that Legendary Pictures sent along from "Pacific Rim: Tales From Year Zero" show a key moment in the history of the film's fiction, the discovery by Jaeger researchers that to pilots would need to work together to pilot the mechs. In the film and comic, pilots require synchronicity between the two pilots--Beacham says that any pair requires explicit trust, whether between friends, siblings, or lovers. "It's very important that two pilots trust one another... You can't two random people in."
Beacham says that in a way, the moment where the Jaeger research team cracks this particular problem was actually an apt metaphor for the "Pacific Rim" production team's moment of epiphany about making the Jaegers work onscreen. "This moment is kind of an elementally moment in the history of the world. Before that, there was one pilot and there were problems, and this is sort of the moment that changes everything."
One of the more interesting details in the world of the film is that each region has its own mech fighting teams. When I ask what having Jager teams from each region brings to the kaiju fight (and the drama of the film), he says that originally, the government responses were split along nationalistic/regional lines, but as time went on those divisions fell away. "I think as the war progressed, there was a blending of resources and combining of governments," he adds. From a practical/visual standpoint, bringing in Jaegers from other regions gives us things like the Russian mech which has what Beacham says is a distinctly Soviet look about the older Jaeger.
I was curious about his description of the world of "Pacific Rim" being one at war. "We come to the movie in a place where the world has kind of come together," but he adds that it's a world in crisis. Food rationing is in effect as the coastal regions have been abandoned, while traditional medicine in regions like Asia have been dramatically shifted as doctors and scientists there harvest fallen kaiju organs for research.
You can check out an exclusive preview of "Pacific Rim: Tales from Year Zero" below. The book will be available this week from Legendary. "Pacific Rim" will be in theaters July 12.