Published at: Sept. 18, 2006, 11:24 p.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. Those long time readers will know that most of us around here at AICN are quite fond of Guillermo Del Toro's work. His CRONOS and DEVIL'S BACKBONE are great films and you'll be hard pressed to find anybody out there (that has seen them) that doesn't love 'em. Both are beautiful, yet twisted. I'm also a fan of his popcorn action stuff like BLADE 2 and HELLBOY. I know these aren't as universally loved, but for my money there's a pace and a willingness to push the limits that make them stand above like films. They're just plain old fun.
Of course I was looking forward to PAN'S LABYRINTH, but honestly... I really didn't think it'd live up to the hype. Moriarty was telling me it was his favorite film of the year the night before I saw it. There were dozens of reviews that came in from readers calling it a masterpiece. I expected it to be good. Really damn good. As good as THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE, which is a movie I dearly love. But I doubted I could see it as the masterpiece everyone else saw it as based just on my expectation level alone.
I was in LA a few weeks ago for that last TRANSFORMERS set visit (Click Here To Read That!) and I arranged to see the flick the morning before my flight left. I literally had to run from the Deluxe screening rooms to catch my ride to the airport.
Starting off, as a novice film collector I was transfixed by Deluxe. Their projection rooms were open and filled with the most up to date film-handling technology I've seen. I wanted these toys really bad. I snuck peaks into the rooms as I waited with Tom Joad for another friend of mine. Joad knew Guillermo's work and this other friend, Laura, had never seen one movie he had done.
We sat in the spiffy room (with the ability to control the volume of the Dolby surround as well as the ability to talk to the projectionist at the touch of a button, how cool is that?) and watched the film unspool.
And here I am telling you what you've already been told a good dozen times already. The film is a masterpiece, easily as good as THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE, but I think it's even better. PAN'S LABYRINTH is Guillermo Del Toro at his best on all levels. His script is the best writing he's ever done, the direction is sharp, imaginative, but not showy. The actors are all directed perfectly. Each performance nuanced and different than every other in the film.
The writing is what I keep thinking about when I look back at the movie (aside from the strong visuals, which I'll get to in a second). There's a subtlety to the writing in this film that really impressed the hell out of me. The story follows a young girl and her pregnant mother as they arrive at the home of a Captain, the adoptive father and new husband (father of the growing child in her belly) to the mother. This is set in 1944, in Spain, after Franco's victory. The Captain isn't a nice man. The little girl, our main character Ofelia, knows this. He's inhumane to his prisoners, his self-image is Godlike... he's a fantastic heavy.
It's a very unique location and situation to surround the main story of this girl. The fantasy aspect hardly ever collides with the real world except when it comes to this girl. There can be an argument made that none of the fantasy exists, except in her mind. Del Toro is very careful to never tell you which way to think. I believe in this world and I want the fantasy there and I believe everybody will want the fantasy to be true by the end of the film.
In other films where you have a fantasy element that is ambiguous there's usually a huge danger of the real world story being so dull that the view just gets pissed off that the filmmaker won't commit to the most interesting part of the story. Here, the real world and the fantasy world are both interesting, both are dangerous, full of false impressions and sadness. There won't be a consensus on which is preferred, I guarantee it. Some people will like the real world aspect more, others will like the fantasy. Some will like both equally. I, personally, loved the entire tale, both the real world and the fantasy combined.
As a writer, Del Toro has never been better. He tells you right up front that there is death in this film. It's not pretty, it's not romanticized. It's brutal, it's dirty and it's real. This is an adult fairy tale. It's hard core, characters die... and not off camera. Del Toro takes away the rules. We believe anyone can be hurt, anyone can die, so suddenly the whole film is full of dangers for the audience as well as the characters onscreen. We like our heroes, we hate the villain. We're rooting for the good guys, but the good guys aren't guaranteed a victory here.
There are moments in the film that, if not set up properly, would come off as cliched, but because we're conditioned early on to believe anything can happen, we're not expecting every turn to be something we'd expect. So when the expected happens, just through the clever set up, the expected becomes the unexpected.
The look of the film was amazing. Guillermo Navarro's cinematography is a career best and that's saying something when talking about the man who shot CRONOS, JACKIE BROWN and FROM DUSK TILL DAWN. The movie is the best looking film, visually, that I've seen this year. Every aspect is gorgeous, even the disturbing.
The creatures are great and immediately iconic. Doug Jones does a fantastic job in the suits for both Pan, the mysterious faun, and the evil Pale Man. I want Neca toys of them both ASAP. Especially Pale Man... goddamn is he creepy (he's the fleshy looking fucker with the eyeballs in his hands). If you think he just looks creepy in the trailer and in stills you haven't seen anything until you see him in his surroundings and when you see him move. Unnatural and just plain old evil.
The movie is R rated and it's rated R for a reason. It's a hard flick. It's a taste we don't get very often, if ever, and in anybody else's hands they'd go for a kiddy audience and tame it down. The success of the film is in its ability to shock us with startling images, startling deaths for characters that should have been "safe," and use of strong language for strong characters.
I'm in love with the film and I expect most of you to be, too. Tom Joad was shaken by the flick and Laura, who, remember, hadn't ever seen a Guillerm Del Toro movie, was floored, like she had just discovered the world's a much bigger place. She's a rather busy actress, but said that day wouldn't end without her picking up a few more of Del Toro's movies.