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PAN’S LABYRINTH – Javier Navarrete

December 29, 2006 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

One of the most admirable things about Mexican director Guillermo Del Toro is how often he makes films in his native language. In addition to the popular and successful Mimic, Blade II and Hellboy, Del Toro’s other features include Cronos, his magnificent 1993 debut, and the chilling 2001 horror movie El Espinazo del Diablo, also known as The Devil’s Backbone, both of which were filmed in Spanish. Pan’s Labyrinth, or El Laberinto del Fauno, is the latest addition to his non-English pantheon, and by all accounts is his best film yet.

The film stars Ivana Baquero, Sergi López, Maribel Verdú, Ariadna Gil and Doug Jones, and is a visually stunning fantasy/horror set in northern Spain in the 1940s, in the immediate aftermath of General Franco’s victory in the Spanish civil war. 12-year old Ofélia (Baquero) travels with her mother (Carmen) to the house of her new stepfather Captain Vidal (López), which lies deep in a forbidding forest, and is being fortified as a stronghold against the last few Republican soldiers who remain, stragglers from their lost war. Ofélia is terrified of Vidal, and is too young to understand the complicated politics being discussed in the house, and so escapes into her books, and her imagination, to escape the grim realities of her situation. The, one day, Ofélia discovers a doorway beneath the house, which leads to secret labyrinthine world inhabited by all manner of weird and wonderful creatures, and which is ruled by an enigmatic faun named Pan (Jones), who hails Ofélia as a Princess. However, in order to continue escaping to her fantastical haven, Pan tells her she must carry out a series of terrifying tasks, which send Ofélia deeper and deeper into the maze…

Artistically and conceptually, Pan’s Labyrinth has been hailed as a modern masterpiece, and looks well-poised to become a popular cult hit in years to come with those able to dismiss the inevitable subtitles. Another interesting delineation between Del Toro’s English and Spanish movies is in his choice of composer. All his English-language movies have been scored by Marco Beltrami, while all his Spanish ones, with the exception of Cronos, have been scored by Spanish composer Javier Navarrete. While Navarrete’s name may be unfamiliar to many listeners, he is not without pedigree: in addition to his work for Del Toro, he has scored some 30 features since making his debut in 1987, including the acclaimed 2003 romantic drama “Dot the I” and the controversial 2004 prostitution drama “Yo Puta”.

Composing music to match Del Toro’s startling visuals must have been a daunting prospect, but Navarrete more than holds his own. His score is a rich, bold, detailed work, generally dark in tone, and occasionally more sinister than that, but which paints a fantastical picture of myths and legends which never fails to delight. Written for a full orchestra and a large mixed choir, the score begins with a charming child-like lullaby in “Long, Long Time Ago”, which sounds like something Francis Lai or Georges Delerue might have written for a French new wave film in the 1960s, but quickly segues into the first performance delightfully evocative main theme. It’s brass-led performance “Rose, Dragon” is impressive, while its string-heavy recapitulation in “The Fairy and the Labyrinth” is quite sublime. The meandering vocal lullaby reappears in “Mercedes Lullaby”, and during the truly beautiful “A Princess”. A dramatic waltz-like rendition, anchored by a solo piano, appears in “A Tale”, and is carried on into the appropriately melancholy “The Funeral”, and when the full orchestra swells during “Ofélia” the impact is hugely impressive. The score’s finale, “Pan’s Labyrinth Lullaby”, is a dream-like violin solo of noteworthy grace and delicacy.

Beyond the main theme, a large part of the score is made up of a series of elaborate and expressive musical phrases, each conjuring up a different magical facet to the story as young Ofélia ventures further into the labyrinth and encounters increasingly wondrous beasts. Magical choral crescendos abound in “Three Trials”, ominous marches and skittery pizzicato effects dominate “The Moribund Tree and the Toad”, and twisted-sounding viola solos slither their way through “A Book of Blood” before it erupts into hair-curling discord.

However, it’s interesting that, as the album progresses, the music gradually loses its magical sheen and begins to embrace a much more frightening aspect, as if sharing the increasingly terrifying dangers Ofélia faces with the listener. By the time cues like “Not Human”, “Deep Forest”, the ethereal “Valse of the Mandrake”, the violent “Mercedes”, and the flamboyant “Pan and the Full Moon” appear, the score is almost in full-on horror mode, the orchestra working overtime to produce increasingly garish moments of rampaging action music and cutting dissonance, with the choir providing several moments of ghostly counterpoint. These wonderfully impressionistic cues are worth the price of the album alone.

In summary, Pan’s Labyrinth is a quite superb score in every respect, and can easily be counted amongst the year’s best efforts. Despite the relative obscurity of the composer, and the art-house sensibilities of the film, the score stands up with the best Hollywood has offered in the last twelve months, and if it score is truly representative of Javier Navarrete’s compositional talents, I sincerely hope he follows the trail blazed by Alexandre Desplat and lends his voice to the mainstream. Highly recommended.

Rating: ****

Track Listing:

  • Long, Long Time Ago (2:11)
  • The Labyrinth (4:04)
  • Rose, Dragon (3:34)
  • The Fairy and the Labyrinth (3:33)
  • Three Trials (2:04)
  • The Moribund Tree and the Toad (7:08)
  • Guerrilleros (2:05)
  • A Book of Blood (3:47)
  • Mercedes Lullaby (1:36)
  • The Refuge (1:32)
  • Not Human (5:52)
  • The River (2:48)
  • A Tale (1:52)
  • Deep Forest (5:45)
  • Valse of the Mandrake (3:38)
  • The Funeral (2:42)
  • Mercedes (5:34)
  • Pan and the Full Moon (5:04)
  • Ofélia (2:16)
  • A Princess (3:59)
  • Pan’s Labyrinth Lullaby (1:47)

Running Time: 63 minutes 56 seconds

Milan 399-060-2 (2006)

Music composed by Javier Navarrete. Conducted by Mario Klemens. Performed by The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir. Orchestrations by Javier Navarrete. Special vocal performances by Lua. Album produced by Javier Navarrete.

  1. Kim
    January 25, 2013 at 1:55 pm

    Seriously! Does the entire music score for piano exist anywhere for purchase in the world for Pan’s Labyrinth? Or do you have to sell your soul to the devil to get it?!?

  2. Erik
    November 4, 2018 at 2:36 am

    Horrible version of “Long, Long Time Ago”! Vocals by “Lua” sound like an old man having a mental breakdown. The original humming was so lovely. Why does this even exist?

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