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The Devil's Backbone(2001)
It is 1939, the end of three years of bloody civil war in Spain, and General Franco's right-wing Nationalists are poised to defeat the left-wing Republican forces. A ten-year-old boy named Carlos, the son of a fallen Republican war hero, is left by his tutor in an orphanage in the middle of nowhere. The orphanage is run by a curt but considerate headmistress named Carmen and a kindly Professor Casares, both of whom are sympathetic to the doomed Republican cause. Despite their concern for him, and his gradual triumph over the usual schoolhouse bully, Carlos never feels completely comfortable in his new environment. First of all, there was that initial encounter with the orphanage's nasty caretaker, Jacinto, who reacts even more violently when anyone is caught looking around a particular storage room the one with the deep well.
For more about The Devil's Backbone and the The Devil's Backbone Blu-ray release, see the The Devil's Backbone Blu-ray Review published by Dr. Svet Atanasov on July 25, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Starring: Eduardo Noriega, Marisa Paredes, Federico Luppi, Fernando Tielve
Director: Guillermo del Toro
» See full cast & crew
The Devil's Backbone Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Dr. Svet Atanasov, July 25, 2013
Mexican director Guillermo del Toro's "El espinazo del diablo" a.k.a "The Devil's Backbone" (2001) arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion. The supplemental features on the disc include an original trailer for the film; new video interviews with director Guillermo del Toro; deleted scenes with an optional commentary; sketches and storyboards; documentary film directed by Javier Soto; audio commentary with director Guillermo del Toro; and a lot more. The release also arrives with an illustrated booklet featuring an essay by film critic Mark Kermode. In Spanish, with optional English subtitles for the main feature. Region-A "locked".
In the midst of the Spanish Civil War, ten-year-old Carlos (Fernando Tielve, Goya's Ghosts) is brought to an orphanage somewhere in the countryside after his father is killed in battle. He immediately becomes fascinated by the unexploded bomb sticking out right in the middle of the large yard where the rest of the boys like to play. Soon after he is shown his bed, Carlos learns that the boy that used to sleep there, Santi (Junio Valverde, Shiver), disappeared the same night the bomb landed in the orphanage.
While trying to find out exactly what happened to Santi, Carlos frequently irritates Jacinto (Eduardo Noriega, Novo, Open Your Eyes), who works and lives in the orphanage together with his fiancee Conchita (Irene Visedom, The Lost Steps). Jacinto and a few of his friends plan to steal the gold which the headmistress, Carmen (Marisa Paredes, All About My Mother, The Skin I Live In), and Dr. Casares (Federico Luppi, Cronos, Men With Guns), have collected to help the Republican cause.
Eventually, the curious Carlos realizes that only a few of the boys in the orphanage are willing to talk about their missing friend. The rest are afraid to even mention his name - and there is a good reason why. The boys tell Carlos that when they utter his name the ghost of Santi would quickly emerge from the orphanage's large basement and haunt them.
Guillermo del Toro's The Devil's Backbone is often compared to his Oscar winning Pan's Labyrinth, but it actually has a lot more in common with Spanish director Victor Erice's The Spirit of the Beehive. In Erice's film, a young girl attends a screening of Frankenstein and her life changes dramatically. Throughout the film Erice uses light and shadow to create an atmosphere that is very similar to the one present in The Devil's Backbone. Like The Devil's Backbone, Erice's film also delivers an important political commentary.
The Devil's Backbone is divided into two uneven parts. In the first, and bigger one, the material is better. This is where the Mexican director's passion for Gothic atmosphere gives the film its identity – light and shadow are very carefully used to make the orphanage look as spooky as possible; the exchanges between the boys and the adults are also appropriately vague, forcing the viewer to keep speculating about the direction the film will follow.
The second part has all the important but rather predictable character transformations. There are different political overtones linked to them which at the end almost manage to change the identity of the film – almost because even if the viewer isn't familiar with Spanish history and does not understand what each character represents, the finale still makes sense.
The special effects in The Devil's Backbone are not as elaborate as those seen in Pan's Labyrinth, but this is something that actually benefits the film. Del Toro and cinematographer Guillermo Navarro use light, shadow and color in a variety of different ways and create some truly spectacular visuals that are guaranteed to impress even viewers who do not typically enjoy films in which ghosts are frequently mentioned. The visuals are also enhanced by a top-notch soundtrack courtesy of Javier Navarrete (Agustí Villaronga's In a Glass Cage, María Lidon's Stranded).
The Devil's Backbone was executive produced by acclaimed Spanish director Pedro Almodovar.
Note: In 2002, The Devil's Backbone was nominated for Saturn Award for Best Horror Film.
The Devil's Backbone Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, encoded with MPEG-4 AVC and granted a 1080p transfer, Guillermo del Toro's The Devil's Backbone arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion.
The following text appears inside the booklet provided with this Blu-ray release:
"Supervised by director Guillermo del Toro and director of photography Guillermo Navarro, this new digital transfer was created in 2K resolution on an ARRISCAN film scanner from the original 35mm camera negative. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, and warps were manually removed using MTI's DRS and Pixel Farm's PFClean, while Image Systems' Phoenix was used for small dirt, grain management, jitter, and flicker.
Transfer supervisors: Guillermo del Toro, Lee Kline, Guillermo Navaro.
Scanning: Deluxe, Spain, Madrid.
Colorist: Bryan McMahan/Modern VideoFilm, Burbank, CA."
The new and approved by director Guillermo del Toro and cinematographer Guillermo Navarro high-definition transfer is very impressive. Detail and image depth are dramatically improved, allowing one to essentially experience this very atmospheric film in an entirely new way. During the darker sequences, there are plenty of objects and facial expressions that were previously impossible to see on the DVD release. The far better color reproduction also gives the film a type of look that occasionally reminds of Mario Bava's work. There are no traces of problematic degraining corrections. Sharpening adjustments have not been applied either. Unsurprisingly, from start to finish the film has a very solid, very pleasing organic look. Also, there are absolutely no debris, scratches, dirt, cuts, or warps to report in this review. Compression is also excellent. All in all, I think it is fair to say that Criterion's presentation of The Devil's Backbone will likely remain the film's definition presentation on the home video marketplace for years to come. (Note: This is a Region-A "locked" Blu-ray release. Therefore, you must have a native Region-A or Region-Free PS3 or SA in order to access its content).
The Devil's Backbone Blu-ray, Audio Quality
There is only one standard audio track on this Blu-ray release: Spanish DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. For the record, Criterion have provided optional English subtitles for the main feature.
Depth, clarity, and surround movement are excellent. Even a seemingly random sound or noise can easily be identified while viewing the film. During some of the most atmospheric sequences, surround movement also makes an impression as overall fluidity is indeed outstanding. The dialog is always crisp, exceptionally clear, and very easy to follow. Also, there are no pops, cracks, audio dropouts, or distortions to report in this review. The English translation is excellent.
The Devil's Backbone Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Devil's Backbone Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
This truly is a fantastic release. Not only does The Devil's Backbone look terrific in high-definition, but the impressive supplemental features allow one to gain an entirely new appreciation for the film. Frankly, I cannot think of a more enthusiastic director to have collaborated with Criterion than del Toro. It is easy to tell that he really wanted fans of The Devil's Backbone to have a truly special release of his film. Well done. VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
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