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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.
I get annoyed at movies that preach one thing and are themselves another.

The story here has two components, a real and fantasy thread. The real world thread is simple. By that I mean there are no dramatic complications at all. The characters are theatrical cartoons. The situation starts out brutally and stays that way without any arc, development, evolution. It is in fact a formula movie, this thread, and one that follows a formula that is based on strict, strict boundaries. One would suspect it was written by a German, it is so regimented. One would almost believe it to be written by "The Captain," the bad guy here.

It marches. Its unambiguous. Its final and brutal in its morality, just as the Captian is. There are only good and bad people and the bad are not only very, very bad but they get their deserts. Justice isn't nuanced here. In fact nothing at all is.

I suppose people celebrate it for its fantasy thread. Yes, the effects are good. Yes the creepy eyeless man was creepy. Yes the Tinkerbells were Tinkerbelly. But is this in any way better than "Dark Crystal," which was similarly banal in its cosmology?

Look, I'm one of the ones who get depressed at things like "The Matrix," but if lacking in imagination, is copying was deep, complex, manylayered. This is something that Franco would have written, and little fascist parents would have trotted to, because its all about absolutes and the inability of humans to be rich, subtle, varied beings.The best we can do, is be "innocent."

I often can see some good in any film. But not this one. The world is too close to intolerant extremism as it is. Don't feed it by supporting this.

Ted's Evaluation -- 1 of 3: You can find something better to do with this part of your life.
it was average at best
pans labyrinth is a fantasy film based around the Spanish civil war. It concentrates on a young girl called Ofelia as she and her mother move in with Vidal (who is a captain). I didn't like the use of the monster in this film because i felt it gave quite a childish and stupid feel to what was a very political film. A positive was that the film did draw you in, mainly because of the captains unpredictable behavior so you never knew what was going to happen next. This is why i give it a 6 out of 10.
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."
powerful story about the Spanish civil war - fantasy aspect the weaker side
I believe Pan's Labyrinth to be misnamed. Although it is a clever title, and there is a faun and a labyrinth, the fantasy world is actually a very small part of the movie, which is mostly about a sadistic Fascist (Sergi Lopez, excellent as Captain Vidal)hunting partisans in the mountains of rural Spain during the second World War.

To be sure, the main character initially seems to be the Captain's unattended step-daughter, Ofelia (Ivana Baquero). Ofelia and her mother have accompanied the Captain while Ofelia's mother is dealing with a difficult pregnancy. The woman is not important to the Captain, only his legacy is and he will risk the mother's life to obtain his heir. In the meantime Vidal is not above executing anyone who even seems to be remotely suspect of aiding his enemy. This is bad news for the house maid, Mercedes (Maribel Verdu, who is also excellent) and the local doctor, both of whom are covertly aiding the rebels.

Ofelia seems to be dealing with this frightening situation by retreating into a fantasy world. A faun (Pan, played by Doug Jones) informs her that she is actually a lost princess from an underworld kingdom, and must pass several tests to prove her worthiness.

Here is where the weakness of the film comes into play. Both the fantasy world and the real one Ofelia inhabits are well evoked, but director Del Toro does not devote enough time to the fantasy world to make it the main arc of the story. Instead most of the time and focus (at least two-thirds) are on the Captain, Mercedes and the Captain's hunt for the partisans and their conspirators. When Ofelia does enter the labyrinth her tasks are usually straightforward (getting a giant toad to swallow a magic stone, stealing from a monster) and seem a distraction from the real story of the sadistic captain and the brave housekeeper. In particular on one sojourn Ofelia disobeys the orders of the Faun and awakens a child-eating monster from which she has to flee. This is out of character for Ofelia, who is shown as being canny and smart until that moment, and the Faun's pronouncements following this seem perfunctory. In addition, the fantasy adventures do not seem to gibe in any logical way with the story - I did not see a connection between the giant toad or the pale man with the actions taking place in the film. If the fantasy world is supposed to be an allegory for the real world Ofelia inhabits, then the connections were too tenuous.

Another fault I found with the film is that it takes the ambiguity away from the fantasy scenarios. Ordinarily in this type of story, the reality of the dreamscape remains in question, leaving the audience asking whether the character is actually experiencing the adventure or just imagining it. Here Del Toro removes the ambiguity - the dreamscape can only be real, or else the filmmaker is lying. I felt this was a cop out. If the girl is escaping her nightmarish reality by retreating into a fantasy world, then making the dream world real is unfair to the audience. What does it mean that this defenseless little girl can actually retreat into a fantasy world as a moral to the story? And if the opposite is true, that the fantasy world was just fantasy, then Del Toro creates too many contradictions - Ofelia uses tools and devices given to her by the faun to escape real world situations, and they are found by other characters.

The last criticism is the actions of Mercedes when she gets a drop on Captain Vidal. (SPOILER ALERT) Mercedes is very aware of how sadistic and evil the Captain is. She has the gumption to stab him and has him helpless, so WHY DOESN"T SHE FINISH THE JOB? Her leaving him alive has both immediate and far-reaching complications for herself and Ofelia and left me gasping in disbelief. This leads to the trenchant finale, where Captain Vidal, who has been stabbed at least five times, pursues Ofelia into the labyrinth. I had questions about this as well. During this climax I doubted Vidal's ability to go anywhere due to the brutality of the stabbings, but here he is, pursuing the little girl with the baby. I also questioned his actions toward Ofelia. Although he is shown as evil, he is never shown as anything more than dismissive of Ofelia. I doubted that his intentions toward a little girl he could easily overpower would turn murderous.

The ending is gripping and sad, but by this point too many contradictions had distracted me, and the explanation of the end once again made me feel the director was playing unfair games.

This is a strong, evocative film. If it sounds as if I am picking nits, it is because there are too many inconsistencies, and a distracted storyline, to prevent me from calling it great. People will be talking about this movie a long time, and I urge you to see it.
The Most Disturbing Fairy Tale I've Ever Seen
This is the first film I've seen from dark fantasy film director Guillermo del Toro, and I don't think I've seen a movie that changed my perception of fantasy films as much as this. I am not kidding when I say that this movie is disturbing beyond reason, as it centers around a girl named Ofelia who moves in with her stepfather, the tyrannical Captain Vidal, while also living in her own imagination. Once she's at the residence of her stepfather, Ofelia discovers a mysterious labyrinth and meets a fan who sets her on a path to save herself as well as her severely ill mother. As time goes on though, there is a blur in the lines between fantasy and reality, and Ofelia soon encounters a horrific battle between Good and Evil.

Right off the bat, the world building of the fantasy elements this film offers is incredible. The film has a very gritty and dark setting in the real world given the civil war happening, and as such the world Ofelia imagines is so grim yet imaginative that you wanna see more of it. The creatures in design are beyond words, whether it be the creature Pan (performed extraordinarily well by Doug Jones), to the fairies, to even a Pale Man, and considering that the film mixes animatronics and CGI along with makeup and costumes really brings the effects to new heights. It's no wonder the film won the Oscar for Best Makeup and Best Production Design, because this is like no other world I've ever seen in a fantasy film.

As for the content, I did think that the arch of Captain Vidal got in the way of Ofelia's story a lot, and because of this it almost feels like two different movies are contrasting each other. However, it all fits with the dark world that Ofelia would go into, and since it's hard for her to witness such heinous acts in the real world, her imagination seems to take note and it creates a beautiful Gothic nightmare within itself. I could never stop rooting for Ofelia to just get away from such a horrid man or even life, and even though the trials she gets into in her own world are fake, the film succeeds in creating suspense between her relation with her mother and stepfather and what she can do to save herself.

To quote film critic Jim Emerson, Pan's Labyrinth is "a fairy tale of such potency and awesome beauty that it reconnects the adult imagination to the primal thrill and horror of the stories that held us spellbound as children" As fantasy oriented as they are, fairy tales have never shied away from letting out their inner horrors, and those horrors have shaped kids into adults for the better. Pan's Labyrinth brings fantasy into such a grim underworld for a little girl's imagination that it fits beautifully with the contrast of reality and fantasy that can bring adults into this spellbinding fable. If you watch this film, you may never look at fantasy the same way again, but it will bring you back to a time when you cherished imaginary worlds as much as the next child.
One of the best films ever made.....
You would think that, with 1000 or so positive reviews, one more would not matter? However, this is not only one of the most extraordinary films ever made, it is also a personal fave which I have seen many times.

Comments include:

* can Guillermo del Toro actually make a bad film? I don't think so. Because of his name on the credits I have checked out many films of his that, while not in the same class as this one, were nonetheless flawless in execution.

* of many film I have seen about war (too many to count) this one manages to humanize the condition to a greater degree than I can recall. Each character is perfectly cast with perfectly written dialog to bring home the metaphor of trying to live your life while chaos reigns around you. A little girl with a sick pregnant mother who just lost her father and finds her step-father to be a monster ... perfect!

* many films deliberately strive for that special "ambiguous" ending but this one nails it. I remember couples coming out out the theatre arguing over what the real purpose of the film was, what the real ending was, what the intent was, etc

* the one single scene where the young girl has to enter a subterranean land and retrieve artifacts WITHOUT EATING THE FOOD ON THE TABLE is in many ways scarier than the scariest horror films you could name. Moreso because the audience knows how hungry she was and empathizes. It reminded me of the Cyclops scene in the 1950s 7th Voyage of Sinbad, considered a classic of its own.

* the scenes of violence (and there are many) are done so well you can almost taste the copper in the blood on screen

One of the best films ever made
boring good guys, disgusting bad guys, impotent fantasy creatures, lovingly rendered torture effects
A fairy flies around the face of an enthralled, fairy-loving girl for the first time, and she just looks straight ahead, smiling vaguely. Giant black bugs crawl up her arms and she ignores them. A terrible monster sits quietly at a food-laden dining table but ehhhh she's hungry so no need to even keep an eye on it. BUT OH when a thing hits a guy hard in the face yes of course the face breaks and blood squishes through the ruptures and his dad cries out in anguish and tries to reach for him and then the guy gets a bullet and more blood squirts out and then the dad gets shot too and more blood squirts out. Etc. etc. for two hours. The message: Fantasy is irrelevant; guns are reality.
Panned Viewership be Damned!
Pan's Labyrinth eluded me for more than a decade now and now, I realize I've lived in a darker fantasy world without it.

What an incredible and sobering fairy tale that I originally pegged as based solely on FX and creative designs. Oh, no, it's much more than meets the eyes…to the hands.

In a disgustingly horrible Captain's household in 1944, a mother and daughter suffer right alongside the rebellion and a fantasy world of objectives in order to survive and fulfill destinies.

Really, that's all I'm giving. Tricky, my synopsis is as you really should appreciate this all on your own as there's more story here to fill two franchises. This is truly a must see.

And forget waiting as long as I did. Put up your hands and watch it now.


Final thoughts: While this movie can be analyzed to death, theorized to end friendships and studied in the best of film schools, I wrote one of my shortest reviews to date. I don't really have much more to say than I LOVED it, it was visually stunning and it should be viewed by all movie lovers and those adults trying to recapture their inner childhood innocence while understanding the connections to the world we, sadly, created.
Marvelous movie in which a bookish young stepdaughter of a sadistic army officer escapes into a creepy but captivating fantasy world and finds a strange Pan
Set in the not so tranquil Spanish woodlands of aftermath Spanish Civil War , where a small band of anti-fascism rebels are hiding out. Ofelia's love of fairy tales is obvious from the beginning of The Pan's labyrinth . When a widow marries an authoritarian Francoist captain Vidal (Sergi Lopez), her daughter goes to a countryside mansion . This is where Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) and her pregnant mother (Ariadna Gil) have come to live, in the company of the violent , brutal Capitán , Ofelia's new stepfather and soon to be father of her half-brother. The captain and his troops must fight Republican guerrillas of the hills and woods, that Ofelia finds her release and distraction of the new world order and its warring factions and delves into the older, mysterious and enchanting world of fairies , faun's and giant frogs . Ofelia becomes friend of the servant Mercedes (magnificent Maribel Verdu), who is the sister of one of the rebels and actually is giving support to the bunch . Ofelia takes refuge in a labyrinth , she finds in the grounds of his home, and in reveries involving Pan (Doug Jones, it took five hours to get into The Pale Man costume , once he was in it, he had to look out the nose holes to see where he was going) , who set three tasks she must overcome to take place as princess of a magical kingdom and in order to obtain immortality according to the legend . Meantime , resistance fighters plot their strategies in the nearest forest battling fascist troops .

This is a gorgeous , charming , graphic and deadly fairy tale . An exceptional picture for its inventive visuals , imagination and fantasy ; inspired partly by Goya's ¨Black Paintings¨ , including fantastic sequences parallel the reality . Sensational acting by Sergi Lopez as a cruel , unforgiving and totalitarian idealist Capitán Vidal . Versatile Sergi steals the spectacle as the monstrously sadistic officer bringing real menace to what might have been an absurd caricature . Wonderful and imaginative visual effects by DDT and magnificent special effects by Reyes Abades . The faun's legs were not computer-generated , Guillermo del Toro created a special system in which the actor's legs puppeteer the faun's fake ones , the actor's legs were later digitally removed . Impressive production design by Eugenio Caballero and rousing set design by Pilar Revuelta . The ruined town seen during the opening sequence of the film is the old town of Belchite Zaragoza, in Aragón, which was also used by Terry Gilliam for ¨Adventures barón Munchausen¨, the town was destroyed during the Spanish Civil War and never rebuilt. Sensitive as well as imaginative musical score by Javier Navarrete . Colorful and evocative cinematography by Guillermo Navarro , Del Toro's usual .

The motion picture was splendidly directed by Guillermo del Toro who even gave up his entire salary , including back-end points, to see this film become realized . In 2007, this film became one of the few fantasy films ever nominated in the Best Foreign Language Film category at the Oscars . The film was hailed by critics and audiences alike, and del Toro decided to give Hollywood another try . Its fantastic assurance confirms Del Toro as one of contemporary cinema's most rewarding purveyors of fantasy such as demonstrated in his first big break ¨Cronos¨, and followed by ¨Hellboy¨, ¨Blade II¨ , ¨Mimic¨ ,¨The devil's backbone¨ and many others .
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