Thursday, February 08, 2007


Written by Fantsma el Rey

Hello, fiends! Fantasma’s back. That’s right; I fell off the wagon for a while but now I’m on track and checking in with a crazy little review for the Oscar-nominated El Laberinto Del Fauno, Pan’s Labyrinth for the English release. With no further ado, a quick rundown of the story…

From the mind of writer-director Guillermo del Toro comes a terrifying tale of hideous monsters and gruesome deeds that only the most warped souls are capable of. And that’s just the role of the military men in dictator Francisco Franco’s 1944 Spain. At the heart of this story is an imaginative young girl who flees to the fairytale world of her mind to escape the horrors that will eventually engulf her.

Isolated in an old mill on a hill, young Ofelia must deal with not only the death of her father, but also the overbearing presents of her stepfather, the iron-fisted Capitan Vidal. As well as her mother’s troubled pregnancy. Let’s not forget the clean-up campaign against local rebels going on around her, which is the reason that the capitan was sent to the area to begin with, eventually sending for his new wife and unborn boy.

Very early into her stay, gunfire, explosions, cruelty, death, and the impending doom of her mother surround Ofelia. There are good people in her life as well, who will contribute to her fantasy with their kindhearted words and actions. Into these surroundings she is thrust and must now somehow cope. So how would any young person with only adults to interact with and a passion for books cope? By seeking refuge in the garden maze and inventing a world of her own, much like the ones that she has read about. Only in this world, she is the princess and heroine.

Large frogs that drain the land of life and baby-eating monsters that have eyes in their hands inhabit Ofelia’s new universe. Most important is the ancient faun (a half-man, half-goat creature, much like the panpipe-playing Greek god, Pan) who sets her on a journey that all heroes know they must face and overcome to be allowed their just rewards. Guided by fairies, she enters the phantom realm in order to fetch and return with the boons that will help her achieve her end goal. All the while the nightmares of war rage around her.

Del Toro has done a masterful job in the writing and directing of this film. The story flows and holds the viewer’s interest from beginning to end; there’s never a dull moment and I’ve seen it twice. His actors are brilliant, bringing his tale to wonderfully horrific life. There are shots that are beautiful; one scene in particular is Ofelia telling her unborn brother a story of the Rose of Life. The camera magnificently enters the world of mystery through the mother’s womb, the first place of magic and awe for us all. Del Toro is definitely on top of his game and shows what a creative mind can do.

What led me to tackle this review is that sadly more than once after watching the film I heard the questions, “…so was it all in her head” and yes, the truly concerning “what the hell was that all about?” Great Googa Mooga, people! Really this one isn’t that hard to figure. Was it in her head? No, it was real! My neighbor used to be a faun and had goat legs when he was a kid. He would send me around kicking light poles to call down spirits. Really, true story.

One could argue either point of reality or fantasy. Yet it is easy to see how and, as explained earlier, why a child could and would dream up this mystic world. Creating a world full of wonder and mystery is easy for a child with imagination and a little space to wander and roam. Trust me I know. When I was young, you could have handed me four sticks and I’d pretend to be anything: a rock ’n’ roll drummer, Roman legionnaire, or mythical hero searching for a dragon called “thoushalt”, but that’s a story that my therapist will have to deal with in my later years. And again, thank the lord I didn’t grow up in some war-infested place like Franco’s Spain or someplace in the Middle East that begins with an “I.” The creative folks out there will pick up on this in a heartbeat. Danny, Cristina, I’m looking at you. And thanks for the intelligent conversation and free tickets to my second viewing of this film.

As far as the “what was that?” question, really have we become that far removed or sunk that low as a movie-watching nation that a fantasy story laid over the atrocities of war is that hard to comprehend? Do the masses no longer take their own experiences to a movie, so that they can apply and interpret a film for themselves? Do we constantly need a director sitting next to us providing commentary? Oh wait; most people don’t even use that feature when they buy a DVD, so it mustn’t be that.

Seriously, I don’t know. Some can see the bigger picture and read between the lines to formulate their own valuable views, opinions, and explanations. I draw hope from the fact that out there on campuses across the nation and in living rooms throughout the land there are young ghoulies who do get it with out having to be spoon-fed. I know a few and God bless ‘em. I’m ramblin’ so…

Yes, I like Pan’s Labyrinth a bunch and recommend it to all. Especially my fellow creepy sorts who adore the things that go bump in the night. See it for yourself and draw your own conclusions as to how Ofelia made her adventures possible.

And a big phantom world of thanks to a certain “rockabilly-philly” who helped ol’ Fantasma find his way back to the creative world of the imaginative pen.