Reel Toronto: Pacific Rim
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Reel Toronto: Pacific Rim

Toronto's new "biggest movie ever" wasn't shot entirely on soundstages.

Toronto’s extensive work on the silver screen reveals that, while we have the chameleonic ability to look like anywhere from New York City to Moscow, the disguise doesn’t always hold up to scrutiny. Reel Toronto revels in digging up and displaying the films that attempt to mask, hide, or—in rare cases—proudly display our city.

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For a brief time, Total Recall reigned as the “Biggest Movie Ever Shot in Toronto.” Since it was mostly a special-effects extravaganza, we were pleasantly surprised by how much it actually got out and about in the city. This year, though, it was dethroned by Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim.

So it would be absurd for us to not do something on the “Biggest Movie Ever Shot in Toronto,” except that, unlike Total Recall, Pacific Rim spent almost its entire shoot inside soundstages—mostly at the new Pinewood Studios, which was built precisely to attract such mega-productions. Almost its entire shoot.

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So, as we mentioned, if you’re seeing an impressive location like this hangar…

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…or this Hong Kong streetscape, it’s a Pinewood set. Indeed, over its 131-minute runtime, there are precisely three times Pacific Rim takes big steps out into the Toronto air.

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The first, and probably least obvious, is when one of the big huge Jaeger robots emerges from the ocean and collapses on a snow-blown, supposed-to-be-Alaskan beach.

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However, it’s only Bluffer’s Park.

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Hey, look! There’s a bit of Toronto back there!

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Toronto’s presence is slightly more obvious is this scene, which starts with this lovely FX shot of what’s supposed to be a big wall in Alaska (again!) intended to keep out the kaiju monsters.

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Then we cut to ground level—Idris Elba’s Stacker Pentecost (Best. Name. Ever.) has arrived in Alaska to visit Charlie Hunnam’s Raleigh Becket (not a bad name either!).

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Our hero comes out to meet him…

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…outside a wonderful industrial setting with sweaty, dark-faced men…

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….and sparks flying every which way. But it’s not a wall in Alaska, and it’s not a set.

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It’s actually the film-friendly Hearn Generating Station, out on Unwin Avenue.

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And, finally, this bit was so prominent that everyone could see the set dressing when they were setting it up. All the Japanese writing is supposed to make us think we’re in Tokyo for this big, flashbacky attacky scene (yes, yes, it features Stacker Pentecost!)…

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…but we’re actually only on Elizabeth Street, and some of those letters are actually attached to the back end of City Hall…

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…and then we get a kaiju-eye view of the city as the monster makes its way from around the bus terminal down toward Nathan Phillips Square…

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…before the little girl ducks into this alley. When the movie cuts to this reverse shot, though, we’re clearly mixing background shots of the actual location with a foreground set.

And that’s it. They can’t all be non-stop Toronto-thons like Scott Pilgrim or Suits. But here’s the good news. First, as we said up top, there’s the possibility that more mega-punching cinema will come to town in the form of Batman vs. Superman, which would most definitely become the new Biggest Movie Ever Shot in Toronto. (If that title is changing hands every year or so, you know the industry is doing all right.)

Second, a Pacfic Rim sequel is being batted around, so the chances of our city getting punched real good yet again are trending upward.

Also, Del Toro, who also shot Mimic here many moons ago, just loves working in Toronto. In addition to working on Pacific Rim here, he produced locally shot Mama, has several other Toronto productions in the pipeline, and actually keeps a home here now (or, inexplicably, two homes, according to this article). Plus, his amazing cinematographer, Guillermo Navarro, is one of the main directors on Hannibal, which is in the midst of shooting its second season as we speak. So he’s around as well. Perhaps there should just be a sign at the city limits saying, “All Guillermos Welcome!”