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PAN'S LABYRINTH

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Ivana Baquero, Ariadna Gil, Sergi Lopez, Maribel Verdu, Doug Jones
Director:  Guillerma del Toro
Audio:  Dolby Digital EX 5.1, DTS ES 6.0
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  New Line
Features:  See Review
Length:  119 Minutes
Release Date:  May 15, 2007

ďHello.  I am Princess Moanna.  And I am not afraid of you.Ē

Film ****

You could reach into a grab bag of adjectives and find just about any that would fit Panís Labyrinth.  Beautiful?  Horrifying?  Sweet?  Sad?  Violent?  Tragic?  Triumphant?  An unqualified Ďyesí to all.

Guillerma del Toro has crafted an unusual and unforgettable picture, one that took home three Oscars but also captured the imaginations, hearts and spirits of audiences around the world.  Almost everyone I know saw the movie ahead of me, and all of them loved it, but all of them also said it was practically impossible to describe.

Well, I canít use that as a cop-out.  Iím a critic, so offering a digestible description to you is my job.  But itís rarely been this hard.  The easiest tag I can place on the movie is that itís a fairy tale for grown-ups, but thatís like saying Lord of the Rings is about a piece of jewelry.

Del Toroís story takes place in fascist Spain in 1944, as dictator Franco is tightening his grip on the countryside.  But the story actually begins with a piece of narrationÖa fantasy about a princess from an underground world who wanted to come to the surface and become human, but she died in the process.  We are told since that day her father has waited for signs of her inevitable return.

Enter young Ofelia (the remarkable Baquero).  She loves fairy tales, but her life couldnít be further from one.  She is traveling across country with her pregnant mother Carmen (Gil).  Her father was killed, and they are going to live with Carmenís new husband, the ruthless Captain Vidal (Lopez).

Vidal is charged with hunting down and destroying the last of the resistance against Franco, and his methods are heartless, cold, and efficient.  It doesnít take long to realize that not even the innocent little Ofelia can stay safe if she ever crosses this brutal man.

But while the world around her seems to be coming to an end, Ofelia discovers a fairy, who leads her to a secret in a nearby labyrinth.  There is a faun who tells her she may very well be the princess we heard about in the opening, and gives her a series of dangerous tasks to carry out in order to prove she is the long awaited one.

The two stories couldnít be further apart in substance, but they mesh remarkably well.  Fairy tales, after all, are not quite the soft, quiet, harmless little fluffs of magic we think of them as.  Look again.  They are often frightening, filled with violent images and dark ideas, and put children in real peril.  Ofeliaís story is no different.  There is danger and even death in her world, both the one around her in life and the one inside the labyrinth.

This is a work of sheer imagination and genius, and del Toro juxtaposes ideas and images you could never imagine working together until you see them for yourself.  He claims in the intro to the DVD that the movie almost killed him.  It probably isnít an exaggeration.  Rarely do you get to see a film where so much of the directorís heart and soul is laid bare on the screen for you, and even rarer is the one that comes across as such a dark, unsettling yet strangely beautiful slice of fantasy.

This movie will move you.  It will haunt you.  It will never leave you once you see it.  That makes it one of the best films of its year, or frankly, just about any year.

Video ****

New Line never disappoints in this department, and with Panís Labyrinth, theyíve offered one of their best.  Del Toroís fantastic images are often dark and shadowy, but this anamorphic transfer rings through with amazing clarity from start to finish.  I noticed no grain or artifacts to interfere, and given the number of lower lit scenes, thatís an accomplishment, as well as a testament to the power of the medium.

Audio ****

The disc offers 6.1 audio tracks in Dolby Digital and DTS, and let me just say right now:  this is one of the best Iíve EVER heard.  Like the film itself, itís a masterpiece of complimentary contradictions.  Itís dynamic yet subtle, aggressive yet atmospheric, relentless yet enticing.  The rear stage is in constant use as the soundtrack absolutely transports you to and envelops you in this world.  Simply outstanding!

Features ****

There are so many extras on this double disc platinum DVD from New Line, I hope I donít miss any.  But here goes:

Video Prologue by Director Guillermo Del Toro
Feature Audio Commentary by Director Guillermo del Toro
Marketing Campaign
The Power Of Myth featurette: A discourse on the use of fairy tale mythology in Pan's Labyrinth
Pan and The Fairies (El Fauno y Las Hadas) featurette: A comprehensive look at the prosthetic and visual effects crafted for the film
The Color and the Shape featurette: Del Toro unravels the intricate color and texture coding present in all his work
The Charlie Rose Show featuring filmmakers Del Toro, Alfonso Cuaron and Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu
DVD Comics: Animated plates present prequel stories for The Giant Toad, The Fairies, Pan and The Pale Man
Director's Notebook
Multi-Angle Storyboard / Thumbnail Compares
VFX Plate Compare: Guillermo Del Toro and The Green Fairy
Galleries: Production Design, DDT Creature Design & Production Scrapbook

Summary:

Panís Labyrinth is one of the best films of last year, and one of the best DVD releases of this year.  You have never seen anything like this movie, and you will absolutely never forget it.

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