Sometimes the novel comes before the movie. Sometimes the movie comes before the novel. Which do you think is better? Opinions vary, but odds are the book beats the movie if it came first. The other end of the comparison is rarely that clear cut. The Pacific Rim Movie Novelization written by Alex Irvine takes a fun, big budget, robot vs. monster flick and amazingly improves the experience.
If you haven’t seen Pacific Rim, it’s a story by screenwriter Travis Beacham (Clash of the Titans, 2010) brought to the big screen by Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth) about a future Earth in peril. Giant monsters emerge from the ocean floor and battle giant robots driven by humans in a fight over real estate. Yes, it’s a bit of a big budget popcorn movie where you should leave your brain at the door and just enjoy the spectacle. Think of it a little like Godzilla meets Voltron.
I went to see the film on a giant IMAX screen in 3D with my eldest daughter and we loved it. It was loud, brash, and tons of fun. But I wasn’t sure if it would translate well to novel form when I picked up the book. The last time I tried a movie novel I was disappointed (Man of Steel). Could writer Alex Irvine do better?
The answer is a definite “YES!” from me. This is what novelizations should strive towards. Does it capture the essence of the film? Does it add to the experience? Yes on both counts.
What did Irvine do differently than Man of Steel‘s Greg Cox? He took the source material and adapted it for the medium. It wasn’t a word for word reproduction of the script. I knew I was in good hands by page 11 when I saw the first of several one or two page dossiers or newspaper articles on various characters, events, or Jaegers (what they call the 30-foot robots built to defeat the “Kaiju” or “strange creatures” from the sea). Each additional article provided concrete links to the world through dates, research notes, background, and more, which helped make the world of the novel feel more complete.
But by page 15, I was on board for good. One of the things a writer can do on the printed page that can’t be done as well on the screen is exposition. On screen the mantra becomes “show, don’t tell” or you lose your audience pretty quickly. Details get lost in favor of characterization. In a novel, you have plenty of room to expand on things like Irvine does when describing the “drivesuit” worn by Jaeger pilots:
“The drivesuit was a finicky and multi-layered piece of equipment. The first layer, the circuitry suit, was like a wetsuit threaded with a mesh of synaptic processors. The pattern of processor relays looked like circuitry on the outside of the suit, gleaming gold against its smooth black polymer material. These artificial synapses transmitted commands to the Jaeger’s motor systems as fast as the pilot’s brain could generate them, with lag times close to zero…”
He manages to not only describe the suit visually but add enough detail that technical geeks like myself get giddy. He continues that approach throughout the book, managing to capture the feel of the film while simultaneously adding details to build in setting and genre details that would appeal to his readers. Honestly, I would have enjoyed this book even if I hadn’t seen the film. But the stories in two different mediums complement each other so well it was even better as a combined experience.
If you are a science fiction fan or have a soft spot in your heart for Godzilla-style stories, I’d encourage you to give Pacific Rim a shot. Whether you read the book or see the movie or both, I think you’ll have fun. Just make sure you check your brain at the door and get ready for a heck of a ride.