Once the fate of The Lone Ranger is decided—it will likely fall to those oh-so-adorable Despicable minions—the summer box-office attention will swing as mightily as a fighting robot's fist to the fate of Guillermo Del Toro's nearly $200 million monsters-versus-robots epic Pacific Rim. And the buzz, if you can even call it that, has been mighty grim, with a bold Variety story declaring it the next Battleship. But with a marketing blitz that's oscillated between focusing on man and machine, Warner Bros. is hoping, perhaps desperately, to expand the appeal of its teetering blockbuster beyond the geek base and out of the realm of floppitude.
Indeed, the grim predictions out of Hollywood may have been a too-early attempt to shoot down this movie before it really had a chance to stand, according to Jeff Bock of Exhibitor Relations. "Tracking for some of these big summer films a couple weeks out doesn't compare to what the box office is capable of," Bock told The Atlantic Wire in a phone interview Wednesday afternoon. "The fact remains this is a monster film, and films like [Roland Emmerich's] Godzilla and [Peter Jackson's] King Kong—those both opened in the high $40s to 50 million." Bock thinks there's a good chance that both Pacific Rim and its July 12 weekend competitor, Grown Ups 2, could go toe-to-toe and ultimately get outrun by Despicable Me 2, which might conquer the box office, two weekends in a row. Where Bock really thinks Pacific Rim has its best chance is internationally, but the marketers at Warners have been making a massive push to prove that this 3D action-fest isn't just for the Comic-Con set—though Bock does describe it as the "ultimate fanboy flick."
The newest Pacific Rim trailer—released ahead of the long holiday weekend and no doubt making its way into the previews ahead of Man of Steel and more—doubles down on the Warner Bros. promise: this is not just a movie about monsters versus robots. And it's true—for better or worse, there's a human element to the story, with a seemingly fearless leader played by Idris Elba and a rogue hero played by Charlie Hunnam. We also learn that the humans piloting the world-saving robots from monster invasion actually fight better if their human bond is better, giving the battles some emotional stake, apparently.
But, before the last-minute run on reality, the human side of Pacific Rim had been hard to come by. Way back in November, the film's campaign started out mysteriously enough, with found-footage-style videos connected to a mysterious viral marketing website, billed as the homebase of the Pan Pacific Defense Corps. But Del Toro didn't keep his monsters a mystery for very long. The first trailer let us see the Kaiju right off the bat. Other trailers we have written about—and it's now almost impossible to count how many TV spots, clips and featurettes are out there—mostly focused on the giant monsters fighting the giant robots, pretty fun stuff that did little to prove that Del Toro had any sort of vision beyond the childlike glee of having a robot come after a monster with an enormous boat.
But, as Exhibitor Relations' Bock told us, there's an interesting strategy at work. "Almost every clip you see, it's something a little different," he said. More recently, in a dump of clips and featurettes compiled by The Playlist, we get to hear from the movie's humans, beyond just Elba's ubiquitous "we are canceling the apocalypse" speech. That's perhaps part of an effort to get a wider swath of moviegoers into theaters over that opening weekend, despite the lack of big-name stars on the bill. One featurette tells us Hunnam and Rinko Kikuchi's characters will have tragic backstories, and Charlie Day will be a guy who "resents the nerdy scientist stereotype." Hunnam promises a "real story" with "interesting characters" that's only "punctuated" by the enormous robot-monster battles. Yet another featurette features Del Toro describing the concept and artistry behind the Kaiju in the film, appealing to both the geek audience and those who may be interested in the auteur-vision of the man behind Pan's Labyrinth. But, really, it's tough to get a good read on the tone of the film from all these little new hints. Some seem intentionally campy. ("Elbow rocket" was a term that inspired our giggles.) Others try to imbue the film with a seriousness that's probably not all there in a movie that, you know, is still about boat-clutching robots.
Del Toro knows he needs to bring in the people. "We are working on it. We concentrated on the core for a long time- but we are barely started on the campaign. I am seeing the ads now and I am seeing outdoors and we are now supplementing what we did with character or tone," he wrote on a fan site spotted by The Playlist. "We just need to keep working. Our numbers are going up. Not in a minor way. Significant. We are one the right track."
We'll see after the Fourth.