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Pan's Labyrinth
Review written by: Alex Sandell

Guillermo del Toro is one of the best in the business.  Starting with The Devil's Backbone, moving through Blade II and Hellboy and into Pan's Labyrinth -- the screenwriter/director can seemingly do no wrong.  Mr. del Toro doesn't film a motion-picture as much as he paints 90 minutes worth of art with a camera instead of a brush.  Using his trademark dark blues and bright reds (which emphasizes blood in a way that makes it appear beautiful rather than grotesque), he creates an image on each cell of film that could just as likely sell in a gallery as it could run sequentially as a full-length feature film.  And with Pan's Labyrinth -- nominated for 6 Academy Awards -- his work is finally getting noticed by the mainstream.

Pan's Labyrinth is a fairy tale that only Guillermo del Toro could bring to life.  A young girl named Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) lived in an underground realm where there was no sickness or death.  Then, one day, she dreamed of the human world and traveled to this strange new environment -- one full of blue skies and sunshine, but also consumed by disease and hate.  Her father in the underground realm believed that one day his daughter would return from the human world and he swore that he would wait for her until he drew his last breath (not quite sure about this "last breath" thing in a world where no one dies).

We meet Ofelia as a human mortal.  She is riding with her pregnant mother (Ariadna Gil) to meet her new "father," Captain Vidal (Sergi López) -- a Fascist running a camp in Northern Spain after the Spanish Civil War.  The Captain was sent to this remote area to destroy a remaining Anarchist Militia hiding out in the woods.  Upon her arrival at the camp, Ofelia discovers a magical Labyrinth full of the kind of creatures only a man with as strong a vision as Guillermo del Toro could find beautiful.  Ofelia also comes across a few nightmarish creatures only a man with nightmares as vivid as Guillermo del Toro could ever dream up.

When a fairy leads her to a Faun that resembles the love child of Treebeard and Mr. Tumnus she is told that she must complete three tasks before the moon is full.  Ofelia is slightly skeptical and is warned to be wary of Fauns, but Pan (played by Doug Jones -- whose incredible body language made Hellboy's Abe Sapien one of the most intriguing characters in film so far this decade) is determined and Ofelia sets off to complete her tasks.  Will she succeed?  What will the three tasks be?  How will reality mix in with and mess up the fairy tale?  These are questions that this critic wouldn't dream of answering and mysteries that should only be discovered when you go see the movie. 

It would be unfair for fans of fantasy or quality film to miss this one.  At the theater where I attended the movie, it was almost as though the managers were trying to scare people away from seeing the picture.  "Warning!" A sign read in bold print.  "Pan's Labyrinth is a foreign film with subtitles!"  I was surprised they didn't end their message with a *GASP* or *SHUDDER*.  Oddly, there wasn't a similar sign up for the subtitled Letters from Iwo Jima.  Conspiracy, or fear that children would be attending due to the whole "fairy tale" thing?

Don't let warning signs or subtitles scare you off.  Even if you don't know Spanish and are unable to read, the movie would work.  Guillermo del Toro's films are as much about visuals as they are about story.  I have actually watched both The Devil's Backbone and Hellboy with the sound off -- just to soak in everything put before me on the screen.  And don't let the "fantasy" or "fairy tale" label frighten you, either.  While there are fantastical elements, the movie is less a fairy tale than it is the story of the conflicting natures of fantasy and reality.  More time is spent in the real world than in the magical one.  But one is also given pause and asked to wonder if there's really that much of a difference between the two -- if you know where to look.

The film is at times magical, at times tragic, at times brutal, at times horrifying, at times melancholy, but never is it cynical.  No matter how dark things get, there's always a light hidden somewhere in the gloom if you can fight your way through the blackness and seek it out.  While I found Captain Vidal to be too much of a cartoon villain for my liking, the film itself was too powerful to let one character wreck my suspension of disbelief.  And why not?  For suspending your disbelief is, in the end, what Pan's Labyrinth is all about.

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