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The Best of 2006: 'Pan's Labyrinth'

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Pan's Labyrinth

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This is a great Spanish-made period piece and fairy tale directed by Guillermo Del Toro of Hellboy, The Devil's Backbone, and Cronos, chronicling the journey of a young girl descending into a hellish and yet beautiful world that parallels the real life hell of fascist Spain. Going back to his original interest in fables, Del Toro paints an incredible world underneath our own where fairies disguise themselves as insects, mystical guardians look like trees and hidden evils look like twisted nightmares of our own reality.

Young Ofelia, a lover of fairy tales herself, discovers from these ancient Spanish spirits that she is the reincarnated soul of the princess of the Underworld and that the time has arrived for her to return home, but in order to this—she must complete three tasks to prove her original immortality. The completion of these tasks feels much like a children's game, unlocking secrets to an exciting, giant puzzle where the rewards both excite and terrify at the same time. Ofelia breaks rules and sneaks out of her pregnant mother's sight in order to find the truth behind her origin, but like any great fairy tale, the villain is a force of nature. In this case, the force of nature is not magical, but a Franco-regime Captain that forces rigid, uncompromising control on the entire area and the families that live nearby. For him to discover that a little girl is attempting to break his timely rules (his control is repeatedly shown within the visual motif of his father's pocket watch, purportedly to have been killed at a specific time), so his perfectionism in erasing the past to fit his perception is the complete opposite of Ofelia's immense, innocent desire to discover a world beyond the world created by violent humans.

The fantasia consists of Del Toro's greatest talents: the ability to show lifelike creatures (accomplished through wonderful puppetry and special effects make-up; akin to the world of Jim Henson and Stan Winston) and rooms that look ancient to human eyes and yet alien in origin. The film is intriguing for its Rated R nature in that the human scenes are particularly violent in its graphic battery of people in comparison to the crosscut fantasy sequences, which are more terrifying to a child for its sense of unknown. The icing to this cake is the wonderful often-sung score written by Javier Navarrette that feels like a lost tune that can only be remembered by those who used to live in the labyrinth of the Faun. The imagery of the Doug Jones' satyr Faun and his easily misunderstood suspicious personality, and the horrifying Pale Man (also played by Jones) are probably the most famous images of the entire film and will continue to haunt and enchant audiences for years. This is, without a doubt, one of Del Toro's best films of his career.

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