by Johnny Butane
What can I say about Pan’s Labyrinth that more eloquent, educated and well-versed critics haven’t already? It’s quite a daunting task to review a film that is as loved and respected as Pan’s Labyrinth has become, and one that is as layered and complex. But I will give it a try.
The story is set in Spain in 1944; the Spanish Civil War has been over for five years, but the nation is still in ruins. A woman named Carmen (Gil) arrives at the home of her new husband, Fascist Captain Vidal (Lopez), a truly repulsive character, with her young daughter Ofelia (Baquero). Ofelia has a very vivid imagination that immediately rubs Captain Vidal the wrong way as he is a man of reality, detail, and structure.
She soon discovers a labyrinth hidden on Vidal’s property and residing within it a faun, a legendary creature of which Pan was one (del Toro insists the faun in the film is not Pan; the film is called such because of the English translation). She is told that she is the long-lost princess of a hidden kingdom and if she can compete three specific tasks, she will prove her heritage and be allowed to return to her true mother and father.
Like all good fairy tales, said challenges are dangerous and life threatening, especially when Ofelia is forced to go against her stepfather to complete one of them. As Ofelia’s real life becomes more and more painful – her mother becomes deathly ill because of the baby she is carrying and Vidal begins to become even more cruel to her and those around him – she retreats deeper into the world of the faun and its brethren. The two worlds must collide at some point, but the results were surely not what I expected.
Del Toro has crafted such a beautiful, moving, and at the same time horrific film that I don’t think anyone expected, even those of us who have been championing the man since Cronos. His commentary on the DVD reveals just how layered and complex Pan’s Labyrinth is; literally every single element of every shot, every angle, every musical cue, every light was planned out by Guillermo ahead of time to make Pan’s Labyrinth the instantly unforgettable masterpiece that it is.
These elements may be enough on their own, but superb performances from every major cast member make it that much more realistic and enthralling. Baquero shines especially bright in the role of Ofelia, a young girl who has to grow up very fast in order to become the being she believes herself to be. She’s met with adversity at every turn and manages to make it through regardless. It takes a very gifted actor to portray a character like her at such a young age. Hopefully we’ll be seeing more of her in the future.
So let’s get to the DVD, shall we? New Line made the wise decision to pick the film up for home video release and the even wiser decision to load it with features, all of which Guillermo had a hand in personally.
Most significant and engrossing is the man’s commentary over the movie which, as stated before, gives insight into levels and layers of Pan’s Labyrinth that likely even the most well-versed and scholarly film critics will be unable to see on their own. He also uses the time to discuss his beliefs on religion, politics and the overall business of what it means to truly create something with film. If nothing else, Pan’s Labyrinth has established Guillermo as a true, serious artist, a fact that becomes even more clear as you listen to him discuss his magnum opus.
Disc Two contains many features, though none of them are particularly time consuming so don’t let them intimidate you. The best of the bunch is “Pan and the Fairies”, which delves into the creation of the faun, the Pale Man (both played to perfection by Doug Jones), as well as the fantastically done computer-generated effects. Though there’s not a lot of input from Guillermo, the 30-minute running time goes by very quickly thanks to the subject matter and the talents behind these creations.
For more from the man, you’ll want to check out the 17-minute "The Power of Myth" featurette in which Guillermo talks about his influences and the process of creating the movie. He also gives extensive details regarding the use of fairy tales to make the story behind Pan’s Labyrinth come to life.
”The Color and the Shape” is the next featurette, though it only runs about six minutes. The focus of it is Guillermo’s use of color throughout the film and his work in general, but I admit it’s not all that interesting if you’re not familiar with just how intricate color is in the world of film.
"The Director’s Notebook" is pretty self-explanatory: an animated look through the various notebooks Guillermo jotted down ideas into that would eventually form the world of Pan’s Labyrinth. It’s mainly for the art you’ll want to check this one out, as the writing is primarily in Spanish and nearly impossible to read due to distance and his handwriting. But some of the rough sketches he did that were later made into three-dimensional figures for the film are pretty amazing.
Then you have a whole episode of The Charlie Rose Show that features Guillermo with fellow Mexican filmmakers Alfonso Cuaron and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. The discussion focuses on the friendship of the three, how they assist one another when each is making a film, and other such subjects. It’s pretty good if not a bit dry, though I can’t see too many people making it through the whole thing. Rose did plenty of research but doesn’t really come off as a true fan of any man’s body of work.
The last significant feature here is the web comics, which tell the backstories of the Giant Toad, the Pale Man, Pan and The Fairies. They’re just quick two-panel comics that are animated to give some history of these fairy tale creatures. From there you can also see multiple galleries, storyboard/effects comparisons, production design sketches — pretty much every element that was created to bring this fantastical world to life.
I know I don’t need to tell you that the Pan’s Labyrinth DVD is worth getting, but I might as well just to be sure. If you’re a fan of this movie, this disc is a must-own. If you missed its extended theatrical run (for shame because this movie works very well on the big screen), you need to make amends by buying the DVD right away when it’s released. It’s very hard to find someone who doesn’t love this movie for at least one element, though most people find it to be a beautifully horrific and touching movie from start to finish. The DVD complements it perfectly, and New Line should be thanked for giving it such a lavish treatment.
- Video prologue by Guillermo Del Toro
- Commentary by director Guillermo Del Toro
- The Power of Myth
- The Faun and the Fairies
- The Color and The Shape
- The Charlie Rose Show featuring director Guillermo Del Toro
- The Director's Notebook
- Production sketches
- Storyboard video prologue by Guillermo del Toro
- Storyboard/thumbnail compares
- Theatrical teaser and trailer, TV spots
5 out of 5
5 out of 5