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Following a bloody civil war, young Ofelia enters a world of unimaginable cruelty when she moves in with her new stepfather, a tyrannical military officer. Armed with only her imagination, Ofelia discovers a mysterious labyrinth and meets a faun who sets her on a path to saving herself and her ailing mother. But soon, the lines between fantasy and reality begin to blur, and before Ofelia can turn back, she finds herself at the center of a ferocious battle between good and evil.
For more about Pan's Labyrinth and the Pan's Labyrinth Blu-ray release, see the Pan's Labyrinth Blu-ray Review
Starring: Ariadna Gil, Ivana Baquero, Sergi López, Maribel Verdú, Doug Jones, Álex Angulo
Director: Guillermo del Toro
» See full cast & crew
Pan's Labyrinth Blu-ray Review
El laberinto del fauno, or The Adventures of Ofelia Moana in Nightmareland
Reviewed by J.C. Ribera, February 22, 2008
Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth (Actually, "the faun's labyrinth" from the Spanish) is one of those movies I'd call perfect. It's a fantasy movie, a realistic movie, it's a children's movie, an adult movie, a psychological thriller, a movie about war and a fairy tale, a horror movie, a beautiful movie. Gorgeously photographed, powerfully disturbing, this is one of those movies that to me, achieves what movies should do: Tell a story and suck you in into their world as most no other art form can. But this movie is not for everybody. Many audiences, having been attracted by the promotion for it showing the fairy tale aspects, would end up finding themselves taken from behind and propelled into a nightmare world that was far too real and upsetting. You see, the best way to describe this movie to an unsuspecting patron would be to say Schindler's List meets the Bridge to Terabithia.
The movie deals with the story of a little girl who finds herself in the middle of a real life nightmare while seeking a dreamy and heavenly world. The story is set in northern Spain as the War in the rest of Europe was about to end. Spain had had a 3 year civil war that when seen in context was like the prelude or prequel to the World War that would immediately envelope the rest of Europe just after the fascist forces of Francisco Franco came to power in Spain in 1939. Franco was an ally of Adolph Hitler (Germany's Air Forces had given air support to his campaign) but he wisely kept "out" of the action in Europe, consolidating his rule, and thus smartly ensuring his would be the only surviving fascist regime after WWII ended. In such days thus starts the movie's story in which the defeated Republican followers live in a fascist Spain waiting for the War in Europe to end and wondering if the defeat of Hitler and Mussolini would help change things, because, whereas the rest of Europe is being liberated and the Nazi nightmare being swept away, in Spain, the Fascists actually had won and they managed to stay. It is a world as if the Germans, instead of the Allies, had won WWII and turned it's practices against themselves. And into this world young Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) falls, as she finds her widowed mother marrying a Franco's army captain, carrying his unborn (and extremely expected by him) child, and relocating to the enclave in the hills that he commands trying to squash any remaining pockets of republican "up-risers". There are such things.
It's obvious from the start that Capitán Vidal's (Sergi López) only reason of civility to Ofelia and her mother is that he expects his new wife to give him a male child to continue his glorious male military line, and that Ofelia is a nuisance to be ignored. Or worse. Ofelia soon starts to encounter things, magical beings, fairies, and a faun that tell her she's the daughter of a benevolent King from an underground natural world where she soon can return. If she proves herself worthy. Problem is, that all the difficult and sometimes horrific tasks she has to do are not what a proper repressed child of a Falange Captain that is in the middle of a military campaign should be doing, and she will get in trouble. And make no mistake, Capitán Vidal is someone you really don't want to piss off. To the point that one doesn't know what's worse, the magical evil creatures she has to face, or the simple evil terror that her fascist stepfather is. Sometimes supernatural horrors are the easiest ones..
I saw El Laberinto about one year before watching the BD, in a midnight premiere where the Faun himself (Doug Jones) attended and introduced the film. He said it had been one of his two favorite roles. And then the movie started and we were all transported to this magical and at the same time, all too real, world. My companions (and most of the audience I bet) gasped, cringed and hid their faces behind their hands everytime Vidal showed up, and sometimes with the other less life threatening terrors. Captain Vidal is truly one of film's horrific villains, as good as any other recorded on film. To me it was very interesting watching him, as I've know people like him, so let's say I was somewhat desensitized to him and actually relished the excellent performance. But my companions, not being used to such men, wanted to hide under their seats while he was on.
The faun creation is fantastic and totally believable, (love the way he'd shake, and waggle his hands), and the camera keeps moving and moving, sucking us deeper into this child's nightmare where we want everything to be right. One watches the movie hoping that everything will come out right, probably as Spaniards that lived the period wished it came out to an end soon so they could live to tell the tale. Spain finally did, but it took many years... All the fairy elements are fabulous and with great originality. There's lots of symbolism, like in an ancient fairy tale, the special effects immaculate, the attention to detail. the atmosphere, the period setting, the forest, the faun's world, Ofelia's world, all set in a very organic way. This is not an easy film because of it's subject matter but it's very rewarding because it makes you think. One of it's interesting aspects is what you as an audience think is happening. Are the magical creatures there, or just the product of the girls imagination? The "real world" is far too real, uncomfortably so. Do we wish the magical world to be real too in contrast to the other horrid world just like we'd think the girl does? The reality is so harsh that some of us want it to be real. Almost like some religious reward after we've suffer life on earth. At one point the film becomes briefly a heaven allegory too. Good men and children must be good, because ultimately that's the only thing we've got. Del Toro in his commentary at one point makes a mostly literal interpretation of the meaning of the fantasy, but like sometimes great works of art do, like books, or songs, and yes, movies, it gets a life of its own which transcends just the intention of the author, and the reader, listener, moviegoer, experiencing it gives something of his own interpretation to them and the work then becomes more than the literal meaning that the author thought of it. Reaching more of an universal level, shaped as much by the perception of the public as the intention of the author. I think this movie achieves it and that's why some people might not stand it while others think is such a great piece of cinema. Uncomfortable cinema, but beautiful at the same time. Some seeing what happens one way, and others seeing it another way. Timeless like a fable. And yet, too close in years as history.
Pan's Labyrinth Blu-ray, Video Quality
Pan's Labyrinth is presented in 1.85 widescreen with a VC-1 transfer that every time I checked was running at about 18 Mb/s.
So how does the transfer compare to the 35mm presentation I saw? Well New Line's Blu-ray is assuredly clearer, contrastier, more colorful, and solid that the subtitled film print. The clarity, specially in the night scenes and underground in the faun's lair is impressive. I saw things, details, for example, in the faun's "costume" that I didn't see in the theater. Specially pleasing was to see aspects of his eyes that were sharp, liquid and more vivid that I hadn't noticed previously. If the dark shots look so good, the full-daylight shots, like the one where the car caravan arrives, look almost hyper-real: Vidal's skin detail when we first see him impatiently waiting for the mother carrying his child to arrive is unnerving. With the heightened clarity his beady calculating eyes seem more malignant and disturbing specially when he smirks. The colors be it golden oranges or night blues and greens are solid and sometimes emboldened, the red blood much stronger than I saw on the theatrical print. There's almost no grain to be found. To those that like their Blu-rays to have no grain, the transfer will look perfect and be most satisfying. Apparently some grain scrubbing has been done for this transfer and it does give the film a different feel than the theatrical presentation I saw. Purist might not be pleased, but there's no denying , the lack of grain gives the film a different look, more immediate, more in your face, than the slightly grainy faded look I saw on the theater screen. The theatrical was more mystic, more dreamlike. The Blu-ray is more visceral. Instead of having the impression of seeing something filmed long ago, it feels more like watching something happening now. Does this change the movie? Maybe. I'd think first time viewers might cringe a little more from the realism of the BD. And at the same time the faun and magical creatures look a little bit more real than something coming out from a shadow.
As a purist myself I like the grain to be preserved, specially if I worry that the image might lose sharpness in the process, but as this is a 1.85 film , with more than 1000 vertical lines, and I watch it at the same 2PH vertical image height viewing distance that I watch 800 pixel Scope BD movies and movies at the theater, there's still enough sharpness to present a good image. In fact the BD, as I've said is sharper than in the theater, while the theater has a softer, less hard edged image with maybe a little more detail and the grain. Surprisingly you can see on one of the trailers more grain which will give you an idea of how a different transfer would look. Those who watch at farther viewing distances than me (like 3 PH or 4) they will have to admit the current BD has an impressive clean colorful image.
Talking about color, Guillermo mentions how precisely the color palette of this film was planned, how the real world was given cold and grey colors and how the fantasy world was warm and red and golden, till they intersected at the end of the film, or how the faun's surroundings had moss greens. Well as I've mentioned, the Blu-ray transfer has some very dense colors, and I don't know if it's director approved, but sometimes what he's describing in the commentary doesn't exactly match what is on the screen on the areas he's talking about, while it matches more with the film I saw in the theater. On my first time viewing of the BD I found the "real world" exterior scenes more colorful, not the "grey" and muted he mentions, or in the interiors bathed in a golden light, particularly the orange tones in the actors skin colors in those scenes, where the orange color was so strong, they looked more like they've been sunning in Benidorm or Marbella than the normally pale skin tones of those living in northern Spain. The night scenes in the rain also looked more intensely blue. I asked one of my reviewer companions who saw the movie with me in the theater about this and we agreed on that. Sometimes, it seemed that some of the colors on the images of the trailer that I mentioned before appear to be more in tune (paler/greyed real life, golden fantasy, blue/green filtered moss, etc) with what Guillermo describes. I do know that when transferring from an original element the colors can be purer than in the duped subtitled print elements used in exhibition.
Pan's Labyrinth Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The movie has a single DTS HD master Audio 7.1 soundtrack and it's in the original Spanish language. (There's options in the set up menu for subtitles in English, English SDH, español, or none. The translation is a smidgen tamer than what's on the soundtrack). Altho I didn't get to listen to the HD part of the audio, even on the core DTS the movie sounded great and the mix intricate. Much more directional and enveloping that what I experienced on the theater. Compared to the Blu-ray's soundtrack, the theater might as well been blaring in mono. Be it swishes of fairies, whooshing left and right, or delicate insect noises, or hypnotic lullabies that might haunt you later, you could hear lots of detail in the mix, accompanied by music (Javier Navarrete) that evokes a profound melancholy. There's also couple of scary woofer workouts when something unmentionable was banging around which kind of made me jump, I did not jump on the theater in fact I barely heard anything like that there, which is probably why I jumped. Vidal's sweet as hell personality from his voice comes clear as poison from a vial.
One discrepancy that bugged me a little, in a particular scene which everybody that's seen the movie will remember, (and those that haven't yet will wish they didn't), the sound was clearer and you could hear every noise like cracking eggs next to you all too well, but the bass thumping that made you not forget about it, gave me the impression of being tamer in the mix in relation. Maybe it was that my speakers may have clearer sound. But seemed to me that when I heard the commentary track in that same scene the thumping was more prominent. In any case the sounds in the scene will make you wish there wasn't any sound at all ;)
Pan's Labyrinth Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The BD comes with a leaflet promoting Juan Antonio Bayona's The Orphanage.
The Menu is the usual loop of scenes, in this case sepia toned, accompanied by the lullaby that will follow you for a week if you don't go into the movie immediately.
You can start the movie with an Introduction by Guillermo del Toro or without it. I recommend you watch the introduction at least once because it's funny.
You can do that while watching the Enhanced Visual Commentary if you please, as the introduction is included as part of the Picture In Picture. The Enhanced Visual Commentary consists of Guillermo talking about various aspects of the film and sometimes some special effects, storyboards, drawings, props or other cast and crew showing up in a small 16:9 window as usual. Most if not all can be found in the separate Audio Commentary or the featurettes, Pip features don't get me excited much as I prefer to watch the movie and featurettes about it, separate, not simultaneously (*Smiles like Guillermo here) but if you prefer watching it like this well you have the option.
Then there's the Audio Commentary (in stereo DTS) by Guillermo del Toro with lots of interesting details, and he talks in a relaxed warm voice which makes you fell like you're having a conversation with him over a coffee or wine which is nice because it's an intelligent discourse about all the aspects about he came to develop and realize the story, the visuals and the whole movie itself. If you like the movie it's a great supplement to savor. My only thing with it is as I said earlier, he may been a little too literal in saying this is what's happening to Ofelia which (to me) takes out a little of the magic of the movie (*smiles like Guillermo here ;))
There are 4 featurettes:
The Power of Myth (14+ minutes) where the director explains many of the concepts behind the myths and the iconic characters and their interacting relationships with clips from the movie and some drawings.
The Faun and the Fairies (30+ minutes). Here the director the cast and some of the creature SFX crew describe and explain about the faun and other creatures and make-up SFXs. Lots of video and images about the creature costumes and effects. Specially interesting the segment with the actor that plays the faun and his costumes. (Partly in spanish but has english subtitles in those sections)
The Color and The Shape (4+minutes) Here the director talks abut the color palettes chosen for each world or segment and what they mean. Shapes also play an important part in the settings
The Lullaby has 2 parts:
The Melody: Echoes of a Fairy Tale (3 minutes). Why and how the melody of the lullaby was reached at, and chosen
Mercedes' lullaby (2 minutes), The lullaby as it evolvend in different versions (instruments, hummed, etc), played over a set of stills.
All of these featurettes are in 480 x 720 MPEG-2 video and DTS stereo
One of the most interesting supplements is the Director's Notebook which contains kind of a scrapbook, annotated diary, of the creation of the film. The notebook pages are in 1080 and handwritten partly in Spanish and partly in English. If you can understand the handwriting you could read them. There are almost 30 pages, and most have interesting drawings, some in color. Some pages have links that take you to video segments related to the subjects on the page when you select them with the remote.
Also offered are about 10 minutes of Storyboard Comparisons to Film. The segments are: Ofelia Enters The Labyrinth, Ofelia, The Fig Tree and The Giant Toad, Ofelia's Death, and Death Of The Doctor (This last one seemed to have very little storyboards on it, but I still found it interesting as the color is more muted than on the movie transfer itself) The storyboards + film are presented in 480 x 720 Mpeg-2
There's a 1 minute SFX Plate Comparison with Ofelia following the fairy in the finished film and Guillermo carrying it on a stick on the unfinished SFx segment.
Presented in 1080, there are more than 70 still images of photos and drawings of creatures and props, about 150 of the sets, and nearly 200 photos on the set and of the SFx creature work, in the Gallery
There's a complete 50 minute Charlie Rose Show where directors Guillermo del Toro, Alfonso Cuarón, and Alejandro González Iñárritu have a lively discussion of their films, how they started and their creative processes. In 480 x 720 mpeg-2
Comics includes four semi-animated brief 1080p segments of background stories on The Giant Toad, The Fairies, the Faun, and The Pale Man.
And finally, Marketing Campaign includes 8 posters, the theatrical teaser, the theatrical trailer, which as I mentioned has more grain and a different palette, (all in 1080p), and seven TV spots (in 480).
Pan's Labyrinth Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
If you love fantasy, World War II movies, horror, or just well made films, this is a great film to watch. It's magical and at the same time disturbingly realistic, reminding you this things happened and such men exist. A great piece of Cinema, beautiful and evocative in imagery with originality in it's creatures, a disc with a sharp, all too clear bold image and appropriate enveloping sound, I would recommend it heartily if you like films to be more than just entertainment. And after a quiet evening, watching it, pondering on Ofelia's destiny, while savoring a fine Porto, remember.
There are such things.
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