Giant monsters battling with giant robots. It’s something every kid has fantasized about and on July 12th every kid’s dream will be brought to vivid life on screen courtesy of director Guillermo del Toro with Pacific Rim. In the future, the world is overrun by giant “Kaiju” monsters who arise from a mysterious portal under the sea—to combat them humans devise “Jaegers”: giant robots piloted by humans. So yeah, Godzilla vs. Optimus Prime in four color.
Although Del Toro is the mastermind of the film, the concept itself is the brainchild of a great American hero named Travis Beacham. A highly sought after screenwriter—Dog Days of Summer, Clash of the Titans, the upcoming TV show Ballistic City and a much-admired unproduced screenplay called Killing on Carnival Row—Beacham and artists Sean Chen, Yvel Guichet, Pericles Junior, Chris Batista, and Geoff Shaw got to tell a few extra stories of the Jaegers in Pacific Rim: The Graphic Novel, a prequel published earlier this month by Legendary Comics.
The book is an anthology of stories set in the past of the movie, depicting the origin of monsters, the invention of the Jaegers, and the early training of the Jaeger pilots. Like all normal, healthy children, Beacham was obsessed with monsters and robots in his formative years. “When I was 11 I watched Voltron and Ray Harryhausen and old Godzilla movies,” he told the Beat. “By the time I got into the industry I really wished they would do a modern monsters vs. robots movies but with modern special effects and so on. And then one day I realized I’m the ‘they.’”
Beacham came up with the idea in 2007 and played around with it for years, gradually evolving such details as two people having to drive the Jaegers. Since the movie takes place a decade after the first kaiju attack, the graphic novel covers the early years of the monster invasion. Although it’s an example of the dreaded transmedia tie-in, it happens to work in this case. “I’m a big fan of the drop in—dropping people into a world that already exists, Blade Runner style,” says Beacham. “It gives the world texture.” But at the same time not every detail could be fit into the film, so the graphic novel became the way to explore the history of the world.
Like many screenwriters who are comics fans, Beacham found adapting to the new medium was a “learning experience.” He had to find ways to approach space and time differently, and “it took some doing. But I certainly like the final product” and like many who experience the freedom of the comics world, he’d like to do more stories in the medium. “I found it be a very rewarding process, if for no other reason than that it’s very intimate, talking to only a handful of people.”
Beacham acknowledges that Pacific Rim is very much in the tradition of the late, great Harryhausen, a figure who also inspired director Guillermo del Toro, who was, by all accounts, very hands on in bringing Beacham’s idea to the screen, as he is with all his films. “What I like about Harryhausen is how he endowed these imaginary creations with personality—that’s what made them so iconic,” Beacham says of the monster master’s appeal. “That’s part of Guillermo’s inspiration putting together the creatures and robots. We wanted the kaiju to have their own quirks and the Jaegers to have a kind of built-in nostalgic iconography, and evoke a sense of childhood nostalgia, even though you’re seeing them for the first time.”
Pacific Rim is coming out riding a wave of massive cinematic destruction—this summer the world has been in terrible peril more times than Johnny Depp has put on a funny hat. Beacham agrees that there’s an apocalypse fetish going on, but hopes this movie will buck the tide a bit. “Many times in a zombie apocalypse, there is a grim resignation to being obliterated. I’ve found that pretty repugnant. When [in the film] Pentecost says ‘We’re cancelling the apocalypse,’ that is me earnestly and literally mocking the conventions and saying this show isn’t over until we’re actually dead. Pacific Rim is meant to have a sense of grandeur in the face of mighty challenges. There are a lot of movies about a lot of extraordinary disasters. This is a movie about extraordinary solutions.”