Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Pan's Labyrinth & The Hobbit

I loved Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies. Somehow he, and his fellow script writers Philippa Boyens and Fran Walsh, managed to make three glorious films out of my three favourite books. Books I had thought to be pretty much un-filmable. As something of a LOTR-book geek, I did of course have some issues with some of the the choices that were made. For example, I did not particularly like the way Pippin's and Merry's story with the ents was changed around, or how Faramir allowed Gollum to be beaten. And the whole debacle of removing Saruman's death scene from the theatrical release, well, the less said about that the better.

Still, I loved the movies. The world was full and rich and real and felt true to Tolkien. Some of the scenes that were added, like Arwen's vision of her child and Eowyn's song at Theodred's funeral, were beautiful additions. And the casting, the music, the CGI, all of that was pretty much flawless. So when it became obvious that PJ would not after all be returning to make "The Hobbit", I was worried. Who would take over? Sam Raimi seemed to be the hot name for quite a while, and I was ok with him doing it. The first Spiderman movie was very good, though the others have been lacking imo, and his sensibilities seemed like they might fit with the more "childish" world of "The Hobbit".

But then the announcement came: Guillermo del Toro was the chosen one. And I was very, very happy.

The first del Toro movie I saw was Chronos. It weirded me out so much that I couldn't watch the whole thing. Then I saw Blade 2 and thought it was a horror-excess show that went over the top into ridiculousness. (I'd actually quite liked the first Blade movie.) But then came Pan's Labyrinth.

Pan's Labyrinth (the Spanish title: "The Faun's Labyrinth" is really a lot better), is one of those rare fantasy movies that does not flirt with cheesy or jokesy stuff (like Willow for example: a movie I love, but it does walk very close to the edge of cheese-dom). It's a straight up, seriously told, deadly earnest fairytale. A real fairytale, like the old ones, where there is death, danger, fear, as well as magic and a sense of wonder. It is a fantasy movie that creates its own believable world, full of weird creatures and strange happenings, yet remains absolutely real no matter how fantastical the surroundings. This is exactly the kind of storytelling and the kind of director that is needed for "The Hobbit": someone who can take on fantasy and fairytale and keep the sense of reality and danger ever-present. Just like Peter Jackson managed to do with LOTR.

The world of Pan's Labyrinth is populated by strange beings: the Faun, fairies, gigantic toads... but there is nothing Disney-esque or cute about any of the creatures. Even the fairies are more insect-like than pretty, the Faun looks like he is made of earth and wood and roots, the toad is slimy and grotesque. This to me is also important as it pertains to "The Hobbit": cutesiness must be avoided at all costs. Elves are not cute, dwarves are not cute: forget all about the Disney-verse of pastels and big eyes! Even though "The Hobbit" is a book written for children, it is an old-school fairytale just like Pan's Labyrinth: there is real death and real danger, there is constant peril for the child at the center of the story and there is, at the end, incredible sadness and loss. No glorious happy ending with a shiny "happily ever after". Anyone who has seen Pan's Labyrinth knows that its ending is full of sadness and pain and even horror, but also suffused with happiness. All of it mingled together. Just like in "The Hobbit": Bilbo survives the battle and the dragon is defeated, but at a great cost. Thorin dies, many others die too, Lake Town burns and it is a very changed hobbit that brings his share of the dragon hoard back home to The Shire.

Another big plus for GdT is his familiarity with puppets, miniatures and CGI. He has said repeatedly that he favours "real" effects rather than computer generated ones for The Hobbit. That is, he'll favour puppets, humans in makeup and that kind of stuff over computer graphics. Anyone who has seen Pan's Labyrinth knows that GdT is a master at this kind of thing. The Faun and The Pale Man are masterpieces. It's hard to even understand that they are a human, Doug Jones, covered in prosthetics and makeup. This is the level of achievement needed for the creatures of "The Hobbit": the wolves, the dragon, the spiders, Beorn.

In short: anyone who wonders whether GdT can make a Hobbit movie worthy of the book, need only watch Pan's Labyrinth. It is one of the best fantasy movies ever. I'd say it's the best fantasy movie since LOTR. The fact that del Toro does seem to have longstanding and deep connection to the book, makes the fit even better. Of course, it's way too early to know if this movie will be a classic, but I do think that GdT has the tools to make it one.

For a closer look at how his mind and imagination work, take a look at his amazing sketch book at the official Pan's Labyrinth site.

And finally, there is a rumour that long time GdT associate Doug Jones, might be up for the role of Thranduil, the elven king. That's him in the picture right there. In Pan's Labyrinth he was hidden by makeup as the Faun and the Pale Man, and initially I thought he might be too weird looking for the role. Yet in this particular shot from IMDB, he looks potentially Elvish: those clear, big eyes just do it for me I guess, as well as the pronounced cheekbones. We'll see. If he is eventually chosen by del Toro, I'll just trust his judgment, as well as the judgment of PJ, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, his co-producers.


Photos thanks to IMDB, TORN and the official Pan's Labyrinth site.

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