Pan’s Labyrinth Review
By Shawn McKenzie 01/24/2007
Eleven-year-old Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) and her sickly pregnant mother Carmen (Ariadna Gil) move to the Navarre countryside in Northern Spain to live with Carmen’s new husband and the father of her baby, Captain Vidal (Sergi López), in the beginning of the movie. It’s post-Spanish Civil War 1944 and Ofelia’s new stepfather is a sadistic man who has been assigned by Spanish dictator Francisco Franco to get rid of a small Republican militia. Vidal only cares about his unborn child that Carmen is carrying…not Ofelia (or even Carmen.) While Carmen obeys her husband, Ofelia defies him by reading fairy tales. The only people who are nice to her (aside from her mom) are head housekeeper Mercedes (Maribel Verdú) and Carmen’s personal physician Dr. Ferreiro (Álex Angulo)…both of which happen to be secret members of the militia. The leader of the militia is Carmen’s brother Pedro (Roger Casamajor), and the two insiders feed the militia information and supplies. One night, a fairy leads Ofelia to an old labyrinth near the mill, where she meets a seven-foot faun named Pan (Doug Jones.) Pan tells Ofelia that she is the long-lost Princess Moanna, ruler of the Underworld. He gives her three stones and a book, called The Book of Crossroads, which will explain the three tasks that she will be required to do in order to return to the Underworld and reunite with her late tailor father. The first task requires her to retrieve a gold key from the mouth of a giant toad. The second task requires her to use the key to open a small door…located in an underground realm controlled by the Pale Man (also played by Jones), a weird-looking creature who keeps his eyeballs, normally located in the palms of his hands, on a plate…and retrieve a gold dagger. The third task is to use the dagger to spill the blood of an innocent. As Ofelia is completing these tasks, Vidal is interrogating and killing anyone he suspects to be a militia member…sometimes even when he finds out that they aren’t.
Most fantasy movies are cool with some sweet special effects, but you have to admit…they are mainly for kids. Likewise, most adaptations of fairy tales are mainly family-friendly. Not that Pan’s Labyrinth is based on a specific fairy tale, but it is in the spirit of fairy tales…and it certainly isn’t family-friendly.
If you think about the fact that the original Grimm Fairy Tales were filled with gruesome violence, then it should be no surprise that a filmmaker would eventually come along and make a cinematic fairy tale in the spirit that would make the Brothers Grimm proud (and not Terry Gilliam’s 2005 attempt to make one.) The movie is filled with enough violence and salty language (mainly coming out of the mouth of López’s character) to make Walt Disney blush. So…a warning for you parents…this movie isn’t one of the Lord of the Rings or Chronicles of Narnia movies. It is justifiably rated R.
Now that I have made that point, I can get on with my review of writer/director Guillermo del Toro’s great movie. When I first saw it a few months ago, I knew that I had just seen something original. Apparently, I’m not the only one who liked it. It has either been nominated for or won several awards (including the Golden Globes) in their Foreign Language categories, and it is almost a virtual shoo-in to win the Oscar in that same category next month (the ceremony airs on ABC on Sunday, February 25.)
The acting is one of the great things about it. Baquero has only been in a few movies, but she is skilled. I read on her IMDb bio that she speaks Spanish, Catalan, and English…so I bet it won’t be long before she starts starring in wide release American productions. López is so good that it is literally frightening. Seriously…as freaky as that creatures that Jones plays in the movie, López makes an even scarier human monster.
Speaking of freaky monsters…I loved the creature makeup and special effects. While Pan was cool-looking, the most impressive creature was the Pale Man. It’s thanks to veteran makeup artist José Quetglás.
If you haven’t checked out Pan’s Labyrinth yet…do yourself a favor and give it a try. Director del Toro, the man who made 2002’s Blade II and 2004’s Hellboy, made the movie as a companion piece to his 2001 movie The Devil’s Backbone (which I also highly recommend), and if you don’t have a problem with subtitles, I think that you will find this fantasy movie just as good as any Lord of the Rings movie.
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