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Pan’s Labyrinth: Boring

Last night I went with some friends to see Pan’s Labyrinth. We were looking forward to the film because it promised something different — a macabre fairy tale about a girl who retreats to a fantasy world in order to deal with her difficult Spanish-Civil-War circumstances. We were hoping for a film with real teeth, depth — something compelling for an adult audience.

What we got was boredom. Every one of us walked out of that movie bored. It was predictable, mechanical, and just didn’t hold interest. The story is gruesome for gruesome’s sake, or rather, for the sake that del Toro seems to have no ability to engage the audience’s emotion except through repulsive imagery.

Pan is really two movies — one about a girl and her imagination, one about people fighting the Spanish Civil War. The latter is a rote resistance-from-within war movie, with an evil ruthless captain, rebels, supporters of the resistance operating on the inside, and no heart. The former is about a remarkably self-centered girl striking out on various quests, often behaving so stupidly that it’s hard to have sympathy with her plight.

In the same way I’m appalled at the critical accolades bestowed upon Letters from Iwo Jima (another boring, rote movie), Pan’s Labyrinth has received almost unanimously glowing notices. Have critical notices always been so off? I suspect that, like I said with The Descent, people who watch movies for a living are exposed to so much utter crap that anything which doesn’t just outright suck is lauded.

What’s troubling for me is that given how bored I was with Iwo Jima and Pan, I’m fearing going to the theaters to see anything. I’m interested in Children of Men, but fear it will be just as boring. The Pacific Film Archive here in Berkeley is showing an Ernst Lubitsch retrospective. Now there, I can’t go wrong…

  1. I couldn’t agree with you less about Pan’s Labyrinth. On the one hand, the story does unfold in a calculated and schematic pattern, yet you never know where it is going. Del Toro uses some gorgeous cinematography, beautifully defined and enacted characters and evocative special effects to carry us on a somewhat predictable sightseeing trip to an unexpected powerful and heart-breaking journey’s end.

    And no way is this two movies. It is one story in one movie. Since you begin your comments by describing your screening as a group experience, with strongly defined group expectations. I will point out again that this is not the best way to see a film. Being part of a viewing clique is not the same as being part of an audience. The fact that you and your friends were all equally bored suggests to me that none of you really had a personal experience with the movie. And that is your loss. In needing to be with each other for this screening, it seems that none of you were with the movie, at least not enough to see and feel the pathway to Del Toro’s singular vision.

    A movie is not a feast. Take your friends and your high expectations to a good restaurant. Sharing good food is a desirable group experience. And if somebody doesn’t like the mussels in black bean sauce, somebody else will.

    And while PL is not a great film, I am glad I took a chance to drop in on it, by myself, yesterday. I was never bored. I was terrifically impressed with the acting, intellectually intrigued by fantasy creatures and ultimately profoundly moved, even shaken by the fatal results of the depeicted selfishness, stupidity and cruelty.

    Still, you might ask “what’s it all about?” Mightn’t you?

  2. Hey Peter,

    Children of Men is anything if not boring, but the story is very, very simple. The direction and special effects though, are breathtaking. I’ve also recently really enjoyed The Good Shepherd.

    Speaking of crap, have you seen what’s been nominated for Oscars today? The Queen? Ridiculous.

    Hope you’re well.

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