random reviews, recollections & reminiscings

Saturday, February 10, 2007

DVD REVIEW: The Descent (2006) ****

The Descent (2006)

1 hr. 39 min.
R for strong violence/gore and language.
written by: Neil Marshall
produced by: Christian Colson
directed by: Neil Marshall

I made sure I watched this movie in the middle of an afternoon instead of late at night. I knew going in that it could be the type of movie that would send me to bed with the heebie jeebies. The latest trend in suspense and horror movies has not excited me in the least. All I see are countless ripoffs, remakes, and regurgitations of classic and mediocre movies that have already been done. If anything, I've been quite disappointed and disinterested in the popularity and apparent demand for various films depicting graphic decapitations, dismemberment, and mutilations. Thing is, I do like a good scare. I'm more of a "less-is-more" kinda guy. I don't need to see it all to be freaked out but I'll occasionally handle me some gore as long as the plot seems decent enough. Then I remembered this movie that originally came out in the U.K. in 2005 and here in the states in 2006.

One year after a tragic accident, three adventurous girlfriends meet up again to continue their outdoor thrill-seeking ways in a remote part of the Appalachian Mountains for a caving trip. Sarah (Shauna Macdonald), whose life is shattered by the accident, and her friend, Beth (Alex Reid) meet up with their headstrong friend, Juno (Natalie Mendoza) at a cabin outside of their destination. As the unelected leader of the group, Juno has planned out their trip in an effort for them to help Sarah take hold of her life again. At the cabin, they are joined by Juno's young risk-taking protégé, Holly (Nora-Jane Noone), and two sisters, doctor-in-training Sam (MyAnna Buring) and thrill-seeking Rebecca (Saskia Mulder). After spending the night getting to know each other and reminiscing, they drive to the caves the next morning and begin their exploration.

As they spelunk their way deep below the surface of certainty, these six women are faced with facing the unknown below. Disaster strikes when a cave-in blocks their route back to the surface. The girls soon learn that, a misguided effort to bring the group closer together, Juno has brought them to an unexplored cave in the spirit of "claiming it" for themselves. Therefore, no one knows where they are to come rescue them. The group splinters off and each push on, hoping for another exit. They make their way through suffocating crevices as they burrow their to the next unknown cavern. Then, something starts stalking them, crawling around the crevices, blind eyes alive with hunger, toothy maws desperate for human food. As secrets from Sarah and Juno's past percolate below the surface, the threat inside the cave grows frightening – and fatal. It will take everything the ladies have to survive this "Descent" into darkness...and death.

This film is beautifully photographed, loaded with iconic images, and blessed with a level of believability that barely ever ebbs, it's is a well made genre effort. Indeed, it is truly the reference-packed horror highlight reel its director Neil Marshall intended it to be. I had never even heard of the guy and then after reading up on him I see how he has loaded the film with horror favorite homages, from "Deliverance" and "Carrie" to "Aliens" and "The Shining", the British filmmaker, equally famous for his werewolf riff "Dog Soldiers", has crafted an original take on an old formula. Seasoned fear fans will recognize the old dark house motif rather easily, since the vast majority of the movie takes place in a labyrinthine set of caves as perfectly pitch black as a satanic mass. Add in some unspeakably nasty creatures, an overriding sense of foreboding, and some increasing bad blood between the characters, and you've got a recipe for a wonderfully evocative motion picture macabre. Oddly enough, it's an overall atmosphere and ambiance that didn't hit off apparently in theaters. It''s obvious Marshall only meant to give a overall sketch of his adventure gals, I'm sure the quick clip dimensions got lost in all the expansive big screens. Similarly, the director also wanted to push the limits of shadows. He purposefully made the movie as lightless as possible, hoping this would render the suspense more palatable. Unfortunately, the energy saving measures of some theaters rendered the scenes unwatchable.

Shauna MacDonald in Lionsgate Films' The Descent

That's why this works best at home on DVD, especially in a reconfigured print that has much of the arterial spray – and a major subplot – intact. At home, the film finally delivers with the subtlety of certain sequences reborn, and the geyser-like gush of blood filling many of the previous R-rated killings, Marshall's movie shifts from an exercise in dread to a fully realized gruefest. Indeed, the faint of heart should be prepared for the girl's last stand act in all it's gruesome-ness. Although I never saw the U.S cut of this film I can't imagine a more intense, claustrophobic, full-realized horror film than this. With this unrated cut maintaining the original ending (the "non-happy" UK version) and upping the visual amperage a tad, what was seemingly a single light shining into a big black void experience has been rendered far more frightening with just the slightest hints of approaching horror featured alone the fringes of the action. When you add in the increased character dynamic and the lush look of the landscapes, you get a far more compelling cinematic situation.

This movie couldn't be successful without this cast. Instead of going the American route and casting "hotties" to run around half-nekkid, we're given actors that fully realize the headstrong and passionate characters written for them. It's refreshing to see these basically average albeit physically capable women, that could easily be women that you or I could know, take an adventure that tests their friendships, sanity, and survival instincts. I also liked that I felt for these characters but I never really got attached to them. In fact, I started getting suspicious of some of them. To me, that means the actors and the director are succeeding in what they set out to do.

There is real artistry in what Marshall has managed here and I'm lad my viewing was alone at home. Viewed as an inventive psychological thriller, an old dark house spook show, or a post-modern meditation on man vs. nature and the unnatural, "The Descent" deserves the attention of any serious scare fan. While far from a masterpiece, it definitely represents an ingenious and distinctive deviation from your standard horror film.

Special Features:

The DVD has all the necessary bonus features that any fan wishes for – beginning with two full length audio commentaries. First, director Marshall with several of his crew members (including producer Christian Colson, editor Jon Harris, assistant editor Tina Richardson and Production Designer Simon Bowles), and the second features Marshall again with almost all of the female cast (Nora Jane "Holly" Noone, Saskia "Rebecca" Mulder, MyAnna "Sam" Buring, Shauna "Sarah" McDonald, and Alex "Beth" Reid). Making an effort not to repeat himself between the two discussions, the director does a good job of guiding the others through all their anecdotes and insights. The second conversation, given over to lots of jokes and good natured ribbing lets the girls explain their approach to the story. The more "serious" commentary deals with many of the production problems, and how CGI was used to enhance, not replace, the physical feel of the effects. I skimmed through both tracks and from what are heard...they were great terrific and do a good job of filling in details about the film's unique dynamic. Similarly, a 41 minute "Beneath" the Scenes featurette shows the in-studio set construction, the evolution of the crawlers design, and the occasional emergency that required an inventive solution (like the use of a bathtub to create a small pond). In this feature, I found it funny that the director and crew were calling the film "Six Chicks with Picks" during production.

We're also treated to a series of outtakes (mostly hilarious bloopers and practical jokes played on the cast and crew), deleted and extended scenes (almost all dealing with the relationship between the girls prior to entering the cave), a collection of stills and a set of cast and crew biographies. Perhaps the most interesting added feature though is something called "DescENDING" and as the name implies, it deals with the alternative cut of the film. When it first arrived in the UK in 2005, Marshall had created a very dark, disturbing finale that offered little hope for the characters. When it was tested in America, the scene did quite well. But when a truncated version was shown, stopping at a crucial point and suggesting some possibility of optimism for the lead, US audiences really approved. Lionsgate demanded the change, and that's what arrived in theaters back in August. Marshall is on hand to describe the situation, and this nine minute interview offers some interesting facts about the film's many influences (including Terry Gilliam's "Brazil"?) and his feelings about the ending controversy. It's a nice addition to what is already a well supplemented DVD package.

The Skinny:

  • The cast members were taken to a rock-climbing center in Derbyshire to help prepare them for filming.
  • The appearance of the creatures was kept secret from the cast members until the first scene in which they encounter them was filmed. When the cast were finally filming the scene where the girls encounter the crawlers, the girls were genuinely scared and screamed the building down, running off set and laughing.
  • The cave drawings featured rhinoceros. Rhinoceros went extinct in North America during the Pliocene which ended 1.8 million yrs ago. Also, Petroglyphs (cave drawings) have only been found from about 10,000 years ago.
  • The Number 30 bus destroyed at Tavistock Square during the terrorist bombings of London in July 2005 had been carrying a placard on the side advertising the film. The placard featured a bloodied Shauna Macdonald staring out of darkness, and quotes from several positive reviews of the film. Famously, as seen in Mario Rosenberg's award nominated photos of the scene, the half of the placard left undamaged by the blast read "Outright Terror, Bold and Brilliant," a quote from a review by Total Film magazine. Several commentators, including writers for Variety and The Times, remarked on this unfortunate coincidence. Three of the four bombs detonated that day specifically targeted the London Underground transport system, leaving many victims trapped underground for several hours. There were initially concerns that the film, due for release the next day, might have to be delayed for reasons of sensitivity but ultimately Pathé chose to release the film with a slightly retooled marketing campaign. The US promotional campaign, managed by Lionsgate Films, is significantly different from the original European one.
  • This film's North American Poster Art is borrowed from a portrait photograph by Philippe Halsman of Salvador Dali, entitled Salvador Dali In Voluptate Mors. (The photo itself was inspired by surrealist Dali's gouache Female Bodies as a Skull painting) This same imagery was also used for the Silence Of The Lambs poster.

Comingsoon.net's interview with director Neil Marshall, click here
deadcentral.com's interview with director Neil Marshall, click here.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

REEL REVIEW: Letters from Iwo Jima (2006) ****

Letters from Iwo Jima (2006) poster

R for graphic war violence.
2 hrs. 21 min.

written by: Iris Yamashita & Paul Haggis
produced by: Clint Eastwood, Robert Lorenz & Steven Spielberg
directed by: Clint Eastwood

"The life of your father is just like a lamp before the wind."

- a line from a letter written by Lt. Kuribayashi to his son, Taro from Iwo Jima

The only thing I knew about the battle for the occupation of the island of Iwo Jima was the random iconic photograph taken by the late Joe Rosenthal. You know the one. Five American soldiers raised a U.S. flag atop Mount Suribachi on February 24 1945, four days after Marines had landed on the Japanese volcanic island. The black & white photograph showed an assured American history or at least as much as a victory can be portrayed through one photograph. But who were those soldiers lifting that flag and who were the soldiers that defended that island?

These two questions are answered in director Clint Eastwood's two recent films. The first film, "Flags of our Fathers" was released in the U.S. on October 20, 2006 and despite getting decent reviews, did not draw too many people. While "Flags" deals with the lives of the three surviving soldiers from that infamous photo and the media frenzy that followed, "Letters from Iwo Jima" (released in Japan on December 9th and in the U.S. on January 12th) is the story of those unseen Japanese soldiers that tried to hold their land so the Allied forces would not turn it into a base from which they could attack their homeland. The title of the film is derived from the source and inspiration for the story. While making "Flags", Eastwood found out about the piles of unread letters that were discovered by Japanese archivists buried in the caves the soldiers had burrowed in the mountainside. These letters turn out to be the actual framework for this little-known epic.

The best way to handle a war movie is to pick a character or two and take the audience on the same revealing journey as the grim realities of war unfold before them. Eastwood succeeds in doing just that while evoking real emotion at the same time. Although every camera ankle and color saturation is deliberate, no emotional heart-tugging is forced here. The viewer isn't forced to feel for these soldiers or their situation by some syrupy scene or dialogue, but rather the overall poetic delivery of the mood and of the soldiers vivid memories as they write their letters.

The story begins with a young soldier named Saigo (Kazunari Ninomiya), a private in the Imperial Japanese Army, begrudgingly digging trenches on the beach; as far as he is concerned, the Americans can have the island. He's a baker who was forced to leave his wife and unborn child to go to Iwo Jima, he can't see the point in defending a lonely rock so far from home. At the same time, Lt. General Tadamichi Kuribayashi (Ken Watanabe) flies to Iwo Jima via camouflaged plane and meets the other commanders. He sets out on foot with his aide to study the island firsthand and come up with a plan to defend the island against the American invasion. At the same time, the American fleet, stationed at Saipan, is preparing to go north to Iwo Jima. Although there are other characters focused upon, these two soldiers on opposite ends of the ranking scale, have the most interesting, most relatable stories to tell.

When Kuribayashi arrives on the beach, notices his soldiers digging trenches on the beach and orders them to stop; instead, he tells them to burrow fortifications in the higher grounds. He sees Saigo being beaten by his superior officer for uttering unpatriotic statements. He stops the beating, establishing a connection between himself and the lowest man in his ranks and starting a pattern for their future encounters. Saigo is saddled with a duty he didn't ask for, and the General sees it as his counter duty to make sure he gets as many of his men off of Iwo Jima alive as possible. This doesn't sit well with most of the other officers in his employ, who would rather see everyone die with honor than retreat. They don't see the value of living to fight another day.

Ken Watanabe as General Kuribayashi in Warner Bros. Pictures' Letters From Iwo Jima

Characterization is one of the many aspects of this film that was quite refreshing to me. Kuribayashi is portrayed as a man who leads with a quiet, gentle force that is not respected right away by his fellow officers but we see it and so do the lower ranking runts under him. He sees his men as men, not just single-minded, suicide soldiers. We see a lamenting heart as he writes his letters to his son on the mainland telling him of their dire conditions. One of stand-out characters was Officer Nishi (Tsuyoshi Ihara), a tank commander and equestrian Olympic Gold Medalist from the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics. He's and old friend of Kuribayashi and one of his only confidants. Nishi tells him that the prospect of Imperial Japanese Navy sending support and helping them defend the island is pretty bleak seeing that the Japanese Combined Fleet was destroyed at the Battle of Saipan. Upon hearing this, Kuribayashi reflects on his plan to defend Iwo Jima with no outside support, and soon comes to the conclusion that Iwo Jima will be defended until the death.

The rest of the story deals with the varying actions of these soldiers who know they are left for dead on this island. Some soldiers accept their fate and make the difficult decision that it is better to commit suicide then suffer the shame of defeat. Others fight to the death instead of taking their own lives as a more noble way of going out. With either outcome, we see the pressure of war thrust upon these men as a couple of them even opt to surrender. This is the first World War II film that I've seen where the Japanese are depicted as human instead of one-dimensional. There are the old Bugs Bunny cartoons and John Wayne war movies that depict the Japanese as frothing mad kamikaze nutjobs but here we see they have the same fears, doubts, courage and heartbreak as anyone else.

Tsuyoshi Ihara as Baron Nishi in Warner Bros. Pictures' Letters From Iwo Jima

One of my favorite scenes is when Nishi and his troops take in a wounded American soldier. His troops are apprehensive at first due to their dwindling medical supplies. Nishi orders them to take care of him, to treat his wounds and tend to him. Despite their efforts, the American dies, and he eulogizes him by reading a letter the American received from his mother. It's a moving moment as all of the soldiers within earshot slowly pay closer attention to the loving and comforting words of this enemy's mother. They realize that this soldier is not so unlike themselves. He too is loved and is thought of by someone far far away and maybe this is how they will look one day....dead with their loved ones off in the distance somewhere wondering when they'll return. It's scenes like this, shot simply, that are effective without getting overly sentimental.

The talented cast of this film is made up almost entirely of Japanese actors speaking in their native tongue. I'm not gonna go into the specifics of what great actor portrayed which great character here because, although these minor characters are integral, not all of them are as fleshed out and crucial to the story as the two main characters the screenwriters focus on. We do see some of the American soldiers, but the interactions between the two sides on a one-on-one level are limited. None of these soldiers are characters from "Flags", and I applaud Eastwood for avoiding any cameos or convenient crossovers that coulda been done. After all, It woulda been a lil too jarring to see Ryan Phillipe whiz by, taking the viewer outta the film's perspective.

Watanabe is a remarkable screen presence. He reminds me of a classic matinee idol, and Eastwood has made up for Hollywood's indiscretions toward this fine actor by handing him the meatiest role of the movie. His Kuribayashi is an intelligent leader who sees value in strategic planning only if the human factor is given the utmost importance. The story shows how he spent some time in America which make some comrades suspicious, it actually gives him greater insight into what he is up against. Watanabe gives the character the warmth and gravitas with equal measure. The film shows the Kuribayashi doodling in a sketchpad while bombs drop all around, shaking the walls of the underground tunnels the Japanese are holed up in, and it's actually this picture journal that forms the basis of first-time screenwriter Iris Yamashita's script.

Kazunari Ninomiya as Saigo in Warner Bros. Pictures' Letters From Iwo Jima

Perhaps to match the subject matter, Eastwood has given the film a gray, almost sepia tint. The air around everyone looks as if it is heavy with clouds, and it makes it impossible to forget the fate that hangs over them. Yet, the movie never grows so heavy that it buckles under its own furrowed brow. This is because the director, like the General whose story he is telling, never forgets that his movie is about real people. Sure, it's a war movie with plenty of fighting, often with very gory results, but Eastwood makes sure he has time to show quiet character-building moments that matter. Like Kuribayashi sharing a drink with a sympathetic ally Nishi and Saigo swapping stories with his buddies, and even the soldiers laughing and speculating on the strange behavior of their superiors. These scenes break any preconceived stereotype we might have, not just of the Japanese soldiers but of WWII in general. No longer is it possible to portray it as a simplistic conflict where the good side was very, very good and the bad side so very, very bad. Rather, war is complex, dirty, and for the men who do the fighting, it rarely has the clear outcome history memorializes.

By stepping out of the normal boundaries of a WWII movie, Eastwood has found something new to say on the subject. For those out there who ask why we need another movie about the conflict....see this movie. It proves there is still much we have to learn, still stories that haven't been told. That it's done so well and by one of the finest and most daring filmmakers we have is just a bonus.

Either of Eastwood's films can be seen on its own without watching the other. I plan on finally seeing "Flags" when it comes out this week in a bare-bones DVD (I'm sure a special edition will come out once this film, up for a Best Picture Oscar, is released). You'd think cuz I was an extra in "Flags" I woulda got free tiks, but, ah well. But, I have a feelin' "Flags" may suffer a lil in my eventual review because I can certainly attest that this film is a masterpiece. I dunno how many people are wanting to see this movie, I'm hoping everyone cuz that's who I'd recommend it to. This harrowing "other side of the story" not only honors the memory of these soldiers but manages to see beyond any genre as it gives a quiet intimacy and beauty to a grim and bloody battle.

The Skinny:

  • The film was originally entitled "Red Sun, Black Sand."
  • Although the film is set in Japan, it was filmed primarily in Barstow and Bakersfield in California. Filming in California wrapped on April 8, and the cast and crew then headed back to the studio for more scenes before a quick 1-day trip to Iwo Jima for some on location shots. The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) operates a naval air base in the island, which is used by the United States Navy for operations such as nighttime carrier landing practice. Civilian access to the island is restricted to those attending memorial services for American and Japanese fallen soldiers. The location was used under a special permission from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government.
  • Filming finally wrapped in late 2006.
  • Kazunari Ninomiya (Saigo) is better known as a pop music star, part of the group Arashi. Letters is only his fourth motion picture and the first aimed at an international audience.
  • Although they were filmed back to back, none of the cast from this film appears in "Flags of Our Fathers", and vice versa. None of the cast members even met each other from each film. The only cast member to be in both films comes in the flame throwing figure of Chuck Lindberg (Allasandro Maestrobuono). He advances on a bunker with a flamethrower. The members of the casts of both films have met, though never officially presented together, as there many commonalities between the casts in the acting community.
  • Watanabe read actual letters sent by Imperial Japanese Army Gen. Tadamichi Kuribayashi to his family from Iwo Jima while preparing for his role. Eastwood has always surrounded himself with the same talented and resourceful film crew in his film directing. He has kept the same cinematogrpaher (Tom Stern), editors (Joel Cox & Gary Roach), production designer (Henry Bumstead), and casting director (Phyllis Huffman). This would be the last film Eastwood would work on with Bumstead (died on May 24, 2006) and Huffman (died on March, 2, 2006).

Sunday, February 4, 2007

REEL REVIEW: Pan's Labyrinth (2006) ****

Pan's Labyrinth (2006) poster

R for graphic violence and some language.
2 hrs.
written by: Guillermo del Toro
produced by: Alfonso Cuaron, Bertha Navarro II & Guillermo del Toro
directed by: Guillermo del Toro

Once upon a time, fairy tales were told to children as they still are today. The stories, often immersed in fantasy, were passed down from generations to teach them some lesson about life. These fairy tales had a lot more faith in kids than we do now. The writers of these stories would give a darker and sinister tone, with grotesque imagery and real moral lessons. They knew that kids like to be scared, and they aren't as fragile as we pretend they are now as we tell them "nicer" stories to make them feel safer. Writer & director Guillermo del Toro knows this and wrote a beautiful story that is frightening and harsh yet enchanting and mesmerizing that can be deemed....classic.

This film is reminiscent of the stories I was exposed to as a child or rather how they were originally introduced. Creepy stories like "Alice in Wonderland", "Little Red Riding Hood" and "The Wizard of Oz" have been watered-down by contemporary culture, Disney and adults in an effort to make them more kid-friendly. The bravery, stubbornness, and resilience of children have often been discounted in these edited "children" stories. Children often remain merely tolerated, with their thoughts and words discounted. del Toro's uncompromising fairy tale is one for adults yet the film's protagonist and imaginative host is a lonely 11 year-old girl. His original story is as dark and twisted, and thus just as magical, as those classic tales. He has made a scary and wondrous fantasy film seen through the eyes of a child, and it should enchant and frighten any adult who sees it.

Ivana Baquero in Picturehouse's Pan's Labyrinth
Shot entirely in Spanish with English subtitles, the film takes place in the forests of Spain circa 1944. At the tail end of the Spanish Civil War. Franco is in power, and his troops are destroying the last of the resistance. Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) lost her father, a tailor, in the war and finds comfort in the world of fairy tale books she carries with her. She's traveling with her downcast mother, Carmen (Ariadna Gil, "Belle Epoque"), who remarried a sadistic solider, Captain Vidal (Sergi López, "Dirty Pretty Things"), to the fascist outpost he commands in the forest. An outpost that sits right next to an ancient and mysterious stone labyrinth. Carmen's due to give birth to Vidal's son soon and he has her move near him more so out of concern for his heir rather than his wife or her child. The egotistical Vidal is preoccupied as he tangles with a band of guerillas hiding in the mountains who are doing their best to overthrow his tyrannical rule.
Their first night in the moaning, creaky old house Ofelia clings to her mother in bed as her unborn brother restlessly kicks. Upon her mother's request, Ofelia tells her brother a story in an effort to calm his nerves (and give her something to do instead of being spooked out). She rests her head on Carmen's belly and begins her story as del Toro takes us to see a calm fetus basking in an glowing orange amniotic suspension. She tells him of a rare and beautiful night-blooming blue rose that at one time grew on a mountaintop (apparently similar to Meconopsis) surrounded by poisonous thorns that made its mysterious beauty-and properties of immortality-inaccessible. del Toro then pans the camera to the right and we see the rose and the mountain. Then it descends among twisted branches and where a mantislike insect (that Ofelia had encountered in the forest on the way to the outpost) is shone in the foreground. The insect flutters away as the camera flies with it, passing the moon and landing on the window sill of the room Ofelia and her mother are resting.
This scene is just a sample of what del Toro does with this story throughout the entire movie. He creates an fluid composition that has both grace and complexity with a seamless that flows in and out of reality so well you feel like you are watching an eery magical symphony. The rest of the movie unfolds with ghastly sights and deflating heartbreaks as both the story of Ofelia's labyrinth encounter and the resistance to Vidal's troops run so effortlessly and eloquently concurrent.
For Ofelia, this new home is both a blessing and a curse. She is not fond of the man her mother wants her to call "father," but she is immediately intrigued by the old stone labyrinth in the forest behind Vidal's fort. Though the dutiful maid Mercedes (Maribel Verdú, "Y tu mamá también") warns her not to go inside but obstinate Ofelia is lured their by a small fairy. It is that she meets the faun Pan (Doug Jones, "Hellboy") as he tells her that his name, "only the wind and the trees can pronounce. It's difficult to figure out Pan right away. He's both creepy in appearance and intriguing in personality. Ofelia is not phased by his presence at all. It's almost as if she is already so absorbed in her fairy tale world that this contorted tree trunk man with the head of a goat doesn't effect her in the least bit. He tells her that she is a long lost princess has finally come to return to her kingdom in another form. All she has to do is complete three magical tasks. He gives her a magic book whose blank pages will reveal her missions to her when she is alone.
None of Ofelia's tasks are simple and all have real consequences when done incorrectly. She has to learn to follow directions completely and without question both in the magical realm and the real world. Naturally, when Ofelia sneaks off to battle a magic toad, she is going to get in trouble for disappearing, especially when she returns covered in mud and toad spit. Carmen's pregnancy is making her sick, and so disobedience isn't going to be tolerated. Meanwhile, the unreasonable Vidal is seeing that the fighting with the resistance is getting out of control. Something that his ego cannot handle or tolerate. His outbursts get more and more violent and he becomes even more insensitive to Carmen's health. If she dies, that's just collateral damage, and woe to Ofelia if that happens.
del Toro gives his audience two different worlds in this fantastic film. First, the reality of the brutal backdrop of the Civil War. He doesn't shy away from the killing that keeps the wheels of battle turning, and there are many gruesome scenes that will make even the most iron-stomached gore junkies cringe. The second world is Ofelia's fantasy kingdom. The adults never see what the young girl is going through, and part of the experience of "Pan's Labyrinth" is questioning whether Ofelia is really witnessing magic or if these scenarios are just the escape hatch she goes through to get away from her cruel stepfather and the war-ravaged world. Either way, her fantasies bite back. Pan almost plays as a doppelganger for Vidal when he loses his temper over the girl's mistakes. Survival on either side of the reality line also requires sacrifice, and Ofelia is going to learn some real lessons about what that means. She learns not only the repercussions of not following instructions, and the heavy prices there are to pay for disobedience but also to trust on her own instincts about right and wrong no matter what is asked of her. They are hard lessons to learn and each time her character is fatally tested as she learns who she really is.
Regardless of which explanation you choose to believe, the spell of this movie is irresistible. Guillermo del Toro has written a multi-layered tale that will scare you, delight you, and keep you precariously poised on the edge of your seat. You'll cringe, but you won't want to look away lest you miss a frame of his gorgeously crafted alternate dimension. For the two hours the film runs, the director reminds adults of what it's like to believe so thoroughly in your own imagination that anything is possible, while also reminding us that real heroism is fraught with human error and bought at a real price. Like the titular labyrinth, any adventure has a lot of twists and turns on its way to fulfillment. Sometimes the turns may be wrong and in others they are triumphantly right, but there's always something worth discovering in that journey just around the corner.
Interview with Guillermo del Toro here
The Skinny:
  • The film's composer Javier Navarette built the entire soundtrack for Pan's Labyrinth around a simple lullaby tune in the film. Del Toro insisted that Navarette's entire score, much of which was omitted during editing, be included on the album.
  • 'Guillermo Del Toro' is famous for compiling books full of notes and drawings about his ideas before turning them into films, something he regards essential to the process. He left years worth of notes for Pan's Labyrinth in the back of a cab, and thought it was the end of the project. However, the cab driver found them and, realizing their importance, tracked him down and returned them at great personal difficulty and expense. Del Toro was convinced that this was a blessing and it made him ever more determined to complete the film.
  • Doug Jones had worked with del Toro before on "Mimic" and "Hellboy", and says the director sent him an email saying "You must be in this film. No one else can play this part but you". Jones read an English translation of the script and was enthusiastic but then found out the film was in Spanish, which he did not speak. Jones says he was "terrified" and del Toro suggested using a voice over actor to dub over him later, or learning Spanish phonetically, but Jones rejected both ideas preferring to learn it himself. He said "I really, really buckled down and committed myself to learning that word for word and I got the pronunciation semi right before I even went in", using the five hours a day he spent getting the costume and make-up to practice the words.
  • Del Toro decided afterwards that he still preferred to dub Jones with the voice of "an authoritative theatre actor", but Jones's efforts remained valuable because the voice actor was able to easily match his delivery with Jones's mouth movements.
  • Indianapolis, IN, native, Jones was the only American on the set and the only one who didn't speak Spanish.
  • It took five hours for Doug Jones to get into The Pale Man costume and once he was in it, he had to look out the nose holes to see where he was going.
  • Doug Jones had to memorize not only his own lines in Spanish (a language he does not speak) but also Ivana Baquero's (Ofelia) lines so he knew when to speak his next line. The servos in the head piece that made the facial expressions and ears move were so loud, he couldn't hear her speak her lines.
  • Received 22 minutes of applause at the Cannes Film Festival.
  • Became the first Fantasy film ever in being nominated in the Best Foreign Language Film category at the Oscars.
  • The faun's legs were not computer-generated. Guillermo del Toro created a special system in which the actor's legs puppeteered the faun's fake ones. The actor's legs were later digitally removed.
  • This film was banned in Malaysia by Malaysia Censorship Board for excessive violent scenes.
  • After the first week movie theaters in Mexico had to place signs over the movie posters warning about the graphic violence as parents kept taking small children to watch it.
  • The ruined town seen during the opening sequence of the film is the old town of Belchite, which was also used by Terry Gilliam for The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988), The town was destroyed during the Spanish Civil War and never rebuilt .
  • The film was released in the U.K. on November 24th, 2006 and later in the U.S. on December 29th, 2006
  • It has already won many film awards, such as:
  • Mexico's entry to Academy Awards, on the category of Best Film in a Foreign Language (2006)
  • Currently has 6 Academy Award nominations:
    • Best Foreign Language Film
    • Best Original Screenplay
    • Best Music (score)
    • Best Cinematography
    • Best Art Direction
    • Best Make-Up

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