Outstreched arm

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Pan's Labyrinth is a ridiculously dumb movie

I love a good fairy tale, and I love FX fests even if the visual candy comes at the expense of storyline, acting, and plain old sense-making (I'm looking at you, Argento, you goofball). Gritty, realistic dramas often purposefully dumb down the visuals to play up the story, so visually-centered films should be able to mirror that and grungify the narrative. I mean, look at Antonioni.

But wait, none of this has anything to do with Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth. The previews sure made it seem like a fantastic extravaganza of fauns, fairies, labyrinths, and, umm, ok miscellaneous other magical entities and settings. Not only is it not that; it's dumb, bewildering, frustrating, and entirely devoid of wonder.

It features two story lines: in the real world - Spain, 1944 - a remarkably unremarkable girl called Ofelia moves with her pregnant mother to a military outpost in the woods, run by The Captain (of general Franco's Generic Sadistic Assholes forces). Ofelia attempts to escape the harsh realities of World War II by fantasizing away into a labyrinth - I mean a book - I mean a door in her wall - oh what the hell, just arbitrary fairy tale locations. We are treated to a few brief (and disjointed) excursions to this underworld, which make up some sort of series of tasks for Ofelia, though the rules and motivations behind it all are, shall we say, hazy.

That's it for the magic - really. She gets a key from a toad, a knife from behind a lock, and eats grapes she was clearly instructed not to touch, a pointless rebellion for which she gets chased by a cool-looking but ultimately harmless geriatric monster. Lesson learned?

A good eighty percent of the movie, however, consists of The Captain dealing with resistance fighters in the nearby woods while announcing menacingly at every occasion his intent to merely harvest Ofelia's mother for a proud male offspring. As muddy a villain as he is, The Captain is played with gusto, and del Toro's background in horror film comes out quite clearly here. Scenes of physical and psychological violence are imagined masterfully and rendered in exquisite detail. Scenes of normal human interaction and all attempts at levity - eh, not so much.

It breaks down like this: most of the movie is a depressing, emotionally and historically childish war story full of plot holes. The little bits of fantasy are more confusing than enchanting; too short to have an effect, too arbitrary and too removed from the rest of the movie's world to even register emotionally. Remember how in Wizard of Oz the fantasy mirrored the real world? That was a tad cheesy, but it worked like gangbusters. There's not even an attempt at connecting anything in Pan's Labyrinth - really, if you can find some analogy, metaphor, or message here, do let me know.

Also, I'm not trying to spoil anything, but don't bring kids to this one - the ending is just awful, and not because this is an "adult fairy tale." (shame on you, Ebert). Oh no, adults should hate it too, for much deeper reasons.

What a failure. It's a very oddly executed movie, ranging in badness from lame to dumb to offensive, but mostly it's just silly, and not likeably so. For god's sake, there's very little Pan and NO labyrinth in Pan's Labyrinth. Yeesh.

P.S. Christa pointed out that perhaps there was an attempt at a parallel between The Captain's "just following orders", as described by The Doctor, and Ofelia's refusal to do so. If so, it's an appropriately clownish link. The Captain does not seem to be following any orders. He's a free-spirited villain, "with no one above him." And if you've seen the movie, remember Ofelia's prize for not obeying the evil - I mean good - I mean evil - faun? Yeesh again.

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There are 28 Comments:

Anonymous Greg Stewart said...

Excellent (witty, insightful, well written) review, Neven. I can't specifically counter any of your arguments, except that there is a labyrinth. Not very important to the plot, but it's there. Generally, I thought it was an overrated action movie that people have tried to put too much meaning into. I love your comment about the capitan announcing it's all about the fetus whenever possible. His character was exceedingly simple. How much can you really learn from a movie in which the world is so black and white? Having said all that, I was entertained. Good gore (which you concede with eloquence) and cool monsters, magic, etc. The lack of coherence in the mystical half, I think, can be explained by the fact that it comes from a girl's imagination. A girl that is currently in a world in which she has no control nor understanding.

12:35 PM  
Blogger Neven said...

I'm starting to see something here, I think: maybe this is not a fantasy set in the real world. Maybe it's an attempt at serious drama (a very failed attempt, of course) with fantastical elements thrown in haphazardly, as you say, to illustrate how a basically uninteresting girl like Ofelia handles the drama. But the movie surely can't make up its own mind about any of it - what's with the five-pronged ending? Who is narrating what, to whom, and at what point in the story? The only sensible explanation is that we, the viewers, are being told the fairy tale - to be calmed down, I suppose. I'm more and more happy with my choice of adjective: ridiculous.

12:43 PM  
Anonymous Greg said...

I came back to the site to add a point I meant to say on the first post: I liked the ending.

SPOILER ALERT!!!

I like that it is uncompromising in portraying the cruelty of war. This is possibly the most important theme of the movie and I suppose a big reason that critics bestow so much meaning upon it. War is hell. There is a major war going on. The movie is relevant! I kid, but it's kind of true. "War is so cruel that it is almost never justified" is a message that has been said a million times, but apparently a lot of (voting) people still don't get it. But I digress: the little girl is killed (that's the uncompromising part) and as she dies she falls into the fantasy world. To go out on a limb, the ending spoke to the very purpose of being. We are all going to die. If she were happy thinking that she was going into her world to be a princess and all the other stuff, was it really a sad ending? What do you mean by "five pronged ending"? What about the narration don't you understand? It's third person omnipotent, I believe, with that omnipotence extending to the fantasy world. Furthermore, where is your brother!? How can he stand by and let you slam a movie that he loved!?

12:57 PM  
Blogger Neven said...

Here's what I meant about the ending:

So the girl dies. Yuck, and a yuck made greater by the fact that I didn't even care much by that point. Then we see her in the fantasy world where she's crowned Princess of something-or-the-other. Okay, yay. Then back to her bleeding body. Boo. Then the fairy tale wraps up - what's that now? Her vision? The movie's? Mine? Whaaa? To paraphrase: "And she left signs in the world for those who could see them." A flower blooms. The hell is that about now?

I heard someone else say that the movie was relevant to the modern world - complete poppycock, that. World War II relates very vaguely to the wars of today, and if any account of it presents that relation well, it's certainly not this, since it gets both WWII and The Axis of Evil so, so wrong. Here we have a freewheeling commander dude committing pigheaded sadism for cartoonish reasons. In the real world, we have... please don't say George W. He's the village idiot, not the ranch lord.

I think you make a much stronger point here than Pan's Labyrinth ever does: "If she were happy thinking that she was going into her world to be a princess and all the other stuff, was it really a sad ending?"

Yes! And here's why: within the mini-world that is Pan's Labyrinth we are given numerous perspectives, and Ofelia's was for me the one I could least identify with. So the fact that she gets to enjoy a brief happy dream as she bleeds away is quite minute in its effect when we've just seen heaps of torture, killings, and senseless violence (from the bad guys AND the good guys!)

Another lesser point: The Captain's shooting of Ofelia is hardly a portrayal of the cruelty of war. For me, that sentiment was stronger when The Captain got shot! His torrential evil is individual and psychological, not interpersonal and social (which is what "the evil of war" should speak on). It's about him, not about the human condition.

1:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What the fuck?

it was nominated for 6 academy awards, 8 goya awards, over a hundred others, annd it's on over 130 criticts top 10 lists.

6:30 PM  
Blogger Neven Mrgan said...

*The English Patient* won 9 Oscars, dude.

11:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are probablyy one of the stupidest peoplee ever. This is a great movie and it deserved every award it got. You must have no imagination or LIFE if u think this is a dumb moviee.
It's one of the best movies around and if you don't know that by now, you dont deserve me to explain all the reasons its so great to you because you will neverrr understand.
I'd like to see you write and produce a better movie than this...then we'll see whose movie is "ridiculously dumb".

11:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ur a ffat and old and stupid and a cunt adn teh dumbest ever

10:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your a stupid FUCK, do the world a favour and tie yourself to a rabid dog.
We don't want you to die, we want you to suffer, your FAT, your HOMOSEXUAL, and like BLACK COCK.

Why dont you stab your eyes and then watch the movie?
You could mabey then see how good it is.
Chop your dick off because it is worthless to anyone and everyone. The woman you will ever get is a transexual iraqi woman who was blinded by a rebel, deafned by a bomb shell and nerves shot by the relentless beatings.

Do ou see the message in my speech? Write a blog about it, cry at sleep and eat more cupcakes u fucker.

Satan looks down upon ur soul with disgust, because even he knows pans labrinth was one of the greatest movies of reality and imagination.

p.s FUCK YOU, YOU FUCKING FUCKER

10:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is one of the most underated movies, not only of our generation, but of all time. It is uterly flawless. It is inspiring and imaginative, and, like pulp fiction amongst other movies, every scene is a classic and keeps you wanting more. You people who criticize it need to find a new profession or hoppy, because it is as good a movie as has ever been made, citizen cane or godfather, bar none.

3:10 AM  
Anonymous H J said...

You mean you didn't draw the link to fascism in both the surreal and real storylines? It was kind of screaming you in the face...the blind following of orders in the quest for glory, without care for the lives that you take on the road to power? The little girl was the example of how to triumph over dictatorial rule, by refusing to sacrifice even one drop of blood from her brother, she played her part in overthrowing the fascist mentality.

It's really not that big a leap of interpretation. If anything, I would be inclined to suggest your post is particularly uninformed and recalcitrant.

8:10 PM  
Blogger achin said...

most overrated movie. it was watched coz it has 8.4 at imdb.

but their are other good movies (thousands of them)but y dis movie is a cult?

really tryin to find a gud explaination (like donnie darko has) otherwise dis movie is bogus.

2:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i JUST watched this.. and i guess it was....

um... yeahh
some pan.. no labyrinth..
ending was pointless

this movie is freaking EMO

3:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are all idiots. This is one of the most creative films ever.

2:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

right...... they created a massively disturbing waste of time

6:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To whoever mentioned The English Patient, like it was a bad movie but still won Oscars, you're a tool, 'nuff said about that.

I suspect most of you in here, spewing hate at what is a brilliant story about a young girl's fantasy escape from the realities of Fascist rule in Spain (NOT actually WWII as the reviewer, in his ignorance of history, claims), would be into uber-pretentious drama that offers nothing except a glimpse of how far up its own arse it is. French films are brilliant for that.

I also notice that none of you are out making movies, so I can only surmise that that you're all fat, bearded, WoW-addicted losers who have too much free time on their hands and watch way too many movies, thereby leading you to believe that you actually know something about them.

3:24 PM  
Anonymous Supesadilla said...

The dumbest review indeed. What you said prove that you didn't get the movie at all. Did you at least watch the making-of? Bet not. You think a film must have a very deep 'meaning' or 'message' to be considered great; I suppose you'll find many contemporary artworks ridiculous too. You imply that the film would be better if there're more magic stuff -- that just proves how superficial and stupid you are. You define what a good 'fantasy movie' should contain, then you define "Pan's Labyrinth" as a 'fantasy movie', and because it does not contain what you think a good 'fantasy movie' should contain, you conclude that it's not a good movie. It doesn't take much IQ to realise how stupid your logic is.

Being dumb is okay, but dumb people acting cocky just piss me off.

8:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your review is incomplete because I believe you failed to recognize some of the parallels drawn between some of the characters in the fantasy realm and reality. And to start off so Movie was written in Spanish so the real title is, "El laberinto del fauno" Or "The Faun's Labyrinth" in English, so being frustrated about there being no Pan is just plain silly.

There are several correlations between Ophelia and Mercedes. The similarities in the tasks Mercedes completes for the Rebels and the tasks assigned to Ophelia by the Faun are pretty obvious if you think about it. The first task for Ophelia was to retrieve the key from the toad destroying the tree. That sounds familiar to Mercedes getting the key for the padlock for the supplies. And that toad? That sounds like the cruel Vidal. I don't want to spoon feed the entire movie to you so I'd suggest watching the movie again while paying special attention to Ophelia and Mercedes and the jobs and tasks they complete.

Based on your opinion or point of view there are several ways to interpret this movie; Ophelia's imagination, reality, etc. But I believe there are subtle hints that point to a particular explanation, but I'll let everyone decide for themselves.

So I suggest revisiting this film because I feel you missed almost everything the film was getting at. The film raises some interesting questions and is, IMO, a great film visually and mentally stimulating. There are reasons so many critics and film enthusiasts have this ranked so high on their respective lists.

3:12 PM  
Blogger Sysha said...

I agree with most of what Nevan said. All the people going *BUT IT WON 6 OSCARS* need to stfu. The storyline was shit. All it was was: cliched beginning, chiched story (think Narnia, Spirited Away etc), Absolute pointless randometry, queer protagonist too old to get away with being stupid,, ambush, chaos chaos chaos, CGI, torture, gunfire Random quest time... and repeat the cycle.
Definitely not worth all the acclaim. At best, it was above average, and new in the sense that the Title character was unlikeable and disconnected from the viewer till the very end.

4:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I could not agree more with your analysis! I wanted to enjoy this movie so much, and I was so horribly disappointed. I understand the attempts at symbolism. They don't work for me. It really seemed like just a poor "war is awful" movie. Far too many clich├ęs and illogical changes between the fantasy and the "real life" scenes. The general was despicable, but mostly just because he was a very poorly written character.

In short, thank you for confirming that I'm not the only one who saw this movie for the crap-tastic ego-stroking it is. Del Toro is quickly becoming one of my least favorite directors.

5:43 AM  
Anonymous shear the sheeple said...

Good review. It's refreshing to see someone looking beyond the veneer of this film. The rabid sheeple will gnash their teeth at the mention that it is anything less than a masterpiece.

4:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pan's Labyrinth (Life is Beautiful meets The NeverEnding Story) just beat Crash as the most overrated film I have ever seen. I'm not saying it was bad (a 7/10 for me given the budget) but the level of acclaim it received boggles me. Of the many bones I have to pick I must at least mention that 1) Ophelia was so dumb and delusional she deserved to be shot and 2) the real-life/fantasy correlations weren't THAT clever. I'm convinced the foreign language aspect pushed this movie to the perch its at now.

2:57 AM  
Blogger sangfroid said...

Couldn't agree more...This movie is an insult to anyone's intelligence. I watched this movie after hearing rave reviews everywhere. Ultimately it turned out to be rubbish (I don't even want to start explaining why). And to add insult to injury, the rating on IMDB is way more than this movie deserves & making me & you a minority

7:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In other words, what the pro Pan Labyrinth idiots are saying is that this movie is good because it relates to very few people (Fascist Spain) and a storyline that despite being confused, lacking in logic and completely random at times, is actually good because there are similarities between ophelia and mercedes and it shows the struggle between facism and blah blah blah blahh. Two words - Fuck you.

The movie itself IS shit. There is not logical story to it. A movie has a plot and that's what people expect. They don't expect some directors/script writers ramblings and artsy fartsy portrayal of fascism etc. This movie is just a pile of shit that can be interpreted 10 different ways but has no real meaning in itself as far as coherent, logical plot is concerned.

Fucking fail

9:35 AM  
Anonymous M.S. said...

So I'm not crazy after all. I've seen many interesting movies depicting World War II, or in some way linking to WWII on some level. And I must say, this one is certainly not one of them. It's very strange though: I like films with references to historical events and I love fantasy movies. So I should love this movie! However, the movie is so ridiculous in its plot, characters and choice of art style, that I feel like I'm not only watching a failure of a movie, but also the failure of film society, looking at how high the critics did actually rate this film.

It looks like if you make a film that fits well into very delicate topics that have huge impact on people, you are certain to get an Academy Award these days. And you'll get it if your movie is great, but also if it's really really bad. Topics of choice include the World Wars and cruelty related to those times, praising the actors and glorifying the movie industry and any drama with topic interesting for wide public. And I wonder, do people sit in front of TVs wondering why these movies got all those awards and then do they decide to switch their opinions to those of critics, "because the critics know their stuff"?

And it's a real shame. In my opinion, any movie about World War I or II should be handled with great care and thought. Seeing a movie like Pan's Labyrinth makes me really sad that we couldn't make a better monument for people who struggled in those times. Because I think this is what a great WWII movie should be: an acknowledgement, a monument, that anyone can watch and think about. This film however is a total disaster in that respect.

7:01 PM  
Blogger Nye Regno Draed said...

The plot holes of this movie:
-When Ofelia draws the chalk for the second time....what the hay happens? Does everything reset (what??!), and if so, what's to prevent her stupid rebellious spirit from eating a second time? If everything doesn't reset, then how does she get past that dangerous creature?
-She says her mother is her mother and her father is her father. If the fantasy story is true [as proved by the Chalk escape, since the door was locked and the Captain's men made it impossible to escape without magic], then wouldn't she have to be, I don't know, adopted by her mother and father? Wouldn't she know? Or would her memory be so much hard-reset that she's basically a baby and just accepts them as mother and father?

Nevertheless, this movie is quite good in my opinion. There was really nothing off with everything in this movie, and it does manage to show that the war was terrible. It's only that the movie directors didn't want it to be a straight-forward basic copy of Grave of the Fireflies. It could be powerful but in Grave, EVERYONE died. They can only afford the doc and Ofelia's death in this movie. They wanted to contrast it, and the magic brings a really nice addition. In my opinion, the bittersweet ending is stronger than the tragic ending or the classic happy-ever-after ending.

7:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with the article. PL was shit. It had a meandering plot, a cartoonish villain, his moronic wife, and her equally moronic child. The dialogue? Shit. Plot? arbitrary shit. The cinematography? Boring. I exhaled in relief when the cartoon villain shot Ofelia in the head. Good, now I can fucking leave. God, you can just sex up the visuals nowadays, and fucking morons will come out and praise it like it's a Stanley Kubrick film. Fuck that.

Del Toro is the most overrated director in history. He has no idea how to tell a fucking story, and his style is goddamn boring. He has nothing new to say, AT ALL. And he can't write for shit. Even goddammn Kubrick knew to hire writers for his films.

9:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

PL is the type of film that drives filmmakers learning the craft insane. The script is so fucking horrendous, yet it is praised. The visuals are nothing more than something from a Sade music video, and yet it is praised. The characters and plot are stale, boring, and random, but yet it is praised. So if I just write a shitty script that has no plot, that's okay now?

9:55 AM  

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