I’m sorry to report that Del Toro’s latest was a huge disappointment for me.

Admittedly I was expecting a completely different movie; the teaser and trailer for Pan’s Labyrinth are completely misleading: I was expecting a fairy tale with some historical window dressing but what I got was primarily a Spanish Civil War drama interrupted by two or three relatively short scenes of fantasy.

That isn’t to say the fantastical bits aren’t great, they are great and undoubtedly the highlights of the movie, but there is little more of them than what is shown in the trailer. Unfortunately its R rating (deserved) is for the brutality of its realistic scenes, not the boldness of its vision.

So some of my disappointment is due just to the content which made me restless and bored, but I was also disappointed to find it actually an anti-fairy tale, in a couple of ways. Firstly, the fantasy bits are used to emphasize the horror of real life, rather than realistic scenes being the foil for the fantastical. Imagine The Wizard of Oz as mostly a black-and-white movie about Kansas, with just a few color detours along the Yellow Brick Road to reinforce the rest of the movie’s dreariness.

That’s actually a pretty good analogy now that I think about it, because (and this is the second way) the film itself is not a fairy tale. There is a fairy tale in the movie but as I said the movie is an anti-fairy tale, whose fantasy is “true” only in the weakest sense.

The inevitable comparison is with Tideland, which is basically the same concept with a radically different execution. Both are about a girl who uses fantasy to escape from horror, but Tideland achieves that fantasy exclusively through point of view. I know everyone thinks Gilliam’s movie was self-indulgent and gratuitous, but it was more interesting.

But don’t take my word for it because Pan’s Labyrinth is still at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. Mark Kermode of the Observer calls it “the very best film of the year” and “a Citizen Kane of fantasy cinema” so I’m afraid I just missed the boat on this one.

7 thoughts on “PAN’S LABYRINTH

  1. Nate says:

    Sad news, Nobody. I really had high hopes for this one.

    Do you read Kermode? I’m a big fan of his Five Live program on BBC radio. Probably my favorite working Brit crit.

  2. Nobody says:

    I’m not in the habit of reading Kermode regularly, I just looked for his review since I saw one of his quotations on a Labyrinth poster.

    Again, like I said it’s probably something wrong with me. Universal unqualified praise can’t be wrong. Can it?

  3. Nate says:

    That’s something I’ll have to answer after Dec. 29!

  4. […] In contrast to my review of Pan’s Labyrinth, I’m happy to report that I had high expectations for Stranger than Fiction, and the movie exceeded them. […]

  5. Ryan says:

    Doug TenNapel said Pan’s Labyrinth is biblical allegory. Whaddya think?

  6. Nobody says:

    I haven’t seen it again, but I’ve been trying hard to reevaluate it by reading several interviews with del Toro, etc.

    No doubt he deserves the Oscar for production design. Del Toro is a great artist, but when it comes to philosophy, he reminds me of William Blake. He has an idiosyncratic personal mythology concerned with his obsessions (fascism foremost) and which, also like Blake, uses the iconography of Catholicism and its theology as categories, but (yet again like Blake) I just happen to disagree with every one of del Toro’s personal doctrines.

    Pan’s Labyrinth might be better than del Toro’s intentions, so I will eventually see it again. But as intended I think the movie is convoluted if not contradictory. In short, I think del Toro’s artistic talent and visual imagination exceeds the capacity of his intellectual imagination.

    That said, Pan’s Labyrinth still contains the Image of the Year, when the “Pale Man” opens his hands with stigmata-set eyeballs. Though it is glimpsed in the trailer, it must still be seen in the context of the movie!

  7. Ali Topan says:

    Dude, I can understand your point of view. I agree that the marketing campaign for this movie was misleading. In fact I agree with most of your assertions about the movie. But the difference is that the points that you dislike about the movie is what I like about it. I’m not a film critic but just a regular guy who likes to watch movies. When I went to see this film, I kind of expected to see a monster/fantasy film. It is in fact a drama about childhood, innocence, and evil. I think this is one of the best movies I’ve ever seen, and it moved me emotionally. It is also one of those movies that “stay” with you for a long time. I’ve seen the film twice in the theater and twice more on DVD. Anyway, to each his own. Cheers.

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