Guillermo del Toro/Mexico-Spain/2006; R4 (2-disc DE)
Hopscotch/RS, NZ$34.95 | Reviewed by Rose Rees-Owen

GUILLERMO del Toro has succeeded in creating a dark but magical world in this chilling fairytale; a contrast between the cruel reality of post-Franco Spain and the mystical realm of Pan that makes Pan’s Labyrinth so visually enjoyable and enchanting to watch. It follows the story of a young girl, Ophelia, and her pregnant mother who travel to live with Captain Vidal: a cruel fascist, but also her stepfather and father to her unborn brother. On the way, her ill mother has to stop for fresh air and Ophelia wanders into the forest and replaces a missing piece of a statue to which a rather ugly looking dragonfly pops out. At night, the dragonfly visits Ophelia and morphs into a fairy urging Ophelia into the labyrinth where she meets a magical faun, Pan. Pan tells her that she is the reincarnation of the princess of the underworld and if she wants to return she has to complete three magical tasks.

The strength of the film lies in Del Toro’s ability to turn the ugly and absurd into something spellbinding, and at times, a little queasy. One of Ophelia’s tasks is to kill a toad that lives in a tree with three magic balls. It is the toad’s death by gluttony that is its demise. As Ophelia crawls deeper into the tree, she is covered in crawling cockroaches. She disguises the magical balls as cockroaches and the toad greedily licks them off her hand. He spews up his innards that look peculiarly like the passion fruit topping you’ve just eaten on top of your ice cream and you vowel to never eat passion fruit topping again! It is this gut reaction Del Toro promotes that leaves you captivated and disgusted, but definitely entertained.

The film is also highly layered as the fantastical world of Ophelia’s quest is interwoven with Mercedes and Doctor Ferreiro’s quest to help the rebels of the fascist regime, and from the cruelty of Captain Vidal. Del Toro’s magical imagery transcends to the reality of Mercedes and Doctor Ferreiro’s quest also. Mercedes slashes the side of the Captain’s mouth, and it is certainly inhuman and unnerving to see a gapping V-shaped slit where there shouldn’t be one. The film has substance and texture as we are drawn between two worlds and two heroines; Ophelia of the magical, and Mercedes of the real. Theirs is a surreal experience that will haunt you in your sleep but leave you wanting more.

Pan’s Labyrinth doesn’t stray from the tradition of fantastical movies on DVD, with special features rich with content. One click of the remote leads on to many different paths and if we’re not careful we might get lost. Del Toro acts as our guide and he greets us at every twist and turn.

One thing that is clear is how passionate Del Toro is about this movie. In the Prologue, he states that it was a life changing experience and a “coming of age” of everything he is trying to achieve in his movies. After viewing (what seems like hours) of special feature material, Del Toro’s words certainly rang true. There is a section on the director’s notebook, and inside are elaborate sketches of what Del Toro envisioned Pan’s to look like. Special consideration was given towards the creation of the faun who us English speakers regard as Pan, but he is not actually Pan in the sense that he is a God; he is only a magical faun, a mistake which the special features rectify. The notebook, with pages and pages of sketches of the mythical creatures, is a testament to Del Toro’s creative investment.

While I was amazed that a few sections were in Spanish with no English translation, it added to the sensation of feeling slightly lost in a labyrinth, and the fantastic imagery more than compensates for any lack of understanding. In the section El Fauno y las Hadas (the faun and the fairies) they talk to Spanish artists about the scalping of the magical creatures. The artists explain their designs while I marveled at them, and I don’t think it’s necessary to understand what the artist is saying to appreciate their design, especially because I thought that most of the creatures were created using CGI. It also followed the actor, Doug Jones who played the part of the faun and the pale man (the scary guy with no face and eyes in his hands who eats children) and it was fascinating to see how many people it took to put his costume on. Akin to a magician revealing his secrets, the lack of English translation at least helped maintained an element of mystery.

Pan’s music, so chilling, is paid tribute to in the simplicity of Mercedes’ melody. Guillermo explains that the power of the fairytale resides in its simplicity and that Pan’s Labyrinth is as simple as Little Red Riding Hood. Captain Vidal is the big bad wolf; the rebels are the woods men; Ophelia is little red riding hood. Guillermo guides us through the production of this lullaby and how he struggled to retain its simplicity, as composers always made it too intellectual. The creative process is at its most fascinating here, viewed from the raw composed music, through to the chilling humming, and the final complete score.

The features also offer the chance to compare storyboards with finished scenes, another example of the film’s range of simplistic through to complex realisation. An elaborate comic sketch of selected scenes, such as when Ophelia vanquishing the frog, rounds out the supplements.