Blu-Ray Review – Pan’s Labyrinth
This year marks the tenth anniversary of Guillermo del Toro’s Academy Award winning Pan’s Labyrinth (2006). To commemorate the occasion, the good folks over at the Criterion Collection have graciously bestowed upon us a beautiful blu ray edition of the film (Spine #838). This director-approved version comes loaded with special features and an updated video and audio transfer. Being a fan of both physical media and Criterion (my significant other would say I have a hoarding complex), I was looking forward to this release. So let’s take a moment and see what we got, shall we?
Pan’s Labyrinth is one of the great pictures of the 2000s. Blending mystery, fantasy, horror, and real life history, del Toro (who wrote and directed) crafted a parable about adolescence, growing up, and the unrelenting cruelty of evil. We follow eleven year old Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) as she travels with her pregnant mother (Ariadna Gil) into the Spanish mountainside shortly after the Spanish Civil War. Awaiting them is Ofelia’s new stepfather, the evil Captain Vidal (Sergi López). The captain has been assigned to the heavily wooded area to take care of the last remaining rebels, and he does so with a sadistic bloodlust.
While the terror of warfare spirals around her and her family, Ofelia magically finds herself caught in her own personal fairytale. Late one night while inside a stone labyrinth, Ofelia runs into a faun (Doug Jones), a tall, horned creature who tells her that she is the reincarnation of an underworld princess. The faun reveals to Ofelia that her father is still alive, and is waiting to see her in the underworld. But to go there, Ofelia must complete three dangerous tasks, including stealing a key from a giant toad, and retrieving a dagger from “the pale man” (also Doug Jones), a deadly monster whose eyes are planted in his hands.
It takes a filmmaker with a bold vision to successfully combine a war picture with a fantasy story. Both sides are compelling – del Toro balances his focus so that Ofelia’s journey and the conflict between Spanish soldiers and the rebels compliment each other perfectly. Del Toro understands that fairytales are not regulated for younger people. Many audiences (especially in the U.S.) see them only for kids, but del Toro approaches it differently. He knows that fantasy – just like in reality – doesn’t always have happy endings, but through the darkness comes resilience, strength, and hope. He encompasses those themes within Ofelia. If you haven’t seen this masterpiece yet, now is the time to do so.
The disc contains a newly graded 2k digital transfer from the 35mm original camera negative. Both the video and audio transfers were supervised by Guillermo del Toro. Visually, the picture is pristine. It’s devoid of any specks, dust, cracks, or visual noise. Colors have a deep texture to them: blacks are very black and yellows are very yellow. There’s a keen difference between nighttime and daytime scenes. Night scenes are so dark that objects become nearly encompassed in shadow – characters with dark hair look like they blend into the backgrounds. Day scenes have a stark golden hue about them, playing on both the period and fantasy settings.
The audio was remastered from the original digital master files into two separate soundtracks. The first is a 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. There’s also an alternate 7.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack available. During play through, the audio sounded crisp and clear with no discernible pops, cracks, or hisses. The sound makes its presence known all throughout, from the gunfire and explosions of the war scenes to the numerous creatures inhabiting Ofelia’s magical realm.
As is the standard for most Criterion Collection releases, this edition comes packed with a ton of material to sift through. I didn’t calculate it, but I would wager that the amount of bonus material is either equal to or longer than the film itself. There is a downside with this release, however, and it’s the fact that most of the special features on the disc were transferred from the 2007 DVD release. Del Toro’s audio commentary, the four making-of documentaries, the interactive director’s notebook, the animated comics, and the production storyboards are all present on the DVD version. Oddly enough, del Toro’s interview on the Charlie Rose show – which is on the DVD – is missing here.
In terms of new material, we have three to speak of. The first is an interview between del Toro and novelist Cornelia Funke in which they talk about fairy tales and fantasy stories, and how they incorporate those themes into their work, especially in relation to Pan’s Labyrinth. More interesting is the new interview with actor Doug Jones, and his experience working with del Toro here and in previous projects. Jones is the unsung hero of del Toro’s films, and seeing his approach to his characters is fascinating given that Jones has a colorful personality to begin with. Both interviews last about half an hour. Lastly, the insert contains a piece by Michael Atkinson called The Heart of the Maze, which goes through his appreciation of the film, comparing it to Victor Erice’s The Spirit of the Beehive (1973). A part of me wishes Criterion would go back to the good old days where they would include a full book/booklet with every release, but something tells me those days are long gone.
For new owners of Pan’s Labyrinth, this release is chock full of everything you’d hope for in a blu ray disc. For those that already own the previous DVD, you might come away wishing there were more brand new material. Overall, it’s a solid edition. The only thing keeping me from giving this a full recommendation is the fact that Criterion is also releasing the mega set Trilogia de Guillermo del Toro, which not only includes this film, but also Cronos (1993) and The Devil’s Backbone (2001) as well as a beautiful coffee table book that contains a ton of extra loot. A lot of stuff to put a dent in your wallet.