pan's labyrinth (2006)

I'm in complete and utter shock. Usually, when a film leaves me speechless, that's a good sign that it did a phenomenal job and really left me without the words to describe how great it is. I can't even explain to you my sadness and disappointment at having to tell you that this is most definitely not one of those times. In fact, it is my sadness and disappointment that have caused my lack of words. You see, I've been looking forward to the film Pan's Labyrinth for quite some time. Everything I have read or seen pertaining to the film has looked like nothing short of fabulous; it has spectacular word of mouth, apparently "appears on over 130 critics top 10 lists for the year" and right now sports a 96% critical average on Rottentomatoes.com. Inexplicably, the film completely missed the mark for me and turned out to be, yes, the most disappointing film of the year. If you had asked me yesterday what the chances were of this appearing on my top 10, I would've said "positively". Well, 24 hours later, it now tops my list of biggest disappointments. I can't bring myself to hate the film, there's too much to like about it for that; but, on the same token, there's so much about it I couldn't stand that I could never possibly say that I liked it. Yeah, I thought The Black Dahlia had me torn, it's got nothing on Pan's Labyrinth.

This film had a ton going for it and then some, but for reasons I simply cannot understand, it was the polar opposite of anything and everything I was hoping it would be. Now, I'm all for a film not being what I had in mind, most of the time I try as hard as possible not to hear a thing about a movie until I'm in a theater seat so as not to form my expectations the wrong way, but this was crossing the line. It's not simply that it wasn't what I was expecting, it's that it took everything I enjoyed and downplayed it and then took everything I wasn't liking and took it to the limit. The movie was dull, oddly over-the-top (and not in a good way), and dare I even say predictable. That's a trifecta that could kill any movie, and it certainly did with this one. First the dull; which is something that a film that sports a fantasy world of beautifully designed characters and takes place amidst an uncertain time in mid-40's fascist Spain has no right to be. This film just seemed to want my experiences to be the same as the main character, Ofelia's. Too bad her experience revolves around the fact that she wants to escape from a place she feels trapped in; I, therefore, wanted very much to escape from this film I had trapped myself into watching. She lives with her pregnant mother who goes to live with a war captain, known only as "the captain", who lives in a house far away in the woods with his motley crew of evil fascist soldiers. Now, this character is most likely the #1 reason for my hate of the film; he is absolutely ridiculous. In his first few minutes onscreen he slits an innocent man's throat and then bludgeon's another to death with a wine bottle to the face (this poor innocent man was trying to take food to his poor mother on the other side of the woods. Boo hoo. Good work Del Toro, your nuanced script has gained my sympathies for a minor character with very little development necessary). Ah, I get it, so The Captain is supposed to be the bad guy? Hmmm. Yeah, took me a while to get that because the film is so subtle. At this point I can see why the film is rated R, and I can also see it is going to be the type of "fairy tale" film that exaggerates all of its characters, events and themes to the level of a children's book. Fine, I enjoy a good obvious story from time to time with ultra-bad villains and hyper-innocent protagonists, not a problem. I felt that Danny Boyle's last film Millions functioned in much the same way and it was great. The problem with Pan's Labyrinth is that it in no way can be enjoyed by children, the violence is way, way too gratuitous for that, so why simplify everything to a child's level? I don't know. I'm still wondering. It really makes absolutely no freaking sense to me. This is clearly an adult film, so give me something to chew on an ADULT. I don't need exaggeration in the characters because it's really easy to tell that The Captain is an abusive husband and father and kills people at will throughout the film. The lengths they go to to make his character the most vile person imaginable are just out of line. Did they really think this was the only way we were going to dislike his character? We're not that stupid, honestly, if he had done just one of the 100 despicable acts that he commits throughout the film, we'd have hated him just as much. When it's all put together, it just takes you out of the film over and over again as you constantly wonder "are these people for real? is this movie a joke?"

No, it's not, which brings me to my second complaint that it's strangely over-the-top. Over-the-top is usually fun in films, because it allows the director to add a fun tongue in cheek quality to the film. However, this film seems deathly serious. Stone-faced, Del Toro seems to think that all of this craziness is somehow adding up to an emotional experience. Okay, so I guess it did for most people, I'm in the minority we have to remember, but I just don't see the reasoning behind making the film this exaggerated. There's no middle ground for the characters, it's like watching the original Star Wars film (which would be a great example of over-the-top exaggerated fun). But the crazy creatures and ultra-evil villains are all supposed to be giving us a real resonant film, and Del Toro just can't walk the line with enough finesse as he brings us one heavy-handed scene after another. The film worked in tiny segments, there were many things to like about a lot of the fantasy elements, but they barely exist when it all comes down to it. I'd say in the whole 2 hours, the fantasy accounts for maybe 20 - 25 minutes. The main creature, the Faun, is an incredible creation. Del Toro took the high road and tried to keep him as CGI-free as possible, relying on alot of foam and make-up effects. It looks fantastic, as do the other fantasy creatures. The tall white eye-less creature is scary as hell in the movie's most finely crafted sequence. Del Toro ratchets up the tension for a short glimmer and delivers one fairly tense and disturbing scene. Too bad he doesn't let it have time to grow, we're in and out of it in a few quick minutes and back to the plodding and uninteresting story of The Captain torturing more people. (I honestly don't think he had a scene in which he didn't kill/maim someone). My final complaint was that alot of the film was just plain predictable, especially one key escape scene. To elaborate on this would be to ruin a lot of scenes that I found predictable but apparently people who enjoyed the film did not. Therefore I will refrain from discussing them since there's a good choice you'll be in their camp and not mine. This frustration that I'm displaying when talking about the film most likely stems from the lost potential for what I wanted to see moreso than a bad film. I would honestly suggest seeing the film if for nothing more than Del Toro's inventive visuals. His direction, on the other hand, I was not impressed with at all, nor was I impressed with the script. Both seemed fairly pedestrian and I didn't get much out of them. The actors all do a good job, especially the young girl who plays Ofelia, not many child actors could play the part with such seriousness without falling into a Dakota Fanning trap of becoming painfully annoying. There's not much more to say about the film. For a while I had considered seeing it again to check if I missed something, maybe in a couple of years or something, but I really don't see it improving that much. Not up my alley in a big way. Oh well.

So, what can I say. Well, I can say that you should probably see it, you'll probably enjoy it very much and find it powerfully uplifting/depressing. Who knows. I can't share in the enthusiasm of many, this flick just wasn't for me. I won't be too hard on it since I really didn't hate it, it just gives me an extreme case of disappointment, (I don't even know who Pan was) which is ultimately more depressing than a bad film in most cases.

5