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Pan's Labyrinth (***)
Directed by Guillermo del Toro
Written by Guillermo del Toro
Pan's Labyrinth
Principal Cast
Ariadna Gil -- Carmen Vidal
Ivana Baquero -- Ofelia
Sergi López -- Capitán Vidal
Maribel Verdú -- Mercedes
Doug Jones -- Pan/Pale Man
Álex Angulo -- Dr. Ferreiro
Manolo Solo -- Garcés
César Vea -- Serrano
Roger Casamajor -- Pedro
Ivan Massagué -- El Tarta
Gonzalo Uriarte -- Francés
Eusebio Lázaro -- Padre - Father
Paco Vidal -- Cura - Priest
Juanjo Cucalón -- Mayor
Lina Mira -- Mayor's Wife
Ratings are based on Rick's four star system.
One star - the commercials are more entertaining than the viewing.
Two stars - watch if you have nothing better to do.
Three stars - good solid entertainment.
Four stars - you never dreamed viewing could be this good.
Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rick Norwood

I was disappointed by Pan's Labyrinth, the most favorably reviewed film of 2006. Leaving the theater, I overheard enough comments to know I was not alone in that disappointment, especially from people who had brought children. This is not a film for children.

spoiler warning

SPOILER WARNING is an understatement, since it is impossible to discuss this film without talking about the ending.

Imagine Disney's Song of the South, only instead of a white child with happy fantasies, make the main character a black child enslaved to Simon Legree, and you will have a pretty good idea what Pan's Labyrinth is like. I was, throughout the film, puzzled by the relationship between the fantasy elements and the realistic elements. There are hints that we are supposed to believe that the fantasy elements are real. The mother does get better when the child places a mandrake root under her bed. But this is just the wishful thinking of a child. The ending makes it clear that the fantasy we see only exists inside her head, the dark fantasies of a girl whose reality is intolerable.

The setting is Francisco Franco's Spain, and the villain is a fascist who does not raise an eyebrow as he tortures and murders, but who is seriously upset by a lack of punctuality or bad manners. The moral, which is really the only thing that links the real world story and the fantasy story, is that one should not obey fascists. This is hardly news in today's world, where both the communists and fascists are beginning to seem almost quaint, as their monstrous acts become Nero-like in the diminishing glass of history. Twenty-first century villains are not fascism and communism but rather our old enemies, tribalism and corruption. Even the holocaust deniers, who share Franco's racism, do not share his fondness for jackboots.

The heroine of the film is named Ofilia, reminding us of Hamlet's Ophelia, who is mad, has beautiful fantasies, and dies. I think the biggest problem with the film is that the child is too old. Little Bobby Driscol was the right age to believe in Br'er Rabbit and Br'er Fox, but the girl in the film is on the verge of adolescence. Most children stop believing in fairies by the time they are six. Not only is the girl in the film too old to believe in fairies, she is also too old to eat the grapes. I wonder why they did not cast a younger child in the role.

The ending also grates a little. The fantasy story ends tragically but the real world story ends in victory. In fact, of course, Franco won, and the only victory came decades later, seeing his death mocked by Chevy Chase on Saturday Night Live.

This isn't a bad film. It's original. It isn't boring. The acting is good and the special effects not bad. It is a simple tale for simpler times, in which everyone not pure evil is pure goodness. It is hardly a coincidence that it begins with the words, "A long, long time ago…"

Copyright © 2007 Rick Norwood

Rick Norwood is a mathematician and writer whose small press publishing house, Manuscript Press, has published books by Hal Clement, R.A. Lafferty, and Hal Foster. He is also the editor of Comics Revue Monthly, which publishes such classic comic strips as Flash Gordon, Sky Masters, Modesty Blaise, Tarzan, Odd Bodkins, Casey Ruggles, The Phantom, Gasoline Alley, Krazy Kat, Alley Oop, Little Orphan Annie, Barnaby, Buz Sawyer, and Steve Canyon.

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