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Pan's Labyrinth

Guillermo del Toro's critically acclaimed 2006 dark fantasy film.

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Once upon a time in dark and forbidding dream...

  • Dec 14, 2007
Pros: Lovely, a modern fairy tale with power

Cons: tragic and gruesome moments

The Bottom Line: A fairy tale in the truest sense... lovely, powerful, terrible and instructive. A truly unique piece of fantasy.

Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie''s plot.

Dark and brilliant, like a black diamond, Pan's Labrynth ( or El Laberinto del fauno) is a foreign film treasure worth digging for! Here we see two stories entwined. Somewhere in Spain around the year 1944, fascist soldiers are hunting down rebels in the hills. A young girl, Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) and her pregnant mother, Carmen (Araidna Gil) are coming to join her step-father, Captain Vidal (Sergi Lopez) a sadistic officer in the Spanish army. To still her bright and tender daughter's worries about herself and her unborn brother, Ofelia's mother encourages her to loose herself in the wonder of the written word and to tell her stories. So violent and cold is the Captain that sympathizers among the villagers, like the doctor and the servant Mercedes, go about their furtive endeavors with hearts beating like frantic birds in a cage.

On the flip side of this tale, is another which seems at first but a distant hope, a means of escaping the harsh realities she that have been thrust upon her. Yet so vivid and rich in its colors and complexities is this fairy tale realm that sullen and bleak Reality looks seems lifeless beside this new world that opens for our heroine. We see young Ofelia wander off a bit as her mother is ill at the side of the road to replace a stone eye in an ancient carving along the road to her new future. This act appears to turn a forgotten key in a timeless door. Fairy creatures are soon making their way deeper and deeper into her life as Ofelia finds herself living at the edge of a strange maze and mossy ruins. Pan, an elderly but powerful faun, Guardian of this mystical place, tells her the story of a most beloved Faerie princess who's soul was accidentally released into the Mortal world.

"A long time ago, in the underground realm, where there are no lies or pain, there lived a Princess who dreamed of the human world. She dreamed of blue skies, soft breeze, and sunshine. One day, eluding her keepers, the Princess escaped. Once outside, the brightness blinded her and erased every trace of the past from her memory. She forgot who she was and where she came from. Her body suffered cold, sickness, and pain. Eventually, she died. However, her father, the King, always knew that the Princess' soul would return, perhaps in another body, in another place, at another time. And he would wait for her, until he drew his last breath, until the world stopped turning..." They have, Pan tells her, been searching for her for a very long time...
This film is entirely in Spanish but does have English subtitles available. This is never a drawback to a truly good movie, in my opinion, and I would usually rather read subtitles than witness an attempted dubbing. Director Guillermo Del Toro not only did a fabulous job in this regard, but he actually is listed as having written the screenplay as well. Rated R for graphic scenes and some language, so be warned. This film really does deserve the rating although there are actually only a handful of disturbing scenes in the film. The effects and sets are simply stunning in their beauty and gleam against the velvety dark backdrop of the real world story that unfolds, like leaves, around the flower of the more beautiful fairy tale within.

Each of the actors delivers a unique and talented portion of the tale. Captain Vidal is the frigid, self-centered sociopath who has been given a sanctioned outlet for his darkest desires. He is more concerned that his son "be born where his father is" than he is with the safety and well-being of either mother or child. Carmen is so desperate to make the best of this new future than she unwittingly brings about her own destruction when she breaks Pan's spell and thrusts away the seemingly childish attempts at magically curing her of the ills she suffers from this difficult pregnancy.

Young Ofelia is a marvelous blend of fantasy and reality. She never doubts the magic welling up around her, with the wonder of a child she opens doors drawn from chalk, and strives to accomplish the three magical tasks given to her that will return her to her rightful place as a Princess in the Faerie realm. Yet, she sees with an unflinching and tender honesty the danger of her mother's pregnancy, the perils pointed at her much beloved and as yet unborn brother, and the menace in her step-father's icy smile.

I was particularly touched by the portrayals of two minor characters though. A rebel who was captured and tortured by the Captain moved me with his attempt to win his freedom by beating his horrible stutter in a very tense situation. All he had to do was count to three without stuttering and he could have flown free of the pain awaiting him. The actor made this moment so real for me that I held my breath, hoping.

And the Doctor who attends this poor soul after the torture. This relatively quiet and timid man faces his own fears and disobeys the Captain's direct orders to bring relief to this child-like rebel in monstrous pain. "To obey, just like that, without question...that is something only people like you can do, Captain." He tells him in a sad small voice, knowing the retribution he is facing. His quiet acceptance brought tears to my eyes, for such is the beauty of the human soul in dark moments.

"Innocence Has A Power Evil Cannot Imagine." is the tagline for this film and it is far more fitting than most. The entire goal of this film seems to be simply to illustrate this point as beautifully and tragically as possible. So real is Ofelia's magical world that the "real" world seems drab and faded by comparison, like a cardboard cutout of the real world; a stiff and lifeless imitation. Powerful, moving, beautifully depicted this dark fairy tale allows one to accept or reject it's potential realities as you wish. It is easy to say that Pan's Labrynth is a dream Ofelia spun for herself to escape the harsh realities of the life she was living, yet if it were all dream would her mother have died as a result of breaking Pan's spell? Subtle evidence that both realities are equally true is scattered throughout the film, although the ultimate decision is up to the individual viewer.

This film earned the Academy Awards for best cinematography, best art direction and best make-up, and inspired the song "Pnuemonia" by Bjork. It received 22 minutes of applause at the Cannes festival and in 2007 was one of the very few fantasy films to ever be nominated in Best Foreign Language Film category at the Oscars. Available from New Line Home Video as of May 15 2007, there is a single disc bare bones edition available with little more than a variety of subtitle selections as extras. The more exciting 2 disc edition features: a Director's Notebooks, The Charlie Rose Show interview, a commentary track by the director, the featurettes "The Power of Myth" "Director's Prologue" "Marketing Campaign", "The Color and the Shape" and "The Lullaby" as well as photo galleries of Pan and the Fairies.

While the commentary was very detailed and intriguing, the "Marketing Campaign" really just lists trailers and poster designs and doesn't address how this film was not as competently marketed as it could have been. This is an R rated film for a reason and I believe the trailers inadequately prepare potential viewers for the dark subject matter and occasional scenes of brutality. This film was most definitely not intended for very young viewers. Although, I can say that I viewed this with two reasonably mature children ages 14 and 10 who have been raised to deal with similar topics that are more than amply discussed and displayed on an average daily newscast. With proper marketing, this would not have been such an issue for parents looking for a film appropriate for their children as well as entertaining to themselves as every parent knows best what their child can and cannot handle.

I particularly enjoyed the "Power of Myth" featurette as I am an avid fairy tale reader and collector. I was especially interested in learning about the director's inspirations and influences for this wonderfully dark and vivid tale. While brief at 15 minutes, it is well worth watching in my opinion and a good addition to the set. "The Color and Shape" focuses on the del Toro's use of color in the film to evoke a specific feel, which really does support the film throughout. While interesting this was not as riveting for me as the "Myth" feature or the "Pan and the Fairies" extra which explores the marvelous visual effects in this film.

Doug Jones as both the Pale Man, a sort of fairy demon that Ofelia must overcome, and as Pan himself was utterly fascinating. He was the only American actor in the film and the only one who did not speak Spanish. He faces some rather unique challenges in these roles. He had to learn not only his own lines in Spanish but all of Ofelia's lines that precede his so he would know his cues. The servos in his headpiece as the Pale Man were so loud that he couldn't actually hear her speak the lines though! Not only did it take five hours for Mr. Jones to get into the Pale Man costume, but once in it, he had to look out the nose holes to see where he was going. In addition, the Faun's (Pan's) legs were a specially created system in which the actor's legs puppeteer the faun's fake ones, and his legs were later digitally removed. These things considered, it makes both performances doubly impressive and no less magical.

I found the entire sequence with the Pale Man to be eerie and gruesomely fascinating, so finding more on that specific scene in the extras was a real treat for me. Echos of my own childhood fancies and fears were evident in many of the fairy tale aspects of this film which was really very effective for creating a sympathetic and empathetic link as a viewer.

"The Lullaby" focuses on the film's lovely musical score. While this was not the most compelling extra for me, it is a welcome addition none the less. All in all, I can't imagine why anyone would choose to purchase the dry single dvd edition of this marvelous film instead of this "platnium" edition that contains so many solid and entertaining extras. At an average four dollar difference between these editions, I'd go for Platnium without a second thought! Lush with the most beautiful light and dark aspects of life and the Faerie realm, this film is a must have for any fantasy lover.


Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Better than Watching TV
Suitability For Children: Not suitable for Children of any age

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October 07, 2010
I'm curious why the film only received a 4 from you. Your review doesn't seem to have any negatives to it other than those at the very beginning. Unless you deduct points for misleading marketing, which I agree was a terrible mistake on their part.
October 07, 2010
No clue lol This was definitely worthy of a top rating in anyone's book! This film did blow me away on many levels. Other than the terrible marketing which made, for me and probably a whole lotta traumatized kids, the violet scenes in this one more unexpected and therefore more gruesome and shocking... I didn't really have any issues with it. Pacing, but that was more than made up for with every other aspect of the film. Oh well, all tidy and fixed now :o)
October 07, 2010
I'd seen 2 other of del Toro's films so I knew what to expect. I can't imagine how anyone wouldn't notice the "R" rating though--and yet many people just waltzed their kids (really little ones) into the theater anyhow. Oh, funny story. I was behind a woman at a Hollywood video and she was checking out a copy of BAD SANTA to watch with her kid who looked to be about 6 years old. The clerk didn't say anything to her so I just had to jump in and tell her that it wasn't a kids movie and that the least objectionable thing he was going to be exposed to was people swearing like Teamsters. She really didn't know. In spite of the big "R" and the somewhat racy cover image. =)
October 07, 2010
Great story! thanks for sharing that lol Geez, that should count as community service! lol I don't know which is more amazing, the number of parents who don't notice, or the number of parents who don't care. I know which one is sadder though!
October 08, 2010
I suppose the number of parents who don't care would be sadder. At least the others have stupidity or ignorance as an excuse. I have to keep a pretty close watch on my daughter because she thinks that just because the twins are smarter than the average kid that this means they are emotionally equipped to handle stuff that is way above them as far as I am concerned. For example is an 8 year old ready for "Lord of the Flies" just because he reads at a level far beyond that. That's a war I won, fortunately.
More Pan's Labyrinth (El Laberinto ... reviews
review by . November 06, 2009
Alice in Wonderland is one of the most beloved stories of our time, It tells of a young girl who falls down a rabbit hole and get's transported to another world where strange creatures rule and the possibilities of magic and adventure are endless. But it's been nearly 144 years since that story first appeared and ever since then film makers have been trying to tell the story a different way for years, But thanks to Guillermo del Toro we have the greatest spin off of all, El Laberinto del Fauno, …
Quick Tip by . June 10, 2010
Visually stunning; interesting plot
Quick Tip by . June 02, 2010
So, so, so, so CREEPY! I hated the main dude. I was Terrified. *shudders*
review by . December 03, 2009
posted in Reel Overseas
The fantasy genre doesn't lend itself well to movies, for whatever reason. Before this decade, fantasy films were much more likely to end up on MST3K or, at best, in a "Most Nostalgic Kids Films of the 80's" list.       Perhaps it's the Spanish-language tendency towards "magical realism" instead of the English-language trend towards Tolkein and Dungeons & Dragons, but Pan's Labyrinth shatters those expectations almost immediately, by melding a little girl's …
review by . September 24, 2009
   Very compelling tale of a young girl who is forced with her sickly and ready to conceive mother, to live with her cruel father in the 1930’s war torn Spanish countryside.  Her father is El Capitan of a military force seeking out rebels against the government.  He loves to torture and brutally murder anybody he catches, whether they are rebels or not (warning: some of the scenes are so graphic that they are difficult to watch if you have a weak stomach).  The girl’s …
review by . November 21, 2009
     Pan's Labyrinth takes place in Spain in May and June, 1944, after the Spanish civil war, during the Franquist repression. Also present is the main character Ofelia's fantasy world which centers around an overgrown abandoned labyrinth. Ofelia's stepfather, the Falangist Captain Vidal, viciously hunts the Spanish Maquis, guerrillas who fight against the Franco regime in the region, while Ofelia's pregnant mother grows increasingly ill. Ofelia meets several strange and magical …
review by . May 15, 2009
Centering around a lonely 12-year old girl named Ofelia with a sickly preger mother, a sadistically cruel stepfather, and a kindly handmaiden--Ofelia escapes into a fairytale world of her imagination. Guided by a fairy she discovers an ancient, crumbling labyrinth guarded by a faun who discloses her true destiny--she is Princess Moanna--but to prove herself she must complete three increasingly challenging and dangerous tasks; The tasks have to be completed before the full moon.     The …
review by . May 21, 2009
It is 1944, and 12-year old Ofelia and her mother are going to a military outpost in the Spanish countryside to live with her new stepfather, a sadistic army captain.   There, Ofelia discovers an old stone maze that leads to an underground world of fairies and adventures while above ground, the captain is closing in on a rag-tag band of insurgents.     This remarkable movie is alternately beautiful and grotesque, cruel and fantastic.  Ofelia's …
Quick Tip by . November 06, 2009
Really amazing film. Extremely thought provoking & beautifully shot. Made me feel like a child again even though it's not a childrens film.
review by . March 21, 2009
Very compelling tale of a young girl who is forced with her sickly and ready to conceive mother, to live with her cruel father in the 1930's war torn Spanish countryside. Her father is El Capitan of a military force seeking out rebels against the government. He loves to torture and brutally murder anybody he catches, whether they are rebels or not (warning: some of the scenes are so graphic that they are difficult to watch if you have a weak stomach). The girl's means of blocking out all this cruelty …
About the reviewer
Quinn Blackburn ()
Ranked #6
Hello, my name is Quinn. :o) I also answer to Mom, YaYa, and occasionally Entwife. I enjoy Beauty wherever I find it... Nature, Music, Art in all its forms... I believe these to be true and sacred things … more
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Inspired by the Brothers Grimm, Jorge Luis Borges, and Guillermo del Toro's own unlimited imagination,Pan's Labyrinthis a fairytale for adults. Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) may only be 12, but the worlds she inhabits, both above and below ground, are dark as anything del Toro has conjured. Set in rural Spain, circa 1944, Ofelia and her widowed mother, Carmen (Ariadna Gil,Belle Epoque), have just moved into an abandoned mill with Carmen's new husband, Captain Vidal (Sergi López,With a Friend like Harry). Carmen is pregnant with his son. Other than her sickly mother and kindly housekeeper Mercedes (Maribel Verdú,Y Tu Mamá También), the dreamy Ofelia is on her own. Vidal, an exceedingly cruel man, couldn't be bothered. He has informers to torture. Ofelia soon finds that an entire universe exists below the mill. Her guide is the persuasive Faun (Doug Jones,Mimic). As her mother grows weaker, Ofelia spends more and more time in the satyr's labyrinth. He offers to help her out of her predicament if she'll complete three treacherous tasks. Ofelia is willing to try, but does this alternate reality really exist or is it all in her head? Del Toro leaves that up to the viewer to decide in a beautiful, yet brutal twin toThe Devil's Backbone, which was also haunted by the ghost of Franco. Though it lacks the humor ofHellboy,Pan's Labyrinthrepresents Guillermo Del Toro at the top of his considerable game.--Kathleen C. Fennessy
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