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Pan's Labyrinth - Original Soundtrack Soundtrack Review

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by Chris McEneany Jan 5, 2008 at 12:00 AM

  • Movies review

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    Pan's Labyrinth - Original Soundtrack Soundtrack Review
    Guillermo Del Toro's dark fairytale Pan's Labyrinth has been justifiably acknowledged as a modern classic. After The Devil's Backbone, the acclaimed writer/director has, once again, merged the innocent fantasies of childhood with the brutal realities of adult aggression to create a startling and powerfully moving story that tempers its wonders with tragedy. I've always loved Del Toro's films - particularly Hellboy - and been fascinated by the equally mesmerising soundtracks that accompany them. I love the way that he will use Marco Beltrami, his American movie regular composer for his more commercial projects - Mimic, Blade 2, Hellboy (though, surprisingly, not its sequel which has been claimed by Danny Elfman) - and then return to his roots for his more personal, Spanish-speaking projects - Cronos, The Devil's Backbone and Pan's Labyrinth - with more classical and far less mainstream compositions from Javier Alvarez (Cronos) and Javier Navarrete now following on musical duties from The Devil's Backbone with this, his second score for Del Toro. Navarrete's style couldn't be more different. Whilst Beltrami often employs exotica and European flavours in his work, his scoring is definitely more adrenal and familiar, although he has taken a wonderful step back in time with his western throwback score for 3.10 To Yuma. Navarrete finds beauty in the darkness, sweet harmony in the terror and ferocity of evil and, as such, relies upon a deceptively complicated and lushly diverse world of instrumentation. The two styles of filmmaking require two musical talents and both are extraordinary and quite brilliant. But whereas Beltrami's music is much more accessible and, on face value, enjoyable, Navarrete's gets inside you and lingers there, perhaps tinkering with your DNA on some small but irreversible level.

    The key to this score is its foundation within the simple notes of children's lullaby, created by Navarrete. This lullaby opens the film and the album and is hugely expanded upon, enlarged, simplified and deconstructed as the music goes along, until finally turning full circle and becoming its own triumphant and plaintiff finale. But Navarrete has a lot more going on than just this, however. If a lullaby is the cornerstone from which the score hangs, then its 3 / 4 time also lends itself to the waltz motif that cavorts throughout the main body of the work, turning and twisting through endless cycles and across some very dark and demented terrain. Legend collides headlong with stark brutality in the film and the score echoes this cataclysmic merging with desperate cues of pain and futility, yearning and furtiveness, as the young Ofelia undertakes the three trials set her by the Faun, Pan. The desperate and increasingly more barbaric conflict between her sadistic step-father and the partisans in the hills is reflected with militaristic pace and inscrutable sub-melodies that run parallel to the unearthly and baroque themes for the fantastical set-pieces that rise up within each cue.

    The score is a monumental achievement, but it is a difficult and turbulent one as well. My wife heard portions of the album and thought that it was beautiful but deeply depressing and, yes, to certain ears and to certain musical tastes, this view could well be very accurate. But there is bliss and revelation here that stimulates and resonates, the pain and the inarguable melancholia of it all the very elements that make the score so fulfilling, so cathartic and affecting. We like to be moved by music and music, more so than imagery, has the innate capacity to do just that. Navarrete's work here is one of the most splendidly poignant recent compositions that I've heard, proving once more that a European composer is possibly more in touch with the heart and soul of tragedy than most of their American counterparts, who tend to wear their hearts on their sleeves and make everything rather too signposted and obvious. If you are a lover of film music then you know exactly what I'm talking about.

    In the score for Pan's Labyrinth you will discover moments of tenderness and of terror, expertly weaving the heartrending journey that Ofelia and the sympathetic Mercedes must undertake into a aural tapestry that is as magisterial as it is haunting. Navarrete keeps the tone dark and sombre with dread and fear, the intoxicating melancholy evolving sometimes mid-cue, as if out of nowhere, from pensive fragility and wary awe into ominous paths of shadow and of menace. The score has been likened to the work that Dario Marinelli did for The Brothers Grimm and V For Vendetta, but I find that his style and use of soft, lilting, almost Victorian melodies far more akin to Alejandro Amenabar's score for his own film, The Others. Like that ghostly music, there is magic here but it is often curtailed and its fledgling mystery caught up with and overwhelmed with pathos, pain and slow-burn intimidation. Marinelli goes dark, but not as dark as Navarrete.

    The album contains many standouts cues, pieces that often tell their own epic saga like mini concertos. Track 6, for instance, has a strongly defined beginning, middle and end, becoming a tour de force in its own right. Diverse, insistent and broad in scope, it is also full of unusual throaty intonation and unique dissonance. Inspired use of the bassoon and the oboe blend eerie and portentous motifs with creepy Herrmann-style unease and build-up. Strings, a male choir and tremulous cymbals - that sound marvellously way off in the distance - deliver a shivery vibe to Track 8, yet Navarrete tops it with the deliciously nervous tinkling notes of a piano.

    Track 11 is a pure belter, full of increasing horror and a macabre percussive rolling finale that thrums with infernal precision and is incredibly potent and heart-racing stuff. Track 13, though only brief, is simple but devastating, Navarrete's employment of the lullaby - already turning into that lament - starts out as soft piano keys gently played yet ends with the deep yearning of the full orchestra. What follows in Track 14 is another example of Navarrete constructing a cue that is multi-facetted and chaptered and that weaves its own lengthy tale, supplying goose-bumps and a lump in the throat at either end of its voyage. And that canny down-mixing comes into effect again in the next track, which commences with an unearthly choir moaning from just over the other side of a hill, yet containing all the power and strength you would expect it to, just held off at a distance.

    Track 17 ramps up the tension but then opts to smother it with a bold, militaristic beat, over which violins scurry with nervous agitation. And whilst Track 18 is introduced with a deep and deadly John Barry sound of heavy menace, it soon grows into a fleeting and overwrought action drive that moves along at a wild clip, scratching tempestuous strings in its wake. This is simply awesome stuff that just builds and builds and becomes one of the most versatile and prominent tracks on the album. The whole thing then climaxes with almost agonising lyricism and resplendence in the final three tracks (19 - 21), where we are treated to the whimsical, harmonious and ultimately sweepingly lush parting renditions of the lullaby, the whole film and the album closing with the same emotional fragility with which they opened.

    Knockout stuff, folks.

    Although a cracking score in conjunction with Del Toro's captivating visuals right from the get-go, Navarrete's music on this album, lushly expanded with the original complete track listing (including some cues that were ultimately dropped from the film), really begins to hit home on the second and third listening - his complex and thematically rich compositions revealing newer sensations and deeper emotions that, at first, only peep through his expressively wide orchestration. Little vignettes crop up everywhere, chuckling sweetly through the tension like chinks of sunlight through black storm clouds, Del Toro's brooding story finally relenting to individual and disparate rays of musical hope. Danger and wonder go hand in hand, swapping notes and chords and making every cue a bittersweet delight. The individualistic approach to the album sees that most of the high points, the soaring melodies, the playful instrumentation and the swirling crescendos, are subtly embedded within the dense cloak of a continuous swell of beautifully drawn-together sound. Where many other composers would have simply let rip with the histrionics, the bombast and the obvious emotional stingers, Navarrete keeps them deliberately obscured, as if held behind a maze of curtains, draped with uncertainty and forever grasping at freedom. It is a clever trick - literally masking his most heartfelt and aching passages within the very walls of an aural labyrinth - that sets the perfect tone and mood for the film and, with patience, makes for a thrillingly poignant listening experience on disc.

    Distinctive and highly evocative, Pan's Labyrinth is music for the dark, unblinking eye of the storm.

    Full track listing is as follows -

    1. Long, Long Time Ago (2.11)

    2. The Labyrinth (4.01)

    3. Rose, Dragon (3.34)

    4. The Fairy And The Labyrinth (3.33)

    5. Three Trials (2.04)

    6. The Moribund Tree And The Toad (7.08)

    7. Guerrilleros (2.05)

    8. A Book Of Blood (3.17)

    9. Mercedes Lullaby (1.36)

    10. The Refuge (1.32)

    11. Not Human (5.52)

    12. The River (2.48)

    13. A Tale (1.52)

    14. Deep Forest (5.45)

    15. Vals Of The Mandrake (3.38)

    16. The Funeral (2.42)

    17. Mercedes (5.34)

    18. Pan And The Full Moon (5.04)

    19. Ofelia (2.16)

    20. A Princess (3.59)

    21. Pan's Labyrinth Lullaby (1.47)

    Total Running Time 73.44


    A small accompanying booklet contains words from both Guillermo Del Toro and Javier Navarrete, as well as a handful of photos from the film.

    Verdict

    The score for Pan's Labyrinth comes very highly recommended indeed. But this is not an album for casual listening, not by a long way. Navarrete's music is heartbreaking, tragic and doom-laden and may well be too heavy and exhausting an experience for many when removed from the film's visuals. But, make no mistake, this is an exquisite work of mood, soul and ethereal power. There is beauty and wonder here, as well as a colossally huge and brooding aural landscape that can, on occasion, threaten to engulf. Navarrete's and Del Toro's haunting lullaby motif may well become more of a lament as the score progresses, but it is breathtaking just how much variety and mileage the composer can get out of its simple structure.

    One of the best films of 2006 gained one of the best scores of 2006, as well. The two elements work in pure harmony when combined, but the music also has the ability to take on a life of its own and weave its own separate stories if you let it. Majestic, rich and vital, this is a score that will consume you more with each listening.