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Review

‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ a hit with reviewing duo

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February 8, 2007

After “The Chronicles of Narnia,” “Eragon,” and “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events,” I thought I’d had just about enough of fantasy movies featuring kids going on grand, epic adventures. But leave it to Guillermo del Toro, the twisted mind behind “Blade II” and “The Devil’s Backbone,” to revitalize the genre with his own darkly unique touch. Brimming with atmosphere and spooky imagery to spare, “Pan’s Labyrinth” comes across as a fascinating feature with a story just as absorbing as the visuals.

The time: 1944. The place: Spain. Young Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) is traveling to a military outpost in the countryside to live with her mother (Ariadna Gil) and new stepfather, cruel fascist sympathizer Captain Vidal (Sergi Lopez).

As Vidal plots to lure out rebel troops hiding in the woods, Ofelia begins to explore the world of the ancient stone labyrinth. A faun (Doug Jones) emerges to tell our young heroine that she’s actually a princess from a vast, underground kingdom, and that she must complete three tasks to prove her worthiness of reclaiming her title. Ofelia sets about fulfilling her goals, facing monstrous creatures below the ground while confronting the brutal Vidal on the surface.

It’s a bit of a downer that “Pan’s Labyrinth” has been slapped with a “fairy tale for growns-ups” label. But to give it some credit, it’s still a pretty accurate description of the flick’s basic outline. “Pan’s Labyrinth” boasts weird creatures, a (in this case) wicked stepfather and a wide-eyed innocent at the plot’s center.

But del Toro makes the film about so much more than that, creating depth by way of connecting the fairy tale structure to a story that comes equipped with tragic overtones. Del Toro draws more than a few parallels between wartime atrocities (including Vidal’s sadistic treatment of a captured rebel) and the perils Ofelia faces on her quest, crafting a film with the music of a childhood fable and the words of a dramatic tale much more stepped in darkness and woe.

“Pan’s Labyrinth” gets emotionally heavy at times. One can tell that when a fairy’s head gets eaten off and spills blood that this flick isn’t going to be all rainbows This proves to be one of the film’s main flaws, as del Toro ends up spending a little too much time in the real world and not enough time exploring the world of the labyrinth.

A grim aura isn’t enough to cast aside the refreshing depth del Toro brings to the characters or the funky visual imagination he displays on the screen. Baquero gives one of the better child performances in recent years. Maribel Verdu lends solid support as a secretary with a secret, and Lopez takes the standard, “Evil McBadGuy” role and turns Vidal into a deeper, scarier villain than is seen these days. Doug Jones also deserves credit for acting through mountains and turning out great physical performances.

Not perfect, but not without a strong imagination, “Pan’s Labyrinth” pulls all of the elements it has to form an experience more memorable than most multiplexes fare these days.

A.J. Hakari is a student at UW-River Falls.