2013’s Pacific Rim, from director Guillermo del Toro, is hardly what one would call a masterpiece. It’s the story of Raleigh Beckett (Charlie Hunnam) being drafted back into the Pan-Pacific Defence Corps to mount one last attack on the enormous alien-monsters, known as Kaiju, that had broken into our world. Along the way he meets Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) a gifted young trainee who hopes to one day become a Ranger; an operator of one of the PPDC’s twin-pilot giant robots known as Jaegers. Together with Raleigh, her adoptive father Marshal Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) and the three remaining Jaeger teams left, they set out to save the world.
However, the way del Toro uses colour is different; less about emotion and more to do with character and symbology. In much the same way that composer John Williams will use leitmotifs and themes to represent characters, whereas many composers will prefer to solely use their music for the manipulative and complimentary effect it can have on emotion, del Toro will use colour in the same way. Colour-coding characters and elements of the world, and using the complimentary or antagonistic nature of mixing colours to communicate themes and ideas visually to the audience.
The most obvious ways in which colour is used in Pacific Rim come down to the characters of Raleigh and Mako themselves. “Raleigh’s world is represented mostly in amber,” del Toro says, and goes on to detail how that affected the set design for the initial scenes with Hunnam’s lead, “Raleigh’s environment became warmer, like ambers and warm greens.”
Mako’s colour palette is most visually apparent in the sequence in which she revisits the childhood memory of the day she lost her parents; one of the most effective sequences in the film, it sees Mako as a little girl being chased through the streets by an enormous crustaceon-like Kaiju after the apparent death of her family, and attempting to hide.
The desaturation of the destroyed city, the colder colours of the environment and the monster who tore her world in two work to highlight the colourful figure of Mako as a little girl in a small blue dress, carrying a bright red shoe with a broken leather strap.
This symbology extends further. Later in the film Stacker Pentecost hands Mako back her shoe from that day, her heart, which he has kept with him and protected for those intervening years. He gives her back her heart, her courage, and gives her his blessing to fight – to finally become a Ranger, to pilot a Jaeger, and to gain revenge for her family; to complete her story and bury her trauma.
These colours, amber and blue, were specifically chosen; the two most complimentary yet opposite colours on the colour wheel – the perfect ying and yang. Representative of the two finding solace in a new partner, and opening up once more. Guillermo was adamant that it was the “joining of those two worlds … [that] guided the backbone of the colour-coding of the film.”
This is, of course, right down to a scene that was “very important to keep in” to the Mexican-born director; when Mako and Raleigh first see their Jaeger Gipsy Danger’s nuclear reactor – her heart – together. The mech itself is wholeheartedly representative of their relationship; blue and orange in hue, and operated only by the true melding of the two. This scene is “the first time they are revealing each other’s heart to anyone, [the moment that] they are starting to trust each other”.
Pacific Rim may be a silly movie about monsters and robots, but that doesn’t mean it’s devoid of artistry, and just goes to show what can be accomplished by a genuine visionary creative like Guillermo del Toro. Colour theory is, of course, only an addition to the film; one tool by which a director can also connect with audiences and convey concepts in an elegant and efficient manner. But it’s an effective one nonetheless.