Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Guillermo del Toro Retrospective: PAN'S LABYRINTH

Pan's Labyrinth
Starring: Ivan Baquero, Maribel Verdu, Doug Jones, Sergi Lopez, Ariadna Gil
Rated: R

Guillermo del Toro followed Hellboy by once again returning to Mexico and delivering another fairy tale.  Of all 3 stories (yeah, I'd count Cronos), Pan's Labyrinth really accomplishes being fully realized that of a new modern fairy tale.  This is del Toro's biggest passion project of his career and one he sacrificed all he possibly could (and lost 45 lbs according to him) to see fully realized as he intended it to be.  The result works, as Pan's Labyrinth is a masterpiece of modern cinema.
Hollywood studios were offering del Toro double the budget and double the pay to see this film made in the English language.  Guillermo wanted none of this compromised.  He wanted it done his way, his vision and done correctly.  He even went as far as to personally translate and do the subtitles for the film himself as his previous two films had been problematic when it came to translating his words  By taking it to Mexico he did have less budget.  So, del Toro opted to remove his pay AND his points on the back end.  This was a project he had dreamed of doing for years and had notebooks upon notebooks of his ideas for the film, he wasn't about to let it slide even an inch in another direction.

This film is dynamite perfect.  It takes the Grimm Fairytale to a whole new level.  Whereas maybe they were for kids before, this feels that way but is totally adult.  Many adult situations are present and damn, this film is pretty brutal and graphic.  And all of it, yes, practical effects.  Some CG was used later on to clean up some things, but most of what you see is very real.  And with that comes stuff that actually pains and counts.  It hurts in this movie when you see someone shot or cut.  And its not just there to gross you out, the violence has purpose in the story and is in good taste.
Leading the charge on all this is the character of the Captain.  He is one rat bastard son of a bitch.  This guy EASILY makes the top 10 villains list of the 2000s.  If you don't want to punch the screen every time this guy is present, I don't know what to tell ya.  None of its forced, just natural.  Every time you don't think this guy could be more of a cold hearted prick, he goes and tops himself.  I don't think I was ever happier last decade when I villain got his than this guy.  This combo of del Toro's script and Sergi Lopez's performance may be what makes this movie so intense and such darkness to watch.  There's a lot of cool imagery and some supernatural characters abound, and nobody is gonna come out and say or think about it, but Lopez may be the stealthy scene stealer of the film
Speaking of that supernatural, there's some great creature work in the film.  Most notable is the Pale Man.  This is one of the creepiest things you might ever see in a film.  And its brought to life by none other than Doug Jones.  This thing has loose skin and its eyes in its hand and eats children and fairies.  The movement however only adds to what a disgusting eerie being it is.  Jones also plays Fauno and does a good job of providing a character you're just not sure if you can trust.  Its the posterchild for the film and stunningly not a CG creature.  Guillermo also fits his love of bugs in with the fairies.  These things are pretty cool and meet a vicious gruesome end during the Pale Man sequence.  Once again, del Toro brings fantastic creatures and has you believing them to be real.  Whether you're marveling at them or scared of them, the fact that they are fully realized and executed at a top level is the reason why.

So what does the end of the film mean?  Personally I can't give you a definitive answer.  I like to believe in supernatural things and would like Ofelia's tale to be one of that journey, but I could see the pessimistic side to it as well.  But its not totally pessimistic as she became a martyr for the revolution's cause.  Whatever the case, I dig the hint of obscurity and leaving the film with a wonderful conversation starter after viewing it.  Guillermo himself feels that it is all real, but also understands that others can have a different view.
This is the film that got me to go back and discover the filmography of Guillermo del Toro.  I went to see it at the Arclight Cinerama Dome back in 2006 and was absolutely blown away by it.  The film captivated me for its entire 2 hours, bridging the gap between a childlike wonder and adulthood realism.  I was amazed at the creatures.  There was mystery, horror, war, drama, suspense, it delivered so many things but felt like one tight cohesive unit.  The score is damn good too, you'll be humming the theme days after you've seen it.  There are a lot of good scores nowadays, but many you forget soon after.  Pan's Labyrinth IS a modern masterpiece and should be seen by any and everybody.  People like to claim about once a year that cinema is dead, but films like Pan's Labyrinth come around will remind me that it's an idiotic claim, and the film world is alive and well and can deliver that supposedly "lost" magic every single year.

Needless to say, I'm looking very forward to the next time Guillermo del Toro goes back to Mexico to make a film!

Next up: We return to the BPRD for another Hellboy adventure in HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY

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