Friday, February 2, 2007

Pan's Labyrinth (Oscar's Fever!)

Pan's Labyrinth
dir. Guillermo del Toro

Unfortunately for the Pale Man, he cannot cover his ears and use his eyes at the same time.

Spencer Owen, BERKELEY
January 26, 2007 - 35mm/Landmark Shattuck

There are, unsurprisingly, five movies nominated by the Academy for Best Score this year. One of them is Pan's Labyrinth, directed by the suddenly-beloved Guillermo del Toro. This movie is nominated in more than one category, which makes the fact of its recognition in the score department go down a bit smoother; if it had been nominated only in this category, I would be fairly perplexed, but now I can write it off as a sort of "associative" nomination. Y'know -- they thought it was a magical movie, and what's magic without magical music, or something. But really, what makes a score worthwhile enough to nominate?

I walked into Pan's Labyrinth ready to listen intently to the music -- no more intently than I normally hear music in films, that is, but with a particular attempt at Oscar-level acuity (note: sarcasm). Hearing with Academy ears, so to speak. I came out of the movie having enjoyed it on some levels and disliked it on others, the enjoyment only just edging out the dislike, as it has such wonderful imagery in the fantasy sequences and never quite gets truly boring or irritating in the rest... except for the matter of a particular musical concept. Yes, that's right; the music was my least favorite part, if only just for one lame idea, flaccidly executed. And I'm close-to-positive that this nauseating phrase was the reason why the music was nominated.

Javier Navarrete (this is the only work of his I've heard, due to his having scored primarily Spanish cinema I've never seen) does a suitable if thoroughly unimaginative job meeting the criteria of the styles. He does summon up some horror at moments meant to be horrific, notably to highlight the actions of the Pale Man, my favorite "character" in the movie. He does this nicely, and the visceral aspect takes it up a small notch. Still, 90%, even 95% of the movie is scored "suitably," rarely if ever transcending mere pragmatism or basic genre trope. This is not something I'd moan about if we weren't trying to figure out why it's 20% likely to win an Oscar. Is this all a movie needs to do to get the Academy's attention? Something's missing.

In fact, I believe they'd gotten through the entire first act before I heard any semblance of theme, and then it happened. The lead character, a girl named Ofelia, is going through some strife, no doubt. So is her foil and not mother but maternal substitute, Mercedes, who doesn't really get to know Ofelia but who nonetheless feels a deep bond with her, and who has a protective instinct and a strong moral backbone in general. Mercedes is cradling Ofelia in a time where they both could use a good cradling -- it's some emotional stuff, or at least it's meant to be -- and Ofelia asks Mercedes: "Do you know any lullabies?"

"Oh, this is it," I must have nearly said out loud, I thought it so clearly. Mercedes replies, "I don't remember the words, but..." With that, the score symphony actually pauses in order for her solo to begin, at which point she hums a quite insipid minor-key melody as the strings play the changes beneath her. I don't know where this melody came from -- a wholly original Javarrete composition, perhaps, or maybe an adaptation, maybe even from a real lullaby -- but if this is the moving motif we were waiting for, and oh it is, we are disappointed. It's a whiny sap-tap of a tune, something that would have worked much better if it hadn't been so obviously laden with significance. If she'd merely hummed the lullaby without the assistance of an orchestra and then we could move on, to speak of it later only as a humble scene... but no, this lullaby, of course! It's the emotional essence of the tale! How evocative this song is, how masterful its author for creating it just so!

And does it return? Mm. It haunts the rest of the movie, and I won't spoil too much, but it comes back at the end, twice as overwrought. Good thing you and Mr. Navarrete went to the John Williams seminar, Guillermo; that hour spent on Star Wars Episode II really made an impression. Bonus: plays over the credits, only a few minutes after it appears at the end, too! So here I wonder: who honestly cared for this enough to put it on a ballot? Was there nothing better? Could it really be just an "associative" nomination? In my favorite theoretical scenario, the head honchos who overwrite all the poll results were trying to think of a movie with a theme that Itzhak Perlman could play on stage at the ceremony without having to practice. You'll hear it a minimum of two more times, and one of those is guaranteed to be when it takes home Best Foreign Film; I hope the other one isn't when it wins Best Score.


Jeff GP said...

"Suddenly beloved" is right! Where did all of this uncritical Guillermo love stem from. When I saw this movie with Guillermo in attendance, the minute the credits rolled audience members stood up and cheering "Guillermo! Guillermo!" Did I miss something? I do think Pan's is excellent, and do like The Devil's Backbone and even Hellboy (I thought I was the only one!), but literally showering Mr. Del Toro with auterish praise is very, very strange, sudden and worth noting.

Kalen Egan said...

When Hellboy 2 comes lumbering along, I bet we're all going to see this craziness crank up another notch. If it's even remotely good, it's going to be overpraised like a motherfucker. I don't know... this is weird stuff, but in the end, is it so bad for an actual good director (in my eyes) to soak up a little more acclaim than he's earned?

(Actually, yes... this is kind of bad... I give you--

Kalen Egan said...

Apologies for the awkward link. It was supposed to be a clever way to invoke Burton's idiotic "Big Fish."

Jeff said...

Jeff GP: Stop it with the Hellboy OMG! WOW! already: I saw it. Sucked.