Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) movie review
“A long time ago, in the underground realm, where there are no lies or pain, there lived a Princess who dreamed of the human world.” Pan’s Labyrinth, or El laberinto del fauno, is a fantasy-drama set in Spain during the outbreak of the Second World War. The film follows Ofelia, the stepdaughter of a fascist officer, who discovers a hidden world beneath this one… The Guillermo del Toro written and directed film was greeted with widespread critical acclaim upon its release, as well as Academy Awards for Cinematography, Art Direction, and Makeup, with nominations for Screenplay, Score, and Foreign Language Film.
If the Narnia films are an interesting concept to you, but there is something missing in the potential depth of the latter films of that trilogy, look no further. Pan’s Labyrinth is a twofold story, telling both a fantastical tale about a girl completing a series of odd tasks for a mysterious faun, and the fight against oppression against fascism, expressed through a nearby resistance against the fascist local military presence. Pulling off a story like this, with two plots that seemingly don’t connect, and yet both pull on the protagonists arc as well as the themes of the story, is nothing short of incredible, which is exactly what makes this del Toro film one of the finest fantasy films of the last two decades.
But before I get into story and characters and all that good stuff, lets get into the reason everyone watches this film: the effects. Of course the entire visual style is fantastic. I love the lighting throughout, the cinematography is perfect, balancing both sides of the story perfectly while highlighting key differences visually, and the film’s aspects like costume design, art direction, and even the approach the film has to tasteful violence should not be overlooked. However when you have a film with such renowned creature designs and practical effects as this, of course they are going to get overlooked. And rightfully so, because Guillermo del Toro’s creature designs are absolutely amazing. I particularly love the blend in computer animation and practical effects myself, because the only way to tell that Fauno’s legs aren’t real is because I don’t think the actor can bend his legs backwards like that…
I don’t have a way to smoothly transition in and out of music since I don’t have a ton to say about sound, so yeah. Javier Navarrete’s score is fantastic. Oh here’s a thing about sound! Reading. Pan’s Labyrinth is in Spanish. Sure you can watch it dubbed. Or you could sit up, put on your glasses, or watch a fantastic movie the way it was made. I get it, there’s not always time to commit to reading a movie. Except now we all have all the time in the world, so now is the time to practice.
Anyway, both the strongest and weakest aspect of the film come from the relationship between the story and characters. Now when I say weakest, I don’t mean to say that there is anything hugely wrong with this film. However you do need to go into it with the right expectations. The film is 65% war drama, so that 35% fantasy being more interesting does make you constantly want to go back to whatever is happening with that story. Sure they run into each other plenty, and it all works together for not only the central protagonist, but for the character development all around. Of course having incredible performances helps, and the performances are so good all-around that if I ever meet Sergi López (Captain Vidal), I’m going to run away from him. However the film, with only a two hour runtime, manages to reach a surprising level of depth for its supporting characters, which I think might be its strongest aspect. Because when the movie really gets going, instead of wishing you could go back to Fauno, you get to wonder when you started caring so much about the maid and the doctor, as you find yourself drawn into the other half of the story through its compelling characters and the way they interact with Ofelia and the fantasy elements in the film. All that is of course just to say that, yes you will want more fantasy, but this movie manages to strike an incredible balance anyway, which makes it as wonderous as it is heartbreaking and compelling.
So while you are sitting there wondering what to watch now that you’ve finished Tiger King (2020), maybe check out the film that made del Toro a bigshot director, so much so that I can’t watch the Hobbit (2012-2014) films without wondering how good they could have looked if he had stayed on board. Pan’s Labyrinth is an all around incredible film that only suffers from what I am going to very carefully call the ‘Last Jedi Effect,’ where one half of the story hurts because it is just nowhere near as cool as the other half. However despite being a war drama with a fantasy mask, between the astonishing effects, strong storytelling, compelling characters, and wonderfully compelling narrative, the film will have you more invested than you remember being by the end. Personally, I don’t hold it to any Lord of the Rings (2001-2003) standard when it comes to fantasy, nor do I hold it to a Hurt Locker (2009) standard when it comes to war films, however it is probably the best at doing both, and a very unique watch for it. What I’m saying is, Pan’s Labyrinth is on Netflix right now, and it is absolutely worth a watch. 8/10.
So Pan’s Labyrinth? Have you seen it? What did you think of it? And what is your favorite multi-genre film? Or what do you think is the best modern fantasy film? Be sure to leave a like or a comment below and let us know, and if you have a movie you’d like us to review, tell us in the comments and we’ll be sure to write it! Stay safe everyone!
-review by Ryan Prince