02 January 2007

Pan's Labyrinth, which is the year's most powerful movie, and the most remarkable work of its kind in a long time, is also a savagely effective rebuke against the shallowness and cynicism of most "fantasy" films. Fantasy, in the context of movies like A Night at the Museum, not to mention How the Grinch Stole Christmas, implies something harmless, approved for all ages, and suitable for cross-promotion as a video game, even if its vision remains depressingly earthbound. Even a movie like The Chronicles of Narnia, which was at least assembled with some care, begins to look calculated and opportunistic when compared with Pan's Labyrinth, which is not harmless, definitely not for children, and the darkest, scariest, most gorgeous thing on God's earth.

Hollywood clearly has no trouble cranking out prepackaged blockbusters crammed with special effects (see next year's Evan Almighty, for one), but it tends to outsource its most vivid dreams to foreign auteurs like Alfonso Cuaron, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Hiayo Miyazaki, and now Guillermo Del Toro, who was previously known for superior genre films like Blade 2 and Hellboy, and who now proves himself to be a truly fantastic director, in all senses of the word. I was lucky enough to see Pan's Labyrinth without watching the trailer or reading any of the reviews, with only two glowing recommendations (from Frank Darabont and Stephen King) to light the way. If you're wise, you'll do the same thing. It's quite an experience, and I wouldn't want to ruin it for anyone, not even by hinting at what you're about to discover.

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