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The Tet Zoo Guide to Pacific Rim

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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Awesome Pacific Rim poster I own (you get it free when you see the movie at an IMAX) and which I really must get framed.

I don’t think I can put it off any longer. Episode 10 of the much-lauded TetZoo podcast – recorded just the other day and due to go live soon – made up my mind, as did the several science-themed articles about the movie published here at SciAm Blogs and at other science-based sites. Put simply: I have to blog about Pacific Rim.

I’ve seen the movie twice now (once in IMAX) and have spent a lot of time talking about it online and IRL. So, in the spirit of the Tet Zoo article on Avatar, here are assorted thoughts and observations on the movie, focusing on the Kaiju. First things first: SPOILER ALERT. You have been warned.

As usual, I’m not going to pretend for a minute that Pacific Rim is a particularly special movie when it comes to plot, theme, or characters. Personally, I’ve simply enjoyed it as a massive, CG-laden romp based around giant Kaiju* and huge humanoid robots and, indeed, there are several major weakness, flaws and absurdities throughout both the movie and the Pacific Rim universe as a whole. At the risk of repeating the opinion already notoriously proffered by my colleague and friend John Conway, the outstanding near-absence of women from the Pacific Rim universe is weird and inappropriate. We see stuff that doesn’t make much sense in terms of materials science, engineering, physics or chemistry, and there are sheer impossibilities like the bit where Gipsy Danger glows red while falling through the atmosphere before landing safely, fully functional and with intact humans onboard.

* Kaiju is a generic term used for any sort of monster, including outlandish ones that are mechanical or floral in nature. In the Pacific Rim universe, the term Kaiju is used specifically for a class of gigantic alien creatures that, via a portal in the Pacific called The Breach, are invading our planet from a base in the Anteverse.

As humans respond to the Kaiju threat, more powerful, increasingly more weaponised Kaiju are sent through The Breach. Giant walls? As shown by Mutavore's attack on Sydney, they don't count for much. Image from the Pacific Rim wikia.

While writing the article you’re reading now, note that I don’t have the movie, nor its script, to hand, thus meaning that some of the details are only half-remembered and quite plausibly inaccurate. Furthermore, I haven’t yet seen or read the prequel graphic novel Pacific Rim: Tales From Year Zero; a shame since it might provide abundant background info on Kaiju origins and biology.

Ah, those good old stereotypical scientists! Why, Hollywood, why!?

Before we get to the Kaiju, I want to say a few things about the two scientists in the movie, Newton Geiszler and Hermann Gottlieb. While – based on the movie alone – we don’t know anything about the background to the involvement of either person with the Pan Pacific Defense Corps (if this term is new to you, it’s used throughout the movie: you often see PPDC badges on uniforms and in buildings), I think it’s reasonable to assume that both are meant to be brilliant and capable experts in Kaiju biology, and hence in biology, physiology, biochemistry and so on in general. It’s therefore weird to hear either of them say dumb things that don’t ring true. Yeah yeah, it’s only a movie but… come on Hollywood, why don’t you ever talk to real scientists and get this crap corrected?! It’s very easy to do this sort of thing, it adds extra depth and detail to the movie, and it makes fan-boys and girls love and appreciate you all the more.

Newton Geizler, preserved Kaiju brain behind. Played by Charlie Day - yeah, same guy who has to deal with Jennifer Aniston's character in Horrible Bosses.

So, Newton compares the “second” Kaiju brain to the mythical “second brain” of dinosaurs. I was initially happy to let this go, but given what I just said about him presumably being an all-round biology whizz, it’s hard to be so forgiving, given that no self-respecting expert would ever say this. Yeah, ok, the paravertebral ganglia and so on allow a degree of autonomy as goes various actions performed by the body, but it remains downright wrong to speak of animals having a ‘brain’ in the sacral region. For further discussion of the whole ‘dinosaurs had a second brain’ thang, see Matt Wedel’s article on the issue over at SV-POW! (Matt was quote-mined by a TV company, and there was much appropriate wailing and gnashing of teeth).

Diagram by Mathew Wedel, from SV-POW!, showing sacral enlargement in a sauropod and saying what we know about it. Glycogen body, no 'second brain', duh.

In another part of the movie, Newton explains why he thinks that the Kaiju are clones, but why did they have him refer specifically to DNA? Err, hell-o, we’re talking about bio-engineered creatures from another dimension (or universe) here: why would any heritable information be encoded in a molecule with the same composition as DNA? It wouldn’t, it would be something else. Movie people should know this; it would be no trouble to have Newton use some other acronym and explain in passing that that given molecule is the one that serves a DNA-like role. By the way, if Kaiju are bio-engineered we might speculate that they wouldn’t have a DNA homologue at all. Hmm.

There’s a second issue. Newton is obviously meant to be a fairly normal person but the idea behind his character is that he’s gotten himself all tatted-up in order to get away from a nerdish stereotype that he somehow dislikes or is afraid of. Err, excuse me? A self-professed Kaiju uber-nerd who dislikes the idea of being a nerd? Really? Getting tats of your favourite beasts is fine and I’m all for that, but I resent the idea that nerds dislike being nerds and strive to turn into other things. Hell no, puh-leez, norms are boring, sheep-like things that lead unfulfilled lives of tedium.

Hermann Gottlieb: bumbling, socially awkward, weird.. ah, well done Hollywood! Played by Burn Gorman, who I know best as Owen Harper in Torchwood.

Things are much worse when we think about the other scientist character, Hermann Gottlieb. He’s a bumbling, upper class loner who’s socially incapable and has rarely, if ever, left his laboratory or secret lair or castle or whatever (though… backstory stuff from elsewhere in-canon, he’s in a full-time relationship and his partner/wife has a baby on the way). This stereotype – the socially inept, freak scientist – is damaging and boring, but also full of bullshit since anyone who’s as good as Hermann’s meant to be, or has gotten as far as he’s meant to have done, would – in actuality – be socially skilled, political and unusually outgoing. So, bad job Pacific Rim, you let the side down. This kinda grates more that it should actually because sci-fi movie people really are on the ‘same side’ as scientists: they’re dedicated visionaries, deeply immersed in the awesomitude of the stuff they’re interested in, striving to share the wonders of their world and ideas with the masses. Annoying and stereotypical portrayals of scientists are bad for us all. Maybe I’m making too big an issue of this, but such portrayals look like propaganda for the conservative right (“look, scientists are all freaks who don’t live in the real world!”).

What the Precursors did, and what the Precursors are doing

Concept art depicting Precursors (there are several different castes within their culture) at home: they dwell in the Anteverse. In this image, we see lines of identical Kaiju clones retained by binding of some sort. Image from Pacific Rim wikia.

Kaiju are not just animals, they’re manufactured, cloned bioweapons that have been engineered by an alien culture, sent through a portal in order to kill as many humans as possible and make huge areas uninhabitable. The alien overlords – the vaguely arthropod-like, 3-to-4-m-tall Precursors – aim to rid a planet of its pesky natives (in this case, humans) before moving in themselves (an MO similar to that practised by the hostile aliens in Independence Day). We know that Precursors have tried this before: the wording is ambiguous and I don’t remember it exactly (it comes from Newton’s drift with the brainstem), but it’s implied that they tried this in the Mesozoic with unsuccessful results (were they implicated in the extinction of non-avialan dinosaurs? Or is it that they created dinosaurs? I really hope the latter isn’t part of the storyline – that would be uberlame on a Prometheus-like level).

K-Day: when the Trespasser took out San Francisco. From Pacific Rim: Tales From Year Zero.

On 21st century Earth, the polluted, CO2-rich atmosphere, acidic oceans and so on have apparently made conditions more ideal for the Precursors, so now is time to try again. By the way: has Precursor culture really persisted for tens of millions of years (implied by the reference to invasion effort # 1 occurring in the Mesozoic), or is The Breach a portal through time as well as space? I don’t think we know.

Concept art shows that Kaiju are grown by the Precursors in biomechanical cages of a sort. During Newton’s drift, we see a few flashes hinting at the idea that the Kaiju are surgically modified by the Precursors and treated in a brutal, hostile manner perhaps involving pain and general nastiness: they are not treated humanely. We have no idea (so far as I know) as to the sentience or otherwise of the Kaiju, but this treatment raises questions about that issue. More on that in a moment.

We also know that the Kaiju are clones. If this is true, why the massive variation in phenotype? All the Kaiju we see – I assume this goes for all the Kaiju (contra the concept image shown above) – are absolutely different in external anatomy. How can this be so? I don’t know if the answer is revealed in-canon, but we might speculate that Kaiju are surgically modified as they grow, that the Precursors are skilled at manipulating the anatomy of test-tube embryos, or that epigenetic mechanisms somehow produce different Kaiju castes, morphs, or even operate differently for every single individual. My bet is that embryological design of some sort is at play, since the Kaiju seem to become progressively more weaponised throughout their war with humans (they’re successively improved, somewhat like the Omnidroids created by Syndrome in Pixar’s The Incredibles). Leatherback – a Category IV – is even kitted out with an EMP-emitting organ on its back, a structure that the Precursors have apparently built into the Kaiju’s design to deal with the Jaeger response.

Leatherback - a vaguely gorilla-shaped knuckle-walker who uses tools in a fight - roars skywards, bioluminiscent tendrils visible at the back of its head.

Are the Kaiju just automatons that smash and destroy once they get through The Breach? Well, we’re told that they operate “under orders”, that they’re connected via “hive mind”, and that some are more intelligent than others (Slattern, the only Category V we see, is said to be the smartest so far). Leatherback even uses a tool (a crane) in its fight with Gipsy Danger, plus Leatherback and Otachi – and Scunner, Slattern and Raiju in the big fight at the end – are supposed to be working together as teams when battling with Jaegers. These aspects of the story either imply that Kaiju are smart (and sentient?), or that they’re controlled by the Precursors. Of course, if the Kaiju are smart and sentient perhaps we should feel sorry for them and wonder why they’re ok with being treated as they are; is it that they’ve been beaten into submission, like trained dancing bears? Could there be a Kaiju revolution one day where they escape bondage and get to live free lives?

On the issue of sentience and “hive mind”, what exactly was Otachi trying to achieve by finding Newton? Did Otachi think that Newton was another Kaiju, did the Kaiju and/or the Precursors now need or want Newton because of his mind-link with their culture, or what? Thoughts appreciated.

Kaiju pollute an area with their breath, secretions, droppings and tissues. Here are clean-up efforts following an attack (not sure of the location).

We’re told (and shown) that Kaiju are toxic: their tissues, secretions and breath are toxic, at least some of them can discharge insanely powerful acids (Otachi pretty much melts a building as well as the armour of the Russian Jaeger Cherno Alpha), and – even when they’re killed – their blood (‘Kaiju Blue’) pollutes the land, water and air around an attack site and makes it uninhabitable (or does it? Read on). Remember that numerous Kaiju have been attacking the cities of the Pacific region for more than a decade by the end of the movie, meaning that many cities have been attacked and many Kaiju have been killed.

A Kaiju visit can really ruin your day, even if it doesn't turn your city into a parking lot.

In my opinion then, we should rightly imagine huge areas around the Pacific where hundreds of thousands to millions of people have been killed, and huge tracts of land been made uninhabitable, due to numerous Kaiju attacks. I feel that it was all too easy to forget this by the end of the movie: they should have reminded us that getting rid of the Kaiju menace really was a matter of ‘extinction or annihilation’, since the later part of the film otherwise made it feel as if life was carrying on as normal, bar the occasional Kaiju vs Jaeger battle going on in the background.

Am I right though? Were Kaiju really making the edges of the Pacific uninhabitable? There’s a plot-hole here. Remember the skull-like building, serving as a Hong Kong temple for Kaiju worshippers and shown during one of the scenes where Newton talks to Hannibal Chau? Turns out this really is a skull, specifically of Reckoner, a Kaiju that attacked in 2016. Yet, despite the Reckoner’s tissues doing what a Kaiju’s tissues do, the area has turned more or less back to normal within a decade (the film is set in 2025). That’s not right – they should have stuck with the idea that Kaiju kill an area for centuries.

Kaiju appearance and anatomy

Brilliant concept art by Wayne Barlowe, depicting Knifehead, one of my favourites. Note the vaguely humanoid form (bipedal, near-vertical thorax) of the beast.

The creature designs in Pacific Rim are great: we owe them to the amazing Wayne Barlowe. In appearance, Kaiju combine a vaguely humanoid profile (note that virtually all are shown at some point standing bipedally, the thoracic region being held vertically or nearly so) with various features being reminiscent of assorted sharks, reptiles and other animals. Of course, it’s difficult to create an imaginary creature and not have it be at least somewhat reminiscent of a real creature, so while there’s obvious novelty and cleverness in the Kaiju designs, several of them enough recall real creatures that they look to be based on them. Knifehead has a head reminiscent of a goblin shark’s, Onibaba is a huge crustacean, Otachi has pterosaur-like wings, Leatherback is gorilla-shaped, Raiju looks like a super-powered cross between a crocodile and a pangolin, and Slattern has a hammerhead… head.

Concept art depicting Slattern, the only Category V Kaiju we ever get to see. From Pacific Rim wikia.

I wish we had better views of Slattern. It’s the only Category V we see in the movie, but the fight scenes and fast-paced action mean that we never get a clear look at the whole creature. It has a tripartite, weaponised tail, a few tentacles, thick, rugose armour and sharp triangular spines projecting from the shoulder and back. It’s also difficult to appreciate Slattern’s size – it towers over the Kaiju we see earlier in the movie.

Concept art showing Otachi's head. Bioluminescence abounds. Otachi is one of the biggest Kaiju we see, and also the only one that can fly.

Having mentioned Otachi, I noted even when the trailers were all we had to go on that it seems to have a Clover-esque look, by which I mean that it’s quadrupedal and has slender, sprawling forelimbs. We now know the reason for this: Otachi is partially bat- or pterosaur-inspired, with tightly furled wing membranes that are stowed away on the sides of the forelimbs. During Otachi’s flight, we see that the wing membranes connect to the sides of the body, not to the hindlimbs. They must be composed of some insanely thick, resistant tissue, but just how this withstands flapping without breaking to bits is unknown. Otachi also has a prehensile tail with a tri-pronged grabbing organ at its tip, a lower jaw that can be split apart along its midline, and a bioluminescent, lure-like tongue (or tongue-like organ) covered in glowing bulbs. Deepsea fish, anglerfish in particular, come to mind.

Kaiju remains (bit weird how it's mostly skeletonised, but still with intact guts) on an aircraft carrier. As Heteromeles noted at SV-POW!, this scene is kinda unlikely... Still cool though.

What do we know about Kaiju internal anatomy? We know that they have bones or bone homologues since we see skeletal remains (including skulls and what look like vertebrae) on a few occasions in the movie, and we also see what look like guts – plus we’re told that Kaiju produce shit, in which case they must eat and have a functional digestive system.

Massive, strongly curved hand claws present on several Kaiju look semi-inspired by those of big-clawed theropod dinosaurs like Spinosaurus (though I don’t see any inward-facing palms on the Kaiju, the normal condition for theropods). Then again, how are big, curved claws on prehensile hands gonna look if not like that?

Karloff the Kaiju (at far left) from the book Pacific Rim: Man, Machine and Monsters, from the io9 Pacific Rim article.

While the Kaiju are diverse in form and certainly in head shape, there are a few anatomical features that hint at the idea of some sort of relatedness. Look at the forelimbs of Scunner, Slattern and Knifehead: in all three, it seems that the primary forelimbs represent fusion between two pairs of original, slimmer limbs, since there’s an oval-shaped gap in the lower arm. Concept art shows that this was also originally true for Karloff (a Kaiju that attacks Vancouver), but it looks different in the film (and in Tales From Year Zero), with slim forelimbs and slender, pointy-clawed fingers. Karloff is seen briefly in the prologue (if you look at Karloff’s head, I think it’s pretty obvious why it has the name that it does). Anyway, this forelimb feature reminds me of a similar gap seen in the primate-like Prolemuris creatures from Avatar.

Actually, I’m not sold on the idea that the Kaiju ‘arm gap’ represents fusion at all – it might just be a neat-looking (and alien) gap that the designers incorporated for the hell of it (I note that a similar gap in present on the tail of the concept version of Karloff). Furthermore, the idea of arm fusion is obviously contingent on the existence of evolution in Kaiju, and if the Kaiju are designed for a job, they most likely are not breeding and evolving.

Page on Knifehead from the book Pacific Rim: Man, Machine and Monsters, from the io9 Pacific Rim article.

But – hold on, Otachi is pregnant and produces an offspring (who stayed after the credits started rolling?). Furthermore, the baby was a baby Otachi, not a generic Kaiju that looked different from its mother, so Kaiju forms appear to breed true. What could this mean? Does it mean that at least some Kaiju are allowed to roam and breed before coming through The Breach? Does it mean that Kaiju are parthenogenetic and might pop out babies at any time? Does it mean that Otachi is a special case? Of course, I don’t know.

Huge blade-like structures, used as weapons in combat and clearly good at breaking into Jaeger hulls when opportunity allows, are shared by the heads of several Kaiju. Trespasser has an axe-like blade on top of its head, Knifehead has a blade-like snout, Mutavore has an aft-curving chin blade and backswept cranial horn, Scunner has paired lateral horns, and so on. Each of the Kaiju are really distinct in head form, however. I drew little sketches because I thought I might be able to link them in a sort of pseudo-phylogeny, but… no. Here’s the result… note that the tree is unrooted, for obvious reasons I think.

If Kaiju are bio-engineered, the idea that there might be a 'phylogeny' is problematic; nevertheless, individuals could still be more closely related to some than to others in some way, so here's a pseudo-phylogeny of 'ornate-skulled' Kaiju we see in the movie. I'm hinting at the idea that Otachi and Slattern share characters that unite them, as do Trespasser and Knifehead. Mutavore could be close to the Trespasser + Knifehead group; Scunner is more difficult to place. Image by Darren Naish.

Bioluminescence is also a constant theme across the Kaiju; used, I assume, because it looks cool, especially with so many of the Kaiju being shown at night or in dark water. If we imagine movies to be ‘related’ to one another by way of their designers, studios and inspirations, this all seems like an obvious nod to Avatar. Indeed, I really like the idea that the creatures, plants and ecosystem of Pandora are designed by a failing but industrially adept Na’vi culture that have built bioluminescence into everything such that the forests of Pandora are illuminated during the night. If the bioluminescence in Avatar is anything to do with bio-engineering, and given that we know that the bioluminescence in the Kaiju of Pacific Rim is the result of bio-engineering, has this become – or will it become – a new motif indicating the fact that a movie creature has been bio-engineered? Keep an eye out for it in other movies.

Trespasser attacks the Golden Gate Bridge before moving on to flatten the city of San Francisco; the 2013 arrival of this Kaiju (presumably a Category I?) became forever marked as K-Day.

On the subject of luminescence, what’s with the fact that Trespasser’s maw glows during the attack on San Francisco? That opening scene was extremely badass but I’m struggling to work out why a creature would look like it had a bonfire going on in its mouth.

Pacific Rim: Tales From Year Zero (Warner Bros/Legendary)... it might contain answers. It might not.

Raiju seemingly has a bony, armour-plated head, but what we’re actually seeing is three separate mobile plates that surround the genuine head, protected in the centre but exposed when the plates are opened. Seeing as the real head is vulnerable and (so far as I’ve been able to tell) doesn’t have any special function as a weapon, exposing the head at any point during combat doesn’t seem particular wise, but what the hey.

To the future. Come on, Hollywood, do it right, for all our sakes…

I frequently run against the opinion that you’re over-analysing movies if you think too hard about stuff like the origins, anatomy and evolution of creatures like the Kaiju of Pacific Rim. But, to somebody interested in evolution and biology, questions like those raised above are unavoidable – we have to suspend disbelief when watching a film as outlandish and OTT as Pacific Rim, for sure, but how can we immerse ourselves in the universe of the film without asking those kinds of questions? We want to know; we might even need to know, and when there aren’t any answers because film-makers are too lame or too dumb to think them up (Lost, the ending of Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes), the film has failed. I don’t think the people behind Pacific Rim are in that category: I bet the answers are there, and it might even be possible to find them out. And thus I must seek out the Pacific Rim books.

And so, time to end. Sequel? Well, maybe yes according to del Toro. It all depends on how well the movie does in Japan, where it opens July 31st.

Darren Naish About the Author: Darren Naish is a science writer, technical editor and palaeozoologist (affiliated with the University of Southampton, UK). He mostly works on Cretaceous dinosaurs and pterosaurs but has an avid interest in all things tetrapod. His publications can be downloaded at He has been blogging at Tetrapod Zoology since 2006. Check out the Tet Zoo podcast at! Follow on Twitter @TetZoo.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. AndreaCau 8:38 am 07/25/2013

    To be “a nerd” has become just a trendy stereotype.
    I dislike much that term.

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  2. 2. Richard Freeman 8:49 am 07/25/2013

    Darren, Hollywood gave us a film about giant anacondas set in Borneo with South Anmerican monkeys and birds as well as tigers. These guys almost never bother to do any research.

    Knifehead seems heavily based on Guiron from the 1969 film Gamera vs Guiron.

    Can’t wait for the new Godzilla. It looks like it will be respectful to the Toho version unlike the awful Tri Star effort.

    There were not many women in Pacific Rim but Rinko Kikuchi ….oh my!

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  3. 3. DoubtfulNews 8:50 am 07/25/2013

    You are overthinking this. But thanks, I was overthinking the same. :-)

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  4. 4. 9:39 am 07/25/2013

    Gottlieb was actually a mathematician, so it makes sense for him to be socially incapable. *ducks as chalk erasers are thrown*

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  5. 5. doctoratlantis 9:40 am 07/25/2013

    I thought the talk about the previous attempts to take over Earth included the worst line ever when they mentioned “the dinosaurs” and talked of how that didn’t work out. Really? How many millions of years of successful occupation are required for victory conditions? *fumes*

    But other than that, I loved the movie and your work here is a great musing on a timeless issue: When will science get a proper treatment on the big screen. There’s no reason they couldn’t have used a science consultant and talked a bit about these issues.

    On the “DNA” thing – I think to non-educated people, the letters have become like XEROX – a meaningless word that means “genetic material.” I have no idea how few people understand what DNA is/does, but I think it would be safe to say that most do not. But instead of using movies like this as a way to squeeze in just the tiniest bit of science education, they pour glowing blue toppings over their soft-serve and shove it down our throats. :P

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  6. 6. 9:42 am 07/25/2013

    I thought they were saying that the Precursors tried to invade once before but were beaten by dinosaurs. That’s why they engineered the Kaiju, to one-up the dinosaurs.

    At that moment in the movie I leaned to my wife and said, “I want to see that prequel!”

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  7. 7. Pristichampsus 9:47 am 07/25/2013

    Aside even from the “2 dino brain” mistake, the most glaring mistake in this film is pretty obvious to any Australian. Why build an anti-kaiju wall SMACK BANG in the MIDDLE of Sydney Harbor??? This was clearly done so people could identify the city, but anyone who knows how Sydney is layed out, will know that the wall would be best put at the actual entrance to the harbor, about a kilometer away (incidentally, this harbor entrance is shown very faithfully in the closing scenes of “Finding Nemo”). Where they put that wall, in the movie, would put the main city in safety, but cut the entire city in half, with the part on one side of the bridge completely at the mercy of monsters. Not to mention that it’s not even facing out into the pacific.

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  8. 8. 9:51 am 07/25/2013

    “Could there be a Kaiju revolution one day where they escape bondage and get to live free lives?”

    I want to see that sequel.

    On your phylogeny: if they’re all clones then shouldn’t they be a single, massively polymorphic OTU? (And I suggest that perhaps they have a genetic set-up like ciliates: a micronucleus with active genetic material and a macronucleus that works as a sort of library of possibilities.)

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  9. 9. Heteromeles 9:52 am 07/25/2013

    The thing I’d most like to see is the science nerd’s version of the Bechdel Test. For those who don’t know, the Bechdel test shows how women are portrayed in a work of fiction. The work passes if:
    “1. It has to have at least two women in it,
    2. who talk to each other,
    3. about something besides a man.”
    Quite a few works of fiction fail, especially in science fiction.

    I’d suggest we need a version of these three rules for scientists in fiction. Any thoughts for a Naish Test?

    Second thing is that the glow in kaiju mouths may be because they are nuclear powered and that’s Cherenkov radiation from their saliva. If true, this would be a direct swipe from this article. Note that I’m not saying it would work, but then again, neither kaiju nor jaegers make much sense. I already wrote a small rant on SVPOW about how the US Army would probably deal with a real-life kaiju incursion, but I must also say that it would have been cool to see the jaegers try a bit of chemistry on the things, just to see how tough they are.

    As a card-carrying nerd (that card would be a library card, thank you), I should also point out that most industrialized countries have huge infrastructures for dealing with ammonia and similar compounds, since that’s the basis for the whole nitrogen-based fertilizer industry, not to mention the whole nitrogen-based explosives industry. I strongly suspect that, once they found out what was in kaiju blood and tissues, the stuff would quickly disappear into the global chemical industry. That stuff’s too valuable to treat as industrial waste.

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  10. 10. naishd 10:30 am 07/25/2013

    Thanks for great comments. It did occur to me that building the wall right next to the Sydney Opera House seems mightily odd…


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  11. 11. Henrique Niza 10:52 am 07/25/2013

    I would say (and that’s entirely based on my interpretation) the Kaiju blood might be comparable to oil pollution. Sure it can contaminate an entire ecosystem but if the menace is contained, like it seems to be the case in the film, there shouldn’t be major radiation after one decade.

    Regarding another subject I thought the Kaiju are depicted too much like animals and thus is inevitable to wonder about those morals questions. It might be cause I grew up with Godzilla and the like but in my head a Kaiju isn’t suppose to bleed fluids all over the place.

    And Leatherback is a Category IV Kaiju.

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  12. 12. naishd 10:54 am 07/25/2013

    Oops, yes, Leatherback is a Category IV, sorry.


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  13. 13. David Marjanović 11:19 am 07/25/2013

    Uh, ciliates don’t work like that: the micronucleus is set aside for reproduction (it’s the germline), and the macronucleus is massively polyploid, does all the actual work, and isn’t inherited.

    Prometheus was mentioned. Someone please spoiler me. :-)

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  14. 14. David Marjanović 11:25 am 07/25/2013

    Forgot the silly part: Jäger just means “hunter”.

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  15. 15. 11:54 am 07/25/2013

    Whoops, I did get the nuclei mixed up. Not sure where I got the “library” idea, but I guess that’s not quite right.

    It occurs to me that perhaps we’re being too precise. In science fiction the term “clone” sometimes implies organisms grown in vats or whatever (as opposed to developing in a womb or egg). Maybe he just meant they were manufactured? (Can’t recall if the exact dialogue allows for this interpretation.)

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  16. 16. 11:56 am 07/25/2013

    @Pristichampus, maybe it was a secondary wall? Or maybe earlier attacks destroyed those parts of the city?

    (Yeah, I’m just making excuses — you’re right of course, they just did it because the Opera House looks cool.)

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  17. 17. Yodelling Cyclist 12:35 pm 07/25/2013

    This is fun and a worthwile distraction. But terrible fun science breeds terrible science being taken as fact. I show unto you the following:

    go here [EDIT FROM DARREN: please try and hyperlink, long urls are a formatting pain!]

    Could some of the competent biologists around here please, please rise to the fight on this insanity?

    Oh, and as for the kaiju, meet atomic annie, the real solution for all your kaiju-busting needs:

    M65 Atomic Cannon

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  18. 18. Heteromeles 12:36 pm 07/25/2013

    Humble apologies for the self-promotion, but this post inspired me to think about how kaiju might be treated in the real world, among other things. It was a bit too long to post here.

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  19. 19. Cameron McCormick 12:53 pm 07/25/2013

    We should probably talk about the Kaiju’s weight problem, which is directly mentioned in the film (2500 tons of AWESOME!). Almost all of the Kaiju are roughly humanoid (except Otachi and Onibaba) and perhaps the closest comparison can be made between Leatherback and a gorilla. According to the Wiki, Leatherback is 267′/81 meters tall (standing upright, judging by comparison with similarly-sized Gipsy Danger) and weighs 2,900 tons/2630 tonnes. This sounds like an awful lot, but it’s actually shockingly low. Leatherback is about 48 times as tall as a gorilla and would be expected to weigh 48^3 times as much — about 12,000 tonnes — but this figure is 4.5 times higher than the weight given… plus we know Leatherback can swim, so hyper-pnematicity seems unlikely. Perhaps like large whales Kaiju are only estimated piecemeal and thanks to quick degradation published figures are considerably lower than weigh in life. But then, the category estimation relies on measuring displacement, so maybe they just suck at math.

    Henneberg, M. et al. (1989) Body Weight/Height Relationship: Exponential Solution. American Journal of Human Biology 1 483–491.

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  20. 20. Xopher425 12:56 pm 07/25/2013

    For once I did not constantly notice all the errors and lapses of logic – I really liked this movie. With Battleship, I constantly noticed issues, had “wait, that’s not right” moments (although I love that movie, has seen it a dozen times.) It’s been interesting reading all these blogs about all the goofs, and it has not changed how much I feel.

    We do love that gawky, socially inept nerd; look at the popularity of the Big Bang Theory. I like the thought that someone is so passionate about something that is fills their head to the exclusion of everything else, including other people. I admit I like it too because I feel like them at times, like I can’t understand other members of my own species.

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  21. 21. Dartian 12:57 pm 07/25/2013

    when there aren’t any answers because film-makers are too lame or too dumb to think them up (Lost, the ending of Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes), the film has failed

    I’d rather not try to defend Burton’s version of POTA (apart from Tim Roth’s performance and the special effects, that movie was totally pants), but to be fair, his film’s ending was actually quite similar to the ending of Pierre Boulle’s novel (which, of course, was what started the entire Apes franchise).

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  22. 22. naishd 1:01 pm 07/25/2013

    Cameron (comment # 19): you get a deliberate shout-out in the podcast (ep 10) WRT this issue…


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  23. 23. naishd 1:14 pm 07/25/2013

    David Marjanovic says in comment # 14…

    “Forgot the silly part: Jäger just means “hunter”.”

    As a point of interest, one of the first things (perhaps >the< first thing, I forget) we see in the movie is words on the screen. The word Kaiju is given, with its translation, then the word Jaeger, with its translation. The backstory to the Jaeger Programme is that they were devised by a Japanese scientist after he was inspired by his child's toy robots, but it's never explained why he went with a German name.

    Incidentally, the term Jaeger is in use in the zoology world: it's used for the smaller skuas (the predatory seabirds).


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  24. 24. Cameron McCormick 1:33 pm 07/25/2013

    Cameron (comment # 19): you get a deliberate shout-out in the podcast


    it’s never explained why he went with a German name

    According to the Wiki, both Geiszler and Gottlieb are Germans… despite speaking with an American and English accent*, respectively. So maybe there was a huge German influence on the project for some reason?

    * One time I saw a show that featured Jews hiding in WWII-era Germany speaking with Received Pronunciation… about the English. It seems rare for TV and movies to *not* use accents in some highly illogical and mind-bending way.

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  25. 25. Halbred 1:58 pm 07/25/2013

    I loved the movie–it’s exactly the kind of movie I’d make if somebody gave me $200M and said “go.” I’m glad I wasn’t the only one who noticed the homage to Gamera vs. Guiron!

    I’m also looking forward to next year’s Godzilla movie. That director’s other effort, “Monsters” is a great understated kaiju movie, although you can pretty easily argue that it’s not about the kaiju at all. One more thing to think about: Godzilla and Pacific Rim are both being done by Legendary Pictures.


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  26. 26. VelocitySquared 3:24 pm 07/25/2013

    You simply MUST turn off your brain when it comes to movies like this. I sat down expecting a terrible plot, bad acting and horrific science. I was expecting Giant Monsters beating up Giant Robots. So much of the movie makes no sense at all don’t even try. Just don’t go there. If you applied science the movie just couldn’t happen. Not even remotely. No excuse for giant robots smacking around giant robots. Boring.

    Turn off Brain. Watch explosions and stuff being smashed. Enjoy. End of film, turn on brain.

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  27. 27. M Tucker 3:48 pm 07/25/2013

    “I’ve simply enjoyed it as a massive, CG-laden romp based around giant Kaiju* and huge humanoid robots”

    Yep, that’s what it is. That’s all it is…an excuse for Hollywood to get its CG on and to hopefully make enormous piles of money. I’m glad you spent all that time thinking about the flaws so I don’t have to. If it doesn’t show up eventually on TV I won’t be seeing it so your article has satisfied all my natural curiosity, mild as it may be. I have to say that the story line just sounds lame and if the story is not interesting to me I will not feed the Hollywood beast. CG and 3-D simply for the sake of displaying its capabilities is not a draw for me. BUT, I did find your critique fascinating, thank you!

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  28. 28. Cameron McCormick 4:19 pm 07/25/2013

    the outstanding near-absence of women from the Pacific Rim universe is weird and inappropriate

    Particularly since according to the Wiki, drifting was invented by a woman… who also defeated the first Kaiju via Jaeger. It would have be nice if she was one of the two scientists in the film, which would of course help to buck the “scientists are freaks” element.

    We know that Precursors have tried this before: the wording is ambiguous

    Apparently it was during the Triassic so… I think the implication is they created dinosaurs. I really hope I’m reading into that wrong.

    Did Otachi think that Newton was another Kaiju, did the Kaiju and/or the Precursors now need or want Newton because of his mind-link with their culture, or what? Thoughts appreciated.

    If a sequel ever gets made, it will apparently involve the blending of Kaiju and Jaegers and the human-Kaiju drifting and scavenged remains of Gipsy Danger on the other side will be involved. But, alas, this probably won’t ever be released in the form of a movie.

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  29. 29. Torvosuchus 6:08 pm 07/25/2013

    OK, I’ve finally been tempted to go from lurking to active posting. I’m too much of a biology nerd/sci-fi-creature geek to let this pass up. (And yes, I draw a distinction between nerd and geek: nerd = bookish, intellectual, geek = happily and sincerely non-mainstream). I apologize in advance for any . . . verbosity on my part.

    I want to say, first, that I’m both a big kaiju fan and someone who appreciates how absurdly flawed all kaiju films are. That’s the point: Pacific Rim doesn’t commit any sins or have any flaws that haven’t already been perpetrated by dozens of other giant-monster movies. It does, however, wrap them together in a much smoother, more thematically consistent package, and for that I think it’s the best kaiju film I’ve ever seen. This isn’t just a random CGI cash-in, this is a surprisingly subtle and well-researched homage to the entire genre.

    A few others have also noted that there are homages to prior films in this. So, while things like the incredibly stereotypical scientists are still rather grating, one could argue that these tropes are embedded in the history of the genre. It almost needs to have eccentric scientists in order to be a proper kaiju film, just like other equally absurd elements (Giant humanoid war machines? Connections between universes? Fighting monsters with hand-to-hand martial arts? Giant buzzsaws? etc) serve to enhance the film by making it more over-the-top.

    ‘Course, you gotta enjoy over-the-top for that to work in the first place, but I think the film does a nice job of blending a semblance of gritty realism with its enjoyably insane elements.

    I’m a huge fan of Wayne Barlowe, as well, so this was a double treat for me. I note that many of Barlowe’s creatures have fused limbs and/or odd gaps in their limbs: consider his work in his book “Expedition,” where the Gyrosprinter has spectacularly weird fused limbs and the Pronghead and Eosapien aliens have notable gaps in their anatomy. The advanced Yma aliens also have partially fused limbs, and even in his fantasy work (such as his sketches for Thype), there are many fused-limb morphologies. In a way, it’s one of Barlowe’s calling cards.

    Anyway, I wanted some feedback on other biological references I think I saw in the kaiju:

    -The face of the big crab one looks like a *Dunkleosteus* modified to have crustacean-style moving mouthparts.

    -The “gular pouch” and acid-spit of Otochi reminded me of procellariforms spewing fish oil at predators. Its body shape was also giving me vampire bat/plucked bird vibes, with hints of monitor or crocodile thrown in. Otochi’s head also seems familiar, but I can’t quite say why.

    -The cranial ornamentation on Leatherback seems very familiar, but I can’t quite place it. *Placerias?* *Embolotherium?* Not really, but I can’t think of what it’s reminding me of. I’ve been trying to place it, and it’s driving me crazy.


    A few other miscellaneous notes . . .

    -If the kaiju are genetically identical clones (this was explicit: the DNA in multiple samples years apart was identical) then could chemical pathways/developmental controls be used to shape growth as desired? Remember, these Precursor aliens have the ability to *breach between universes,* which by itself shows that they are unspeakably advanced. Hell, they could be engineering these things on an atomic level.

    -Isn’t DNA a logically efficient molecule for storing DNA? I’ve often wondered about whether DNA would arise convergently on alien worlds as the most likely (but not only possible) genetic medium.

    -The kaiju seem to have some tactical sense. In the flashback with the crab kaiju attacking Japan, it seems to be oddly curious about the little girl; then, as soon as the Jaeger is flown in, the kaiju immediately ignores the girl and rushes off toward the Jaeger. This struck me as intelligent combat behavior: the Jaeger would be at its most vulnerable as it is landing and getting oriented. It would be more vulnerable to toppling and wouldn’t have its weapon systems locked on yet. Both Leatherback and Otochi also seem to have their own awareness and reactions of when Jaegers are nearby, perhaps arguing against any direct control from the home universe (so they’re not being “piloted” so to speak.)

    -Leatherback’s weapon-organ is, IIRC, not an “EMP” weapon. I seem to recall that a line in the film says something about “doubling the electrical output of (circuits),” which is not how an EMP device works. It seems to have an analogous but purely technobabble effect.

    -The physical structure of the Anteverse seems rather radically different from our own in many ways, which is plausible; perhaps the kaiju that emerge on Earth retain a lingering connection to their native laws of physics? That might rationalize why they can support their huge bulk on a merely organic structure, and move that mass so damn fast with biological muscles that shouldn’t be able to do so.

    -If higher carbon dioxide is part of what makes modern Earth so ripe for invasion, why the hell did they not like it in the Cretaceous? Weren’t greenhouse gas levels much higher at that time? And yes, I’m also incredulous that this civilization waited 65 million years or so before claiming their next world. Apparently they didn’t need our resources all that badly.

    Anyway, I’ve rambled enough, so I’ll conclude by saying this: Darren, Tet Zoo is outstanding on multiple levels, and it has been a sheer joy to read the thoughts of yourself and others on so many aspects of real-world science, speculative zoology, and cryptozoology over so many articles. You are a gentleman and a scholar, and even if I never post here again I will continue to enjoy your work. (And to buy your Tet Zoo compilation books, if any more are ever published.)

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  30. 30. aaronthemad 1:57 am 07/26/2013

    Kaiju films leave me curious about two things:

    1. What would a realistic Godzilla-sized vertebrate look like? A quadraped with really thick limbs? A featureless quivering dome of flesh?

    2. How big could you realistically scale something shaped like Godzilla, before it stops being a functional creature due to structural limitations? Spinosaurus-sized is clearly feasible, given the existence of Spinosaurus. How much larger could you go before it becomes unable to walk?

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  31. 31. JAHeadden 3:26 am 07/26/2013

    Darren writes:
    “[w]e have to suspend disbelief when watching a film as outlandish and OTT as Pacific Rim, for sure, but how can we immerse ourselves in the universe of the film without asking those kinds of questions? We want to know; we might even need to know, and when there aren’t any answers because film-makers are too lame or too dumb to think them up (Lost, the ending of Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes), the film has failed.”

    As I mentioned elsewhere, especially on Twitter, the issue of suspension of disbelief requires a compelling reason to suspend disbelief. This means the film has to be COOL to force the suspension. If you do not know something, should you know it? Does anyone know it? When someone tries to explain something, does it make sense, especially if it’s from the realm of authority?

    The Rule of Cool is a trope tyhat many, many movies work well on. It is often necessary for Fantasy to function when your magic system is either hypertechnical and reasoned, or nontechnical and never explained. This is the difference between The Wheel of Time and Lord of the Rings — both of which are massively popular and successful in their technical quality versus “cool” value (e.g., you never disbelieve that Gandalf has power and can use it to fight a Balrog, he just does). But the Rule of Cool requires that you don’t need to try to explain it; it is cool, and that is why it’s cool. Giant robots and giant monsters are cool because; that’s all there is to it.

    As an example of the Rule of Cool defying need for explanation, these following quotes from Ghostbusters tells you all you need to know about ghostbusting:

    “Ray: You know, it just occurred to me that we really haven’t had a successful test of this equipment.
    Egon: I blame myself.
    Peter: So do I.
    Ray: Well, no sense in worrying about it now.
    Peter: Why worry? Each one of us is carrying an unlicensed nuclear accelerator on his back.”

    Even the analogy to explain something inconceivable to us is, itself, inconceivable. We are left no wiser to Egon’s explanation when Ray tries to rephrase it.

    “Egon: Don’t cross the streams.
    Peter: Why?
    Egon: It would be bad.
    Peter: I’m fuzzy on the whole good/bad thing. What do you mean, “bad”?
    Egon: Try to imagine all life as you know it stopping instantaneously and every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of light.”

    Explaining stuff that needs no explaining save to use an inconceivable analogy to show how extreme it is is part and parcel to the Rule of Cool. Not by discussing minor points of “kaiju” biology.

    And then there’s the “it’s analogue, not digital” bit. If you’re carrying a nuclear reactor in your suit, you’ll be vulnerable to an EM pulse just as much as an electronic suit. You’d need to be clockwork, spring-loaded or human-/steam-powered to avoid Leatherback’s EMP, but instead, the Gispy Danger is just “safe” using a nonsensical, and outright stupid, explanation.

    The movie tries way to much to make the explanations mundane, reachable by the audience, but at the same time outlandishly wrong. It can only be through sheer ignorance on the part of the writers, or intentionally bad writing as “homage.”

    This makes a great animatic for a movie, but I’d like to see what happens when our standins are replaced with actors, we get character development written in, and the non-science jabber is replaced with inconceivable analogies we don’t need to understand. That is, when this animated storyboard becomes a real movie. Then I’d swallow all the biological impossibilities, just like how Dragons can be swallowed by the Fantasy dudes.

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  32. 32. naishd 6:58 am 07/26/2013

    Jaime: what’s your point — that we shouldn’t even try to discuss the biology and/or evolution of fictional entities? If it is (and it seems to be), please diminish, and go into the west (or east, it doesn’t matter).


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  33. 33. David Marjanović 10:59 am 07/26/2013

    Could some of the competent biologists around here please, please rise to the fight on this insanity?

    Not sure what you mean by “here”, but how about this?

    The backstory to the Jaeger Programme is that they were devised by a Japanese scientist after he was inspired by his child’s toy robots, but it’s never explained why he went with a German name.

    Because that has a rich tradition in Japan.

    Isn’t DNA a logically efficient molecule for storing DNA?

    LOL. DNA falls apart when stored in water!

    That’s right. We spend much of our basic metabolic rate on constantly repairing our DNA. I’d expect an intelligent designer to use something more like PNA.

    Besides, even if you insist on a sugar/phosphate backbone, many different sugars (all the way down to glycol which isn’t a sugar) and many different bases are available. Spend more time in Wikipedia. :-)

    How much larger could you go before it becomes unable to walk?

    At 140 t, the limbs must be so thick that they touch each other in the middle. (…At least given certain other assumptions.)

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  34. 34. Heteromeles 11:08 am 07/26/2013

    Well, biological kaiju are like building skyscrapers out of straw. The material isn’t strong enough for the application.

    Thing is, bone’s already made out of some really weak stuff (calcium carbonate, aka chalk), but due to some fancy nanotechnology (osteoblasts) that gives it a complex structure composited with a bunch of proteins (which can also be considered nanotechnology), it’s actually pretty strong, especially when it’s alive and repaired after each microcrack. Still, there are limits to what bone can do before it utterly fails no matter how sophisticated it is. Those lovely sauropod bones at SVPOW are a great example: they’re sculptured like gothic cathedrals with huge amounts of weight cut out and replaced by air, just to make the material work. Kaiju are considerably larger.

    Similarly, we’re up against the 3/2 scaling law (aka the square cube law) when we talk about physiology. To boil it down, it’s difficult for anything that big to get oxygen to all its cells by breathing (let alone whatever they do underwater, where there’s less oxygen), and even if it ate rocket fuel, it’s unclear whether it would have enough energy to move.

    Personally, I wouldn’t mind it if they were growing steel-boned, nuclear powered kaiju, because that would be pretty darned scary. A human-built robot beating its grown equivalent would be a real victory.

    Unfortunately, if we’re going to talk about their biology, we’ve got to swallow all these impossibilities to talk about…what? Their evolution?

    Actually, the one thing I would like to see in movies is an understanding of evolution. It would be nice to see conservation of bauplans, if nothing else. It seems that fiction writers have this bizarre idea that little things like numbers of limbs aren’t conserved (cf: Avatar). It would be nice to see some art department start with a common bauplan for an alien planet and then ask the artists to figure out what they can come up with within the limits of that plan, rather than going nuts and then selling the “coolest concepts.” Yes, I know this is probability zero land, but that would honor the science better than any technobabble could.

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  35. 35. Dartian 2:34 pm 07/26/2013

    “Kaiju excrement contaminates city”. Hmm. Does the film reveal what the kaijus eat? Or is that one of those things that we’re not supposed to think too much about? ;)

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  36. 36. Torvosuchus 4:28 pm 07/26/2013

    @David Marjanovic:

    Why would I spend more time on Wikipedia when I know that you’re compelled to correct such errors? : )

    Seriously, I mean that in the most complimentary way possible. You’re a valuable resource and I appreciate your high standards (I don’t consider your fervor for accuracy to be “pedantic” – I admire it). Also, by “efficient,” I was thinking in terms of information density – although I’m no expert on that either – but obviously you have a strong point about the physiological aspect.

    @Heteromeles: You say “It seems that fiction writers have this bizarre idea that little things like numbers of limbs aren’t conserved (cf: Avatar).”

    Again, though, that’s not the work of some anonymous “writers” – that’s Wayne D. Barlowe at work. He created the critters for Avatar as well as Pacific Rim. He happens to be fond of unusual limbs. I once again will reference his book Expedition, in which there are beasts which are quadrupedal, bipedal, tripedal, bipedal-the-other-way (i.e., an anterior leg and a posterior leg), tripedal-the-other way, and critters that have developed a plow-shaped “sled” limb that doesn’t provide propulsion, but serves only to bear weight. Not to mention wingless siphon-powered flyers (one of the most “fiction” parts of his science-fiction alien biology).

    In other words, rampant limb fusion from what appears to be an originally quadrupedal ancestor.

    Besides, isn’t number of limbs variable in many taxa? I’m thinking arthropods and cephalopods. Certainly limb number is usually conserved, but aren’t organisms that are divided into serial segments more prone to add or subtract segments? Not that this applies well to megafauna, but Barlowe is a keen student of biology; he definitely takes various licenses for the sake of dramatic effect, but they’re (usually) thoughtful, deliberate, and rather well-grounded in real anatomical principles.

    He’s good at incorporating lots of real-world observations and taking them just enough over-the-top to seem really weird while still relatively believable – at least at first glance. It’s a fine balance and fun blend of the possible and the impossible, like most good science fiction.

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  37. 37. Heteromeles 5:27 pm 07/26/2013

    Yeah, I’ve got Expedition, and the older I get the less fonder I am of it. While it’s nice and alien, it’s not clear how most of it would work. Those sled limbs are one example, while the lack of a functioning hydrosphere on the planet as a whole is another (this has some nasty consequences for little things like climate).

    As for number of limbs on Earth’s organisms, they do vary, but more across groups more than within them. Insects don’t have eight true legs, for example. Limbs can get lost, but I don’t know of a case where limbs can get fused, and developmentally, it doesn’t make a lot of sense.

    Sadly, I think what we’re seeing is Barlowe’s esthetics, not Barlowe’s keen understanding of evolution (if he has one, which I somehow doubt). It’s a signature, like Geiger’s work on Alien, but that’s as far as it goes.

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  38. 38. cappadocius 5:40 pm 07/26/2013

    I *love* Pacific Rim, but it falls prey to the 21st century trend of having so much extra (and sometimes necessary!) backstory only available in extra-textual sources.

    One such extra-textual source indicates that the Precursors use a mutli-pronged approach to the creation of Kaiju. Various phenotypes are pitted against one another in gladiatorial contests, survivors breeding and their offspring being tweaked based on data received from the ‘hounds’ sent through the Breach, and then the successful models are mass-produced for the invasion itself.

    ‘Scientist’ Newt didn’t just blame rising CO2 levels for making Earth more palatable, he also talked about ocean acidification and lowered ozone protection. An extra-textual source indicates Precursor/Kaiju physiology is Ammonia-based – which *would* outright rule out their genetic carrier being DNA, I believe. Newt also suggests that the K-T event is due to the Precursors. I seriously question Newt’s professional credentials and knowledge base, given his two-brains faux pas and general lack of rigorous methodology. I think he’s just an interested layman that finagled his way into a desperate organization, which would keep with the “underfunded resistance” thing we see in the latter day PPDC. However, if he *is* correct about the extinction event, I would expect that time runs differently in the anteverse – meaning the last planned invasion wouldn’t require a millions of years old continuous civilization. The mathematically predictable frequency increase of kaiju incursions would suggest a fine-tuning of the Breach to match the onsite flow of time.

    We know the names of 22 of the 46 Terran Kaiju, although we’ve only *seen* about a dozen between all the sources. I hold out hope we might get a Field Guide to Kaiju as part of the merchandizing tie-ins, and that will certainly help with kaiju cladistics!

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  39. 39. Torvosuchus 6:15 pm 07/26/2013


    Oh, I agree that his personal aesthetic is a big part of it. After all, he includes stupendously, impossibly large organisms as well as some biologically nonsensical forms of volancy. Plus his fascination with eyelessness, bioluminescence, and other visually striking elements that are so evocative in his medium. He’s a visual artist – I can forgive him for favoring awe over strict realism.

    That, and I don’t claim that he has a notably strong grasp of evolution – just functional anatomy and animal diversity. I don’t expect perfect accuracy in any given image-driven science-fiction work, but Barlowe’s is still world-class because of the incredibly well-integrated organic gestalt he breathes into his art (including his straight-up fantasy creatures).

    So from a strictly biology-based point of view, clearly his work has numerous flaws. From a science-fiction perspective, it thoroughly trumps the hordes of dime-a-dozen humanoid and/or body-horror “aliens” that teem in modern media. Like I said, he’s good at starting with plausible observations and then ratcheting them up into something that goes somewhat beyond believable – which, personally, is right where I like my sci-fi to be. Go big (or go weird) or go home, as it were.


    Interesting stuff. I was wondering about the Precursor rationale . . . after all, breeding giant monsters and sending them in piecemeal isn’t really a coherent military strategy. (Why not secure the Breach site as a beachhead and build up a huge, unstoppable force before the enemy even knows what’s happening?) I thought maybe their universe just works differently enough that things which don’t make sense to us are rational from their perspective. Cool to see some more detail on that front.

    I’m not sure, though, that an interested layman could become a leading expert on the biology of an alien invasion without some real credentials. It’s possible that he’s coming from more of an organic-chemistry or physiological background where knowledge of paleontological concepts aren’t as relevant. Plus, I seem to recall that his “they killed the dinosaurs” comment was knowledge gleaned directly from drifting with the kaiju hive-mind, not speculation on his part.

    Great thought about adjusting for differences in time between universes, though! Any info on why the Pre-cursors are from the Ante-verse? The terms make it sound like they come from earlier in time than we do.

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  40. 40. Christopher Taylor 8:50 pm 07/26/2013

    I’m surprised that no-one’s mentioned the two posts at Deep-Sea News on kaiju biology: how much they would eat and how much they would piss.

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  41. 41. Christopher Taylor 8:50 pm 07/26/2013

    In the more homonomous arthropod groups (i.e. those in which the legs are all fairly similar in morphology), such as millipedes, you can get a fair amount of variation in leg number between species (occasionally, I think, even within). But the general rule seems to be that variation declines as the legs become fewer and more differentiated. As Heteromeles mentioned, insects keep pretty strictly to the six-pair rule (the closest they come to changing that is that the first pair has become strongly reduced and modified in butterflies).

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  42. 42. Heteromeles 10:12 pm 07/26/2013

    It sounds like millipedes run on what botanists call “botanical infinity.” Typically, when we’re counting flower parts, we usually count up to 10, and anything above that is called “indefinite.” Flowers with more than 10 petals, stamens, etc. tend to have variable numbers, even within the plant. The number isn’t strongly controlled by genes. If there are five petals, then generally (with exceptions) there are strong genetic controls.

    The thing about Barlowe (and others) is that they seldom design their worlds to have a limited set of body plans with many variations that conform to those plans, following what we now know about evolution. It’s a neat way to work, in the general sense that limitations force artists to be more creative than they would be otherwise.

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  43. 43. JAHeadden 12:09 am 07/27/2013

    Darren, I could swear I’ve stated my point fairly clearly elsewhere. Or if not, here is is plainer:

    Having ridiculous scenarios, impossible robots or creatures and physics-defying nature is fine. If it’s cool, leave it and handwaive it away. But the moment you try to explain it in real-life terms, you invite debate. You are trying to engage your nerddom deliberately, and because of this, the explanatiom must either make sense in universe, or be explained in such a fashion as to defy analogy. That is, the explanation itself is incomprehensible.

    But that is not what is done here. Here, we have impossible biological and physical explanations that simply cannot be true. Either the writers just did not do the research, or they just didn’t care. Both of those are also tropes, and it is possible Del Toro and Beacham were invoking them deliberately. If so, they did not need to go to the levels they did to prove their explanations (mindmelding, second brain complete with involuted folds, impossible chemistry, etc.).

    If you have to explain awesome to your audience, you’re trying too hard.

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  44. 44. David Marjanović 7:27 am 07/27/2013

    Bone mineral is (at first approximation) calcium phosphate, not carbonate. Bone is said* to be quite similar to mild steel, more brittle, but (as mentioned above) able to heal microfractures.

    Hard eggshells are calcium carbonate. That’s why they’re often missing from sites that preserve bone: they’re less resistant to acidity.

    * G. S. Paul (1988): Predatory Dinosaurs of the World.

    Those lovely sauropod bones at SVPOW are a great example: they’re sculptured like gothic cathedrals with huge amounts of weight cut out and replaced by air, just to make the material work.

    This has been presented the other way around, too: those vertebrae are bigger than they’d need to be for the size of the respective animal. They’re almost literally inflated – larger size at the same weight allows better moment arms for musculature.

    Why would I spend more time on Wikipedia when I know that you’re compelled to correct such errors? : )


    Limbs can get lost, but I don’t know of a case where limbs can get fused, and developmentally, it doesn’t make a lot of sense.

    Of course we can handwave it away as “development biology works differently on that planet”, but it’s pretty clear that Barlowe didn’t even think that far.

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  45. 45. Lars Dietz 7:38 am 07/27/2013

    Christopher Taylor: Yes, insects and arachnids, and many crustacean groups such as decapods, seem to have a fixed number of legs. In some cases legs might get reduced or used for specialized functions, but they never add new ones. However, there are other arthropods with a low number of legs that’s not as strictly fixed. Pycnogonids (sea spiders) usually have 8 legs, but 10-legged forms evolved at least six times and 12-legged ones two times. And each pair of cephalic appendages (chelifores, palps, ovigera) has also been lost several times. I don’t think anyone has an idea why leg number is so flexible in them.

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  46. 46. Heteromeles 12:34 pm 07/27/2013

    Thanks David, I stand corrected.

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  47. 47. Kaz10 5:21 pm 07/27/2013

    If the creatures are in fact bio engineered weapons than really a lot of the incongruous or nonsensical aspects make sense. If their creators want us wiped out or subjugated then morphologies that serve no other purpose than to appear monstrous and odd things like inexplicable bioluminescent mouths would likely help sow terror. “Shock and awe” as it were. Perhaps intelligence was gathered before the attacks to determine what creatures and characteristics humans naturally find repugnant or frightening, and the kaiju were engineered accordingly to boost their psychological impact on the enemy (us) in the field.

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  48. 48. Fancylads 12:15 am 07/28/2013

    “Maybe I’m making too big an issue of this, but such portrayals look like propaganda for the conservative right (“look, scientists are all freaks who don’t live in the real world!”)”

    As someone who grew up around right-wingers, I can assure you they don’t (can’t?) think this way, as they actually believe they’re on the side of “true” science, so “real” scientists are to be admired.
    They believe empirical science confirms their perspective, but that modern western academia is gripped by left-wing humanist ideological cults. So they’ll venerate scientists like Faraday, Newton, Kelvin and Plank, while dismissing most modern evolutionary and climatology science as being populated by dogmatic humanist fabulists and grant-grubbing sycophants.
    So they believe empiricism is on their side but they also think that theory and computer modeling are routinely fudged to confirm the ideological prejudices and wishes of the researchers or their patrons.

    And yet almost 25% believe in Creationism.

    It’s more sad than scary.

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  49. 49. Christopher Taylor 5:51 am 07/28/2013

    Lars: Pycnogonids (sea spiders) usually have 8 legs, but 10-legged forms evolved at least six times and 12-legged ones two times. And each pair of cephalic appendages (chelifores, palps, ovigera) has also been lost several times.

    Thanks for the correction: pycnogonids are a group I’m not so familiar with, so I wasn’t aware they were quite so variable. In my defense, pycnogonids are just so fracking weird in general that I’m not sure if they even count ;-)

    Heteromeles: It sounds like millipedes run on what botanists call “botanical infinity.”

    Not quite the same: there are still some fairly definite patterns in segment number, reflecting underlying developmental processes, though I’m not personally familiar with the details (if I recall correctly, for instance, segment numbers always increase or decrease by an even number, never by an odd number).

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  50. 50. Dan1701 10:01 am 07/31/2013

    OK, if we posit that the Anteverse is home to a hivemind organism which is seriously old, then actually a lot of the problems with the monsters are explained. If the hivemind is very good at bio-engineering, then pretty much all of its component parts back in the Anteverse will be very, very heavily optimised for that environment and will have been optimised for a very long time indeed. Thus the Anteverse hiveminds won’t be particularly creative thinkers, or particularly fast at development work and as the rules here are so very different, they will be being forced to think out of the box but will likely still be thinking that humanity is a hivemind variant of some sort.

    This will force a large amount of experimentation on them. They’re using super-acids and similar things, plus very big bio-engineered beasts with limited intelligence and not much tactics. They are not using specific neurotoxins because those take time to develop, and they’re not using specifically human-killing devices because they’re probably not worked out what we even are. The hivemind(s) will probably still be working on the model that they are attacking other hiveminds; the concept that ONLY these superficially similar small bipeds are sentient and that EACH ONE is a separate intelligence of a fairly high order probably won’t have penetrated, and they will have a great deal of difficulty with the notion that humans are all generalists and that there isn’t any caste-based specialisation.

    So, they’re trying attacks that work on other hiveminds (destroy infrastructure to limit breeding of soldier castes) and using generally destructive systems, rather than specific toxins or vast swarms of small, hard to kill but deadly bio-engineered devices. They’ve not bothered to develop these and there may even be a longstanding taboo over the use of Anteverse weapons of mass destruction. Warfare between hiveminds may be necessarily limited to things that make hiveminds give in to an attacker, not things that exterminate them, much as we don’t fight wars by carpet-bombing with nukes.

    To fight back, we want to be trying to hit their Anteverse infrastructure, power supply and food supply. We also want to be trying to effect huge environmental change on their world; a space-based attack on the lines of de-orbiting comets into their atmosphere, say, or general bombing with deliberately dirty cobalt nukes. We may be able to reason with them by mimicking hivemind to hivemind warfare, or it might come down to bombing them back to the stone age and deliberately keeping them there.

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  51. 51. David Marjanović 11:26 am 07/31/2013

    The hivemind(s) will probably still be working on the model that they are attacking other hiveminds

    I really like that idea!

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  52. 52. Heteromeles 12:18 pm 07/31/2013

    To fight back, we want to be trying to hit their Anteverse infrastructure, power supply and food supply.

    Actually, there’s a much simpler, and more useful strategy: co-opt them (note that I blogged about this, and this is an excerpt).

    The basic point is that kaiju are amazing resources of scarce chemicals. They have to be, since they’re alive and rampaging, they go from deep sea to stomping cities without getting the bends, and we have no clue how they do it.

    Thus, the best solution is to treat kaiju like 19th century whales: break them down to their component parts, and utilize our vast global chemical industry to distribute the bounty around the world. For example: ammonia in the blood? Excellent. Ammonia is a major component in both the fertilizer and explosives industries. It’s also energetically expensive to manufacture. A walking blob of dirty ammonia is too precious to waste. And so on.

    The obvious way to deal with a kaiju invasion is to set up killing grounds on the coast of China, and lure or herd the kaiju into them. China’s a good choice, not because I have any bias against China, but because it has become the world’s supplier for a large number of chemicals, and therefore has the infrastructure to deal with rendering a kaiju corpse. San Diego Bay would be another good choice, not only because of the heavy military presence (which could be turned to the peacetime use of killing kaiju), and not much commercial trade, but also because that’s where Comic-Con takes place, so it would be awesome.

    Anyway, lure the kaiju in, kill them humanely with a laser-guided, bunker-buster bomb to the back of the skull, and then take them apart. Utilize everything but the scream, I say.

    There will, of course, be a global recession when the anteverse ends the kaiju program as a monumental waste of resources, but since those resources went to making our world a bit more sustainable, I figure it’s all to the good, at least from from our perspective. After all, we survived the loss of the global whaling industry, and I’m sure we could survive the loss of a kaiju industry.

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  53. 53. SWestfall 11:11 am 08/1/2013

    Jaeger is also a very common German last name, and the last name of one set of my great great grandparents..

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  54. 54. chehime 1:25 pm 08/3/2013

    Great article!! I really enjoyed it! I have to admit, I love this movie flaws and all, as implausible as it is…

    I’m not a scientist AT ALL, but I know little tidbits of things and my idea on at least some of the kaiju inconsistencies (requiring in all likelihood mental gymnastics and pseudoscience) was this: The Kaiju creators use other Kaiju as incubators so the pregnancy (sort of) makes sense. Although why send a pregnant Kaiju into battle? (The plot needed it…) From the flashes we get I got the impression that the Kaiju are altered, surgically, or by some equivalent means after they are matured. The rows of restrained Kaiju in the anteverse I thought were models in storage awaiting activation and or surgical alterations.

    I liked the scientists even though they were really just mad scientist stereotypes. I don’t think that Newton’s tattoos were there to separate him from nerd culture. A lot super fans have tattoos of things they love. Everything from anime characters to superhero logos. And tattoos are incredibly mundane these days.

    The reason for Otachi to hunt down Newton: I think it’s because the Kaiju masters detected the ‘breach’ to their hive mind, a security breach, and one they needed to stop before any sensitive information could be shared.

    Other than that- EVERYTHING in the movie was designed to look good! A lame excuse I know, but there it is. I don’t have the knowledge to notice ALL the inconsistencies so for the average movie goer, it’s just a slick fun movie.

    And yes! There should have been at least one more woman with a speaking part! OMG! I hope they rectify that in the sequel! It is a noticeable omission that even fans have pointed out.

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  55. 55. David Marjanović 5:36 pm 08/4/2013

    they go from deep sea to stomping cities without getting the bends, and we have no clue how they do it

    Anastomosing blood vessels, as found in plesiosaur bones, would be enough; but this doesn’t distract at all from any of your other points, which are awesome.

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  56. 56. Necrometer 8:53 pm 10/15/2013

    This might be a bit harsh on the fourth wall, but I thought back to this post and couldn’t resist. It turns out the CGI models for the torsos (and limbs?) of three of the kaiju were identical:
    Ignoring the origin of the similarity and translating things into the fictional universe, this would hint at a modularity: the “base” of the organism is the identical while extremities are modified to confer different abilities.

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