Original Review Date: 1/6/2007
Pan’s Labyrinth is a film as beautiful and fantasy filled as it is brutal and relentless. If director Guillermo del Toro died tomorrow, this is the film that would stand as the director’s legacy. This movie is del Toro’s business card to everyone in the mainstream film industry about what he is capable of as a film maker. Like fellow filmmaker William Friedkin, del Toro shows harsh plot elements in an unflinching manner. I wouldn’t list or enumerate the brutal incidents/developments that transpire in Pan’s Labyrinth for they are a bloody surprise and wholehearted earn the film an R-rating.
There are two storylines present in Pan’s Labyrinth. One revolves around the end of the Spanish Civil War (July 17, 1936 to April 1, 1939) and the other is the fantasy world that seeks out and finds the film’s main character, Ofelia, played by twelve-year-old Ivana Baquero. Ofelia is the character who the viewer follows the most throughout the film. Like Wolfgang Petersen’s The NeverEnding Story, you are with her when she embarks on a series of tasks set before by a herald of a mythic kingdom that calls itself Faun. When a development in one storyline of Pan’s Labyrinth happens, it is counterbalanced by an equally important development in the other.
Pan’s Labyrinth is what a Hayao Miyazaki film would look like if one of his films were every made into a live action feature. Pan’s Labyrinth is full of the moments and the types of characters that are common place in a Miyazaki film. Larger than life animals, a conflict that eventually affects all of the principle characters, magic, fantasy worlds, quests, adventure. On top of all this, Pan’s Labyrinth has a memorable antagonist in the form of Ofelia’s new stepfather, Captain Vidal, a fascist career military officer played with silent menace by Sergi Lopez. Vidal is a brave, vicious, unsympathetic, tough soldier put in charge of (though he says he asked for the assignment) an outpost to quell the last of a resistance at the end of the Spain’s Civil War. Vidal seems like the coldest and meanest husband/father a person could have and ninety-nine percent of him is exactly that. But there is that last one percent that involves a watch. I didn’t catch it the first time I saw Pan’s Labyrinth until the film’s ending but immediately caught sight of it early during a second viewing. Vidal isn’t completely cold blooded but he doesn’t let anyone know it, not his dinner guests, his men, his new wife and absolutely not his step-daughter. Vidal was raised on stories of what a good soldier his father, General Vidal, was. It is unfortunate that Vidal never made the connection that being a good soldier might also entail being a good human being as well.
Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth is a fantasy film meant for adults, not little children, even with its tone-setting, hummed lullaby musical score. This is a bloody, even gory film in many places and del Toro should be congratulated for not going the PG-13 route with his film as he easily could have and was probably approached to do by his backers at some point. The ending to Pan’s Labyrinth will probably have some people divided as it…well…I better not say or even hint at. It is one of the film’s strongest points. Spoiling it might take away from del Toro’s terrific film. There aren’t many director/screenwriters that have the guts to film what Toro does in the film’s final act but it makes everything that came before it even more credible and beautiful.