The day before Pacific Rim opened, I walked by the film's dramatic poster hanging in my local mall. I felt a prickle of excitement, believing the film would transport me to same wonder, magic, and joy I felt when I watched Godzilla films in my youth.
And then out of a toy story bounced an exhilarated nine-year-old boy holding a Pacific Rim action figure and speaking at hyper-speed to his dad about the differences between all the monsters and robots.
He pointed to the different pictures on the back of the box and explained at length about each Kaiju and Jaeger -- the names, the pilots, the weapons, the weaknesses, and more. The movie had not even came out and he already loved it.
He was a boy in bliss.
And I knew then, that no matter how good Pacific Rim would be, it was not going to take me back to same wonder and magic of my childhood. I am not a kid anymore. I just don't experience movies the same way.
The next night I saw the fantastic Pacific Rim, the scenes (especially the Hong Kong battle) reminded me of what I felt as a child. But the reminder was only a shadow of a former feeling. When the Gipsy Danger used a rock-propelled punch to smash a Kaiju's face, I felt excitement. But the excitement came only with a smirk, not a childish cheer.
As a child I would have been ecstatically thrilled by this movie. The movie's end would have been a new beginning into years of immersion into the fictional world. I would have talked nonstop about the movie with my friends and parents. I would get the toys and play for hours, expanding on the stories. At a Barnes and Noble, I'd find myself sprawl out in an aisle with the encyclopedia guide to the film and the comic book origin story.
Yet, on this Friday night, when Pacific Rim ended, it pretty much ended for me. My three friends and I who had consumed Kaiju and Jaeger stories throughout our youth went to a lovely outdoor bar after the film, talked about it for a few minutes and then the conversation strayed to our careers, families, and the next films we would see. I came home and read a few short blogs about the film, but that was it. That was the extent of my experience with Pacific Rim, a two-hour movie with about 20 minutes of discussion after, and no more.
Losing the Magic
As a social psychologist and consumer researcher, I study how people consume and think about products. One thing that us researchers find over and over again, is that adults tend to say things like, "Movies were so much more magical and wonderful in my childhood."
Adults seem to believe that modern movies have lost the magical feeling, when the truth is: Adults have lost the magical feeling.
In many ways, the world of entertainment stays the same. Hollywood continues to make monster movies and Hasbro continues to make toys about them. However, though the world stays the same, we don't.
We get old, we get busy, we get analytical, and today, we don't consume products the same way we use to. It's impossible to think that any movie could ever come out today that the nerds brought up in the 70s and 80s would enjoy as much as the original Star Wars.
Can movies like Pacific Rim or The Avengers still make us feel strong emotions? Of course they can. But those emotions don't even begin to approximate the strength and duration of the emotions of a blissful child. Like it or not, the bliss clock has a timer on it, and for us adults, it might be up.
Turning Back the Clock
Is there hope though? Can we turn back he clock to childhood bliss? Maybe.
If we think about how kids enjoy movies, such as uncritical play, talk, and exploration of the movie outside of the movie itself, we can copy that "how." So if you liked Pacific Rim, go find a friend who also did and talk passionately and at length about the film, post online about, watch a behind the scenes video, buy a Jaeger model and display it proudly on your office desk.
Pacific Rim may make you feel like a child for a moment, but it's your job to keep that wonder alive. The film is an invitation for you to return to a childhood state, but you need to fully accept that invitation with enthusiasm and actions if you are going to have any chance to feel that category 5 level sense of wonder and magic.