I had the great pleasure of attending a screening of Guillermo Del Toro�s new film, �Pan�s Labyrinth�, last Friday evening. The Hollywood horror/fantasy/sci-fi film community is a pretty tight knit group so I wasn�t too surprised to see quite a few of my industry friends there. My profuse thanks go to Frank Darabont for arranging this event.
I was particularly eager to see Guillermo�s latest film because a) I worked on it; and b) it recently received the longest standing ovation (22 minutes!) ever celebrated by any film in the history of the Cannes Film Festival.
My work on the film was fairly minimal and produced very early on during the film�s pre-production period. I drew and painted the first basic design of the movie�s main set, a large Basque-style Spanish bodega with an ominous tower.
I also created the initial design point of departure for the film�s title character with different views of the faun�s body and countenance.
I designed a stone frog covered in mysterious runes and raised markings. This evolved into a similar creature featured in one of the most bizarre sequences in the movie.
Finally, I created a strange creature that did not make it to the final cut in its original form. It was a wispy, child-like spirit with large luminous eyes dominating a very soft almost fetus-like face. Its body was formed by a delicate cobweb of nerves. The thing had impossibly fragile and delicate limbs with elongated spidery fingers. Its benign appearance ended, though, when it opened its mouth. If you were unfortunate enough to venture too close to the spirit its mouth opened up and a vein-covered horse skull shot out of its maw — most likely snapping your head off.
As bizarre and original as this concept of Guillermo�s was, he came up with a creature even more amazing and visually inventive to replace it. I think it will go down in cinema history as one of the most original (and creepiest) fantasy creatures ever created for film. I wish it had been my idea!
So — how was the film?
Allow me to give you my opinion (without spoiling any of the film�s many surprises).
�Pan�s Labyrinth� is a gem — a personal masterpiece. It is an apotheosis to Guillermo�s career. The film contains elements from all of his previous films (even “Mimic”), yet their presentation in �Pan�s Labyrinth� is seamless and always meaningful. There are light and dark echoes of �Alice in Wonderland�, �Peter Pan� and the more frightening tales of the Brothers Grimm within the movie. The film resonates with those touchstone fantasy stories while at the same time claiming its own turf in that genre and remaining refreshingly original.
The movie is a study in contrasts: horrific violence is followed by delicate-as-gossamer enchantments. Fairy fantasy alternates with brutal reality. Tenderness is Guillermo�s yin to the bludgeoning cruelty of his yang.
The cinematography is as richly artful, as painterly and as magical as the best late 19th century children�s book illustrations. The production design is fantastically layered. The aging patinas and various other richly defined visual textures throughout the movie are as fine as I have ever seen. Both the cinematography and production design (and the wonderful score), as opulent as they are, never call attention to themselves. They both work in tandem to serve the story.
The cast is perfection. Every role, major or minor, is flawlessly executed. The film’s subsidiary characters remind me of the wealth of facial types found in John Ford’s films and many of the better movies of the 1930s.
This film is not for everyone. As in the best and most memorable Grimm�s fairy tales, when it occurs, the violence is visceral and ferocious. Guillermo�s execution is state-of-the-art over-the-top relentless. The audience attending this preview works in this genre of film and is pretty hardened to such visual Grand Guignol — yet consistently there were loud, audible gasps of shock and horror throughout the screening.
If you find intense violence extremely upsetting, then you should probably not see this film. If you don�t experience this movie, however, you will miss the ultimate reward of an enchanting, soulful, inventive and touching tale brought to you with love and perseverance through the mind, vision and unyielding hard work of a modern master of the genre. �Pan�s Labyrinth� is a magical horrifying delight — and a fairy tale present to us all from Guillermo Del Toro.