Pan’s Labyrinth and the Trap of Deceptive Marketing

by HELEN GEIB

Pan’s Labyrinth 030607

I owe a debt of gratitude to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and in the spirit of the typical Oscar acceptance speech I will take this opportunity to say a public “thank you.” If I had not seen the many clips from Pan’s Labyrinth presented during the broadcast, I would not have gone to see it the following week, and would have missed a powerful and remarkable film.

Pan’s Labyrinth is one of the best films of 2006, but it is not the film I expected to see when I bought my ticket. The clips showed an imaginative, visually rich, dark but beautiful fantasy feature about a young girl’s wonderland adventures. In this, the Academy followed the lead of the marketing campaign. It was a successful campaign that resulted in multiplex success, and a deceptive one.

It is not difficult to enter into the minds of the people responsible for choosing to promote Pan’s Labyrinth as a fantasy extravaganza featuring a spunky girl heroine encountering a panoply of weird and wonderful mythological creatures. How many of the people who bought a ticket, at the multiplex or arthouse, would have knowingly paid to see a heartbreaking parable of the fascists’ victory in the Spanish Civil War, with interludes of a young girl’s escape into fantasy from the grim reality of wartime hardships and familial loss? Pan’s Labyrinth is a wonderful movie. It is also a tragedy. As a story of the creation of the post-war Spanish state, it could have been nothing else. The fantasy interludes are a brilliant and integral part of the story but they are not the story.

Selling a movie as something it is not does a disservice to the film and its audience. I rail against this practice periodically and Pan’s Labyrinth will be my prime example until the inevitable even more egregious marketing campaign of misdirection comes along. Most people who buy a ticket to a fantasy (albeit a dark fantasy: after all, the film is rated R and directed by Guillermo del Toro) will not be in a receptive frame of mind to appreciate a wrenching exploration of fascist-era Spain born from the blood of her children. And most people who want to see the latter will not buy a ticket to the latest movie by that well-known horror film director. The campaign was financially successful this time, where such campaigns are often not even successful in generating money, but as always it predisposed the paying audience to disappointment and resentment and turned the potential audience away at the door.

Original Commentary Track review of Pan’s Labyrinth by Rishi Agrawal

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