My Hall of Fame
In 2006, Guillermo del Toro outdid himself and his directorial career all in one fell swoop. “Pan’s Labyrinth” (2006), aka “El laberinto del fauno”, based on nothing but the creative mind of del Toro, is a magnificently conceived combination of every horror, fantasy, science fiction and Spanish history nightmare that del Toro had ever imagined. (Alright- not everything he imagined, but certainly quite a bit.) And like all great del Toro films, “Pan’s Labyrinth” is a Spanish language film that revolves around a child and her attempts to escape the horrors of her world, as well as of course, the horrors of another world.
Set in 1944, five years after the end of the Spanish Civil War, young fairy-tale loving Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) is traveling to a remote mill buried in the woods, with her pregnant mother (Ariadna Gil). Their journey is designed to bring Ofelia and mother to meet with her new stepfather, Falange Captain Vidal (Sergi Lopez). Once they arrive, Ofelia meets a small insect (that later morphs into a fairy) that leads her from the mill to a neglected labyrinth hidden in the forest. Before she can explore, one of the house servants, Mercedes (Maribel Verdu), who is really a rebel spy, retrieves her and returns Ofelia to her now bed stricken mother.
Late in the night, the insect-fairy returns to Ofelia and leads her deep into the labyrinth where she meets a faun (Doug Jones). He explains that she is really the lost princess of the underworld, and if she would like to return to her father, the King, then she must accomplish three tasks that will prove her “essence is intact”.
When I call this film a “nightmare” conceived on screen, I am not joking. Oddly enough, however, the creatures that plague Ofelia’s re-entry to the underworld are only one fraction of her nightmare. The world where she spends her days, plagued by war, deceit, treachery and violence, is the real horror of this film. More terrifying than the child-eating, eyeballs in his palms creature that chases Ofelia, is her new step-father, the violent devil incarnate. He seems to be soulless and devoid of anything decent, and one of the real mysteries of “Pan’s Labyrinth” is trying to determine why Ofelia’s mother ever became involved with him.
The year in film that was 2006 was filled with quality films, but even more specifically, dark quality films. “The Departed”, “The Prestige”, “Casino Royale”, “The Lives of Others”, “300”, “Letters From Iwo Jima” and “Children of Men” all received critical acclaim, which in turn seemed to have “Pan’s Labyrinth” being just another in a long list of dark, well made films. Also, coming just after the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy was completed and in the midst of “The Chronicles of Narnia” series, there were plenty of fantasy films looming about, as well.
Now, years later, when I look back at 2006, “Pan’s Labyrinth” stands out far about these other films, because of its impeccable craft and overwhelming originality. Guillermo del Toro is a brilliant director. His style and artistic genius is unparalleled, and because of his uniqueness, he promises to continue being one of the most revolutionary directors of his generation. It is important to remember, especially when comparing “Pan’s Labyrinth” to other fantasy films, that this world that del Toro has created is completely original. He, after a lifetime of dreaming and concocting these ideas, brought them all together to create this one amazingly powerful and frightening world. Most fantasy films are based on previously written material that are detailed enough to give a director a clear idea or vision, but everything in this movie came directly from del Toro’s complex (and somewhat twisted) mind, not to mention his years of vast experiences in as many horror and fantasy worlds as imaginable.
On a technical level, “Pan’s Labyrinth” is a perfect film. The cinematography by Guillermo Navarro won an Academy Award, and every time I revisit this film, it is easy to see why. It is without a doubt one of the 10 best pieces of cinematography to come out in the last 20 years. Another Academy Award went to art decorator Eugenio Caballero and set decorator Pilar Revuelta in the category of Best Art Direction. Really they were awarded this prize for actually being able to create what del Toro already had lurking in his mind.
The acting is impeccable, especially considering the age (11) of the film’s star. The depth with which her emotionally-charged performance achieves is inspiring to see. The creature effects were a combination of CGI and animatronics, which although already appear outdated now, were certainly made with the utmost care and skill for their time. The make-up, done by David Marti and Montse Ribe, is where the “creatures” really shine. Their exceptional work on this film also earned them an Academy Award. The Faun, in particular, stands out for his design and conception. The patience that it required to create him each day was well worth the time.
Finally, there is one more aspect of “Pan’s Labyrinth” that I would be remiss to neglect. The films score, composed by Javier Navarrete, is one of the most haunting melodies ever created, and his work on this film is unforgettable. Long after the film is over, and you are no longer thinking about what you have seen, the lullaby comes creeping back inside your head, transporting you back again into the world of Ofelia and her unforgettable journey.
Continue to join Lasso the Movies on a journey through the directorial career of Guillermo del Toro, in preparation for his upcoming film, “Pacific Rim” (2013), due in theaters July 12th, 2013. You can see a trailer for “Pacific Rim”, or read more about his films below.
“The Devil’s Backbone” (2001)
“Blade II” (2002)
“Pacific Rim” (2013)