Written by Monster Awareness Month team member Orrin Grey
While movies like Blade 2 and Hellboy had already put Guillermo del Toro in the geek movie spotlight, it was Pan’s Labyrinth, with its six Academy Award nominations and three wins, that really gained del Toro the worldwide critical acclaim and industry clout that he now possesses. And with good reason. Del Toro himself has many times said that Pan’s Labyrinth is one of his favorites among his own films, and it’s certainly the surest, most confident, and most accomplished entry in his filmography to date.
Listening to one of del Toro’s commentary tracks is always a fascinating pastime, and it always leaves me with a renewed sense of awe at his commitment to detail and the material. Listening to the commentary track for Pan’s Labyrinth takes this to a whole other level. The amount of care that went into the film is mind-boggling, as is the control that del Toro had over the material. Del Toro’s films are all carefully color-coded and stylistically controlled, with motifs that echo and repeat, but, again, never has any of his films felt more intricate, on close inspection, than Pan’s Labyrinth.
It’s a movie that del Toro himself has said is a “litmus test” for its viewers, with an ending that appears, at first glance, to be ambiguous. So as to avoid spoilers for those who maybe haven’t yet seen it, I’ll refrain from talking about the themes of the movie, or the objective reality of its fantastical elements, and simply say to watch the movie for yourself, and then treat yourself to del Toro’s commentary track, where he spells out his feelings on the film and its themes pretty plainly.
Instead of that I’ll talk about the monsters of Pan’s Labyrinth, since that’s kind of what we’re here for. As I’ve already said when talking about Hellboy, del Toro is a director who loves monsters more than just about anyone else I can conveniently think of. He’s been quoted as saying that “if there’s not a monster on the call sheet, I don’t show up for work.” And while the two Hellboy films are his most monster-filled movies to date, Pan’s Labyrinth isn’t far behind.
For a movie with a reported budget of around $19 million, Pan’s looks amazing. The creatures are almost entirely brought to life using practical effects. The most famous monster to come out of Pan’s Labyrinth is the incredibly creepy Pale Man, but the Faun deserves equal attention (especially the effect of his legs, which is only heightened by learning how it was achieved), and the movie also boasts fairies, a giant toad, and a mandrake root. Both the Faun and the Pale Man are brought to life by veteran creature actor Doug Jones, who previously played Abe Sapien in Hellboy.
In a lot of ways, Pan’s Labyrinth and Hellboy are two very different movies, one quiet and emotional, the other broad and pulpy, but they both show a visionary director working at the top of his game, bringing his considerable love of monsters to two very different tables.