When we think of stories of fantasy, we think of light-hearted tales. What does not come to mind are grotesque creatures and violence. “Pan’s Labyrinth” is not a traditional fairy tale; it is a beautifully shot, well-orchestrated film that pulls us into a world of fantasy, while setting the story against a historical backdrop. After receiving limited release, the film was already garnering a great deal of attention from critics. Currently, the film is nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Foreign Language Film and Best Original Screenplay. Since I am not a fan of foreign films (the film is in Spanish), I went into the theater reluctantly.
However, I left the theater very pleased and slightly depressed. As stated earlier, “Pan’s Labyrinth” is not your traditional fairy tale and I praise the film for being different. Now in wide release, “Pan’s Labyrinth” is a beautiful film that combines epic story telling with historical fiction. This is one of the last must-see films released in 2006.
Set in Fascist Spain in the 1940s after the takeover of Franco, “Pan’s Labyrinth” tells the story of Ofelia (Ivana Baquero), a lonely girl who lives with her mother and adoptive father. Her adoptive father is a captain in the military who is charged with riding Spain of rebels. In her loneliness, Ofelia immerses herself in fairy tales and ultimately creates her own fantasy world. This world contains fantastical creatures and secret destinations. With Fascism at its height, Ofelia must come to terms with her own world through a story of her own creation.
The story of “Pan’s Labyrinth” is captivating and very well told. Director Guillermo del Toro strays away from his usual style; however, it is not that distant. Toro is known for bringing the surreal to the screen with films such as “Hellboy” and “Mimic.” “Pan’s Labyrinth” can be seen as a new direction, but only in the sense that builds on what he has already done.
Films like “Hellboy” showcased great visual effects, but those effects did not build on the story. They were simply there to look nice. With “Pan’s Labyrinth,” Del Toro uses the stunning visual effects to build on the already powerful story. When the audience steps out of the reality of 1940s Spain and into Ofelia’s fantasy world, the visual effects are highlighted, enhancing the audience’s perception that Ofelia wants to escape.
A scene that stands out in particular is where Ofelia goes inside a dying fig tree to defeat a toad that is killing the tree. The effects inside the tree are astounding. Del Toro uses CGI to create vivid textures and fantastical creatures that thrill the eyes. They are meant to be surreal and fantastical to add a sense of escape.
Praise must also be awarded to the performances in the film. What is great about the casting choices in this film is that none of the actors are known to the mainstream American crowd. All, with the exception of Doug Jones (“Hellboy”), who plays Pan, have starred in only Spanish films.
For this reason, audience members can go into the film without having any preconceived notion about the performances. Many times, one will walk into a movie and instead of seeing a character, they see Tom Cruise or some other well-known actor. With “Pan’s Labyrinth,” there are no notions of that sort; the audience can sit and see the characters and for that, the performances must be praised. One that stands out is Sergi Lopez, who plays Captain Vidal. He pulls off the slimy military leader perfectly. Lopez molds a character that has no redeeming qualities.
While “Pan’s Labyrinth” is filled with beautiful, inventive direction and wonderful performances, it is far from perfect. The film develops its characters to only a minimal degree. Besides Captain Vidal, Ofelia, and Ofelia’s mother, none of the other characters are developed thoroughly. We are not given any back-story or any indication as to how they fit into the story. However, this flaw does not diminish the overall high quality of the film.
Overall, “Pan’s Labyrinth” is a very well-done film. The story is well told and Del Toro deserves high marks for his wonderful directing. Praise must also be awarded to the wonderful performances and beautiful visual effects. While the character development leaves something to be desired, the overall integrity of the film is not diminished. If you are looking for a film that is different from the usual fare at the theater, see “Pan’s Labyrinth.