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on 8 April 2008
Guillermo del Toro has all of a sudden become on of my favourite film makers, I'd never heard of him until I saw this film. Now I've seen most film he has had an association with. The best however, is undoubtedly Pan's Labyrinth - which is the best fairytale you will ever see.

A fairytale about a girl who wants to be a Princess - Sounds like something out of a Walt Disney script - however this is one movie you don't want your young ones to see. This is a dark, and in places very brutal movie (very brutal and certainly not for the squeamish nor suitable for a young child). Set in Civil War torn Spain there are political elements (discussing a lot of Spanish Franco themes) with the story running consecutively and inter-woven with the fantasies of a young Girl Ofelia who has moved with her Mother to live with her Father-in-Law (Captain Vidal - possibly in the top ten movie villains ever).
I won't ruin too much more (when people write reviews that ruin the story please but spoilers warning first!) but along the way you get to meet some kind loving individuals and some at the other end of the spectrum.

Magnificently atmospheric, you'll be on the edge of your seat one second and then cowering away from the screen the next, you won't want this to end as the fantasy world of Ofelia is quite beautiful as is the whole ending of the movie - certainly you'll miss things the first time around and will be back for a second viewing to only heighten the viewing pleasure of this film.
Brilliantly acted - especially the characters of Ofelia, Carmen and Vidal.

Ignore idiots like Mr Lawman below who disregard this film because (and I quote) "On top of all this it's not even in English"... Oh the horror...

Pan's Labyrinth is dark, brutal, beautiful and unmissable.
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on 17 February 2008
Anyone who's ever read the original versions of many modern fairytales knows that they were often very dark and violent indeed. We've forgotten the dark reputation of faerie often due to the sanitised re-tellings churned out by Walt Disney and other animators so its nice to see a fresh reminder.

Ofelia is a little girl in Spain at the time of the Spanish Civil War who moves far from home with her heavily pregnant mother to live with her new step father- a Captain in the Spanish military. She is a child who escapes into fairy tales, not surprising since the real world she inhabits is so unpleasant. Director Gillermo del Toro doesn't flinch from showing the harshness of war, around Ofelia is a new landscape of casual violence, a step father who borders on the sociopathic in his twin obsessions of killing all rebels and fathering a fine son. In the night Ofelia is visited by a faun who tells her that she is the reincarnation of a princess from a magical land and that she may return there if she completes three tasks.

The twin realities that Ofelia moves between are both frightening, both dark, and both very lonely for the little girl. As her mother sickens and her step-father becomes more abusive she finds a friend in Mercedes, a housekeeper who comes to love her. The violence escalates toward a bloody conclusion that is a heart wrenching as anything I've ever watched. Part of the movie's strength is in the performances, its rare to see a film with so much talent on screen. Centring the narrative on such a young actress can often be a mis-step but in this case it works perfectly as Ivana Baquero is excellent. The effects are also a twisted feast for the eyes and Doug Jones horrific, unnatural "Pale Man" is as memorable as any movie character ever despite his lack of dialogue and short screen-time. The script is also clever about never really revealing the truth of Pan's Labyrinth... Is it real, or the carefully crafted fantasy of a lost and frightened child.

This movie is a triumph, succeeding on every level. It is not, however, for the squeamish as there is plenty of blood and bile throughout- but then that's the case in all the best fairytales.
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VINE VOICEon 22 March 2011
"Pan's Labyrinth" was written and directed by Guillermo del Toro, and made its debut at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival. It has been very highly regarded since its release, and the awards it has won include three Oscars and three BAFTAs

"Pan's Labyrinth" opens in 1944, and is set in Spain. Five years have passed since the Spanish Civil War "officially" finished, although there is still a Resistance fighting against the Franco's Falangists. As part of the state's solution, military outposts have been established to deal with the "problem." The film's main character is Ofelia, a young girl who is devoted to reading. As the film opens, she is travelling with her heavily pregnant mother to at one of these military outposts. Captain Vidal, the outpost's commanding officer, is Ofelia's stepfather and the outpost will become her new home. Vidal is as cruel, vindictive and selfish as you'd expect from a Fascist and Ofelia (unsurprisingly) grows to hate him. With her mother desperate to please him and provide a `safe' home, Ofelia's only real ally is Mercedes, the housekeeper. Mercedes, however, is anything but a collaborator : her brother is in the Maquis, and she helps them in any way she can.

Luckily, there is the chance of an escape. A long time ago in a wonderful underground kingdom, a young princess dreamt of blue skies and bright sunshine. One day, she managed to escape her guardians and found a way to the human world "up above". Unfortunately, the brightness of the sun blinded her and wiped her memory. She suffered pain and sickness and, in time, she died. Her father, however, knew her soul would return at another time and in another place and he would wait for her return. When Ofelia follows a fairy into the labyrinth close to her new home, she meets a faun...who tells her she is the princess returned. Unfortunately, she must first complete three tasks before she's allowed to return to her former home. However, from the film's opening scene, you know things are not going to be easy for Ofelia.

Despite the fairytales and mythical creatures, I wouldn't really say "Pan's Labyrinth" it a movie for children - it is quite dark and a couple of scenes are really very unpleasant. In fact, despite the fantasy element, the film's biggest monster is Vidal : poisonous, nasty, vicious and brutal, he barely tolerates Ofelia and views her mother as little more than a walking womb. Mercedes, on the other hand, is everything Vidal isn't - protective, honourable, loving and kind. However, it is an excellent movie overall and - so long as you don't mind subtitles - is totally recommended.
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on 28 March 2011
This is one film which should be in your collection. Rather than duplicating other reviewers comments I just say this. I watched this film spellbound, being even reluctant to hit the pause button for a quick trip to the loo. The film is in Spanish so unless you are a Spanish speaker select the Englsh subtitles. In my Blue Ray copy the quality is supurb. The way some of the horrors of the Spanish Civil war are portrait is most unusual and it is fair to say that the director of this film has done this in a spellbinding and gripping way. Buy this movie and I guarantee that you will not be disappointed. I bought it on the strenght of the reviews here in this section and I am very glad I did. This is one film that you will watch again !
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 20 July 2008
This is a superb film from director Guillermo del Toro. Set in 1944 when a last band of rebels are still holding out after the Spanish Civil war has long since finished. Ofelia is a young girl who brought by her mother to see her stepfather a Captain in the army with a sadistic streak. He is leading the fight against the rebels.

All this is interesting and mapped out from the start. However within a short space of time the film takes a huge turn into the world of fantasy. Ofelia is taken by a fairy to a fantasy world under the maze of the films title. On a simple level this is just a young girls escape from the nightmare happening around her, and if you just accept it as that you will still see a great movie.

However Toro uses the fantasy world as a chance to make a movie that works on another level. There are clear references to the holocaust in the film (piles of shoes for one) and the Captain/Stepfather is remarkably similiar to the camp commandant in Schindlers List, both because of his brutal actions, and even visually Toro has picked an actor who looks like Ralph Fiennes. This may be pure coincidence...

This isn't a film I could recommend for small children. Firstly it has some quite unpleasant violence, which in context is completly justified. Secondly some of the imagery is a little too disturbing for youngsters in my view. But at the right age (and I wouldn't like to say what age that should be) its a film for everyone.

Unlike many Hollywood films this is resolved without the need for tons of overt sentimentality, people cheering etc. Indeed I thought the ending got the balance just about right. Its a film I shall be watching again. Hopefully next time in HiDef as I imagine this would be a stunning film to see in that format.
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If anyone wants to know where the dark, creepy fairy tales of old went, here's a hint: Guillermo del Toro is doing a pretty good job with the fairy tales for adults.

"Pan's Labyrinth" ("El Laberinto del Fauno") is a sequel of sorts to "The Devil's Backbone," a magical realism film about the Spanish Civil War. But this movie takes us deeper into a world that is half real, half ominous fairy tale, with a unique and imaginative story and some really excellent acting -- in short, a triumph.

Time and place: 1944, Spain. Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) and her very pregnant mother travel to meet her new stepfather, the brutal and murderous Captain Vidal (Sergi López). Ofelia loathes her new stepfather, but is transfixed by the eerie forests around them -- and one night she is visited by a fairy, and encounters a giant faun who tells her that she is Princess Moanna of the netherworld, and must return there.

To do so, he tells her that she must do three things, and gives her a strange book. Ofelia menages first task, but is frightened out of her wits by the second task, which involves a hideous monster with eyes in its hands. Even worse, her mother's pregnancy is getting more dangerous. As the guerillas and the fascists clash, Ofelia faces being trapped outside the netherworld forever...

Fairy tales have become cleaned-up and cutesy over time, so that children can read them without nightmares. But del Toro knows that the best fairy tales are the eerie, bizarre ones for adults, that are connected somehow to the real world. That is what makes "Pan's Labyrinth" so brilliantly dark and heartfelt.

Del Toro obviously crafted this with care, directing it in a dreamlike style and brilliant visuals. The eerie atmosphere of Ofelia's wanderings -- the delicate yet menacing faun, the chalk doors, the monuments, and the pasty nightmare with eyes in its palms -- is both a contrast and a parallel with the everyday world, which Ofelia hopes to escape.

At first, it seems like the post-Civil War and fairy tale stories don't mesh, until you see that the "real world" story is Ofelia's motivation to escape from all the fear, pain and sorrow. But Del Toro's biggest triumph is an ending that is beautifully bittersweet, and which turns out to hinge on Ofelia's newborn brother.

But del Toro's biggest triumph is in the instant connection we feel to Ofelia, with her love of the fantastical and her desire to go somewhere "safe." Baquero is absolutely wonderful in this, as a girl who isn't entirely of this world -- in her heart, she belongs somewhere beyond. And López is the ideal villain -- you spend the whole movie wanting to see him gruesomely killed.

Half "Mirrormask" and half gritty war story, "Pan's Labyrinth" is one of the best fantasy stories in years -- dark, passionate and beautifully made. Definitely a great movie.
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VINE VOICEon 21 October 2007
Now I have actually seen it I cannot for the life in me explain why I didn't get around to seeing the film earlier. I have been inexcusably tardy and beg for forgiveness. Pans Labyrinth is a magnificent movie, a dark labyrinthine adult fairytale( I am aware this is hardly a revelation ) that exerts a level of profundity far beyond the remit of ....well just about anything really . If you haven't already you really must see it and if you have seen it then watch it again .
Set in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War in 1944, Franco's fascist army is still hunting down resistance sympathisers . A government owned farm/mill is being regularly attacked by the rebels and they are hiding out in the dense forest surrounding the area so a garrison of Franco's army led by Capt Vidal ( Sergi Lopez) is sent there to guard it .
Capt Vidal has recently married and has asked for his heavily pregnant wife Carmen( Ariadna Gil) to join him at the garrison so he can supervise the birth of his new , he presumes, son and heir. It rapidly becomes obvious that this is his main area of concern , not the health of his wife and especially not the well being of his step-daughter Ofelia ( Ivana Baquero. Who so impressed director Guillermo Del Toro that he changed Ofelia from the eight year old she was originally in the script to an eleven year old to accommodate her)Ofelia is an inquisitive child and having seen regularly an exotic insect around the place one day she follows it into the woods and discovers a stone labyrinth .Here she encounters a grotesque looking faun (Doug Jones, the only American on set and the only not to speak Spanish) who informs Ofelia that she is in fact a fairy princess who lost all memory of her old life when she entered the world of humans. In order for her to return to her former life she must complete three tasks to prove her identity.
These tasks involve collecting certain artefacts from around the area using a conjuring book and chalk that can draw portals to other dimensions. Here she encounters a giant frog and a bizarre pale skinned creature( Doug Jones again) with eyes in his hands who is woken from perma -slumber when Ofelia disobeys a direct order from the faun leading to two fairies losing their heads. There is a dichotomy in the script here with the need to explore and find things out and not just blindly obey orders being celebrated but the first time Ofelia disobeys a firm instruction she is nearly killed.
Running alongside the powerful , eerie but still enchanting fable is the story of the human conflict. Insurgent sympathisers work within the farm and one of these head servant Mercedes ( Maribel Verdu) has a brother amongst the rebels. She is also the only person , apart the isolated bed ridden mother of Ofelia who shows the girl any kindness. The Garrisons Doctor (Alex Angulo) is smuggling precious drugs out to the rebels via Mercedes. These two are the real human heroes of the film showing awesome courage and resolution.
Pans Labyrinth could be mistaken for a children's film and while it is true that children may be delighted by certain scenes in the film it has some horribly violent and nasty sequences defiantly not suitable for children , not to mention some adults. Capt Vidal , a sadistic individual shows that while our fantasies can produce some horrific nightmarish visions human beings will invariably turn out to be far worse than anything else.
This is a truly wonderful film, allegorical and deeply philosophical so much so that some if it's meaning may have escaped me.It,s a moving denunciation of fascism as well as a superbly realised depiction of how the human mind can find ways to escape form brutality and horror .Old themes are explored by the person wishing to return to an old familiar more serene place. It looks stunning with some outstanding production design , courtesy of Eugenio Caballero and it should look truly amazing on HD DVD. Written and directed by Del Toro who elicits tremendous performances from the cast -especially Lopez and young Ivana Pans Labyrinth is a top notch fantasy ribbed with a story of struggle, sacrifice and humanity within the corporeal world .A truly awesome cinematic achievement.
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on 23 March 2007
Don't be put off by the fact that this is a Spanish Language film, within 5 minutes I was so engrossed in the film I completely forgot to notice I was reading subtitles. The titles themselves are very well done, they are paced perfectly and convey the mood of the scenes just right.

This isn't a film for children by any means, it's quite graphic and violent in parts, but I found that only strengthed the fantasy side of it. I feel Guillermo Del Toro wanted to show the juxtaposition between the violence of the adult world against the beauty and innocence of the childs - much like his other film (Devils Backbone).

I was left stunned and speechless by this film - its perhaps the best thing I've seen this year by a long way.
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on 11 August 2015
I hadn't watched this film for a few years and wanted to see it with my daughter - having confused it with Labyrinth....Anyway I think that the ground of a particular time in Spanish history juxtaposed with the fantasy world is brilliantly executed, and although there are scenes containing explicit violence, it sadly reflects the reality of war and the specific brutality that individuals may display. This is a film that needs to be watched carefully and paid attention to as there are a lot of details in the cinematography that are wonderful whilst paying attention to the subtitles. The acting is superb and the fantasy figures weird and wonderful enough not to be ridiculous. It certainly gets the adrenalin pumping as well as having very sweet, poignant moments.
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For me, this film sort of came out of nowhere. It's not often that a Spanish film (with subtitles, at that) becomes all the rage in America, but I just kept seeing references to this thing all over the place. Having watched it, I can see why - it really is a wondrous, compelling, emotional cinematic experience. Many have dubbed Pan's Labyrinth a fairy tale for adults, and I think that designation is pretty apt. A lot of people aren't aware of the fact that many fairy tales were, in their infancy, pretty dark little stories. As often as not, fairy tale characters did not live happily ever after at all - in some cases, they didn't even live through the stories. This particular film features pain and anguish alongside some fairly jarring and brutal moments. Certainly, it's not a film for the vast majority of children out there, but I see no reason in the world for it receiving an R rather than a PG-13 rating.

The central character of the story is a twelve-year-old girl named Ofelia (Ivana Baquero), an imaginative child accompanying her very pregnant mother to the military post run by her step-father. The year is 1944, and Capitan Vidal (Sergi Lopez) is there to take out the remaining anti-Franco rebels hiding out in the woodlands. He is an exceedingly cruel and ruthless man, as the audience learns fairly early on. With her mother bedridden, Ofelia wanders outside to follow a fairy through the ancient stone structure called Pan's Labyrinth, eventually entering a circular underground structure. It is there that she meets an otherworldly faun (Doug Jones) and learns that she is actually a fairy princess who lost all of her old memories when she ran off to the world of humans years ago. Before she can return to her fairy kingdom, however, she must complete three tasks to prove that she is the rightful princess. The tasks are not easy - but, on the other hand, Ofelia's human life is not easy either. Her step-father cares only about the impending birth of his child (which he assumes will be a son), her mother (Ariadna Gil) is basically unavailable because her pregnancy has turned into a dangerous one, and she has no one else apart from a servant named Mercedes (Maribel Verdu) who cares one iota about her. It is not hard to see why she becomes increasingly enchanted with the idea of exchanging the miseries of human life for the joys of the fairy realm.

Running alongside Ofelia's story is that of the anti-government rebels trying to survive out in the woods, despite Capitan Vidal's attempts to horde all available sources of food and medicine. What Vidal does not know is that rebel sympathizers are hidden amongst his own personal staff - two individuals who will emerge as the two unquestioned heroes of this entire story. Both of these worlds eventually smash together by the end of the film, setting the stage for a bittersweet ending that leaves much to the viewer's imagination.

There's an amazing pathos to this film that might take you unawares, particularly if you are used to a steady diet of Hollywood throw-away scripts. Pan's Labyrinth galvanizes your emotions and compels you to look beneath the surface of the mundane. It may even rekindle that sense of wonder that you seemingly lost all those years ago. It is truly a most glorious film.
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