Pan's Labyrinth (2006) Poster

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Just magical
Helen Chavez27 August 2006
I saw the film at FrightFest in London a couple of days ago, and was pretty well sure I'd be seeing something special - but I ended up seeing a film that is downright extraordinary. Brutal but beautiful, magical yet earthy, it has a remarkable cast, with standout performances all round.

A special mention must go to Sergi Lopez, whose 'Captain Vidal' is indeed one of the most sadistic film creations ever seen. Yet he manages to make the audience understand why he is the way he is ... an astounding performance. Maribel Verdu's quiet but rebellious housekeeper is one of the strongest female roles I've seen in many a year, and she is supported by a wealth of talent. Young Ivana Baquero is surprisingly self-assured as 12-year-old Ofelia, and I especially liked her almost Alice-like approach to the magical creatures she encounters in the labyrinth. The icing on this warped fairy tale is Doug Jones, who gives a towering performance - and in this case literally, as well as figuratively - as the guardian of the labyrinth, a faun, full of grace and charm and latent menace. Although dubbed, his Spanish is perfect (Jones speaks not a word of the language), and his physical presence is incredibly powerful as his character teases, cajoles and harries Ofelia to fulfil her tasks. He also plays the devastatingly creepy and disgusting 'Pale Man' - a creature that almost equals Vidal in his terrorising habits.

But the cast is just one facet of this gloriously photographed film, with Javier Navarrete's hauntingly simple score weaving itself into the fabric of a film perfectly edited and written. The brutality of post-Civil War Spain contrasts with the world of magic to which Ofelia is drawn, yet everywhere she goes she has choices to make. In fact the film is about choices, good and bad, and one discovers that no matter how desperate a situation becomes, a choice is always available - although that choice may mean one's death. The film is violent - very violent, but each moment of brutality, although graphic, has a purpose - nowhere is it gratuitous.

I loved it - as I knew I would - and if the Oscar voters don't give this film at least a nod for Best Foreign Language Film next year, then I will know that they have lost any sense of reason or comprehension. Because this film is truly a masterpiece, and Del Toro's greatest work to date.
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A fey, beautiful and dark masterpiece
j30bell23 November 2006
Set during Franco's mopping up exercise after the Spanish Civil War, Guillermo Del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth is a wonderful, dark fairy tale that, in a metaphor for Spain itself, teeters on the edge of nightmare dreamscapes of corruption, violence and the death of innocents.

This film is definitely not for young children. Although the fantasy sequences are gorgeously realised, and are fairy tales in the truest sense (in that they are dark, fey, dangerous and violent), most of the story (about three quarters of it, in fact) exists outside of the dreamland, in the even more frightening (and sometimes shockingly violent) world of a real life struggle of ideas and ideology.

Sergi Lopez is excellent as the brutal (and possibly sadistic) Falangist Captain tasked with routing out the remaining leftists from the woods and hills of Northern Spain. Into this precarious situation come his new wife (a widow of a former marriage, who is carrying his son) and his stepdaughter Ofelia (played to absolute perfection, by the then 11 year old, Ivana Baquero).

Uncomfortable with her new surroundings, suspicious of her stepfather and desperately concerned about the worsening condition of her mother, Ofelia uncovers a strange alternative world, and the chance to escape forever the pain and uncertainty of her everyday life.

Thus the film alternates between the world of Civil War Spain and the increasingly bizarre, dark and frightening world of the Pan's Labyrinth. As the twin plots progress, they intertwine, with the tasks of Ofelia becoming the choices faced by a Spain at the crossroads. The poignancy of the film lies partly in the fact that the victories of the child are reflected so starkly by the failures of the adult world.

Apparently Pan's Labyrinth won a 20-minute standing ovation at Cannes, when it was shown. This may be a little bit over the top. I suspect when the furore has died down some will choose to swing the pendulum back and criticise it for its more obvious faults. Much of the film is derivative. There are few ideas in the film's magical dreamworld that haven't been seen before. There are also few ideas in the film's depiction of the Civil War that can't be read in Satre or Orwell; can't be viewed in Picasso's Guernica; or can't be watched in Land and Freedom.

For all the evident truth of these observations, to accept them would be to entirely miss the majesty of Pan's Labyrinth, which doesn't lie in its originality but its absolute mastery of execution. People will watch Pan's Labyrinth in a way that most won't watch Land and Freedom. In doing so, they will also discover a world of fairy tales which existed before Disney sunk its claws into them: a dangerous world, where nothing is as it seems and every step is a possible death – a place which may leave even adults shivering under the duvet, part in terror, part in wonder. And all this backed up by the finest cinematography I've seen.

The only real faults I am prepared to allow for this film is a slight tendency (particularly at the end) for a Narnia-like moralism, and the fact that the faun is, perhaps, is not quite wild enough! These are eminently forgivable, though. This is easily the best film I've seen this year, and a must see on the big screen.
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Unexpected brilliance.
weigy widyanputra14 December 2006
This is a movie with a simple and straightforward plot which contains layers and layers of intelligent writing, metaphors and message.

To speak further about the script will end up in spoilers and that would be pointless since my very purpose writing this review is to encourage people to see it.

This is no small feat, interpreting fantasy as something of a product of a real world, cross-referencing how the child acts to her real surroundings and the "other world", metaphors that describe the accelerated state of growing up some of us are put through... Incredible. Simple, straightforward yet there is so much to be appreciated.

Those who are saying how it's predictable and thus not enjoyable, I ask of you, which movie nowadays aren't predictable? Hell, even 21 grams was predictable but so damned good. It's not about how it ends, you can always predict how a movie would end if you've ever taken a half-decent script writing class or have some common sense. It's always about how well you tell a story.

I'm grateful there are still directors who aren't tied down to this new epidemic of including a plot twist simply because they need a plot twist.

Pan's Labyrinth features some of the best storytelling and attention to detail without being affected by the now ever-popular opinion of cameras having to be put through several technical difficulties to make the shots eligible to be called a brilliant shot.

I am also grateful for them not dubbing it. Watching it in its' original language is much, much more rewarding even if I had to rely on the subtitles for most of the time.

This is a brilliant movie. Watch it.
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The best fantasy of the past decade
allan-11712 September 2006
Everyone's been raving about this. My opinion doesn't differ too much. It did however suffer slightly from the overwhelmingly high expectations I'd developed based on how brilliant everyone said it was, and the whole "20min ovation at Cannes" thing. Really, who stands for that long? That said, it's an amazing work.

Skipping the plot recap (find the briefest synopsis you can if you need to be filled in), I'll go straight to the tech specs. I'm not a huge Del Toro fan, Cronos was interesting but lacked something for me. Mimic was dross. Hellboy was enjoyable and Ron Perlman is always great on screen. But here, the director really outdoes himself. By far. He has wrapped together some amazing elements and somehow maintains a balance, that doesn't tip into the mundane or the ridiculous for a moment. And this is no mean feat. The story is part historical drama, part fantasy, part family melodrama. When it dips out of the fantasy, it still enchants.

Sergi Lopez and Maribel Verdú really drive the story in the historical drama scenes. I haven't seen Lopez in anything other than a film called Lisbon, in which he played a character so completely opposite from the Captain. He is a fierce and terrifying guy but actually comes across as sympathetic in a couple of scenes. Verdu is incredible as Mercedes, the head housekeeper (or something) who is Ofelia's closest friend in the house. The scenes with these characters and the civil war subplot never fail to hold your attention. Ivana Baquero is excellent as the main character Ofelia, her performance is very mature and believable and she shares some beautiful scenes with her mother and Mercedes.

When the fairy tale elements return, it's astounding how naturally they fit into the story. I think that is the real magic of this film. The war drama and the fairy tale stem so naturally from each other.

One thing that most reviews haven't mentioned is the violence. I think it's been firmly established that this is an adult's fairytale, but at times it is a very intense and brutal film. There are a couple of scenes in particular which are very disturbing and difficult to watch. These do not distract from the tone and theme of the film however so they don't seem exploitative at all. If you are squeamish, it may get a bit much for you.

A final and obvious point I spose I can't get away without making: the set design, costumes and effects are superb. That's all.

I was perhaps expecting a little more fantasy, but the unique blend of genres is absolutely compelling. There wasn't a false note anywhere or a plot hole, which are too often present in fantasy films. I can't recall a good, original fantasy film from recent years. Fortunately this blows MirrorMask out of the water. It doesn't share any of the contrivances, vagueness or ineffectual characters with that film.

I just wish I'd seen it without already having read so much. I've tried very hard to not reveal any plot details at all as it does go to some surprising and unexpected places. Fortunately most of the reviews have done the same. I'd urge anyone with the chance to see it to do so immediately, and try not to read too much more.
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Beautiful, violent, magical and sad....
dante_leebo25 August 2006
I was fortunate enough to catch Pan's Labyrinth last night as part of the 'Fright Fest' programme in London and was completely blown away. Guillermo Del Toro himself was present to both introduce the movie and to answer questions afterwards. He spoke very passionately about the film, and it was easy to see why. Guillermo Del Toro has created something very special - part war movie, part fantasy, that everyone should see. The film features a fantastic performance by Sergi Lopez as Captain Vidal and as central character Ofelia, newcomer Ivana Baquero delivers the performance of a seasoned veteran. If you are the type of person who is put off by subtitled movies, don't be. This is a very 'visual' film that does not rely overly on dialogue. This does not open until 24 November in the UK and 29 December in the USA but already I am looking forward to seeing it again (and buying the Special Edition DVD).This is the first time I've felt the need to write a review on here. Do yourselves a favour and go and watch it on the big screen.
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A masterpiece
Chris_Docker22 November 2006
Warning: Spoilers
1944. Franco's authoritarian fascist regime is a horrid world for a child, barely into her teens. Ofelia retreats into herself, finding in her fantasy world the lessons of courage, self-discipline and integrity she will need. With her, we travel beyond outward appearances, through a labyrinth of fears and uncertainties, from which Spain will not escape for several decades.

A dark, brutal fairytale, chillingly set in the real world but full of hope and warmth, Pan's Labyrinth accomplishes a masterpiece.

Our film opens with a momentary shot of Ofelia, blood from a nosebleed disappearing as the frames are introduced in reverse. A voice-over takes us back to the time of the Spanish Civil War. Ofelia arrives (with her pregnant mother) at a nationalist military base in the woods and is introduced to her stepfather, a vicious commanding officer. Capitán Vidal dispenses arbitrary justice to anyone he suspects is against him. Two suspected rebels caught by his men are summarily executed. Only afterwards is a rabbit discovered in their bag, proving their claim that they are just woodsmen (and maybe also a throwaway reference to Alice in Wonderland).

Ofelia is unwilling to accept this harsh adult world. She retreats into a labyrinth where she meets a strange Pan-like creatures, Fauno, who gives her a set of tasks where she has to face some of her darkest fears, winning a key for her next task.

The story becomes more intense, both outside the labyrinth (where Vidal is busy torturing people) and inside, where Ofelia has to face the Pale Man - a creature that has plucked out its eyes and can only see by placing them in the stigmata on its hands. Around the walls of the room are pictures of people being cast into hell by the Pale Man (From inference or the director's comments, it is apparent that the Pale Man represents authoritarianism, whether that of the Fascists or the Church). In Pan's Labyrinth we have a parable about the journey of Spanish society from the 1940s to post-Franco, a magical fairytale of stunning beauty, a story of the struggle and character development of a child on the edge of puberty, and a tense story of battles between Nationalists and Republicans. That they are all welded together seamlessly and precisely in a multi-level narrative is a remarkable achievement and thrilling experience. The sheer artistry recalls Cocteau's La Belle at la Bête. Del Toro sweeps us into a dreamlike, poetic vision, with a minimum of CGI and a grasp of dialogue that seems almost transcendental.

In a brave decision, an actor (Ivana Baquero) who is only as old as her character has been used to play the young Ofelia. But as the ethereal figure between two worlds, she is also there to cast the earthy characters involved in material battles into more visceral contrast. Editing is crisp throughout, without a single frame wasted. Rich colours and unflinching camera-work keep us rooted in the experience, whether it is Ofelia crawling face-down in the mud and covered with insects, or a hapless victim having his nose smashed in by the Capitán. Yet scenes of tenderness and beauty are equally as moving - Ofelia retreating into her mother's arms, a nursemaid powerless to help her republican lover, or a doctor performing an act of mercy.

The movies, like our dreams, folklore and imagination, are rich with symbols and images that can strike a chord in our deepest being. Artists, as well as creators of myths and religion, have long employed such symbols to guide and inspire, knowing that the conscious mind may accept a sign more easily than rational argument alone.

In watching a movie, we combine ideas of the real, the imaginary and the symbolic to find an inner affinity. And, if the filmmaker has done his job properly, will feel truly moved.

One of the things that can make or break a movie that makes extensive use of symbols is whether those symbols echo in the collective unconscious, often through time honoured association, or not. Knowledge of mythology or Jungian psychology can make all the difference. Much has been made of the title. Originally 'El Laberinto del Fauno', the translation at first appears sloppy, but Del Toro has done his research well. While quipping that it 'just sounded better', a little investigation of classical authorities shows Faunus as a form of the ancient god Pan (Lempriere). Pan, the goat-like god that represents a totality of possibilities, together with goat-like stubbornness and independence of thought, is the perfect symbol. In the film he says, "I've had so many names... I am the mountain, the forest and the earth. . . . I am a faun. Your most humble servant, Your Highness." In Greek Mythology, Pan also won the affections of a princess under the form of a goat. The freedom of thought (and sexuality) he advocated, with the rise of Christianity, caused him to be portrayed as the Devil; but we learn his intentions are good, whereas the holy-looking Pale Man offers temptation only as an excuse to rip his victims apart. As an aspect of the creative power, fauns in mythology also symbolise firm aspiration and human intelligence.

The one symbol that Del Torro is less adept in using is that of dying. He tends to use the valid, if flawed connotation of redemption-through-death promoted by the religions he disavows, but it is a small point that in no way spoils the story.

Pan's Labyrinth leads us through parallel stories and themes without once losing its internal consistency. Some audiences may be put off by the idea of using flights of fancy in such a blatant way or, sadly, by the fact that it is subtitled. Such minor monsters should not get in the way of enjoying the film on a simple entertainment level. Cinephiles, on the other hand, will not want to miss such a rare treat of talent.
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Innocence and brutality
davidcapa12 October 2006
I saw the movie yesterday in the Spanish premiere and I confirm: it's one of the best Guillermo del Toro's films (if not the best ever). Innocence and brutality, fantasy and reality, together in a wonderful fairy tale about the power of magic in dark times. The performances are great, mainly from Sergi López, Maribel Verdú and the big revelation of the film: the 12 years girl Ivana Baquero. Del Toro repeats the context of the film "El Espinazo del Diablo" ("The Devil's Backbone"), the Spanish Post-Civil War, with the same philosophy: the supernatural invading the daily life in a depressive environment and the innocence of children trapped between both world. But "El Laberinto del Fauno" is most compact, most mature and best done in very aspects, and perhaps it's the most personal movie from Del Toro.
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ThreeSpoons8215 September 2006
I saw this at this years FrightFest Film Festival in London and absolutely loved it.

Guillermo was there to introduce it and you can tell it really is a film he loves and is passionate about.

He referred to it as a sister movie to The Devils Backbone.

Anyway . . . so the film starts and I must admit I was expecting a lot more of a fantasy film however it is more of a 70/30 split between historical era movie/fantasy fairytale.

Don't let this put you off though, the film really is stunning and brilliantly acted. The little girl carries pretty much the whole film on her shoulders and does so with the skill of Atlas himself!

The violence is graphic and the monsters are scary but it is probably one of the most gorgeous and personal films from a director for a long time!

Give it a go if you can get to a screening, DON'T WAIT FOR DVD, it really does need to be seen on a big screen!
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Superb performances
zetas-14 September 2006
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."
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A labyrinth you don't want to leave
luckyfay19 June 2006
I saw this film toward the end of the Cannes Film Festival; it edged out all the others I'd seen, 30 of them, because of its wonderful story; history, politics and fantasy woven into a fabric spun by a superlative creative team headed by Guillermo del Toro. In comparison to this, his latest effort, del Toro's other films only hinted at the depth and breadth of his talent. In this film, much as I pride myself on foreseeing the outcome of most stories, I could not guess what would happen next. The film is quite long, yet suspense is sustained throughout. The music is some of the best I've heard in years, so well suited to the action that you almost don't notice its specific effect because of how well it is intertwined with the visual, emotional and intellectual experience.

In my opinion, del Toro's "...Labyrinth" deserved to win at Cannes over the Ken Loach film, "The Wind That Shakes the Barley". Actually, everyone I knew at the Festival who had seen both agreed with me. And the 22 minute ovation speaks clearly for the effect on the audience. It's hard to imagine that any film could beat it in a context other than Cannes where they have marked preferences, bordering on obsession, for certain directors.

Let's hope that the late December opening favors an Oscar nomination which it should win hands down, unless some other work of genius appears on the horizon. That doesn't seem likely because at Cannes the somewhat disappointing array of films was attributed to the fact that not much great product is being released this year. I might add that I had already seen Volver prior to Pan's Labyrinth, and I maintain that Pan is the better film. For me, it displaced all three of my top films of the year. I do love The Departed but, luckily, that's in another category which does not threaten Pan's access to Oscar. If I had to choose the very best picture of the year, without limitation by category, it would most assuredly go to Pan's Labyrinth for it demonstrates del Toro's originality and brilliance as both writer and director.
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Good but not great.
foysol7 May 2007
First lets start with the 20 minute standing ovation this film supposedly got at Cannes. After watching the film I don't believe it. Someone must have exaggerated the length of time by at least 18 minutes. That or those apparently ecstatic people were drunk. Don't get me wrong this is a good film. But the praise this is getting from critics and people writing here is way over the top. I was fully expecting a work of real vision and/or originality but what I experienced was a film that borrows from other films and admittedly gels everything together into a cohesive and impressive whole. A lot of great films do the same but 'Pans Labrynth' has other faults that prevent it from being put in the same category as the truly great films.

'Pans Labrynth' at times is too predictable - a side effect from borrowing from other films - therefore some scenes feel clichéd. Also the tasks the girl has to complete in order to take her place as princess could have been more imaginatively realized. Finally the message/point/allegory of the film is trite and simplistic. Still worth watching but is this really one of the top 100 films of all time? Not even close...
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Entartaining but not one of the very best movies from last year
Galina26 May 2007
When I heard first time about the movie made by the Mexican director Guillermo del Toro that was a mixture of many genres, including drama, fantasy, thriller, and fairy tale for adults that takes place in Spain of 1944 in two parallel words, one of unbearable bleak and horrifying reality, and the other of deliciously dark magic fantasy, I wanted very much to see it. I knew that the movie has been praised by many critics and has made hundreds top lists of last year, that it was nominated for countless awards including six Academy awards and it won three Oscars, and that it had received 20 minutes standing ovation at Cannes. The main reason for me was the fact that I love del Toro's earlier film, "The Devil's Backbone" (2001), the ultimate ghost story that goes beyond the genre and very successfully mixes horror, suspense, and coming of age during the war time story.

I hoped and expected "Pan's Labyrinth" to be as compelling, insightful, interesting, and engaging as "The Devil's Backbone" was. I finally saw "Pan's Labyrinth" couple of days ago and I was disappointed. The movie has an interesting concept, even if not original one. It brings to mind many famous works of literature and the earlier movies about the little girls escaping their dreadful realities of war or death of the loved ones or all sorts of abuse in the world of their imagination such as "Forbidden Games", "Spirits of the Beehive" (which "Pan's Labyrinth" tried to be but never was), the later also takes place in Spain during the Civil war, as well as "Wizard of Oz", "Alice in Wonderland", "Legends and Myths of Ancient Greece".

One movie that "Pan's Labyrinth" has been often compared to is Terry Gilliam's "Tideland", his fairy tale for adults, his "Alice in Wonderland meets Psycho" which also tells the story of an 11-years-old girl and her world of imagination. "Tideland" was released last year and was either ignored or hated by majority of critics and left many viewers puzzled and confused. I am not completely in love with "Tideland" but I found it much more interesting that "Pan's Labyrinth" in all aspects. The main difference between the two - Gillian does not present reality in his film in the simplistic way and does not divide his characters to devilish monsters or shining knights the way Del Toro does in "Pan Labyrinth".

I am not sure what the target audience for Del Toro's film is? Its story (the writer/director was nominated for the best screenplay and I found his writing the weakest and most ridiculous part of the movie) is so naive and primitive that you would think the movie was made for children but its shocking violence and horrifying tortures are not easy to watch even for adults. Another problem is with the characters. I know I should sympathize with Ofelia, and who would not feel empathy for an 11-year-old girl who had to live through the death of her mother and to confront her monstrous step-father but if frankly, her character is not very interesting. As for visual effects and cinematography, the film looks good but not especially spectacular or breathtakingly beautiful. Of five Oscar nominated films for best cinematography from last year, at least three seemed to be more interesting. Gilliam's "Tideland" that was completely ignored by the Academy, is always technically superb, visually arresting and much more impressive than "Pan's Labyrinth".

I should admit that at least one scene in "Labyrinth" was absolutely brilliant - dark and scary it came directly from Francisco Goya's terrifying painting, "Saturn Devouring His Children" and it was extremely imaginative. I would not go as far as calling "Pan's Labyrinth" a bad movie and give it one star. It is not bad; it is just not as great as I thought it would be. As for all the awards, "The Devil's Backbone" is much more deserving than "Pan's Labyrinth" and that's the film I would give a standing ovation to.
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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
bob the moo24 January 2007
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.
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Characters are just stereotypes
mathias-193 October 2010
After reading all the positive reviews and being a great fan of Maribel Verdu (since her role in "Amantes"), I had great expectations before seeing this movie. Quite honestly, I was disappointed. The characters lack depth. All falangistas are incredibly bad and sadistic, and all nationalists republicans are good in this movie. Stereotypic. If Del Toro wanted to make Capitan Vidal really terrifying, he would have made a little bit more sympathetic at times, like "Landa" in Inglourious Basterds - probably the most terrifying nazi ever on the silver screen. Vidal could at least have been a little bit concerned for his wife when she was bearing his unborn son. But now, he is a facha macho, so he can not show emotions at any time. Even the symbolism of the labyrinth is too easy : especially the end, where the self sacrifice of Ofelia is a clear sign of a Messias, including the invitation to sit at the right hand of her father in a sort of a pagan Trinity (with her mother). The cinematography however is wonderful and the actor perform well, but the scenario is just too shallow for my taste.
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Alice in Labyrinth
kenjha7 January 2010
This fairy tale with parallels to "Alice in Wonderland" has a little girl encountering bizarre characters in an alternate universe. The cinematography is quite impressive and del Toro displays a fine visual flair. However, the script is too random and contrived to be interesting and the characters are one-dimensional. The captain, for example, is pure evil, lacking a single redeeming character; his wife is a whiny weakling. The film intersperses the fairy tale with the account of the fascist army fighting insurgents, but the two threads don't complement each other. It's like watching two movies. del Toro's obsession with stomach-churning violence doesn't help matters.
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It's good, but nowhere near as good as the reviews would have you believe
zetes21 January 2007
I had unsurmountable expectations for this one, and, alas, they remain unsurmounted. It didn't even come close. It is an entertaining film, but, as a whole, it feels half-baked. Near the end of the Spanish Civil War, a little girl, Ofelia, is taken with her pregnant mother to an old mill, where her new husband, a sadistic army captain, awaits. At the mill, she meets a fairy who leads her to a faun, who asks her to perform three tasks so she might take her place as princess of a magical kingdom. It's less a fantasy film than a fairy tale. In that way, I suppose I'm obliged to forgive that its fantasy world goes completely unrealized and remains paper thin throughout. Honestly, except for a couple of sequences, there really isn't a fantasy world. Most of the film takes place in the real world, where the Captain is trying to rid the area of some pesky rebels and Ofelia's mother is struggling to survive her difficult pregnancy. What is much harder to forgive, though, is that Guillermo del Toro extends the two-dimensionality to the Spanish Civil War setting. The Captain is a completely cartoonish bad guy, and the situation is seen completely in black and white. I mean, we're talking about a real conflict here where many people died. It's kind of insulting. If this were an American made film, people would be railing against it. It's also insulting to Spirit of the Beehive, on which del Toro has said he based the film. Where Spirit is a gentle yet effective study on the nature of human cruelty, Pan celebrates human cruelty with extremely violent sequences which are meant to be enjoyed as they are in action films (the director did, of course, previously make Blade II and Hellboy). Wow, it sounds like I hated this film! I didn't, really. I have some ideological problems with it, obviously, and I wish it were better than it is. But it is an enjoyable little horror/fantasy film. You could do better, but you could do worse, too.
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Recycled clichés in plodding storyline.
CineCritic25178 February 2007
I stuck around for this movie to serve something not yet seen or experienced in dozens of related films which I was so sure this movie would provide. Sadly, that moment never came.

Although I have no complaints with the acting and setdesigns which were on par with any quality movie, there are basically three things that deprive this movie of being anything great.

1. Though truly beautifully shot, Pan's two sided scenario with the Good vs Evil Children's-picture on the one side and a drama/war-movie on the other, provides no deeper layers. A 'what you see is what you get' type of film in which the fantasy part seemed more or less something that would look nice on the adverts in combination with a superabundance of very graphic violence in a foreign movie which offers a subterfuge to sell something slight and cursory as profound and insightful.

2. Since there is no thread running through both the scenario's it is like watching two different movies which bear very little to each other nor compliment the other. Because I liked the fantasy part zealously better than the war/drama bit, I was very disappointed that it had no follow-through and that it in the end just seemed like a shameless cloned-off short-impression of movies like Alice in Wonderland, The Wizzard of Ozz and The never Ending Story, to name but a few, but never with a meaningful reference of any kind. It is almost like the writers hit behind the fact that they never even saw these movies.

3.There is just nothing subtle in the story that draws you in, I found it all annoyingly superficial and cliché. It never invites you to share the little girl's fantastic world or truly reject El Capitan's actions because it is all far too black and white. Plus the film leaves no room for any other interpretation aside from the one which is already painted elaborately on its cinematic walls. Something I find quite odd since most true children's pictures have a lot underlying messages and symbolism. The more I think about it, the more this story just seems lazily written or without any terribly interesting thought behind it. -In the end of it all, there is simply no hope-..nothing more than a flipflop of any and all sappy-happy-endings Hollywood has been laying on us for years on end.

Furthermore, with style over substance as its forté the movie tends to plod tremendously at times. And since none of the characters are really focused on, they all just seem to be stereotypes and are hence neither likable nor unlikable despite their (too) obvious good or bad demeanors. Vidal is simply bad, mom is simply weak and Ofelia was nothing more than the little girl playing with imaginary friends in the corner of the room.

This film is alas just another example of a movie where they just don't seem to be able to get it both ways (powerful story AND powerful cinematography) which is the Achilles' heel of many a film lately but which oddly doesn't seem to bother the average moviegoer nor professional movie-critic who somehow seem to think that foreign+different=Masterpiece.
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Good, but not as good as they'll have you believe
stob886 February 2007
I went into this movie with no expectations, except that I'd see a Spanish-language, adult-oriented fantasy film with English subtitles. I think unmet expectations can hurt people in two ways: either the film disappoints them and they are overly critical as a result, or they are disappointed but too biased to admit it. I think the latter has led to an exceedingly generous rating for this particular film. Is it good? Yes. Is it the 65th best (according to current IMDb ratings) movie of all time? Not even close.

It is an interesting, original story. Virtually every actor appearing in the film is superb. The imagery is magnificent. Like I said, it is a good picture. However, I am puzzled as to why it is praised so highly. I would have a greater appreciation for the film if its adult-oriented nature was due to its substance, such as an intellectual, sophisticated and enigmatic storyline. It is adult-oriented, however, merely because of a few choice phrases and displays of graphic violence. This is not a film that is breaking new ground. It is too simplistic throughout, becomes fairly predictable, and lacks fluidity. The unimaginative way in which the fantasy elements come and go was a real put off. The 65th best movie of all time should have the fantastic elements blended seamlessly with the human elements. It should continue being original throughout. It should challenge the viewer in new and engaging ways. It should not merely curse, show some blood, and have pretty imagery.

Please, see this movie and enjoy it. I truly did. I also, however, allowed myself to make a realistic assessment afterward. I expect that the rating will come down as the novelty of an adult-oriented fantasy picture wears off. Maybe I missed something, but I doubt a specious film like this can conceal such intricacies.
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boring good guys, disgusting bad guys, impotent fantasy creatures, lovingly rendered torture effects
giocondo-fulbright22 August 2010
Warning: Spoilers
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.
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A Terrible Misfire...
siegewulf1 February 2007
Warning: Spoilers
I seem to be among the only people who consider this movie to be a terrible mis-fire, on a par with Shyamalan's *Lady in the Water* and Gilliam's "The Brothers Grimm".

So be it. I shall back that claim up.

Many people are reportedly enjoying the movie's ability to 're-interpret traditional fairy tale motifs'.

If only that was what del Toro was up to, here. He didn't re-interpret anything. He just grabbed a bunch of classic themes and plot points (the three tasks; the magical guide; the unexplained magic rocks that are the bane of an evil creature for some reason; the magic book that foretells the future; the golden key and the choice of key-holes; the prohibition against eating in the underworld that is broken simply because it would be no fun if it weren't; the magical creatures that adults can't see because they aren't really there; the young girl on the cusp of puberty who fears her growing sexuality and capacity for reproduction and so retreats into a fantasy world to deal with her traumatic environment; the climactic flight into a maze that is conveniently nearby) and threw them into a ridiculously drawn shadow of the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War.

On this front, Sergi Lopez and his lame impression of Ralph Fiennes in *Schindler's List* was particularly outrageous. The points which are meant to build him into a threatening character were always taken from elsewhere, and, even worse, always CAME ACROSS as points meant to build him into a threatening character: his vaguely harassing caress of Mercedes' shoulder; his rampant chauvinism; his graphic crushing of an innocent farmer's face; his slashing at his own reflected throat with a straight razor; his tortured relationship with his dead father's watch...etc. At no time did he seem like anything more than a caricature.

Unfortunately, this was not unusual.

The overall weak characterization meant that any real sense of Fascist Spain was just entirely missing, and the brief fantasy sequences lacked any real resonance.

The dinner party was meant to relate the connections between the wealthy, the church and the Fascists, but it was too short to register.

The faun himself had few lines, and was entirely cryptic. If Ofelia was simply dreaming him up, this perhaps accounts for the fact that she was never, not for one second, surprised that a giant faun was offering her faeries and tasks, but not his complete lack of any helpful, world-building clues. And, since we are not welcomed into his world, the threat of its destruction simply doesn't matter to us.

The predicament of Mercedes didn't make any sense. Why was she not in the mountains with her lover? Was her ability to sneak mail and keys to (hilariously flimsy) wooden doors out to the rebels really so essential? In fact, having a few female rebels would have been more authentic and less offensive than having them all chopping potatoes for the Captain. Did anyone for one second think that she would not find some use for that blade she kept tucked into her dress? Why did she not kill Vidal when he was at her mercy? She had no trouble later on. (Was it really because he needed to live in order to continue driving the plot? Because that would be pathetic.)

Did Ofelia's mother actually say, out loud, that she married a cold, brutal psychopath who made it clear that he valued her only as a vessel for childbirth, simply because she was 'lonely'? What the hell was up with that? (I mean, as the widow of a tailor, it isn't as though she needed to marry a soldier in order to maintain her accustomed level of luxury. Why be so massively anti-feminist simply because you can?)

The death of the doctor, who tries to make a moral statement despite offering his skills to the Fascists whom he hates, was also hackneyed. (Hint: Don't turn your 'sympathetic' character into a cowardly Fascist collaborator who is so terrified of losing his sense of privilege that he would rather euthanize rebels than fight alongside them.)

The attempts to work in allegories of change (the death of Vidal, the fact that his son would never know of him, the sly glances at 'Red Propaganda' which claims that we are all equal) also caused me to frown.

Franco won in '39, the 'heroic' rebels (who were just as given to atrocity) were hunted to extinction, and the Fascists ruled well into the 1970s, ruining the lives of further millions; socialism in the Spanish-speaking countries turned out to be just as bad. Just what the hell is del Toro getting at? He seems very muddled.

Even the special effects, which are getting excellent press, were cartoonish and poorly executed. (The toad that vomited up its tongue wouldn't have been out of place in *The Phantom Menace*, nor would the fairies whom Ofelia never quite seemed to be looking at...and did I actually spot a goddamn elf-ear on Ofelia's resurrected mother? Leftover sets and props from the Lord of the Rings, I suppose.)

The overall lesson seems to have been that innocence is lost, and death is everywhere, so the only course is to delude oneself to the point that you are willing to trust 'the voices'. Ofelia needed psychiatric treatment, not a richer fantasy life. There was no value, to my mind, in her visions or her death. And that WAS a tragedy, of a different kind than the one intended.

I could go on but I'll stop there.

PS. If you thought that this film was excellent, just wait until *Coraline* comes out. Then you might see a truly re-interpreted fairy tale, with a greater depth of explanation, mystery and menace.
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I simply don't see the big hooplah...*SPOILERS*
Andy Van Scoyoc30 July 2009
Warning: Spoilers
I can't add anymore really, than some of the more realistic non-rose colored glasses-wearing voters/reviewers that I have read so far, have stated about this over-hyped, coffeehouse-artsy, brain drain of a movie.

This review may seem harsh, but I tend to judge "theatrical" movies with a MUCH harsher eye than Indie movies due to the budgets theatrical movies have (and Indies don't) and the much more experienced and influential directors that theatrical movies have - and Indies don't.

With that said...with GDT at the helm...I expected much more from this movie...especially since it was hyped like the best thing since sliced bread.

I guess that's why hype is not always a good thing.

I'm simply voicing my personal displeasure at hearing what a magical, well-done, purely fascinating movie this was, only be left thinking...'That's it? This was good makeup wise and the scenery was kind of cool, but THIS is it?' My main problem with this movie is the subsequent actions of some of the characters and how they are simply touched on and yet people are attaching huge amounts of symbolism to them.

I have heard people say that the only downfall to this movie was that it was in Spanish and they had to be bothered reading subtitles in order to understand it - and therefore possibly missing some important parts while they're reading.

Sorry...problems with this movie go beyond subtitles.

The disobedience of Ofelia is infuriating and makes the entire movie unbelievable as a whole, on any point. Until the end of the movie, she obeys the faun, this mythical character that would scare the dickens out of most kids (call me crazy, but in my opinion, he looked evil and I'd have run as fast as my legs would carry me had he appeared to me, no matter how many fairtyales I'd read!) without question and yet when it's MOST important (the scene with the child eating pale man) she completely abandons all common sense.

Okay, so she went to bed with no supper, that excuses eating the grapes when she was, in no uncertain terms, told that her LIFE would depend on NOT eating, no matter what she saw? I've read that she was in a trance, that it symbolizes this and that. Give me a break. She's just a typical kid that does what she wants when it suits her. No big mystery, meaning or symbolism there.

And what of Mercedes? She can gut innocent pigs with no problem (as she says when she has the blade in the Captain's cheek) but she can't kill a murdering Fascist creep like him, thereby freeing the rebels and herself from his oppressive and cruel grip? People say, "Well, it's easy to say what you'd do if you haven't been in the situation." True...but it's also easy to say what you wouldn't do in the same situation, if you haven't lived it. I just think the entire situation was unrealistically presented.

I resent all the ravings about this film and people trying to attach meaningless symbolism to this pieced together fairytale. Sometimes a movie is just a movie and I'm afraid this is one of them.

What a disappointment.
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Clever pretenses but shallow and insincere
furex30 November 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Synopsis: In 1944, against the backdrop of the rise of General Franco's fascist regime, a young girl on the verge of adolescence, tries to dodge the fears of growing and horrors of the historical moment through her magical fantasies.

While El Laberinto del Fauno definitely shows that the director has some skills (as it kept me involved for all of its duration), it's quite disappointing in itself. Why is that? The bulk of the film is about the horrors of reality, however those are depicted through extremely graphic gory sequences which do nothing to convey the plain, blunt, basic nature of true life horrors, because they all revolve around the figure of fascist Captain Vidal, who is basically manically depressed, a psychopath, and whose overstated displays of violence are really of no purpose in themselves, other than making it obvious for the most distracted viewer how sick the man is (and just look how much emphasis was put on the discovery of the connection between the doctor and the communists, it's like they're assuming you're not paying attention.) At some point the recurring, unnecessary outing of Vidal's sadistic personality started to feel trite, effectively neutralizing the power of the representation through desensitization.

In the end, the depiction of the fascist regime appears flat, simplistic and two-dimensional, too much like a kid's vision of history, bad vs good, black and white - almost Stephen King-ish in its oversimplification.

On the topic of the role of holocaust in movies (and anything else resembling that): every piece of film which deals, even remotely, with it, inevitably clads itself in self-importance, expecting the viewer to accept whatever is shown on the silver screen with a nod and utter respect for the sorrows the victims of those historical moments had to endure. So let me state this again: no matter the respect we owe to those victims, by no means your movie has a right to have this respect trasferred upon itself, unless it's _thoroughly_ _deserved_.

El laberinto is clever in sidestepping the overused holocaust focusing instead on a part of history which is connected to it but mostly unknown outside Europe. If El Laberinto had been any good in offering a believable representation of this close-to-forgotten memory, it would have restored it, thus gaining a right to be lauded, but as it is, it just used the historical backdrop to gain undeserved recognition, the filmic equivalent of an attention whore.

The fantasy parts, which revolve instead around the labyrinth and his ambiguous guardian, the faun, offer much more space for subtleties, which is quite likely an intended inversion of attributes, though lacking the flair Tim Burton has for this kind of device, and as a result this ambiguity feels only necessary to make the cardboard reality part more acceptable, but useless in itself. Subtleties for the subtlety's sake. The fantasy parts also come out as more genuinely disturbing than Vidal's outbursts.

A wealth of little details has been disseminated in the script, but not enough attention has been spent on interweaving them with the plot in a meaningful way. They just look a lot like the icing on the cake: 'look mommy how deep I am' rather than a functional part of story telling.

All of these elements persuaded me that El Laberinto is narcissistic exercise where all the movie maker has been thinking - You'll *have* to notice how good I am! - and for this very same reason ends up being shallow and fake, lacking a core of truthfulness.

PS: and for the 20+ minutes of standing ovation, either it was staged or a fantasy with no more substance to it than the ones of the main character.
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It really deserves all the acclaim
ejavignon28 February 2007
The negative reviews of this film on IMDb seem to fall into two categories: a) it was too violent b) the fantasy element was too muted

Without getting too political, worse things are going on in the world at this very moment than were depicted in this film. While many people prefer entertainment that insulates them from the harsh realities of this world, one shouldn't get so indignant when a film portrays the world for what it is. Capitán Vidal was a fictitious character, but there are plenty of people exactly like him. Humans are capable of terrible atrocities and looking the other way does nothing to improve our nature. If violence offends people so much they should do something about real violence rather than writing nasty reviews about depictions of it.

The violence set a tone of desperation for Ofelia. Fairy tales themselves are extremely violent, and Disney cartoons are nothing like the stories they were based on. This film was rated R. What were you expecting?

It is easier to understand people who thought the fantasy element was eclipsed, and were maybe hoping for another Narnia or one of the other countless fantasy flicks that has come out in the wake of LOTR. This film touched on many of the most fundamental themes of mythology, such as parallel worlds, dangerous tasks, hidden identities, sacrifice, and death. It did something more than the standard fantasy movie, which is part of why it was such a great film.
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tedg27 January 2007
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.
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