An Academy Award–winning dark fable set five years after the end of the Spanish Civil War, Pan’s Labyrinth encapsulates the rich visual style and genre-defying craft of Guillermo del Toro. Eleven-year-old Ofelia (Ivana Baquero, in a mature and tender performance) comes face to face with the horrors of fascism when she and her pregnant mother are uprooted to the countryside, where her new stepfather (Sergi López), a sadistic captain in General Franco’s army, hunts down Republican guerrillas who refuse to give up the fight. The violent reality in which she lives merges seamlessly with a fantastical interior world when Ofelia meets a faun in a decaying labyrinth and is set on a strange, mythic journey that is at once terrifying and beautiful. In his revisiting of this bloody period in Spanish history, del Toro creates a vivid depiction of the monstrosities of war infiltrating a child’s imagination and threatening the innocence of youth.
Continuing with Guillermo del Toro’s Spanish language films (after releasing Cronos and The Devil’s Backbone), The Criterion Collection presents Pan’s Labyrinth on a dual-layer Blu-ray in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The 1080p/24hz high-definition presentation is sourced from the theatrical 2K digital intermediate created from the original 35mm negatives.
The notes on the restoration mention that colour adjustments have been made to match del Toro’s original vision for the film, and in comparison to the original DVD and Blu-ray editions the colours do look a bit different: some scenes can look a bit more greenish, grays look a little deeper, and other scenes in the fantasy world can maybe be a bit more yellowish. I’m sure some people feeling this is revisionism will object, but it varies throughout and doesn’t vary too wildly in comparison to other home video releases; it didn’t bother me and still suits the film.
As to overall quality it’s a definite step up in comparison to the previous Warner/New Line DVD and Blu-ray editions. It of course improves substantially over the DVD edition, but it also improves quite a bit over the Warner Blu-ray as well. The image for that release looks a bit flat, hurt more than likely by some overzealous noise reduction: it looked processed and hurt the image. The film is a wonder in design, and the details, particularly in the fantasy elements of the film, are abundant. They didn’t pop as they probably should have in the previous releases but they have a renewed life here. The textures are particularly strong here, close-ups on the Faun now presenting finer details that weren’t as obvious before.
The image also looks far more filmic now. Yes, the source for this is a 2K digital intermediate created for the 2006 theatrical distribution of the film and maybe a new 4K scan could really add a lot, but as it is it does hold up very well. Grain is rendered rather nicely and remains natural. Colours look nicely saturated, with some brilliant reds in a few sequences. Black levels are fairly deep, and though some shadow detail gets lost I still found them nice enough. It was brought to my attention that there is apparently some macroblocking noticeable in screen captures taken at other sites, but I can’t say I ever noticed anything of the sort while watching the film. I noticed a similar issue in a couple of shots while watching Criterion’s presentation of A Short Film About Killing, so it’s possible, but if the issue is here I certainly didn’t notice it. As far as I could see it was about as clean as one could hope.
In the end I found it offered a significant improvement over the previous releases from Warner. The image is sharp, detail is higher, and it still retains a filmic look. I’d say it was worth the upgrade.
Criterion presents two Spanish language tracks, both in DTS-HD MA: a 5.1 and 7.1 surround track. I found this a bit odd since most 5.1 systems should be able to down-mix 7.1 tracks but I’m going to venture a guess that del Toro doesn’t trust leaving it up to the viewer’s system so he chose to have his own 5.1 track mixed specifically for this film.
At the moment I can’t comment on the 7.1 track and had to limit myself to the 5.1 track (which is the default one), but it’s certainly impressive on its own. In his commentary track on this release del Toro mentions how video games have influenced him in creating the sound design for his films and that certainly shows through here. His goal is to completely immerse the viewer and he does that during just about every sequence. While the score and the more action-packed scenes make obvious use of the full environment, it’s the more quiet scenes that are more impressive, whether you can make out the various creeks around you or a wind storm blowing outside. Direction between the speakers is superb and natural, fidelity is excellent, and fine, more subtle details come through clearly as well. It’s a beautifully mixed soundtrack and the presentation here is excellent.
Criterion carries over most of the Warner/New Line features found on previous editions, while also adding a few of their own. The same 25-second introduction by the director (where he proclaims this film almost destroyed him) from the previous editions is here, along with his 2007 audio commentary. Del Toro manages to cover a variety of subjects around the making of the film, going into detail about his original intentions with the story, a companion to The Devil’s Backbone, that managed to morph a bit after 9/11. He draws parallels between the two films at times but spends more time talking about the various influences, which range from Alice in Wonderland and Dickens to various artworks. Even video games, in terms of sound design at least, influenced this film. But what I enjoyed most about the track (and this is expanded upon in another feature on this release) is when he talks about the general story, its fairy tale aspects, and how he likes to leave things open to the audience, giving them enough information to draw their own conclusions. Scattered about are some very funny moments (he expresses his deep hate for working with horses, using a few choice words when describing them) making for a very entertaining track that also has the benefit of being incredibly detailed.
New for this edition is a 39-minute conversation between del Toro and author Cornelia Funke, who both talk about the fairy tale and fantasy elements in their work. It’s a very dense conversation, covering the importance of fairy tales, how they carry on through generations, their structure, while also getting into various influences on them. Yet the most interesting element to the discussion is how one presents fairy tales to modern audiences. Del Toro—who covers this a bit in the commentary track—explains how he wanted Pan’s Labyrinth to carry all the elements of a fairy tale, to the point where the story doesn’t explain everything or leaves a number of loose things hanging out there; things just happen as they should in a fairy tale. This can prove difficult with modern audiences because they do expect things to be explained, but of course, as they explain, this ultimately ruins the magic. The two, unsurprisingly, are quite knowledgeable on the subject and they both have a lot to share here. It’s a solid new feature.
Most of the remaining features are carry-overs from the previous releases. The director’s notebook is an interactive feature. After a brief intro by del Toro you can then dig into an interactive gallery featuring the filmmaker’s notebook. As you flip through you can click various icons to playback video covering everything from building the sets (to fit nicely in the 1.85:1 framing) to creature design to miniature work. In total the video features only run about 15-minutes but they offer some interesting insights into the film’s design and the detail and thought that went into every little aspect of it.
A series of documentaries, also from previous editions, are next up. The Power of Myth could almost be considered a 14-minute summarization of the topics covered in the previous del Toro/Funke conversation, going over the film’s fantasy elements, its story, and his defense of using character types in a film like this. The Color and the Shape and The Melody Echoes the Fairy are both short pieces, the former about the use of colour in the film to represent the different worlds, and the latter about the development of the film’s music, del Toro’s daughter seeming to have final say. They run about 4-minutes and 3-minutes respectively.
Pan and the Fairies proves to be the better one of the documentaries. The 30-minute piece gets into incredible detail about the design of the creatures in the film, the Faun and the Pale Man in particular. For this we get plenty of video footage of actor Doug Jones getting done up in the make-up for both characters, as well as see him practice in costume, getting used to some of the complicated elements (like the legs of the Faun). It’s also fun watching Jones, in Pale Man make-up, trying to eat a Subway sandwich. From a technical perspective it was probably the most fascinating feature (even my children, who walked into the room while I was watching it, were fascinated by it).
Following that Criterion next provides a new 26-minute interview with actor Doug Jones, who plays both the Faun and Pale Man in the film. He talks about his career (which primarily consists of acting under a lot of make-up) and how he first came to work for del Toro, which was for a last-minute shoot for Mimic, which then led to him doing Hellboy and then Pan’s Labyrinth. The biggest handicap for him during Pan’s Labyrinth was that he didn’t speak a word of Spanish, and to add authenticity he did learn the Spanish lines (he was ultimately dubbed over, though), but del Toro brought him on because he knew he would be the best to bring the character(s) to life. He also talks about working the mechanics of the costumes in this film, which is accompanied by more footage of Jones practicing his movements in the Faun outfit, and he gives a great amount of detail to the workings of the costumes. On top of all this and the difficulties acting in the outfits, he talks about creating the characters and using the makeup and costumes as extensions to his performance. This latter aspect, about acting under makeup and creating a character along the lines of the Faun, prove to be the highlights of an already strong interview.
Moving on Criterion ports more material from the old release: 3-minutes’ worth of audition footage featuring Ivana Baquero, followed by animated prequel comics which offer backstories to the Faun, the Pale Man, the Fairies, and the frog. Each animated segment runs about a minute and is literally presented as an animated comic book page.
A collection of multi-angle video comparisons present a few scenes accompanied by thumbnail sketches and storyboards (I’ll avoid naming the scenes as to not give away any spoilers). Three of the four present 3 angles: a 3-way comparison between the sketches, storyboards, and final scene; the sketches presented on their own; and the final storyboard. One scene only presents the rough sketches and the comparison between them and the final scene. With these you get the bonus of seeing how the toad scene was played out originally, after other features explained that the scene had to be changed just before shooting began.
The disc then closes with the film’s theatrical and teaser trailers, along with 7 TV spots. The included insert then features an essay by Michael Atkinson on the film’s blending of real history with fantasy into a coming-of-age tale.
I’m a little disappointed that most of the material is recycled, but it, along with Criterion’s new material, does offer an exhaustive look at the film’s production and its fantasy elements. It’s still a strong set of features and everything is worth going through.
Criterion’s special edition offers a decent upgrade, though only a couple of features are new here. The presentation, though, offers a much needed improvement over the previous Warner/New Line Blu-ray, and it delivers a far more natural look. It comes with a high recommendation.