Trilogía de Guillermo del Toro
Throughout a career that encompasses both visually arresting art-house hits and big-budget Hollywood spectacles, director Guillermo del Toro has continually redefined and elevated the horror genre with his deeply personal explorations of myths and monsters. These three Spanish-language films, each a tale of childhood in troubled times, showcase his singular fusion of the fantastic and the real. Drawing inspiration from a rich variety of sources, from Alfred Hitchcock to Francisco de Goya, the gothic-infused stories collected here—populated by vampires, ghosts, and a fairy-tale princess—make evident why del Toro is considered the master cinematic fabulist of our time.
The Criterion Collection presents this rather lavish Blu-ray box set, Trilogía de Guillermo del Toro, which includes director Guillermo del Toro’s films Cronos, The Devil’s Backbone, and Pan’s Labyrinth. All three films are presented in 1080p/24hz on their own dual-layer discs. Cronos is presented in the aspect ratio of 1.78:1 while the other two films are presented in 1.85:1.
Though this disc art on each disc is new and unique to this set Criterion has essentially just repackaged the individual discs of each film and put them together here. Because of this all content, right down to the presentations themselves, are the same here as they are in their separate editions.
Of the three Cronos is easily the weakest one. Though colours look fine the image is weak in other areas and the transfer can look a bit dated. It can be a bit murky and soft, some of it thanks to weak blacks, which can also crush out shadow detail. Grain is present but it’s a little muddled as well, not as sharp as it could be.
The other two films prove to be substantially better. Though Pan’s Labyrinth comes from an older digital intermediate used for theatrical distribution it still looks quite filmic and clean. Colours offer excellent saturation levels, with some rich greens and reds, and the image is sharp and clean. Grain is present and looks clean, and the image also delivers the fine details (which there are plenty of in the intricately designed film) without issue.
The Devil’s Backbone may be the better one, if by hair. It also delivers sharp blacks and colours, which help in some of those darker scenes. Detail levels are also rather extraordinary, particularly in the long shots of the landscapes. It’s a sharp, crisp presentation, looking incredibly clean and filmic itself.
Though Cronos has a few marks nothing else stood out in terms of damage throughout all three films. In all, despite a few weaknesses (mostly in Cronos) the presentations are still all very strong and the best I’ve seen the films.
All three films come with DTS-HD MA soundtracks, Cronos in 2.0 surround (it also offers an alternate track with an opening Spanish narration), The Devil’s Backbone in 5.1 surround, and Pan’s Labyrinth in both 5.1 and 7.1 surround.
Cronos again offers a weaker experience and it’s only more apparent when compared to the other two films. Dialogue sounds clear and there is some range, but the music has a bit of a flatness to it. Surrounds present some minor effects and music, but nothing really stands out and the film is probably limited by a very limited budget.
The other two present the far better presentations. Del Toro mentions in his commentary for Pan’s Labyrinth that video games have influenced him in terms of sound design and immersing the viewer and that’s certainly evident in both The Devil Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth (for Pan’s Labyrinth I can only currently comment on the 5.1 track). Though both present some louder, more action-packed scenes it’s in the quieter scenes where both tracks really shine. Subtle, quiet sound effects, from ominous noises to the wind from outside, move naturally between the speakers and successfully plant the viewer in the middle of the scene. In both cases, especially The Devil’s Backbone, this nicely lends to the film’s atmosphere. This, along with strong range and fidelity, both tracks deliver superb surround experiences.
Since the discs are the same as their individual counterparts all features have been carried over.
Criterion includes two audio commentaries, the first by director Guillermo del Toro, carried over from the Lionsgate DVD (and funny enough it opens with a sampling of the old Lionsgate logo theme). Of the two this is the stronger one. Del Toro, an incredible wealth of knowledge, has a lot to talk about and never misses a beat, and I can’t recall a dead spot in the track. He of course talks a lot about the production, getting the money together, the casting, the effects, and every technical detail one can think of, but he gets into great detail about his research, including his extensive knowledge on alchemy and the supernatural. He mentions many books that inspired the script, points out film references (including Eyes Without a Face, one I completely missed) and brings up his religious upbringing and how that made its way into the film. In all del Toro is incredibly energetic and the track just flies by. Probably one of the more enjoyable director commentaries I’ve heard. (As a note, del Toro at one point mentions the book that appears in the film, stating that “this DVD” contains photos of the entire book. He is of course referring to the Lionsgate DVD but Criterion did carry those photos over.)
The second track is not as good, but it’s not without its value. This one features producers Arthur H. Gorson, Alejandro Springall, and Bertha Navarro. Springall and Navarro have been recorded together and speak in Spanish (with English subtitles) and Gorson has been recorded on his own and speaks in English. This one isn’t nearly as rich as del Toro’s and it sticks more to the technical and financial details of the production. Between them they talk about the cast, raising money, working with del Toro, and the script. It’s decent but not as interesting and it’s also filled with plenty of dead spots despite the two conversations being edited together. If you were to only listen to one track I would suggest del Toro’s.
The more fun feature to be found here would have to be an early short film by del Toro called Geometria, made in 1987 but has been touched up a bit for this edition. Apparently based on a short story by Frederic Brown it’s the rather witty story of the great lengths a teenager goes to to avoid retaking a geometry test. Running only 6-minutes it’s an impressive feature by the young director, borrowing a colour scheme reminiscent of Dario Argento, and the “twist” gave me a good laugh (the whole thing is building up to a punch line.) It’s accompanied by a 7-minute interview with del Toro with the director talking about the short film, how he touched it up for this release, and points out the influences, mentioning Argento and Bava, and the film Inferno in particular. Fun supplement overall and I’m rather happy del Toro saw fit to include it.
Another intriguing supplement (though maybe guilty of a little navel-gazing) is Welcome to Bleak House, an 11-minute feature devoted to del Toro’s vast collection of stuff. It’s interesting but kind of scary, and I think if it wasn’t for the fact he was a well-regarded director with a vast imagination there’s a good chance we’d see him on one of those awful hoarding shows. The scary part is that this stuff isn’t kept and displayed in his house. Oh, no. He bought a whole other house to keep this stuff in. His collection varies between various pop material, old toys, alchemist tools, books, action figures (he had a rather cool looking one from They Live) and various models and sculptures. We also get a brief look at his screening room which holds over 7000 DVDs and hundreds of laserdiscs (and to my surprise we only get a glimpse of these items, no money shots.) And, I’m sure by coincidence, he has Criterion’s copy of Europa playing on the screen (just the menu, though) when we enter the screening room. I think my jaw was on the floor most of the time, I just could never have imagined such a thing. Del Toro of course gives us the tour, talking about the items, and how they help inspire him. Though it may seem a little pointless it does give a great look into the man’s imagination, inspirations, and creative process.
Criterion next includes some exclusive interviews. First is an 18-minute interview with del Toro about Cronos. He expands on the commentary a little bit, getting into more detail about the familial themes in all of his films, how he presents monsters, and also shares his opinions on what he calls “eye candy” and “eye protein”. Some material is repeated here from the commentary (how he chose to present the American villains in the film comes to mind) but again he’s an engaging speaker and keeps it interesting.
The next interview is with cinematographer Guillermo Navarro who talks about first meeting del Toro and then the work they’ve done together, as well as his and del Toro’s visual sense and way of storytelling through the visuals. Running 13-minutes it’s a little on the dry side but interesting enough.
The final exclusive interview is with actor Ron Perlman. This one is disappointingly short, a little over 7-minutes, but may be the funniest one as Perlman recalls the letter he received from del Toro to star in the film. He has an obvious admiration for del Toro, and pretty much credits him with his current success. His del Toro impersonation is also one of the funnier things I’ve seen. It’s a shame Perlman was unable to participate more in the release somehow, though I’m more than happy he shared his thoughts and feelings here.
Carried over from the Lionsgate DVD is a quasi-interview with actor Federico Luppi, which isn’t too deep, the actor basically talking about the director and what he likes about the film. The nice aspect here, though, is that we get some behind-the-scenes segments scattered throughout. I suspect this is part of a making-of Lionsgate included on their DVD and I’m surprised everything didn’t make it over, but something tells me it would have been repetitive anyways. I’m happy Criterion at least grabbed this portion.
The disc then contains a rather large stills gallery that you navigate through using your remote. It includes well over 60 photos with notes for most of them. The photos included are ones of the scarab device, which includes the large one used for close-ups, del Toro’s family photos, photos from the shoot of Cronos along with photos from the shoot of Geometria. And then we also get photos of the book/instruction manual that appears in the film. Closing off the photos are sketches by del Toro, and a storyboard of an excised sequence.
The supplements then conclude with a “theatrical trailer” that looks more like a straight-to-video trailer you’d find on VHS.
The Devil’s Backbone
The features start out with an audio commentary featuring director Guillermo del Toro, which looks to be the one recorded for the 2004 Special Edition DVD. It’s a shockingly exhaustive track, with del Toro covering everything about the making of the film, from his early drafts of the story to the finished product, covering every minute detail in the film. And I really mean every detail from the design of the central ghost to tile that appears in a scene. I’m actually rather astounded at the amount of thought the man puts into every little thing since everything in a scene fits so well in place and looks natural, like it should just be there. But everything was planned, everything was designed, and he goes over the numerous influences one can find in the film: other films, artwork, novels, poetry, everything. He talks about gothic and classical influences, and his desire in creating a gothic ghost story in a non-gothic setting (the Spanish Civil War). At times I honestly felt my head was spinning because there is so much material in here. It’s excellent and just about negates the rest of the material found on here.
The remaining supplements start with a quick introduction by del Toro recorded in 2010. At under a minute the director simply explains how the features will go over the making of the film and how it relates to Pan’s Labyrinth.
The next feature is a first for Criterion: a “picture-in-picture” feature presenting del Toro’s thumbnails he drew, which play over the film in the bottom left corner when turned on. As explained elsewhere (including the commentary if I recall correctly) del Toro drew up a number of small thumbnail images planning out the film, similar to a storyboard. When available these drawings appear over their related scenes in the film. An interesting feature but it unfortunately disables the subtitles (the presentation is actually an alternate subtitle track and not a real picture-in-picture feature), which may be problematic for viewers who don’t speak Spanish.
Summoning Spirits is a 14-minute interview with del Toro recorded for Criterion in 2013. Here the director goes into great detail (because he apparently didn’t go into enough detail in the commentary) about the design of Santi, the film’s central ghost. Accompanied by a number of sketches and designs he explains the genesis of the look of the character, which he wanted to look like a cracked porcelain doll. There was a lot of back and forth between him and the effects people, but he finally got the look he wanted. He also explains some limitations he had in the way of effects because of the film’s budget (though other features almost suggest the film had a rather large budget,) such as the skeleton effect he wanted. He did find a creative way around that, though. He also goes over the look of the orphanage, from the oxidized exteriors to the darker blues of the interiors. As with the commentary it’s a very dense interview with the director.
¿Que es un fantasma? appears to be the same 2004 documentary that would have appeared on Sony’s special edition DVD. In Spanish and running at 27-minutes it’s a pretty run-of-the-mill making-of, featuring plenty of behind-the-scenes footage, with members going over the development of the script, effects, make-up, design, and so on. It’s a fine piece but the material is covered elsewhere.
Spanish Gothic is another interview with del Toro, this one also from 2010. Here del Toro talks about the gothic look and feel for the film, but not before explaining some of the ideas he originally had for the film. He covers again how the film was originally to take place in Mexico with a mountain region known as the Devil’s Backbone as the backdrop (he then had to change the title to refer to a medical condition when he moved it to Spain) and some more “fairy tale” aspects that make it seem like it was going to be closer to Pan’s Labyrinth. From here he talks about how he took a “gothic romance” and had it take place during the Spanish Civil War, and then goes over the political elements that appear through the characters in the film. He then talks about its release, which happened after 9/11, and admits commercially it was the wrong time to release the film. Some of this material is mentioned in his commentary but it’s actually expanded on here and makes for a rather fascinating 18-minutes.
The Director’s Notebook is a more interactive feature than we’ve gotten from Criterion in a long while, calling back to their multimedia essays that appeared on some of their laserdiscs and early DVDs. Put together in 2010, the feature displays a few pages of notes on the film from del Toro’s notebook, going fomr the preserved fetuses to the bomb in the courtyard. There are only a few pages you can flip through, using your remote to navigate, but there’s some video sections thrown in here. When you select a “key” image a video interview with del Toro pops up, the director going over the content that appears on the page. It’s a short feature in total, with about 9-minutes’ worth of video, but an interesting one to go through.
Designing The Devil’s Backbone is another new interview recorded for Criterion, with del Toro talking about the design work that went into the film. Carlos Gimenez (whose comic Paracuellos was an influence on the film) did a lot of the design work for the film, from characters to settings, and we see a lot of those drawings here. Though cartoonish in nature you can still see how these designs came out in the finished film. Del Toro also talks about the importance of the costumes and the detail and planning that went into their looks, while also talking about how they put together the photos in the film. Some of this is again covered in the commentary but del Toro goes into far more detail here, making for another intriguing supplement.
We then get 4-minutes’ worth of deleted scenes, presented here in upscaled standard-definition. There are four scenes in total, each with an optional commentary. There’s a nice scene featuring Jacinto, but del Toro explains these scenes were all cut either because of pacing, his disappointment with how an attempt at a single-shot scene went, or because he felt a scene ruined a reveal a little later. There’s nothing wrong with the scenes but the film wouldn’t have benefitted with them.
There’s then a 12-minute feature comparing thumbnails and sketches with respective scenes from the film. It’s a split screen presentation presenting del Toro’s thumbnails and the respective sketches that Gimenez made from them on top, while the related scene plays below in a separate window. You can then use the multi-angle button to switch to either the thumbnail or sketch on their own without the related scene playing. The last two scenes are missing the thumbnails. An interesting inclusion, though it’s somewhat trumped by the picture-in-picture feature that plays over the film.
To add some context Criterion next includes A War of Values, a 14-minute interview with scholar Sebastian Faber. Here he talks about the Spanish Civil War, explaining the reasons for it (it started after a failed military coup,) how it ended, and then what followed in the country for decades. He talks about some of the elements in the film and how they relate to the war. Although it of course only scrapes the surface of the way, I’m always appreciative when Criterion includes material like this.
The disc then closes with the film’s theatrical trailer.
For Pan’s Labyrinth 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 Set
Since the discs are the same as their respective individual releases, Criterion goes all out on this set to attract fans of del Toro. It includes rather fancy fold-out packaging (click here for photos) but the real star here is the 100-page hardbound book. The book carries over everything from the booklets and inserts included with the individual editions: Cronos’ Maitland McDonagh essay and the reproduction of the notes del Toro made for the film, the essay by Mark Kermode for The Devil’s Backbone, and the essay by Michael Atkinson for Pan’s Labyrinth. The book includes some more exclusive material, though. Neil Gaiman also writes a short introduction to the set, relating how he first discovered del Toro’s work and then each film in the set. The rest of the book is divided into sections, one for each film. For The Devil’s Backbone the book also includes a series of storyboards for the film while Pan’s Labyrinth features a collection of designs. Artwork is also scattered about throughout. It’s a nicely put together book and beautifully finishes off the package.
Taken altogether it’s an impressive if almost over-bearing set of features. If there is one disappointment it’s that there isn’t much in the way of scholarly material (it’s limited to the book) but it all offers a fascinating examination of del Toro at work. It’s a wonderful collection of features.
It’s a gorgeous little set, which will surely please fans of del Toro’s work. Still, other than the book (and the package itself), there’s nothing truly exclusive here: the discs are all the same as the individual releases and if you already own the other titles I don’t think it’s necessary to pick this one up. But, for anyone who has yet to pick them up, or is just a huge del Toro fan, it comes with a very high recommendation. It’s a sharp looking release.