April 25, 2011

Death Rattle Arena: Del Toro Death Match

In an attempt to get away from strictly posting reviews, but yet fulfill my desire to dance... I mean, WRITE, I decided to initiate yet another potential weekly feature called "Death Rattle Arena", where I pick two movies at random and have them duke it out in order to see which of the two gets the Death Rattle seal of approval, whatever that means. The point would mostly be to take two films that have as little to do with each other as possible and dissect each one in order to see which film has the most strengths in certain areas.

Feedback here is crucial. I have no problem with not posting these in the future, but at the same time I think it's a fun idea to break up the monotony and do something outside of the box for you - the almighty reader - to enjoy. Let me know what you think. Should I continue to post these, and if so would you rather see two different films every week, or would you like to see a tournament type of thing where the winning film is paired up the following week against a new challenger? Also, based on what you see here, should I shorten future posts? Holla at 'cha boi.

The first two films to enter the completely SOLD-OUT Death Rattle Arena are, coincidentally, both directed by Guillermo Del Toro: BLADE II (Tale of the Tape) and PAN'S LABYRINTH (Tale of the Tape) And, yes, these really were picked at random from a list of over a hundred movies. To most, this match-up may seem like a no-contest, or a "squash match" to use wrestling terminology, but you may be a bit surprised at what I have to say about both films.


BLADE II has a diverse cast, whereas Spanish actress Ivana Baquero pretty much carries most of PAN'S LABYRINTH as lead character Ofelia, with the exception of a very strong supporting performance from actor Sergi Lopez as her wicked stepfather ("wicked" being a fucking understatement). For me, BLADE II easily wins this round of the match. I don't typically seek out anything with Wesley Snipes, but I've enjoyed him in pretty much anything I've seen him in, and he's done a fantastic job as the Blade character in all three films. BLADE II also has a decent supporting cast, with the notables being Kris Kristofferson reprising his role as Blade's confidant Whistler, and Ron Perlman, who also worked with Del Toro on CRONOS and the HELLBOY movies. As an easter egg of sorts for genre fans who are familiar with modern Hong Kong cinema, Donnie Yen also stars in BLADE II in a supporting role.

Again, BLADE II easily takes this round with its assortment of fun and memorable characters. In the film, Blade teams up with a group of vampires who are comparable to the Expendables, except on an obviously much lesser scale; they're all a bunch of bad-asses, but each of them have their own unique skill, appearance, and personality trait that makes them stick out from one another. Not to mention their common enemy: an advanced breed of vampire cannibals that look to wipe out the existing race of bloodsuckers. PAN'S LABYRINTH, on the other hand, has its share of imaginative characters, like the utterly creepy Faun and the Pale Man, but as far as the human characters are concerned, there's not enough there for me to really care about any of them. Every time I watch the film, I find myself indifferent towards Ofelia's character, which isn't a good sign since we as an audience are supposed to be supportive of her throughout the film. If anyone out there disagrees with me, I'd love to hear it.

When it comes to the plot, what I look for are the obvious things like plot holes, and also if the movie ties up its loose ends, or delivers what you'd expect from it. I'd say both films are pretty equal in that regard. With BLADE II, you go into it expecting a vampire movie with a wise-cracking anti-hero and tons of blood and action sequences. With PAN'S LABYRINTH, it's advertised as a dark fantasy film with elements of a fairy tale. Both films provide what they promise, and neither have any ginormous plot holes to speak of, considering the types of films they are. The tie-breaker here would be the scripts for each film, and, once again, I have to give this one to BLADE II. Not because I'm biased towards it, but for a horror/action movie such as BLADE II, the script is solid. Nothing Oscar-worthy, but there's at least tons of entertaining dialogue and one-liners in the film, whereas PAN'S isn't necessarily a film that's driven by dialogue.

OK, all you PAN'S LABYRINTH fans, you can stop shaking your fist at me now. Not a whole lot of originality to speak of when it comes to BLADE II - a sequel of a vampire film that was based on a comic book (key words being "vampire", "sequel", and "based on"). PAN'S LABYRINTH takes the prize here for obvious reasons.

Like Hulk Hogan getting his second wind and circling the ring while seemingly becoming impervious to his opponent's offensive maneuvers, PAN'S LABYRINTH makes a comeback and claims yet another round in this battle of Del Toro films. While BLADE II does look rather sharp, especially in comparison to the first BLADE which wasn't very impressive from a photography standpoint, PAN'S LABYRINTH is one of the most gorgeous films I've ever seen. One could argue that (and by "one" I mean me) the only thing that this film has going for it is its beautiful cinematography and amazing special effects, not to mention the overall originality and creativity of the design when it comes to the film's more fantastic sets. There's no competition here. Get 'em, Fauno!

What's more entertaining here... ass-kicking vampires or some little girl who makes shit up in her head to escape the harsh realities of living in an abusive household? BLADE II isn't a blast from beginning to end, but it's far superior to PAN'S LABYRINTH in terms of entertainment value. To be fair, PAN'S isn't the type of film meant to thrill audiences, so we have to go with the pure entertainment value of BLADE II versus the watchability of PAN'S LABYRINTH and if that film is able to keep your attention based on its dark storyline, and even in that case I'd still easily give this one to Snipes and company.

BLADE II does drag in spots, but it's still superior to PAN'S LABYRINTH in the pacing department. Because of the mood of the latter film, it's a slow burn for the most part, and when you also consider the fact that its running time is a bit lengthy, it doesn't look so good for the Spanish fantasy film in this particular round of the match.

It all depends on what you're looking for and what type of mood you're in. Both films have replay value because they aren't the type of movies that give you everything you need from them in a single viewing. BLADE II is the type of film you can put on in the background when you're doing other shit, and the same can also be said for PAN'S LABYRINTH, I guess, especially if you hablo Espanol and don't have to read the subtitles. However, if one were to re-watch one of these films with the intention of actually sitting down and investing in it, I'd go with BLADE II simply for higher entertainment value. In my opinion, it's the type of film (of these particular two) that you can get more mileage out of.

Nothing to really speak of when it comes to the music in PAN'S LABYRINTH. The score is good and serves its purpose, and as long as the music (or lack thereof) doesn't take away from the film or affect it in a negative way, as far as failing to set a certain mood and whatnot, one can't really complain. As for the score in BLADE II, you could play me an entire track from the original score and I wouldn't even be able to recognize it as being a piece of music from this movie. But, BLADE II has the advantage here because of its actual soundtrack, which consists of original songs by well-known "urban" artists (at the time) collaborating with electronic-based musical acts. If anything, BLADE II wins just because of the joint by Mos Def and Massive Attack. Shit is bangin', son.

This isn't a default round that will pop up in every single Arena match from now on, but both films qualify in this particular match because of the fact that they're the type of films that utilize special effects (which they both feature, one more prominently than the other). In other words, if two slasher movies were to go up against each other, there would be a round dedicated to creative kills, or the amount of violence in general. Anyway, this sort of ties back into the Cinematography and Appearance round, which means that PAN'S LABYRINTH easily squashes the competition again since it's the more visually impressive of the two.

In my opinion, an ending can make or break a film, so it's important, when putting films up against one another like this, to take the ending into consideration. BLADE II has the type of ending where, when you get done watching it and the closing credits begin to roll, you have a feeling of satisfaction with what you've just seen, and you're like "OK, I suppose that was fun". PAN'S LABYRINTH, on the other hand, ends on a note that's fitting for the film and doesn't cheat the audience in any way, but there's nothing about it that makes me think about what an amazing film it was, and this also has to do with the lead character, her situation, and whether or not I was able to invest in her in the first place (which I wasn't). With the ending for PAN'S, for it to really hit home, I have to care about the people involved, and that unfortunately wasn't the case. I obviously can't speak for everyone else who's seen the movie, but, personally, it did nothing for me.

Well, that does it for this match-up. PAN'S LABYRINTH put up a fight, but BLADE II came out on top and proved its worthiness of competing in the Death Rattle Arena. I could have told you right from the start that I think BLADE II is the better film of the two without dissecting each movie, but at least it lets you get an understanding of where I'm coming from. I know I'm not alone in thinking this (because I posted a question on Facebook and two people agreed with me!), but, in my opinion, PAN'S LABYRINTH is extremely overrated. It's a really good film, there's no denying that, and I also think it's a movie that everyone should go out of their way to see at least once, but I can't bring myself to agree with anyone who praises it as one of the great films of the last decade. To me, it's a spectacle and nothing more. Either way, Del Toro wins.

Overall Winner: BLADE II


  1. The end of Pan's Labyrinth I thought was something wonderful, and I did end up giving the film my elusive five out of five stars. I don't think it's overrated at all, though it doesn't get many negative reviews that I've seen.

    Though it's hard for me to get into anything starring Wesley Snipes, I did like this segment of your blog and would like to see more.

  2. Oooh, I really enjoyed this! Nice idea, and an interesting match-up too.

    I think I'd have to agree with what you said, I've only seen both films once (a while ago), and thinking back, I'd rather watch Blade II again than Pan's. There's something about Pan's where I feel it should be watched at least once, but there's nothing about it that pulls me back. Blade, however, is just good fun, and doesn't take itself too seriously.

    Also, I loved the images throughout this post. Good work!

  3. Hmmm... I'm torn on this outcome, much like I am at any boxing event. I would mostly disagree with "Blade II" winning script. I can never remember that movie or plot at all! I totally forgot about Ron Perlman until you mentioned it. I think this is the one with Norman Reedus as well. For me, it pales behind the great story of "Blade" and the hijinks and hilarity of "BLade Trinity".

    "Pan's" however has stuck with me. It reminds me of the fractured fairy tales my Dad used to tell me. Oddly enough, he hates this movie; mostly for the ending! I however, love a film that isn't afraid to piss people off or end on a tragic note. Anytime a main character dies, it's like a big F-You to Hollywood and I love it!

  4. I like this idea and hope you continue to run with it. So many possibilites for director death matches. As far as these two go, PAN'S LABRINYTH is the better film by far but I find myself watching BLADE II more. That being said, when it comes to Del Toro I really love his HELLBOY films.

  5. I gotta say, if you'd featured a category for Total Nasty Bastard, the blackshirt army captain sadist kiddie-murdering fuck in 'Pan's Labyrinth' would have wiped the floor with all comers!

  6. I always loved Blade since I had a huge crush on Wesley Snipes in that movie when I was younger. :)

  7. Thanks, everybody!

    Drunketh: I thought the ending was super cheesy, but I totally respect and understand your opinion. Like I said, it just didn't do anything for me, personally.

    Liam: Definitely feeling the BLADE love. Thanks man, and I'm glad someone agrees with me.

    Bevin: I love tragic endings just as much as I love happy endings, but only if they're done right. I liked the route that they went with the ending on this one, but, like I told Drunketh up there, I just thought it was really cheesy and far from the tearjerker that it was intended to be.

    J.D.: I like the first HELLBOY a lot. Didn't care for it the first time I saw it but grew to love it over time. I was underwhelmed with the second one, but I only saw it the once in theaters.

    Neil: I agree.

    Jenny: Whatever floats your boat!