January 8, 2007

Pan's Labyrinth: A Victim Of Over Hype


Over the weekend, the National Society of Film Critics continued the trend of lavishing praise on Guillermo Del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth by naming the Spanish-language horror/fantasy/fairy tale the best picture of the year. Cinecultist has had Pan's on the brain too because we finally got to a screening on Saturday night. This is actually our third attempt to see the movie, first we missed the two press screenings at this year's NYFF because of work commitments, then our friend Josh and I tried to see a showing on New Year's Day but it was sold out. This time we planned ahead, picking a screening time a few days before and purchasing tickets online (btw, it's now $25 sodding bucks to buy two tickets online, between service charges and whatnot, which is getting a tad ridiculous). We mention this protracted process to seeing the movie because Cinecultist suspects it may have affected our enjoyment of the movie, turning our response from heightened anticipation into one of "ehh."

Why else should we be so halfhearted about what is ostensibly a gorgeous, well-made movie? Everything the critics say is true, Del Toro has created a deeply personal and creepy fantasy, peppered with moments of in-your-face violence. CC went back to read some of the rave reviews to see if we agree with what the critics said in praise. Jonathan Rosenbaum in The Chicago Reader writes, "Del Toro's exquisite, integrated digital effects, like [Alfonso] Cuaron's imagined future landscapes [in Children of Men], combine the familiar with the uncanny in ways that leave us uncertain which is which." Yes, that's true -- part of what's interesting about Pan's is that the young girl Ofelia's imaginings are in a real sense disproved by the bleak ending. Glenn Kenney in Premiere says about that end that "its devastating conclusion is far more layered than typical Hollywood "fantasy will set you free" bromides, and the film's stout-hearted contempt for cruelty of all kinds is uncanny, and inspiring." This is also an accurate description, as the real villian, Ofelia's evil step father the Fascist captain is much scarier than anything Ofelia sees in her magical universe.

The only conclusion CC can come to then to explain our less than stellar regard for this movie would be the fact that we saw it so late in the hype cycle. Surely if we'd gotten in on either of those previous two occasions, particularly at the Film Festival, we'd also be raving about the movie. Sometimes the biggest enjoyment in movies for the professional moviegoer comes from that experience of discovery. Too many Magellans planting their flags upon this surface leaves CC feeling uninspired. Granted, that's a totally petulant and stupid response to work of strong artistic merit, but there you are.

And hey, while we're bitching, we'd point out that it's just not fun to see such a packed movie at the Loews 19th Street theater. Between huge lines outside and then a very tall dude sitting in front of CC making it nearly impossible to read each subtitle without getting a serious neck cramp is enough to make even the biggest movie fan cranky.

Posted by karen at January 8, 2007 2:23 PM