14 Fantastical Facts About Pan's Labyrinth

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Between his modest comic book hits Hellboy and Hellboy II: The Golden Army, imaginative Mexican filmmaker Guillermo del Toro made a film that was darker and more in Spanish: Pan's Labyrinth, a horror-tinged fairy tale set in 1944 Spain, under fascist rule. Like many of del Toro's films, it's a political allegory as well as a gothic fantasy. The heady mix of whimsy and violence wasn't everyone's cup of tea, but it won enough fans to make $83.25 million worldwide and receive six Oscar nominations (it won three). Here are some details to help you separate fantasy from reality the next time you take a walk in El Laberinto del Fauno.

1. IT'S A COMPANION PIECE TO THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE.

Del Toro intended Pan's Labyrinth to be a thematic complement to The Devil's Backbone, his 2001 film set in Spain in 1939. The movies have a lot of similarities in their structure and setup, but del Toro says on the Pan's Labyrinth DVD commentary that the events of September 11, 2001—which occurred five months after The Devil's Backbone opened in Spain, and two months before it opened in the U.S.—changed his perspective. "The world changed," del Toro said. "Everything I had to say about brutality and innocence changed."

2. IT HAS A CHARLES DICKENS REFERENCE.

When Ofelia (IvanaBaquero) arrives at Captain Vidal's house, goes to shake his hand, and is gruffly told, "It's the other hand," that's a near-quotation from Charles Dickens' David Copperfield, when the young lad of the title meets his mother's soon-to-be-husband. Davey's stepfather turns out to be a cruel man, too, just like Captain Vidal (Sergi López).

3. DUE TO A DROUGHT, THERE ARE VERY FEW ACTUAL FLAMES OR SPARKS IN THE MOVIE.

The region of Segovia, Spain was experiencing its worst drought in 30 years when del Toro filmed his movie there, so his team had to get creative. For the shootout in the forest about 70 minutes into the movie, they put fake moss on everything to hide the brownness, and didn't use squibs (explosive blood packs) or gunfire because of the increased fire risk. In fact del Toro said that, except for the exploding truck in another scene, the film uses almost no real flames, sparks, or fires. Those elements were added digitally in post-production.

4. IT CEMENTED DEL TORO'S HATRED OF HORSES.

The director is fond of all manner of strange, terrifying monsters, but real live horses? He hates 'em. "They are absolutely nasty motherf*ckers," he says on the DVD commentary. His antipathy toward our equine friends predated Pan's Labyrinth, but the particular horses he worked with here—ill-tempered and difficult, apparently—intensified those feelings. "I never liked horses," he says, "but after this, I hate them."

5. THE FAUN'S IMAGE IS INCORPORATED INTO THE ARCHITECTURE.

If you look closely at the banister in the Captain's mansion, you'll see the Faun's head in the design. It's a subtle reinforcement of the idea that the fantasy world is bleeding into the real one.

6. IT MADE STEPHEN KING SQUIRM.

Del Toro reports that he had the pleasure of sitting next to the esteemed horror novelist at a screening in New England, and that King squirmed mightily during the Pale Man scene. "It was the best thing that ever happened to me in my life," del Toro said.

7. IT REFLECTS DEL TORO'S NEGATIVE FEELINGS TOWARD THE CATHOLIC CHURCH.

Del Toro told an interviewer that he was appalled by the Catholic church's complicity with fascism during the Spanish Civil War. He said the priest's comment at the banquet table, regarding the dead rebels—"God has already saved their souls; what happens to their bodies, well, it hardly matters to him"—was taken from a real speech that a priest used to give to rebel prisoners in the fascist camps. Furthermore, "the Pale Man represents the church for me," Del Toro said. "He represents fascism and the church eating the children when they have a perversely abundant banquet in front of them."

8. THERE'S A CORRECT ANSWER TO THE QUESTION OF WHETHER IT'S REAL OR ALL IN OFELIA'S HEAD.

Del Toro has reiterated many times that while a story can mean different things to different people, "objectively, the way I structured it, there are clues that tell you ... that it's real." Specifically: the flower blooming on the dead tree at the end; the chalk ending up on Vidal's desk (as there's no way it could have gotten there); and Ofelia's escape through a dead end of the labyrinth.

9. THE PLOT WAS ORIGINALLY EVEN DARKER.

In del Toro's first conception of the story, it was about a married pregnant woman who meets the Faun in the labyrinth, falls in love with him, and lets him sacrifice her baby on faith that she, the baby, and the Faun will all be together in the afterlife and the labyrinth will thrive again. "It was a shocking tale," Del Toro said.

10. THE SHAPES AND COLORS ARE THEMATICALLY RELEVANT.

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Del Toro points out in the DVD commentary that scenes with Ofelia tend to have circles and curves and use warm colors, while scenes with Vidal and the war have more straight lines and use cold colors. Over the course of the film, the two opposites gradually intrude on one another.

11. THAT VICIOUS BOTTLE ATTACK COMES FROM AN INCIDENT IN DEL TORO'S LIFE.

Del Toro and a friend were once in a fight during which his friend was beaten in the face with a bottle, and the detail that stuck in the director's memory was that the bottle didn't break. That scene is also based on a real occurrence in Spain, when a fascist smashed a citizen's face with the butt of a pistol and took his groceries, all because the man didn't take off his hat.

12. DOUG JONES LEARNED SPANISH TO PLAY THE FAUN.

The Indiana-born actor, best known for working under heavy prosthetics and makeup, had worked with del Toro on Hellboy and Mimic and was the director's first choice to play the Faun and the Pale Man. The only problem: Jones didn't speak Spanish. Del Toro said they could dub his voice, but Jones wanted to give a full performance. Then del Toro said he could learn his Spanish lines phonetically, but Jones thought that would be harder to memorize than the actual words. Fortunately, he had five hours in the makeup chair every day, giving him plenty of time to practice. And then? Turns out it still wasn't good enough. Del Toro replaced Jones's voice with that of a Spanish theater actor, who was able to make his delivery match Jones's facial expressions and lip movements.

13. NEVER MIND THE (ENGLISH) TITLE, THAT ISN'T PAN.

The faun is a mythological creature, half man and half goat, who represents nature (it's where the word "fauna" comes from) and is neutral toward humans. Pan is a specific Greek god, also goat-like, who's generally depicted as mischievous, harmful, and overly sexual—not a creature you'd be comfortable seeing earn the trust of a little girl. In Spanish, the film is called El Laberinto del Fauno, which translates to The Faun's Labyrinth. "Pan" was used for English-speaking audiences because that figure is more familiar than the faun, but you'll notice he's never called Pan in the film itself. "If he was Pan, the girl would be in deep sh*t," del Toro told one interviewer.

14. DEL TORO WROTE THE ENGLISH SUBTITLES HIMSELF.

After being disappointed by the way the translators handled The Devil's Backbone ("subtitles for the thinking impaired"), the Mexican filmmaker, who speaks fluent English, did the job himself for Pan's Labyrinth. "I took about a month with a friend and an assistant working on them, measuring them, so that it doesn't feel like you're watching a subtitled film," he said.

Additional Sources:
DVD features and commentary

10 Unforgettable Facts About The Notebook On Its 15th Anniversary

Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams star in The Notebook (2004).
Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams star in The Notebook (2004).
New Line Cinema

In 1996, Nicholas Sparks published his first book, The Notebook. He would go on to write several more romance novels, many of which would be adapted into films. But 2004’s film adaption of The Notebook remains the highest-grossing Sparks adaptation, making $115 million worldwide against a $25 million budget. It was Rachel McAdams's breakout lead role (it was released just a few months after Mean Girls); it solidified Ryan Gosling as a “hey girl” heartthrob; and it swept all eight categories it was nominated for at the 2005 Teen Choice Awards, winning in categories like Choice Movie Love Scene and Choice Movie Liplock.

The book and movie follow a young couple named Noah (Gosling) and Allie (Adams) in 1940s North Carolina (the movie was filmed in South Carolina). Despite some obstacles, the couple fall in love, marry, and spend the next 60 years together. In present day, it’s revealed that Allie, now an old woman (played by Gena Rowlands), has Alzheimer’s, and her doting husband (James Garner, as an elderly Noah) helps her remember their storied past. In 2003, Sparks published a loose sequel called The Wedding, featuring the characters Allie and Noah. Here are 10 facts about the beloved romance, which arrived in theaters 15 years ago today.

1. It was based on a true story.

Nicholas Sparks’s book was based on his then-wife Cathy's grandparents, who spent more than 60 years together. Cathy was close to her grandparents, and visited them frequently. The grandparents were too ill to attend their wedding, in 1989, so the newly-married couple brought the wedding to them. They dressed up in their wedding clothes and surprised them at their house. Cathy's grandparents told the Sparks how they met and fell in love, decades ago.

“But though their story was wonderful, what I most remember from that day is the way they were treating each other,” Sparks wrote on his website. “The way his eyes shined when he looked at her, the way he held her hand, the way he got her tea and took care of her. I remember watching them together and thinking to myself that after 60 years of marriage, these two people were treating each other exactly the same as my wife and I were treating each other after 12 hours. What a wonderful gift they’d given us, I thought, to show us on our first day of marriage that true love can last forever.”

Unfortunately for Nicholas and Cathy, their love didn’t last forever—they divorced in 2015

2. Nicholas Sparks thinks the book was successful because it was relatable.


Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images

“It seems that nearly everyone I spoke with about the novel knew a ‘Noah and Allie’ in their own life,” Sparks wrote on his website. He also said the book was short enough (224 pages) for people to read it quickly. “I think that readers also appreciate that the novel didn’t include foul language and its love scene was tasteful and mild compared to what’s found in many other novels,” he said. “These factors made people feel comfortable about recommending it to others.”

3. The screenwriter had to work hard to make the characters seem real.

The Notebook screenwriter Jeremy Leven had the daunting task of adapting Sparks's book into a script. “The problem with the book is that it’s melodramatic and sweet, and you have to find a way to appeal to an audience that is apprehensive about yet another sweet movie,” Leven told The Harvard Crimson. “So you have to give it an edge, make it real, and make the choices the characters face real.” That “edge” probably includes the love scene in the rain.

4. Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling didn't get along—at first.


Melissa Moseley/New Line Cinema

Even though they played lovers in the movie and then began dating in real life, the couple clashed during production. Director Nick Cassavetes told MTV a story about an incident when Gosling and McAdams weren’t getting along on the set one day: “Ryan came to me, and there’s 150 people standing in this big scene, and he says, ‘Nick come here,’” Cassavetes shared. “And he’s doing a scene with Rachel and he says, ‘Would you take her out of here and bring in another actress to read off camera with me?’ I said, ‘What?’ We went into a room with a producer; they started screaming and yelling at each other ... The rest of the film wasn’t smooth sailing, but it was smoother sailing.”

5. McAdams and Gosling's on-screen chemistry probably wasn't real.

“[Our later relationship] certainly wasn’t something that either of us had expected would come out of that filmmaking experience,” McAdams said, “which goes to show you that you can engineer chemistry on-screen just by telling the audience that these two people love each other.” She said it was attributed to the acting. “As an actor you don’t have to feel it. You don’t have to feel anything. Just imagine it.”

6. Jessica Biel was bummed she didn't get to play Allie.


Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for NBC

Unlike Gosling, McAdams had to audition for the role of Allie, and so did Jessica Biel. “I was in the middle of shooting Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and I auditioned with Ryan Gosling in my trailer—covered in blood,” Biel told Elle. “That’s one that I wanted so badly. But there’s a million that get away. We’re gluttons for punishment. It’s just rejection.”

7. McAdams felt a lot of pressure to deliver a great performance.

The actress told Film Monthly she knew she had to be good in the movie, because she had to carry it. “At first I put way too much pressure on myself and realized that it wasn’t getting me anywhere,” she said. “I was just a ball of stress, and eventually the character kicked in where she’s sort of free-spirited, doesn’t care what people think, and chases down those things she wants.” She eventually found the right balance.

8. James Marsden thought the movie was going to be "schmaltzy."


Melissa Moseley/New Line Cinema

James Marsden played Allie’s fiancé—and Noah’s rival—Lon Hammond Jr. The actor told Out Magazine how he tries not to make a bad movie, but they sometimes turn out that way. “Then there are some movies that I’ve been in that I was sure people would laugh at, that have become huge,” he said. “I thought The Notebook was going to be a schmaltzy Movie of the Week–type thing, and here we are!”

9. Nick Cassavetes was the fourth choice to direct the movie.

New Line Cinema acquired the rights to Sparks's novel in 1995, before the book was even published. In 1998, Variety reported that Steven Spielberg wanted to direct the film. Jim Sheridan was also interested, but he decided to direct In America instead. In 2001, The Mask of Zorro and GoldenEye director Martin Campbel almost signed on, but in 2002 New Line brought Cassavetes aboard.

10. James Garner ruined his first take shooting with Gena Rowlands.


Melissa Moseley/New Line Cinema

Nick Cassavetes—son of legendary director John Cassavetes—cast his mother, the great Gena Rowlands, as the elderly Allie. Garner recalled the first day he and Gena filmed together. “She's going to come out and I’m sitting on the porch in a chair or something. And I hear Nick say, ‘Okay, mom. Action.’ Well, I ruined that take because I just broke up. That was so funny. That tickled me to death. But he showed his mother great respect. He was gentle with her and worked with her. What I loved about it is that she listened to him. Here’s a professional actress who’s one of the best ever, and she’s listening to her son tell her about things. I really admired that in both of them.”

This story has been updated for 2019.

Alexander Skarsgård Could Have Played Thor in the Marvel Cinematic Universe

Larry Busacca, Getty Images
Larry Busacca, Getty Images

Marvel fans may have trouble imagining Thor played by anyone other than Chris Hemsworth, but apparently, Alexander Skarsgård was pretty darn close to getting the role. How close, you ask? He tried on the costume, held the hammer, and even filmed an audition in the garb.

In 2009—just a year after True Blood premiered—the actor told MTV that he met with Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige and Thor director Kenneth Branagh about the part. “Yeah, I met with Kevin [Feige] a few times and the director,” he said. “There was definitely some truth in that, yeah.”

When the MTV interviewer said he thought the actor had the perfect look to bring Thor to life, Skarsgård simply replied, “So did I.”

But before you start to feel too sorry for Skarsgård, let's not forget the number of impressive roles the True Blood alum has landed. At the moment, he’s playing Perry Wright in HBO’s Big Little Lies, for which he won both an Emmy and a Golden Globe.

As for the Thor role, Hemsworth went on to play the God of Thunder in multiple films, and although his future in the MCU is not certain after Avengers: Endgame, the Australian actor confirmed he’d love to keep playing the character.

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