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Lost In A Maze Of Spanish

Sunday, December 3, 2006
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Every single thing about this poster is mysterious.

The thing about seeing a great movie for the first time is that it can only be done once. I’ll never get to see Memento fresh again. Same goes for From Dusk Till Dawn and Wayne’s World. That sense of being knocked off your feet by a movie that’s so much better than you could have anticipated never comes back, even if you watch the damn thing another thirty times (which I can verify, at least with the latter two). But I may have found a way to get one more pure viewing out of a movie.

Pan’s Labyrinth is a dark, Spanish-language fantasy film written and directed by Guillermo Del Toro. What’s nice is that this bilingual director, the same guy behind your Hollywood comic book movies Blade 2 and Hellboy, actually wrote the English subtitles that will be released with his film in North America on December 29th.

But I didn’t get to see those English subtitles, because I live in Korea. I wonder if he wrote the Korean subtitles.

The white wizard Falwell warned children against entering the buttcrack tree.

My previous trial in this experiment was fairly successful, I think; I was able to follow The Host well enough to enjoy the monster mashing without ever feeling too lost (how accurate the guesses I did have to make were is still unknown — the Korean DVD with English subtitles comes out December 27th, and that film is set to come out in North America in March). But Pan’s Labyrinth didn’t work out quite as well. I wouldn’t say I was ever confused, but there were plenty of spots where I just had to accept that I wasn’t going to learn why these characters are doing what they’re doing.

Things started off well; figuring out the relationships between characters was easy enough, as was understanding the basic problems they faced. They’re helped by a time period and setting — fascist post-civil war Spain — which are clear and feel authentically reproduced; this shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise to anyone who’s seen Del Toro’s last Spanish film, 2001’s The Devil’s Backbone, which did a similarly fine job with its similar setting, an orphanage in Spain a few years earlier, during the height of the war. But as Pan’s Labyrinth went on, and I started to miss out on more and more of the little details meant to be revealed through conversation, things became muddy.Don't know why she had a moon birthmark. Guess she was the chosen one, or something.

Like The Devil’s Backbone, this is a fantasy film about children, but absolutely not for children. For a while there, in all my ignorance, I wondered if there wasn’t just a bit of childhood pandering in there, the kind of pure wish fulfillment you see in a lot of movies where kids are the heroes because it’s an easy way to make kids love it and thus demand their parents buy them the DVD. It’s got the main little girl, Ophelia (very well played by 12-year old Ivana Baquero), seemingly recruited by mythical creature/god Pan to accomplish some all-important tasks for him. I say “seemingly” not because there’s a twist later on, but because I’m really not sure about that part. I get what tasks Pan wanted her to do, but I have no idea why he wanted her to do them, and it was only after she succeeded and he rewarded her that I understood why she agreed.

But this is most certainly not a “Kid Power!” suck up. It’s far too dark for most parents to bring the young’uns (the cool pSure, his face ain't much, but check out that sweet ass!arents would, or at least the ones who don’t underestimate their offspring — I can see this being one of those movies that scares the shit out of 60% of the kids who see it, and becomes a revelation for the rest) — the fantasy creatures, Pan especially, are just amazing and creepy, the stuff of kiddie nightmares, while the real-world side of things is real-world scary. Del Toro does not soften the images of war and fascism, and I suspect this side of the story would be much harder for a kid to shake.

As for the dialogue of war and fascism, as well as those of fantasy, I really don’t know. To anyone who knows his work, Guillermo Del Toro should already be well-regarded for his visuals — he’s one of the few genre directors who can actually create striking and unique images, instead of just copping something Ridley Scott or John Carpenter came up with two decades ago. But as for his storyteRon Perlman is not in this movie.lling, he’s not so consistent — Hellboy was a big disappointment on that front, even if the characters and performances were great; Blade 2 was good fun but not especially memorable. His best writing thus far has been in Cronos, his 1993 vampire re-invention movie, and even more so in The Devil’s Backbone; both of these are also in Spanish, so that’s a good sign for this film. He also gets bonus points on all fronts for frequently casting Ron Perlman. (Though not in Pan’s Labyrinth. Would it have been better with some Ron Perlman? Name me a movie that wouldn’t.)

Really though, I’m not worried about the story. That which I could decipher is quality and cliche-free, suitably dramatic and emotional without being needlessly complex or bulked up with filler. And even if the story and dialogue turn out to be just okay, I’d say we’ve still got a good film on our hands here. What I can’t say is what kind of lasting impression it will have on me. The problem, or rather my problem, since I’m the only fool who’ll be seeing it this way, is that seeing it without dialogue means I was missing out on a lot of motivation, and that can serve a big hit against the tension of a moment, and the impact of its consequences. If you’re spending as much time figuring out the meaning of a scene as you are absorbing it, you lose some of the effect. And when all is said and done, pretty visions and skilled performances are great, but it’s the emotions of a picture that make it stick. Aside from the awe of seeing these creatures, any moving or dramatic moments were stunted for me, thanks to a pure lack of context.

You know Mr. Glutton, there are children starving in Ethopia's mythic underworld.

While there’s certainly a drawback to seeing a movie where the characters have been reduced to speaking gobbeldygook (at least to my ears), there’s an advantage as well: I will eventually get to see it again. But my second time will be closer to a first time, with all the new information Del Toro’s English subtitles will bestow upon me. In a way, what I saw was something of a 110-minute trailer for Pan’s Labyrinth, a really good trailer on the big screen that showed a lot of tantalizing images without giving away too much of their meaning, leaving me something to excitedly look forward. Does this mean I’d rather see my movies dialogue-free the first time, so that there’s something left in them for the next time? Well, I wouldn’t go that far… laebmada

Name the artist and I'll buy you a taco (in eight months or so).

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. Monday, December 4, 2006 8:48 am

    My aunt and uncle saw this at the Toronto Film Festival, and I think they enjoyed it – but I can’t remember for sure.

    So I guess that was a pretty useless comment. One wonders why I even decided to post it at all.

  2. Monday, December 4, 2006 9:47 am

    You’re desperate for attention. It’s okay, that’s the only reason anyone writes on the internet.

  3. Monday, January 29, 2007 8:49 am

    Just saw this en anglais the other night and it’s quite a powerful experience, granted I was able to read the subtitles and understand what was going on.

    It was more violent and scary then I thought it would be, especially the creepy eye-hand-man – jeepers, if I had seen that when I was a five year old (oh, yeah, did I mention there was a five year old sitting behind me?)I would have run out of the theatre screaming.

  4. Monday, January 29, 2007 9:32 am

    Did the child run out screaming? If not, you’ve just admitted that that child is more of a man than you.

  5. Monday, January 29, 2007 9:37 am

    By the way, nobody’s yet accepted my SECRET CHALLENGE. Why is that? Could it be because it’s a SECRET…?

  6. James17930 permalink
    Monday, January 29, 2007 9:53 am

    Hey guys, what’s up?

  7. Monday, January 29, 2007 9:59 am

    Not much. Just got a nuts-paying new gig. What’s up with you?

  8. Monday, January 29, 2007 10:29 am

    No, the five year old sitting behind me would be more of a man than my five year old self. My 27 year old self could sooo kick his ass.

    Oh, hey James17903.

  9. James17930 permalink
    Tuesday, January 30, 2007 9:45 am

    What is this new gig?

  10. Monday, May 21, 2007 11:37 pm

    SECRET CHALLENGE still stands. Nobody here likes tacos?

  11. James17930 permalink
    Tuesday, May 22, 2007 6:57 am

    I still haven’t read this because I haven’t seen the movie yet, so if the SECRET CHALLENGE is embedded in the text, it is unbeknownst to me.

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