Pan's Labyrinth (2006)

Guillermo del Toro

STARRINGIvana Baquero - Ofelia
Sergi Lopez - Capitan Vidal
Ariadna Gil - Carmen
Maribel Verdu - Mercedes
Alex Angulo - Dr. Ferreiro
Doug Jones - Pan/Pale Man

Year - 2006

Score - 4 Howls Outta 4

I've been a fan of Guillermo del Toro's work since watching THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE in one of my film classes. His work on BLADE II and HELLBOY have been exceptional, proving that he's one of the most original and inventive directors in the film industry today. I heard alot about PAN'S LABYRINTH by watching the Telemundo news program, AL ROJO VIVO, which chronicled del Toro's vision in creating this film and documenting its path towards the Academy Awards. The film looked interesting visually and I was really curious about the film [especially after some of my fellow MySpace reviewers shouted praises for the film], although I never got the chance to see it until a few days ago. And I have to say - I regret waiting so long to watch this because I really enjoyed EL LABERINTO DEL FAUNO, a.k.a. PAN'S LABYRINTH.

During civil war in 1944 Spain, Capitan Vidal (Sergi Lopez) invites his recently married and pregnant wife Carmen (Ariadna Gil) and her daughter Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) to his fort in order to protect them from the Allies soldiers trying to secure Spain, wanting his unborn son to be born near him. Ofelia dislikes Vidal, never wanting to acknowledge him as her father even at the insistance of Carmen. Since her tailor father passed away, Ofelia buried herself into books, dreaming of fairy tales and wanting to live in these fantasy worlds. While staying at Vidal's army headquarters, Ofelia stumbles into a fairy that leads her into a big labyrinth. Inside, she meets the faun Pan (Doug Jones), who tells Ofelia that she's really the daughter of the Netherworld King who wanted to see sunlight - but lost her immortality and died when the sun blinded her. Wishing for her soul to return home, Pan sets Ofelia on three tasks in order for Ofelia to regain her immortality before the full moon rises - or else she'll be trapped in the mortal world for good. While Ofelia tries to do what Pan asks her to do, the adults around her believe she's just a child with an active imagination. Due the constant struggle between reality and fantasy, Ofelia realizes that fairy tales can be just as dangerous, if not more, than the real world.

Usually, fantasy films can be too childish or too cheesy to be taken seriously. THE NEVERENDING STORY comes to mind. PAN'S LABYRINTH is the total opposite. Honestly, I don't recall the last time I ever saw a film that was so imaginative and original, where the fantasy and the real world were actually one and the same. Guillermo del Toro really outdoes himself here, really bringing his world to life in such a way that we're never sure which world is real or not. I'm not really sure if Ofelia's fairy tale world was really true or it was just a figment of her imagination. That's how good the lines were blurred. The two worlds are balanced perfectly and the transitions between both never feel forced. I greatly appreciated the gothic tone the film took, even in the fantasy world. I kept wondering which world was better because none of them seemed well enough to live in. Ofelia wanted to escape the horrors of her real life, yet she was just as horrified within her fairy tale land as well. She was never truly safe in either land, which gives the film an unsettling tone. If you're not safe in fantasy, then there really is hell on earth.

Del Toro has never directed a better film. We get tons of character development. We get long interior and exterior shots of the labyrinth, its contents, and the worlds that Ofelia is conflicted with. The use of darkness and light is extraordinarily done. The CGI of the fairies, monsters, and both characters played by the awesome Doug Jones are visually stunning. The music, sometimes soothing - sometimes erratic, conveys the mood excellently. And the fact that Del Toro refused to dub his Spanish dialogue into English [that's right, the film's in Spanish with English subtitles] gives the film an authenticity that many films today are missing. This is a fairy tale for adults and del Toro really brings the story to life on film. Such an ambitious film made by an ambition director. PAN'S LABYRINTH is a really well-made film.

And while del Toro and all his technical prowess are excellently done, this film's true heart is its actors. The biggest star is young Ivana Baquero, who plays Ofelia. She's wonderful in conveying her wishes to escape a world that's hard and rough on her to one where she could be a princess. She's our guide in seeing what both worlds are truly like, as she seamlessly tries to fit into both. Usually child actors can be very annoying for their own good. Baquero is the other side of the spectrum, bringing a down-to-earth performance to Ofelia, making her a normal distressed girl that we could all relate to. When her big eyes widen as she marvels at the world around her, our big eyes marvel as well. She's really a warm, young actress and I do hope to see more of her.

Sergi Lopez as Capitan Vidal did such a great job as the evil villain that I wanted nothing but bad things to happen to him. He's so cruel that he almost takes the fantasy out of this film, as he only cares about conquering and winning a war while protecting the birth of his unborn son. He barely cares for his new wife and pretty much ignores or gets rough with Ofelia when she crosses him. The man is pure scum and Lopez did the role justice. The man could have been over-the-top but he's quiet and menancing through his facial expressions. The mark of a great villain, the man almost seemed unstoppable until his world was too much for even someone as powerful as him to control.

The rest of the actors are also perfectly casted. Especially Alex Angulo and Maribel Verdu as Dr. Ferreiro and the housekeeper Mercedes, who worked both with Vidal and with the rebel forces against Vidal. Especially Verdu, who was so weak at the beginning but became so powerful towards the end, was nothing short but captivating to watch. And I can't finish the acting stuff without mentioning Doug Jones, who plays two memorable monster creations in Pan and the Pale Man. The Pale Man, in particular, reminded me of those regenerator monsters in the video game Resident Evil 4. The dude had eyes on his hands - creepy stuff. And his protrayal as Pan was excellent, as I was never sure what his true intentions with Ofelia were. The man can move his body in such a way that you can't keep your eyes off of him. The man is extremely talented and I can see why he was picked to play The Silver Surfer. And if that was him speaking Spanish [he didn't even know the language before shooting], he did a really good job.

And as I stated before, the film is entirely in Spanish with English subtitles. That might turn away alot of people, but believe me, it is not a distraction if you don't understand the language [fortunately as a Puerto Rican, I do]. Keeping up with the story by reading the subtitles is never an issue as you'll be glued to the visuals on the screen anyway [great cinematography] and you'll never miss any of the action on film. The foreign language really enhances the appeal of the film and honestly. If foreign films scare you, take a chance on this one.

PAN'S LABYRINTH is a must-see for anyone who can appreciate an original and imaginative film. I didn't think I would enjoy this film as much as I did. This is a film that's worth emotionally investing two hours to. Do yourself a favor and see this if you haven't. PAN'S LABYRINTH is going to be a hard film to top in the near future. A truly magnificent experience that will be one of my favorite films for years to come.

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