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Pan`s Labyrinth (Blu-ray Details)

Unique ID Code: 0000122495
Added by: David Beckett
Added on: 23/10/2009 16:43
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    Pan's Labyrinth

    8 / 10

    2006 proved that the Mexican film industry is in good hands, with not only Guillermo del Toro, but also Guillermo Arriaga, Alfonso Cuarón, who co-produced Pan's Labyrinth and made the superb dystopian thriller Children of Men, and the brilliant Alejandro González Iñárritu whose Babel was, like Pan's Labyrinth, an Oscar winner.
    I've always been a bigger fan of Guillermo del Toro's European, and more personal, films than his bigger budget American features, so Pan's Labyrinth (El Laberinto del Fauno) intrigued me immediately and I couldn't wait to see it on the big screen.  I did so, twice, and pre-ordered the DVD as soon as the opportunity arose.  Happy with the SD release, I waited a while before buying the Blu-ray and last night I finally had time to sit down and watch it to see how it compares.

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    Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) travels with Carmen (Ariadna Gil), her heavily-pregnant mother, to the Spanish countryside to join her step-father (Sergi López), a captain in General Franco's army, who is flushing out Socialist guerrillas from the surrounding hills and wants his baby to be born there with him.  Seeking escape from the step-father she hates and the unfamiliar surroundings, Ofelia meets a fairy who she follows to the centre of a nearby overgrown labyrinth where she is met by an aged faun.  He informs her that she is really Princess Moanna of the Netherworld and that, in order to join her real family, she must perform three tasks. 
    Del Toro follows 2001's The Devil's Backbone, set in 1938, with a film set in 1944 as the Allies land in Normandy and the Spanish guerrillas hope for help once Hitler has been defeated.  The fascist nature of Franco's Spain, personified by the brutal sadist Captain Vidal, is mirrored in Ofelia's enemies, in the form of the monstrous 'Pale Man' (Doug Jones) and a grotesque toad.  Ofelia is advised by the faun how to help her mother's troubled pregnancy, making Ofelia a double agent between the two worlds, as are the housekeeper, Mercedes, and the doctor, whose allegiances are firmly with the guerrillas.
    But is the faun real?  Does he have his own agenda?  Will Ofelia succeed and what will become of her?  What will happen to Captain Vidal, his wife, the members of the household sympathetic to the guerrillas? In true del Toro fashion, the answers are never easy.
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    Pan's Labyrinth can be seen as the culmination of Guillermo del Toro's European films, which look at the responsibilities of children and how they meet them.  In Cronos, a young girl must look after her grandfather when he becomes a vampire, The Devil's Backbone tells the story of boys in an orphanage who must deal with both a ghost and a fascist caretaker.  In del Toro's latest project, a young girl on the verge of womanhood must cope with her sociopath stepfather and the challenging and terrifying tasks set her by a mysterious faun.  As this concerns the struggles of a young girl with monsters both real and imaginary, Pan's Labyrinth can be considered the sister film to The Devil's Backbone.
    Del Toro shows the power of imagination and that monsters can exist in both the real and fantasy worlds: the terrifying child-eating 'Pale Man' echoes the sadistic and narcissistic Captain Vidal.  It takes a filmmaker of real skill to develop two intertwining stories, both as captivating as the other, and to tie them together to the point where the ending of the film harks to the beginning and practically demands a second viewing, which is then even more rewarding than the first.

    The Disc

    Extra Features
    The Blu-ray contains exactly the same extras as the 2-disc DVD and they are all presented in SD.  Using the extra storage capacity that the format allows, they are all on one disc.
    The audio commentary with Guillermo del Toro which, as with his others, is
    well-delivered, interesting, revealing and rewarding - he is one of the few directors who I love to hear from, Ridley Scott is another, and he really knows how to put an audio commentary together.  He discusses practically every aspect of the film, with his enthusiasm evident throughout, and the commentary complements the rest of the supplementary material well.
    There is a video introduction by del Toro who says how personal the film is and how much he likes it.  In addition, there is a lengthy interview with Guillermo del Toro at the NFT which shows him in conversation with film critic Mark Kermode and them discussing the film, obviously following a screening, for nearly half an hour.
    There are four main featurettes:
    In 'The Power Of Myth', del Toro discusses his love of fairy tales and the way in which they have been interpreted for the film.
    'DVD Comic Sketches: The Pale, the Fairies, the Giant Toad and Pan' consists of an image gallery.
    'El Fauno Y Las Hadas' runs at 30 minutes and explains how the main visual effects, both CG and special make-up, were achieved; you see what Doug Jones went through in order to play the faun and the 'Pale Man'.
    'The Colour and The Shape' is a four minute featurette in which del Toro explains how the different colour palettes and shapes are used to distinguish between the different worlds.
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    There are four 'Storyboard/Thumbnails Compares', also with a prologue and 'play all' option; these are interesting and shows you the storyboard sketches that del Toro drew, the improved versions that were drawn by an artist in Spain, and how they correspond to the finished film. Normally storyboard sketches aren't that interesting, but the two drawings and the film run on the screen together, so you can switch your attention between them.
    'VFX Plate compare: GDT and the Green Fairy' - this shows you how the 'Green Fairy' was integrated into the film and corresponds with an explanation del Toro gave in 'El Fauno Y Las Hadas'.
    The 'Director's Notebook' has a video prologue by del Toro and he goes on to show you six chapters from his notebook with drawings of characters, sets and notes that he made as long ago as 1993 and how the ideas were developed.  These can be viewed individually or together using the 'play all' function.
    In 'The Melody Echoes the Fairy Tale' del Toro explains why he wanted a central melody for the film's score and how he developed it.
    'Mercedes' Lullaby' plays the tune hummed by Mercedes in a variety of ways, using different instruments.
    There is also a Poster Gallery, trailer and an Easter Egg slideshow of sketches and production photos.
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    The Picture
    Winning Oscars for Art Direction, Cinematography and Make-Up, Pan's Labyrinth is a visually stunning film by one of the best visual directors currently operating.  I hoped that the HD picture would be much better than the DVD with deeper blacks and better clarity in the darker scenes but this isn't the case as the picture quality isn't much better than the upscaled DVD.  That said, the DVD has a wonderful picture and the BD is still good, with superb colours and a real sense of vibrancy and horror depending on the scene.
    Del Toro's use of colour is extremely intelligent with different palettes for different worlds - blues, greens and browns for the real world and reds and gold for the 'fantasy' sections.  The more you watch it, the more you notice how the mise-en-scène reflects the themes and what a visually intelligent piece of work it is.
    This was one of the first Blu-rays to be released and so, at the time, Optimum didn't have any experience with HD and it lacks the quality of something more recent like Hellboy II or Iron Man, both reference quality discs. 

    The Sound
    Sadly there is no HD soundtrack but the Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish soundtrack (identical to that on the DVD, just at a slightly higher bitrate)  is excellent, with clear dialogue and well balanced surround effects.  The English subtitles are clearly written and easy to follow.
    Pan's Labyrinth is a beautifully scored film with the music complementing the visuals and emphasising the emotion, mood and tone.  Not only is the Music wonderful but the sound design is spectacular, every little nuance in the soundtrack has obviously been painstakingly created and this just adds to the disappointment that there is no Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack.
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    Final Thoughts
    Beautiful, evocative and haunting, Guillermo del Toro has created a terrific film, which can rightly be classed as one of the greatest ever in the fantasy/horror genre.  The Mexican auteur has created something very special which is even better upon repeat viewing and can rightfully be described as a masterpiece.  Pan's Labyrinth was made for an incredible €13.5 million and shows that you don't need huge pots of cash to create a work of real beauty and brilliance.  I consider this to be the best film of 2006, just ahead of such films as Hidden, The Departed and United 93, and this is a very good, but not great, Blu-ray disc which gives you everything from the 2-disc DVD but little else.

    Your Opinions and Comments

    Jus a heads up about the audio. It's not a Dolby Digital Plus track, it's standard Dolby Digital at 640Kbps (as opposed to 448Kbps on the DVD). Aspect ratio is 1.78:1 as well.
    posted by Chris Gould on 24/10/2009 02:34
    I though Dolby Digital at 640kb/s was Dolby Digital Plus as it was the bitrate that decided it.
    posted by David Beckett on 24/10/2009 15:58
    Nope, on Blu-ray standard Dolby Digital has a maximum bitrate of 640Kbps. Hardly any BD titles use DD+ because it has a much lower bitrate in the BD spec than it did on HD DVD (1.7Mbps vs. 3.0Mbps) and it's an optional codec.
    posted by Chris Gould on 26/10/2009 10:35
    Cheers for clairfying Chris, now amended.
    posted by David Beckett on 26/10/2009 18:12