Guillermo del Toro is considered a God by certain members of the geek population, after his supernatural horror comic book adaptations (Blade II, the Hellboy movies) and grim(m) Spanish-language fairy tales (The Devil’s Backbone, Pan’s Labyrinth). He’s renewing fanboy/girl cred this year, beginning with his first directing project in five years: the East-meets-West monsters and giant robots extravaganza Pacific Rim.

The filmmaker, author (see: The Strain) and creature-horror aficionado recovered quickly after At the Mountains of Madness collapsed back in 2011, shifting his attention over to the Japanese monster genre throwback – del Toro insists it’s not a Quentin Tarantino-inspired pastiche with “greatest hits of everything” – developing from screenwriter Travis Beacham (Dog Days of Summer, Clash of the Titans (2010)).

Time-jump eight months and shooting had begun, followed by the teaser trailer premiering at last year’s International Comic-Con; then, in December, the preview began making the rounds in theaters. Editing and visual effects processing is half-way finished (including, an extensive 10-month 3D post-conversion), but early test screenings took place over the Super Bowl XLVII weekend.

Those in attendance were not permitted to go into intimate detail about what they saw, but early reactions are overwhelmingly positive and optimistic about the final product. True, that’s a common outcome for these sort of events, but that trend partially stems from studios’ tendencies to keep poor test audience responses low on the radar (see: G.I. Joe: Retaliation screenings feedback, prior to reshoots and a 3D post-treatment).

Here is one such reaction from writer-director Rian Johnson (Brick, Looper):

Similar variations on that theme have leaked online (see: “Avengers Alliance” and “Dardevil: Noir” comic book writer Alex Irvine’s Twitter posting), with an IMDb user insisting the picture is “not another Transformers clone” as some complained after viewing the trailer footage (read the remainder of the SPOILER-FREE analysis over at CBM).

Indeed, the Pacific Rim core audience’s lukewarm reception – as we have noted by surveying our readership’s commentary on the trailers – raises questions about the film’s prospects. After all, if movie geeks and fans of Japanese Gundam pop culture aren’t interested, how will general audiences respond?

Check out new images from Pacific Rim (via USA Today):

For his part, del Toro is going all out courting the interest of those knowledgeable in the ways of robotics science-fiction and monster lore (see: modeling the vocals of A.I. controlling the 25-story robots or ‘Jaegers’ after GlaDOS from the Portal video games). The director is also integrating Western influences and references into the mix; though they may only be noticeable on a subconscious level for most people (via USA Today):

Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) and other Jaeger pilots are deemed “riders,” and when they move in the suits to put their machines in motion, “we made it a point to put the sound of spurs like a cowboy,” del Toro says.

The Jaeger station is “basically the Alamo,” del Toro says, and there are rangers and marshals within it — most notably Marshal Stacker Pentecost, a spiritual, moral leader played by Idris Elba. “He’s not playing second banana. He’s at the center of the conflict. He’s the only guy who cannot give up.”

Combine that with futuristic technology that allows for Jaeger pilots to meld their consciousnesses – resulting in a most unusual love story, between Becket and his partner Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) – and Pacific Rim leaves me anticipating one of the more intriguing popcorn blockbusters in recent memory. How about you?

Pacific Rim opens in theaters on July 12th, 2013.

Source: Rian Johnson, Comic Book Movie, USA Today