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Pan's Labyrinth
USA, Spain, Mexico
Drama, Thriller, War, Mystery, Fantasy
IMDB rating:
Guillermo del Toro
Ivana Baquero as Ofelia
Sergi López as Captain Vidal
Maribel Verdú as Mercedes
Doug Jones as Fauno
Ariadna Gil as Carmen Vidal
Álex Angulo as Doctor
Manolo Solo as Garcés
César Vea as Serrano
Ivan Massagué as El Tarta
Gonzalo Uriarte as Francés
Francisco Vidal as Sacerdote (as Paco Vidal)
Juanjo Cucalón as Alcalde
Storyline: In 1944 falangist Spain, a girl, fascinated with fairy-tales, is sent along with her pregnant mother to live with her new stepfather, a ruthless captain of the Spanish army. During the night, she meets a fairy who takes her to an old faun in the center of the labyrinth. He tells her she's a princess, but must prove her royalty by surviving three gruesome tasks. If she fails, she will never prove herself to be the the true princess and will never see her real father, the king, again.
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Not strong enough in important ways to make it the classic everyone is hailing it as but certainly interesting and engaging enough to be one of stronger films of 2006
Carmen has married Captain Vidal and, pregnant with his son, travels with her daughter Ofelia to join him in his woodland barracks where he is trying to quash the small bands of rebellion against the Fascist regime. Carmen is not well and Vidal immediately puts her into the care of Dr Ferreiro who confines her to her bed after a short time. Vidal is a cruel man, perhaps hardened by the battle he fights and the beliefs he holds and Ofelia finds him to have no time for her and her no interest in him. While she tries to cope with the reality of her new life she also finds herself taken by a fairy into a dark underworld where a faun offers her a new life as a princess if she completes a series of tasks for him.

With all the papers and amateur reviewers here putting this film high up the list of best films of 2006 I rued that I missed my chance to see the film when it originally came out but got the opportunity recently on holiday in Cornwall at what my girlfriend called the "smallest cinema on earth" (it wasn't but it must have been close). Perhaps the weight of expectation on the film played a part but I confess to have enjoyed it but not found the masterpiece that the majority have claimed. The film works pretty well and has a very strong central narrative which, contrary to the marketing, is actually the real world and not the fantasy. This is an engaging real-world horror that focuses on the struggle between guerrilla fighters and the fascists led by Vidal. On the other side of the coin we have the fantasy involving Ofelia where, like the real world, she finds a world of darkness where she is not entirely sure who to trust. Now my main problem with the film is the overlap between these two elements and how they fit together.

I have read others say that the fantasy echoes the real world but, as much as I want to see this, it just didn't ring true for me. On a very basic level I get it but that is different from the film cleverly weaving them together and making it work. This separation detracted from both aspects of the story (although less so the real parts) and also saw the fantasy be only partially explained and harder to become really engaged with. My girlfriend said she felt the story was simplistic enough to work best for older children and that the "horror" part was therefore too harsh as it prevented this audience getting in the door (in the UK this was rated a 15). At first I agreed with her but on reflection it actually works the other way because this is much more of an adult tale but just doesn't quite have the intelligence and complexity in all parts of the story (again specifically the fantasy).

By this point my review will have been slated by all readers who are not used to a dissenting voice but for those who have made it this far let me just say that it is a very good film overall and that I did enjoy it. Outside of the plot there is much to enjoy as well. The writing is very good and the dialogue (albeit subtitled) interesting and never clunky or obvious even if some of the scenes would have made it easy for it to be so. The fantasy world is wonderfully created and engagingly dark with the creatures a mix of wonder and menace. The faun himself is good and well used although it was a shame to see such a terrifying vision such as the pale man so briefly used and with little expansion beyond a lurching menace in one scene. Del Toro directs well across all aspects of the film and keeps this sense of dark menace across everything. I also liked the references scattered across the narrative, such as Alice in Wonderland to name one in particular. He directs his cast well too, drawing a very good performance from Baquero in the central role. López could have hammed it up but, while he doesn't really make a person here, he avoids being a pantomime baddie. Verdú is strong as Mercedes while Gil is good but left with little to do outside of suffer and worry. Jones does well within his creatures to deliver the potential within the design.

Overall then not strong enough in important ways to make it the classic everyone is hailing it as but certainly interesting and engaging enough to be one of stronger films of 2006. Visually impressive and very well delivered, I'm afraid I just found it hard to get over the disconnect between the two aspects of the story no matter how much I wanted to find it.
Didn't do much for me at all.
El Laberinto del Fauno is set in Spain in 1944 during the Civil War, a widow named Carmen (Ariadna Gil) marries Captain Vidal (Sergi López) the sadistic ruler of a group of Nationalist soldiers. Carmen & her 11 year old daughter Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) move out to an old Mill in the countryside where Captain Vidal & his men are stationed trying to crush local rebel resistance. There Ofelia is lured into an ancient stone labyrinth by a fairy & down some steps into a magical fantasy realm, there she meets a creature called a Faun (Doug Jones) who says she was once the Princess of the magical realm & gives her three task's so she can reclaim her rightful place once again...

This American, Spanish & Mexican co-production was written, produced & directed by Guillermo del Toro & after winning innumerable awards, accolades & critical acclaim I was expecting something a bit special which unfortunately wasn't forthcoming. Known more commonly under the title of Pan's Labyrinth in English speaking territories all the hype & advance publicity surrounding El Laberinto del Fauno stated that it was one of the best fantasy films of all time & like a fool I brought into it. The script by Toro is much, much more of a war time drama as it spends the vast majority of it's duration on the frankly depressing real life conflict between Spanish soldiers & rebels. In fact El Laberinto del Fauno is more of a drama than anything else, the quaint & sometimes charming fantasy elements are few & far between with only three or four notable sequences. When it focuses on Ofelia's fantasy world then it's often spellbinding but when it switches to the war time dramas it's horrible. When I watch a film I want to be entertained, nothing more nothing less. Watching El Laberinto del Fauno I was throughly depressed, it's hardly an uplifting tale & one that left me rather down. That's not what I want to feel like when watching a film, I'm sorry buts that the way it is. Some moments are genuinely unsettling & even upsetting to the extent that I sometimes found it quite hard to watch. The script leaves a lot of things open to the viewers interpretation but I thought it was pretty clear, the fantasy elements never really gel with the grim war time dramatics & the two make for uneasy bedfellows.

Director Toro does a great job although I must admit I don't quite get what he was trying to do here. It's a tale of a girls imagination & hope but in the end he seems to want to crush any hope of any uplifting message in favour of some truly horrible moments of real life brutality, violence, torture & death. Some of the scenes in El Laberinto del Fauno are very disturbing, from people beaten to death, tortured, sliced open mouths & lots of bad things happening to good people. Presented entirely in Spanish with English subtitles I don't know about anyone else but while I'm reading the subtitles I can't get a good look at what's happening on screen, it's impossible, very frustrating & annoying. The special effects are pretty good, some of the CGI effects are a little below par I suppose but the make-up effects & creature design is very good. I wouldn't say El Laberinto del Fauno is scary but some of the character's do some really horrific things.

Technically the film is very good, actually shot in Spain the production values are great & it's well made. The acting is excellent which makes it all the more powerful, whether that's a good thing I am not sure.

El Laberinto del Fauno is a film lots of people seem to like for reasons which escape me, I thought it was a throughly depressing & disheartening experience that I have no desire to revisit. It has it's moments on occasion & it's often quite powerful stuff but that doesn't mean it makes good entertainment which I happen to think it isn't.
Devoid of grace, wit, and soul
I was warned that "Pan's Labyrinth" had some violent content, but I was not prepared for the senseless brutality, cruelty, and depravity that this pointless horror film contained. It left me feeling disgusted and angry at the people who wrote this piece of trash. Beyond the sophisticated production and excellent special effects, I have nothing whatsoever to say in favor of this ultimately nihilistic, pseudo-mythic-poetic fairy tale. It has no grace, no wit, no soul. I would never even mention this film in the same breath as "Lord of the Rings" or "Chronicles of Narnia," which are both on an entirely different level altogether. And yet this film is rated at #41 on the IMDb Top 250 film list--higher than "To Kill a Mockingbird," "Alien," and even "The Wizard of Oz"! This has a lot to say about the graceless and degenerate age in which we live, and about del Toro himself, who, by virtue of this film, has shown himself to be quite in step with the prevailing moral climate of today.

The reviews, marketing, and previews would lead you to believe that this film was a fantasy tale for both children and adults to enjoy, which it most assuredly is not. What you really have is an utterly grim war drama with a touch of fantasy thrown in for good measure. But both of these elements are not confluent and the juxtaposition only serves to muddle the film and create an incoherent whole. Graphic depictions of amputations, wanton killing, and what I consider to be the most reprehensible act of all--the senseless murder of an innocent child—make "Pan's Labyrinth" irredeemable in my eyes.

I think that any society that can embrace this psychotic and sadistic film as art is in danger of imminent decline. Anyone with a sensitive soul and kind heart will quickly see through the subterfuge parading itself as fantasy and recognize the beast for what it truly is.
Subtle as a Brick
I just don't get it. The "real" world elements portrayed here make a satisfying story although somewhat obvious and lacking in subtlety. Nevertheless I could happily have watched a version of this film if it had no fantasy elements and at least had a cathartic experience based on the bad guy getting what he deserved. But the fantasy elements just did not fit here. Firstly they were strictly fantasy 101 - oh, the girl goes on the hero's journey represented by the journey into the underworld where she has to perform a series of tasks to prove her worth. Secondly they had no relationship to the real world events. Thirdly as the message was presumably that she escaped from the real horrors by fantasising, then why bother with the complex symbolism? If you want fantasy then "Lord of the Rings" does better than this at portraying the horrors of war. If you want the real horrors of war then there are a zillion things you could watch, staring with Apocalypse Now and working down from there. I'm a big fan of fantasy and I'm a big fan of realism but this attempted combination just does not work on either count. This film will appeal to those who fancy themselves as intellectuals and like reading magical realist novels that win literary prizes. I would think that most fantasy fans, who can discern the subtext of a story in a heartbeat, and most of those who are moved by a war film can only be baffled by the praise heaped upon this entirely pedestrian film that tries to succeed by bludgeoning the viewer with the obvious. I repeat; I just don't get it.
Recycled clichés in plodding storyline.
I stuck around for this movie to serve something not yet seen or experienced in dozens of related films which I was so sure this movie would provide. Sadly, that moment never came.

Although I have no complaints with the acting and setdesigns which were on par with any quality movie, there are basically three things that deprive this movie of being anything great.

1. Though truly beautifully shot, Pan's two sided scenario with the Good vs Evil Children's-picture on the one side and a drama/war-movie on the other, provides no deeper layers. A 'what you see is what you get' type of film in which the fantasy part seemed more or less something that would look nice on the adverts in combination with a superabundance of very graphic violence in a foreign movie which offers a subterfuge to sell something slight and cursory as profound and insightful.

2. Since there is no thread running through both the scenario's it is like watching two different movies which bear very little to each other nor compliment the other. Because I liked the fantasy part zealously better than the war/drama bit, I was very disappointed that it had no follow-through and that it in the end just seemed like a shameless cloned-off short-impression of movies like Alice in Wonderland, The Wizzard of Ozz and The never Ending Story, to name but a few, but never with a meaningful reference of any kind. It is almost like the writers hit behind the fact that they never even saw these movies.

3.There is just nothing subtle in the story that draws you in, I found it all annoyingly superficial and cliché. It never invites you to share the little girl's fantastic world or truly reject El Capitan's actions because it is all far too black and white. Plus the film leaves no room for any other interpretation aside from the one which is already painted elaborately on its cinematic walls. Something I find quite odd since most true children's pictures have a lot underlying messages and symbolism. The more I think about it, the more this story just seems lazily written or without any terribly interesting thought behind it. -In the end of it all, there is simply no hope-..nothing more than a flipflop of any and all sappy-happy-endings Hollywood has been laying on us for years on end.

Furthermore, with style over substance as its forté the movie tends to plod tremendously at times. And since none of the characters are really focused on, they all just seem to be stereotypes and are hence neither likable nor unlikable despite their (too) obvious good or bad demeanors. Vidal is simply bad, mom is simply weak and Ofelia was nothing more than the little girl playing with imaginary friends in the corner of the room.

This film is alas just another example of a movie where they just don't seem to be able to get it both ways (powerful story AND powerful cinematography) which is the Achilles' heel of many a film lately but which oddly doesn't seem to bother the average moviegoer nor professional movie-critic who somehow seem to think that foreign+different=Masterpiece.
somewhat less than the sum of its parts
One of the cardinal rules of any good fairy tale is that, no matter how fantastical it becomes, it must make sure to keep one foot firmly planted in reality so that the story can more easily connect with the audience. In the case of "Pan's Labyrinth," however, that foot may be so firmly planted in the real world that it actually prevents the movie from cutting loose and soaring into the stratosphere of imagination and enchantment in the way we wish it would.

The movie takes place in 1944, five years after the end of the Spanish Civil War that has left Franco in power and bands of defeated Leftist rebels hiding out in the Iberian countryside. Eleven-year-old Ofelia arrives with her pregnant mother to the estate of Captain Vidal, a vicious fascist who, in a clever bit of fairy tale role reversal, plays the part of the evil stepfather of the story. As Vidal busies himself with hunting down the pesky Communist outcasts, Ofelia discovers herself drawn to a strange alternate universe, unbound by the laws of nature, which frequently opens up for her to enter and to which she alone seems privy.

There's no denying that "Pan's Labyrinth" is an extremely well made movie, miles above the average American fantasy film in terms of both sophistication and vision. Director Guillermo del Toro has fashioned a dark, violent, exquisitely realized world filled with secret passageways and awe-inspiring creatures to which Ofelia periodically retreats in an attempt to escape the even more brutal life around her. Like Judy Garland in "The Wizard of Oz," the lovely Ivana Baquero is the perfect heroine for the tale: wide-eyed, curious and filled with an intense longing for a world better than the one that entraps her. The movie is a miracle of art direction, set design, makeup and special effects, and it boasts some of the most dramatic use of sound this side of "Das Boot."

Yet, for all its good points, "Pan's Labyrinth" winds up disappointing us a bit in the end. For much of its running time, the movie seems to be operating in two largely different spheres - that of reality and that of fantasy - and having a hard time bringing the two together into a unified, coherent whole. It spends too much time chronicling the conflict between the fascist general and the rebels in the forest - which might be interesting in a different context and another movie - and not enough focusing on Ofelia's otherworldly adventures. Even though the emotional pull back to Kansas was never far from Dorothy's - and the audience's - consciousness, Baum knew enough not to spend too much actual time there. Del Toro, on the other hand, seems not to be able to yank himself from the scene, the result of which is that the fantasy world never exerts the magical force on us that it might have done had it been more thoroughly developed and taken a more center stage in the drama. The magical world in "Pan's Labyrinth" lacks the sort of densely plotted, compelling narrative one finds in the "Lord of the Rings" saga or "The Wizard of Oz." We don't get a clear picture of what the land itself is like, who its various inhabitants are, and what Ofelia's real role will be once she gets there.

Thus, although the parts in "Pan's Labyrinth" are better than the whole, thanks to the quality of the film-making and of Baquero's performance, those parts are often indelible and unforgettable.
heavy propaganda couched in fantasy veneer
The high marks this movie has earned are well deserved on the technical side, but the real point of the whole thing seems to be yet another strong dose of "eeeeevil fascists are ugly nasty beasts and yay for the poor, noble communists fighting to survive their reign of terror" in our faces. Everything outside the labyrinth element of the movie is designed to convey that message, and that's the majority of the screen time.

This eye-rollingly one-sided presentation is the only way such topics are ever treated in the movies we see since WW2. It seems that the hot war ended but the propaganda war never did. Reality was rather different, so I have to dock the movie several points for that dishonesty.
Superb performances
It is Guillermo del Toro's best film ( 22 minutes ovation at Cannes). Del Toro gets a brilliant film but also superb performances from all involved, particularly from Sergi Lopez as a brutal Fascist army captain Vidal and Doug Jones (Abe Sapien from del Toro's Hellboy) as the Pan and the wonderfully disturbing Pale Man. But the real find is Ivana Baquero (12 years old) as the young heroine Ofelia. She gives one of the best performances from a child actor we have seen since Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense. Come to it unprepared and with your mind wide open and you will be rewarded with one of the best films of the year."
Does not tell a story
This movie suffers from a very poor script based on a fabulous idea. The real story is Ofelia finding out who she is and gaining access to the fantasy world. Sadly, only about 15 minutes of the film is about this story. The rest of the time is spent convincing the audience that The Captain is an evil, horrific person. Um, yeah, you made that clear in his first two scenes. The audience gets it - he's BAD. What at all does the captain or the underground resistance have to do with progressing the real story of Ofelia completing her tasks to become a princess? Simply ridiculous that 75-80% of the script is spent on the non-story. A brilliant core plot gone to waste.

The movie does have great cinematography and acting, but none of that is any good when you have a bad script.
Characters are just stereotypes
After reading all the positive reviews and being a great fan of Maribel Verdu (since her role in "Amantes"), I had great expectations before seeing this movie. Quite honestly, I was disappointed. The characters lack depth. All falangistas are incredibly bad and sadistic, and all nationalists republicans are good in this movie. Stereotypic. If Del Toro wanted to make Capitan Vidal really terrifying, he would have made a little bit more sympathetic at times, like "Landa" in Inglourious Basterds - probably the most terrifying nazi ever on the silver screen. Vidal could at least have been a little bit concerned for his wife when she was bearing his unborn son. But now, he is a facha macho, so he can not show emotions at any time. Even the symbolism of the labyrinth is too easy : especially the end, where the self sacrifice of Ofelia is a clear sign of a Messias, including the invitation to sit at the right hand of her father in a sort of a pagan Trinity (with her mother). The cinematography however is wonderful and the actor perform well, but the scenario is just too shallow for my taste.
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