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Movie Review: Pan’s Labyrinth

El Laberinto del Fauno (Pan’s Labyrinth)
Written and directed by Guillermo Del Toro

Sometimes a movie comes out with such overwhelming critical praise that it seems like, somehow, the appreciation of the film is fact rather than a matter of opinion. As I write this, critic compilation site Rotten Tomatoes has this at 99% approval, with the one dissenter riddled with comments, most likely telling him how much he sucks for daring to give such a movie of unparalleled art a bad review.

Guillermo Del Toro is one of those directors who have a good cult following; he’s regularly praised by Harry Knowles at Aint It Cool News (they’re friends, and look at Knowles’ fanboy stroking of Del Toro’s Blade II and then later, Hellboy), and his last indie, The Devil’s Backbone, landed with nearly the same kind of unanimous circle-jerking. I was nearly bored to tears by that film. Even Mimic, a fairly crappy paint-by-numbers sci-fi horror film, got an overwhelming thumbs-up from Siskel and Ebert.

In Pan’s Labyrinth, a girl named Ofelia (Ivana Banquero) travels with her pregnant mother (Ariadna Gil) to a fortification in the woods, where her cruel stepfather Capitan Vidal (Sergi Lopez) resides, and where he can be close to what he feels is the birth of his son. It’s Franco’s Spain in 1944, the country in a civil war, fighting guerrillas. Ofelia, not feeling connected to the family in any way, begins to invent a fairy tale world for herself, much like having an imaginary friend. In this fairy tale world, she is sent on a quest with the goal of becoming immortal.

The film’s fantasy sequences are all exciting, absolutely thrilling and directly in line with the slam-bang reviews this movie is getting. When the movie switches back to the real world, which is the main focus all-in-all, it has a bloody revenge story on its mind, but damn if it isn’t disappointing when it decides to go back, even though it has its moments.

After watching Pan’s Labyrinth, I am convinced Guillermo Del Toro made exactly the picture he aimed to film. But it completely fails to live up to its promise as an immersive fantasy picture, one that could have used less of the real world. Ofelia’s second tier of her quest, which is the centerpiece of the film, has the most suspense and crackles with intensity, and should have moved the picture into an unstoppable fantasy narrative. But it’s here where the fantasy stuff stops, and the real world sets in almost permanently, and the whole picture is dedicated to killing the capitan.

So yeah, I wanted this picture to be almost all make-believe, and if that makes me a lesser person, then by all means look down on me. I completely got this picture, understood what it was going for, and I thought it ended up lacking. I’m all for the real world triggering fantasies, but stay consistent. And I can even see this film as a sort of anti-Lord of the Rings, one that Peter Jackson might have made when he was just a cult director, a dark and disturbing answer to the mostly lighthearted epic, one that LOTR detractors would love because it contains sickening horror. If it had been just that, I’d be completely on board. For me, it didn’t go far enough. Sorry to all those who think this is the end-all of imaginative fantasy epics; I expect and demand more.


Comment from Jonathan Watkins
Time: December 30, 2006, 11:27 am

I’ve had bad feelings about this film after starting to read reviews of it a month ago or so. You and I are both in agreement, I think, that a lot of film buffs praise the fuck out of a film due to it being visually appealing even though there is not much of a story to go with it. Granted, film is a visual medium, but the story should be there along with a great look. I know most people would say well then read a book, and then I will say, sorry I demand an interesting story along with my visuals, oh yeah, and suck my dick. “Sin City” and “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow” are two films that come to mind of recent that have had this effect on me while everybody and their mom treats them like the second coming. And it makes me wonder why a film like this (Which I haven’t seen, maybe I’ll like it, maybe I won’t) can get all the kudos in the world for it’s amazing visuals, but then the same critics have no problem trashing a piece of shit by Michael Bay, but you know, his films look pretty damn good as well. I guess Del Toro has been put on that “Can’t do no wrong” pedastal, along with Peter Jackson and the like. Not that these are bad filmmakers by any means. I liked “Devil’s Backbone” and “Cronos.” I loved the fuck out of “Blade II,” which was visually exciting, but it also had a fun and intriguing storyline to go along with it. He actually was able to come in and turn the “Vampire” film on it’s head and give us something fairly original. Like I said, haven’t seen it, but considering all of the reviews up until yours concentrate on visuals instead of the actual story (I had no idea what the plot was till I read your synopsis), I have a feeling I might feel the same way.

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