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Movie Review: Pan’s Labyrinth

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I have been waiting for this movie, written and directed by Guillermo Del Toro, to be released ever since the first images from it were released back in late 2004. I was so ready to love this movie and I wish I could tell you I do. After the first viewing, I questioned myself for not being on the same bandwagon with everyone else regarding the grandeur of this movie, but after the second viewing its weaknesses became even more evident to me. I realize I am coloring outside the lines on this one, of course. People will disagree — c'est la vie.

I don’t consider myself a movie critic. In fact, I will be honest — this is my first serious attempt at a review for any movie. My reason for embarking on this one in particular is because in spite of the hoopla and the reception that this has film received wherever it was seen, I didn’t like it. For one reason, but for me, a ruinous one. While so many scenes in this movie are breathtakingly beautiful visuals, so too are the overplayed and gratuitously long scenes of cruelty.

I found Pan’s Labyrinth was tough to sit through in too many places. This disappointed me more than I can say. Watching a psychopath torturing or killing without compunction or remorse isn’t something I see as entertaining no matter how well the effects are done. An adult fairytale it is called. Well, there are fairies and it is a tale, so I can’t argue how it’s being promoted. But if you decide to see this movie, be prepared for these scenes.
Fairytale/nightmare might be a more apt promo.  

The story takes place in war-torn Spain, following Franco’s victory in 1944. A young 10-year-old girl, Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) travels to the north with her very pregnant mother Carmen (Ariadna Gil). They are traveling to take up residence with Ofelia’s new stepfather Captain Vidal (Sergi López), a man who takes great pleasure in torturing his captured rebels and insubordinates.

They arrive at the converted mill/garrison, and Ofelia quickly realizes she cannot accept this savage monster as her new father, so she looks for ways of escaping him.

She befriends Mercedes (Maribel Verdú), the housekeeper to Captain Vidal, and Mercedes, along with a mantis turned fairy, leads her to a magical old tree. Within the tree is a garden – the garden with the mystical labyrinth. It is guarded by Pan (mime Doug Jones) a faun – half-man, half-goat. Pan appears to be a friend and offers to help Ofelia out of her predicament. He tells her she is Princess Moanna, a lost spirit who must complete three very difficult tasks before the next full moon in order to regain her reign in the Underworld. If she succeeds in these tasks, each one harder than the last, then she might escape the horror that devours her life now. But the place she is escaping to proves to be equally as cruel as the world she’s just left behind.

I’m not sure I know just who the target audience was for this film. I admit I’m not a fan of slasher fare, but the excess of vicious violence in Pan's Labyrinth can only fit that category in part – emphasis on "gory". Faces being bashed in with metal hammers, or body parts beaten off, people subjected to a myriad of torture tools, a knife ripping through the side of a mouth or the sawing off of a leg – this may satisfy some horror fans, but unless you thought Schindler’s List was a fun and entertaining German romp, you’re going to be a bit nauseated by this flick.

I didn’t expect the movie to be Disney-esque in nature, nor did I expect anything with softened edges when I began watching, but I expected to enjoy it. Sadly, I only feel somewhat gypped by a push for sensationalism that really wasn’t needed here.

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About This End Up

  • http://7colorlagoon.com/blog1/ Howard Dratch

    I can’t argue with your feelings on the film. I, too, had been waiting to see this because of good reviews. I, too, felt that the violence was just too lovingly portrayed for the film’s own good.

    On the other hand the art direction and cinematography were fine, the acting excellent and the film ambitiously conceived. It had its redeeming social qualities — albeit not a fairy tale for the faint of heart.

    The problem is that it portrays a little girl, like many other people in the ’30s, trying to avoid the horrors of a time of horrors. The violence is of the Spanish dictatorship backed by Nazis and Fascists. America rejected those who volunteered to help fight against the Fascists — like the Lincoln Brigade. Franco and his sadistic crew won. That, too, is not a fairy tale. Sometimes the bad guys do win.

    Does that mean I disagree with you? I still don’t know. Someday I will see it again. But I’m not up to it yet.

  • http://back-to-the-egg.blogspot.com/ Ginger

    Howard;
    Did you disagree with me? I don’t think so. =) I think we’re stuck on the same page right now.

    I have to see it again too, but I will be better prepared and I’ll be bracing for the more ‘lovingly portrayed’ scenes as you so aptly called them. I think that may have bothered me as much as the scenes themselves. They lingered longer than necessary and with all this movie had going for it, they detracted rather than added to it’s value.

  • http://360.yahoo.com/donnaja1231 Donna A.

    When I heard that it was very gory. I knew I didn’t want to see it. I don’t like gory movies. I like to sleep.
    Donna A.

  • Tammie Hines

    Don’t you think your review is already out of date? I think it’s too late. This movie was a hit and it took 5 months for you to see it after its premiere, and then you say this?

  • http://back-to-the-egg.blogspot.com/ Ginger

    Tammy – Well, no, because for those like myself who hadn’t yet bought the DVD, they might appreciate a heads up about the more graphic parts. Those who have already seen it at the theater can just disregard my review.
    No harm, no foul. =)

  • Grandpa Chuck

    The violence was far too graphic to be an effective counterpoint to the sweet fantasies of the little girl. They became lost in the pointless masochism of
    “El Capitan.” Such a shame to muddle creativity in so much blood and pain.

  • http://back-to-the-egg.blogspot.com/ Ginger

    Chuck; very much so! I’m not sure what the whole point was, but it ruined what could otherwise have been a terrific movie for me. I have since talked to a number of people who feel the same way.

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