Director Guillermo del Toro has done something truly amazing. It is difficult, but possible, to make a fantasy film outside of the Hollywood system, and make what looks like a big-budget film with modest funding. Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures (1994) comes to mind. But Jackson was making a film that was sure to be seen by the entire New Zealand film-going community as well as practically guaranteed domestic TV sales, due to public interest in the real life murder case. Jackson’s film was also in English, making international sales more of a sure bet. But del Toro took an incredible risk by creating a fantasy film set in Spain during the final days of the Spanish Civil War, with dialogue in Spanish.
The gamble paid off, and Pan’s Labyrinth was justifiably lauded around the world by critics. The fact that del Toro, who had made films in his native Mexico and in Hollywood, was directing for the first time in Spain, makes his accomplishments all the more impressive. His original script recalls Alice in Wonderland, but is not set in the world of the silly and the make believe as in Lewis Carroll’s tale, but establishes palpable tension by setting a world of magic, which is believed only by the 12-year-old Ofelia, against a world of violence and war. Del Toro, who was previously known for horror films such as Mimic and Hellboy, emerges as a Tim Burton type auteur, creating a complex world completely from his imagination.