reviewed by Andrew James
Pan's Labyrinth takes place in the days following D-day in Spain. Ofelia is a little girl being forced to move with her very pregnant mother to live with her new stepfather; an evil, fascist general commanding a small band of soldiers protecting a mill from guerrilla rebels (the good guys) in the mountians. As soon as she arrives, Ofelia finds a labyrinth of mystique and intrigue that leads her to a mystical world of fauns and fairies. She learns that she is actually the long lost princess and to return to her rightful spot on the throne, she must complete three adventurous tasks before the next full moon.
Besides this smaller story arc, the larger part of the story lies with the worn torn rural areas of northern Spain. While rebels try to take back the mill and regain control of their farmlands, spies and moles within the mill's compund sneak and steal from the general in an effort to help the rebels regain control. The general in the meantime is worried about his unborn son; cruelly caring little for the mother or Ofelia and only wanting a name to carry on his legacy.
First off, this is NOT a kid's movie. Though the pictures and trailers might have you believing that this is some sort of fantastical vision of "Alice in Wonderland," Narnia or Neverending Story, it is actually a rough and brutal war movie with some of the more graphic violence of the year. The General is an extremely cruel and barbaric man and it's easy to see right away he's the bad guy here. Be prepared for anything when he's on screen.
The two stories intertwine really well and actually run parallel, although they really have nothing to do with one another. The way in which director Del Toro is able to fuse the two stories and bring us back and forth between the two is something not easily accomplished by many filmmakers today. Usually, I feel the need to just stick with one story and not the other as one is far more exciting or interesting than the other. Here, both are equally as captivating and intriguing.
The visuals are something new and fresh that we haven't seen lately. They're new and fresh only in that they actually sort of go backwards in terms of CGI and digital technology. Most of the fantasy scenes are done with props and wires, not CGI; although there is a bit of that too. It is very Terry Gilliam in that way and somehow makes everything seem more believable and real. The ragged sets and props also lend credence to the care the filmmakers took in preparing both the real and fantastical worlds.
My only real complaint is that there wasn't enough of the fantasy world. I think had my mind not been preprogrammed to believe this was one big Alice in Wonderland type of film and realized that's actually only a small part of it and most of the film is a suspense laden, espionage film, my expectations would've been different and my enjoyment may've gone up.
I am prepared to see this film again soon with lower expectations and a higher appreciation for what is on screen as I won't be forced into reading the subtitles quite as much. As long as you go into this movie knowing you're going to see a war drama/suspense movie and not an amazing fantasy film, you'll be alright. It truly is innovative and captivating. I must reiterate again that this is rated R for a reason. There are some truly gut-wrenching scenes that are hard to watch. The rest of Pan's Labyrinth is harrowing and extremely well done and it's very easy to get lost within.
Listen to our CINECAST discussing Pan's Labyrinth (episode #31)
IMDb.com - full cast and crew
FLIXSTER PROFILE for Pan's Labyrinth