Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth - Book Review / by Todd Henson

Front and back cover of Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth

Front and back cover of Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth

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I watched Pan’s Labyrinth in the theaters the year it came out (2006), and it proved to be my favorite movie that year. I love Guillermo del Toro’s work, and thus far Pan’s Labyrinth has remained my favorite of his movies. The book, Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth: Inside the Creation of a Modern Fairy Tale, by Mark Cotta Vaz and Nick Nunziata, was published in 2016 to mark the 10th anniversary of the movie. I won a copy of this book through a giveaway at tor.com, and I’m very pleased I did. This is a beautiful hardcopy book full of all sorts of details about the making of the film, from behind the scene photos, to concept art, set design, pages from notebooks, storyboards, and lots of interesting text to go along with it all. I love the design of this book. It’s full of inserts glued to the pages. It really gives it the feel of a scrap book created during the making of the movie. As with the movie there are so many fascinating and creative visuals to keep the reader’s/viewer’s interest.

Shows a translucent colored Faun overtop the initial sketch.

Shows a translucent colored Faun overtop the initial sketch.

Lifting the translucent insert you can see the initial sketch. 

Lifting the translucent insert you can see the initial sketch. 

Guillermo del Toro considers Pan’s Labyrinth the second movie in an imagined trilogy. The first movie was The Devil’s Backbone, another great film. It was set in 1939, the final year of the Spanish Civil War, and centered on an orphanage run by a couple who were loyal to the Republican forces. Pan’s Labyrinth is set in 1944 after the Fascists took control of Spain, but continue to battle Republican holdouts. It centers on an old mill with some people secretly aiding the Republicans. And as noted in the book, “in both stories, an innocent child is driven to a foreboding new home (the orphanage in The Devil’s Backbone; the mill in Pan’s Labyrinth), the supernatural manifests itself the first day in daylight and nighttime, and reality and fantasy intertwine.”

In this film you walk in the shoes of this little girl who is pure, innocent, and sensitive. As she learns, you learn. Even though she’s in the middle of all this horror, once you’re in the mind of a child that has all this imagination and purity of heart anything can happen.
— Guillermo Navarro, director of photography

These stories touch on real events, but are set in fictional settings. They are not just retellings of history, but are fantasy or horror tales that reveal some of the terrible evils of people, along with the fragility of innocence. Guillermo says that “fantasy is a language that allows us to explain, interpret, and reappropriate reality. It is not an escape and I’m very vehement about that.”

The inset storyboard on the right is actually a small booklet.

The inset storyboard on the right is actually a small booklet.

See the opened storyboard booklet.

See the opened storyboard booklet.

Guillermo drew together an amazing team to make Pan’s Labyrinth, both behind and in front of the camera. The book introduces many of them, such as director of photography Guillermo Navarro, who worked behind the camera on other films with del Toro, production designer Eugenio Caballero, visual effects supervisor Everett Burrell, actor Serge Lopez who plays the cruel Captain Vidal, actor Doug Jones who is covered in prosthetics as the Faun, actress Ivana Baquero who plays the young Ofelia, CafeFX who produces some of the amazing visuals, and many others.

On this film I learned a lot from Guillermo Navarro about how to light something and how not to light in terms of purposely keeping things in shadow. And Guillermo del Toro basically taught me how to direct.
— Everett Burrell, visual effects supervisor

I really enjoyed learning about some of the subtle, or not so subtle, concepts or effects used in the film, things I often did not specifically notice, but knowing about them now and re-watching the film adds an extra layer to the experience. For example, the movie has 3 major journeys and they chose to use 3 color hues to represent these journeys. The first journey is reality, the world of Spain, with Ofelia and her mother trying to make a new life for themselves with Captain Vidal, who is in charge of the Fascist forces stationed at the mill. The real world uses blue hues and feels cold. The second journey is when Ofelia is in the fantasy realms, when she is working to complete the tasks given to her by the Faun. This journey uses warm colors. The third, and final, journey is when Ofelia enters the underworld kingdom, and for this they chose red and gold hues. It works so well. This is reminiscent of the green hue used in the movie, The Matrix. Even if you don’t realize how the hues are being used it does affect how the film looks and feels during the scenes that use them. Very powerful. And these are the kinds of things photographers can pick up from watching these sorts of movies. Paying attention to how color is used, how light is manipulated to create the moods and effects throughout a film. There’s much we still image makers can learn from film makers.

The beginning of chapter 5 from the book.

The beginning of chapter 5 from the book.

Showing photos, production sketches, and models.

Showing photos, production sketches, and models.

Towards the end of the book Guillermo del Toro says he wants to finish this Spanish Civil War trilogy soon. He says the third movie will be called 3993 because the movie will open and close on a perfect circle. He mentions how The Devil’s Backbone, Pan’s Labyrinth, and Crimson Peak, also were circular, how something from the beginning of the movie has new meaning as the movie ends. He is very deliberate in how he structures his movies, adding elements and meaning, weaving together fantasy, horror, and reality, and in doing so he entertains, gives small glimpses of history, and perhaps teaches a little about the good and bad of humanity.

I always believe things happen for the best. Everyone thinks of the director as a dictator, but it’s not that. You know when you have to do it the way you want it. But I think the big difference in being a first-time director, and one who has directed six or ten movies, is that with experience you learn to identify adversity not as adversity, but as opportunity. That distinction makes you much more flexible.
— Guillermo del Toro
Front and back of Pan's Labyrinth DVD

Front and back of Pan's Labyrinth DVD

Front and back cover of Guillermo del Toro: Cabinet of Curiosities

Front and back cover of Guillermo del Toro: Cabinet of Curiosities

Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth is a great addition to the library of anyone who fell in love with the film and wants to learn more about both the film and those who created it. And if you’re a fan of Guillermo del Toro’s work you might also enjoy the book, Guillermo del Toro: Cabinet of Curiosities - My Notebooks, Collections, and Other Obsessions, which I also own. Cabinet of Curiosities has sections about each of del Toro’s creations as of its publication, as well sections about some of his unfinished works, and other topics important to del Toro. The book doesn’t have the three dimensional inserts contained in the Pan’s Labyrinth book, but it is full of the same sorts of content. I really enjoy both of these books. Check them out if you enjoy Guillermo del Toro’s films. And if you’ve never seen Pan’s Labyrinth, give it a try. You just might enjoy it.