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As mentioned in some of my recent reviews, I’ve been flat out lately so I’ve not had as much time to spend with each release as I might have liked. I received this set about a week ago, which isn’t an ideal amount of time to turn around a review of a three-disc boxed set when you also have other stuff on the go. I’ve done my best under the circumstances, but it meant leaving out my thoughts on the main features and my assessment of the supplemental material isn’t as thorough as usual. I hope that you still find the technical appraisal useful.

 Guillermo del Toro Collection, The

Feature


Cronos
When an old antiques dealer, Jesus Gris, happens across the mysterious 'Cronos' device, its considerable powers rejuvenate his body, while at the same time cursing him with a craving for human blood. As his addiction worsens and his body grows more youthful with each and every drink, Jesus comes to the terrible realisation that no one is safe from his terrible desires, not even his granddaughter...

The Devil's Backbone
During the final days of the Spanish Civil War an unexploded bomb in the courtyard is just one of the mysterious goings on at an isolated orphanage. When the newest arrival, Carlos, is dared to go to the kitchen in the dead of night he sees the ghost of young boy who warns him that many will die. When the war threatens to reach the walls of the orphanage the boys must band together to defend against a traitor in their midst and uncover the terrible truth behind the haunting.

 Guillermo del Toro Collection, The
Pan's Labyrinth
After the death of her husband, Ofelia’s mother has remarried to Vidal (Sergi Lopez), a fascistic captain in Franco’s army. Desperate to escape the harsh realities of her new life, Ofelia takes refuge in a mysterious labyrinth that she discovers in the surrounding forest. There she meets the faun, a magical creature who reveals to her that she is none other than Moanna, the long-lost princess of the netherworld. In order that she might prove her worthiness and return to her kingdom the faun charges Ofelia with the completion of three tasks, each more dangerous than the last…

Video


Cronos
Prior to receiving this set my only exposure to the film was the old standards-converted Optimum DVD, which looked pretty terrible. This Blu-ray is far superior, but it’s still limited by the quality of the source. The 1.78:1 (1080/24p AVC) transfer is quite soft throughout, but I think this is an unavoidable side-effect of the original cinematographic process rather than the result of filtering. Grain is visible throughout, although it’s quite fine so it’s not intrusive under normal viewing conditions. The palette leans towards the warmer end of the spectrum—with lots of reds and golds—and colours are generally well-rendered, although skin tones do push a little too far towards the red. Shadow detail isn’t perfect, but it’s a lot better than the old DVD, as are the blacks in general. While there are quite a lot of film artefacts on the print they’re usually small enough to go unnoticed, save for the odd larger speck. Thankfully there isn’t any obvious edge enhancement or other problems to report. All things considered this isn’t a bad effort and it’s certainly the best the film has ever looked on a home format.

 Guillermo del Toro Collection, The
The Devil’s Backbone
As with Cronos my prior experience of The Devil’s Backbone was Optimum’s previous DVD release. Although slightly more attractive than their Cronos effort it still fell considerably short of the quality afforded by the average Blu-ray, but this new high-definition 1.78:1 (1080/24p AVC) transfer goes some way towards remedying the situation. As with most of del Toro’s films the palette is filled with earthen tones and warm glows. The Blu-ray handles them well, with strong, natural colour rendition that preserves accurate skin tones. Contrast is also very good, with no apparent blooming and some nice deep blacks. Shadow detail is handled reasonably well, which is must for a film with so many scenes set at night or in the dim confines of a basement. There’s a satisfying level of detail throughout (far more so than del Toro’s earlier film), allowing you to pick out the various imperfections in the characters’ faces, wrinkles in the fabric of their clothes and tiny elements of the various environments. The fine layer of film grain indicates that little to no filtering was applied and edge enhancement wasn’t readily apparent. I did spot quite a few film artefacts spread across the running time, but they were generally relatively innocuous and didn’t prove overly distracting (save for perhaps a couple of lines that repeatedly pop-up throughout). On balance I think it’s fair to say that I’m quite happy with the way the film looks on Blu-ray, even if there is room for improvement.

 Guillermo del Toro Collection, The
Pan's Labyrinth
As with the original Optimum release of Pan’s Labyrinth the film is presented at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 (the encoding is once again 1080/24p VC-1). Those of you who bought the previous Blu-ray will be in familiar territory here, as the transfer is all-but identical to that effort. I had feared that the noticeable DNR of the US release would find its way onto this disc, but we can all sleep easy as that's not the case. No, instead we have wonderful colour rendition, including the lush greens, earthy browns, cold, steely-blues, golds and uterine reds that define the look of the piece. Elsewhere it's also business as usual, with a wonderfully film-like transfer that—while not as sharp as many features—perfectly captures the dream-like tone of the film. I didn't spot any noticeable artefacts either; in fact, I didn’t spot any real difference between the two transfers even after comparing full resolution screenshots from both discs. Pan’s Labyrinth is still a gorgeous film and this is yet another delightful presentation.

 Guillermo del Toro Collection, The

Audio


Cronos
The film is presented with a choice of Spanish PCM 2.0 or DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtracks. I chose to go with the surround track for the purpose of this review, although surround utilisation is so limited I had to check whether I’d remembered switch from the default stereo option! To say that it’s extremely front-oriented is an understatement, as there’s virtually no surround action beyond the very gentle presence of the score and source music. I say virtually, because there are one or two moments where the rears are used to draw you deeper into a scene (such as the New Year’s party or when we see the inner workings of the Cronos device). All of the dialogue is rooted firmly in the centre of the soundstage and there’s very little stereo separation, so don’t go expecting an expansive sound field. There’s really no LFE to speak of either, other than during the cremation scene (and that’s barely a fleeting moment). Still, it seems unfair to criticise the Blu-ray for what is almost undoubtedly a limitation of the source material.

 Guillermo del Toro Collection, The
The Devil’s Backbone
Right from the off the soundtrack is more enveloping than Cronos’, with powerful claps of thunder, bubbling water and the sound of wind whistling across the dusty land all heard in the surrounds in the first few minutes. Unlike Cronos The Devil’s Backbone has a ‘proper’ 5.1 mix with some very effective panning, even in the rears. A good example of this is when Carlo is in bed and he hears Santi running around the orphanage. The boy’s footsteps travel around the soundstage, from front to back and from rear left to rear right making for quite a creepy moment. Bass is also a considerably more powerful presence than in the collection’s first film, especially in the aforementioned scene where it creates a real sense of tension with a long, low grumble. It’s not just limited to supporting the spookier moments though, as everything from sound effects to the score benefit from its substantial power. Dialogue remains clear at all times and I must also mention the score, which is responsible for much of the film’s atmosphere. It does a wonderful job of creating some genuinely creepy moments.

 Guillermo del Toro Collection, The
Pan's Labyrinth
One of the major criticisms of Optimum's first release of Pan's Labyrinth was the lack of lossless or uncompressed audio. Thankfully this release rectifies that oversight by providing both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtracks. As with the Dolby Digital track on the old disc the Master Audio delivers an enveloping, atmospheric experience from the very first scene. The opening moments are understated, but no less impressive than the more elaborate effects that come later. There are plenty of discrete touches and bass is powerful when it needs to be (the thump of the faun's feet is particularly satisfying). Dialogue is balanced nicely in the mix and remains intelligible throughout, while the film’s omnipresent score uses Mercedes’ lullaby as the basis for much of the music and is also well-balanced in the mix. I didn’t have the time to conduct a thorough comparison of the lossy and lossless audio tracks, but logic would dictate that it should offer a superior aural experience to the standard Dolby 5.1 for those with the necessary hardware to do it justice. The only caveat to all of this is that the track's pitch is wrong. I've no idea why, but it sounds as if a PAL master was used and then time stretched without pitch correction (similar to Optimum's release of The Deer Hunter). It's probably something that will go unnoticed by the vast majority, but once you do notice it...

 Guillermo del Toro Collection, The
The English subtitles provided for the Spanish-language sections of all three films are easy to read and appear to offer a fairly accurate translation. There’s aren’t many glaring errors and the only real issue is that there are a couple of scenes where they flash by a little too quickly.

Extras


The set includes a fair bit of bonus material, albeit in standard-definition. A lot of it has previously featured on the various DVD and Blu-ray releases, but each disc also features some new content. The new menus are also very nice and have a similar theme, with only the colour scheme changing between films.

Cronos
The extras kick off with an audio commentary from Guillermo del Toro’s. As usual the director is very informative and scarcely pauses for breath in-between firing off facts about the film. Next up we have a couple of interviews with del Toro, the first of which is new for 2010, is conducted in English, runs for almost an hour and includes a wealth of information. The second, vintage interview also runs for around an hour, but is conducted in Spanish with English subtitles. There’s also a shorter, eight minute interview with cinematographer Guillermo Navarro.

 Guillermo del Toro Collection, The
A very short (just over five minutes) making of featurette follows, but it’s really too short to offer any real insight into the production. It mainly features interview footage with Federicco Luppi in Spanish with English subtitles. Next up is the new bonus feature, a short (just over six-munite) film entitled Geometria presented in 4:3 with accompanying DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack and English subtitles. It’s pretty rough, but it’s an interesting example of the director’s fledgling work and put me in mind of Peter Jackson’s earlier stuff.

Some production galleries follow, with sketches, storyboards and photographs. If you’ve ever read any of my previous reviews you might know that I’m not a huge fan of this sort of feature, but I always appreciate its inclusion for those that find this portion of the creative process fascinating. Things are neatly wrapped up by a low-quality theatrical trailer that really shows how much better the Blu-ray looks.

 Guillermo del Toro Collection, The
The Devil’s Backbone
Once again things begin with an informative and fairly exhaustive Guillermo del Toro commentary track that tells you all you could realistically want to know about the feature. Next up we have a video prologue, which is new to this Blu-ray release. Running for just under a minute, the director talks about how this film is the companion piece to Pan’s Labyrinth and makes mention of commentary tracks (plural), leading me to believe this was recorded for the forthcoming Criterion discs and licenced to Optimum. A Spanish-language ‘behind-the-scenes’ featurette runs for a little under nineteen minutes and offers a fairly interesting window into the production, although it obviously lacks the depth of longer documentaries. Two special effects featurettes follow, focussing on the aerial bombardment and the ghost. The run for around six minutes apiece and show how the various elements were composited to make the final shots.

The film’s theatrical trailer is next on the menu, after which we come to ‘Of Ghosts and Fauns: del Toro’s Spanish Civil War’. In this nineteen-minute, English-language piece  del Toro discusses the genesis of the film, which started life as a short story given to him by a friend that metamorphosed into The Devil’s Backbone. It touches on the parallels between this film and Pan’s Labyrinth, of which there are many. Along with the commentary, this is the most informative piece on the disc. Biographies for Guillermo del Toro, Guillermo Navarro, Marisa Paredes, Federico Luppi, Eduardo Noriega and the Tequila Gang are also included in text form. Finally we have a selection of storyboards, entitled ‘Santi’, ‘In the Courtyard’, ‘Keyhole’ and ‘Shotgun’.

 Guillermo del Toro Collection, The
Pan's Labyrinth
The extras kick off with an audio commentary track by director Guillermo del Toro. As usual, the director is extremely forthcoming about his movie, offering up plenty of interesting titbits. It might come as a surprise to hear that he has a very definite opinion on how to interpret the ending, as many directors would leave the viewer to draw their own conclusions.

A short video piece from Guillermo del Toro follows, in which he introduces the film. This is followed by a much longer (half hour) piece entitled ‘Guardian Interview at the NFT with Guillermo del Toro’, in which the director is interviewed by Mark Kermode. The interview touches on most of del Toro’s work, from Cronos to the Hellboy II, and he elaborates on some of the experiences that drove him to make film’s such as Pan’s Labyrinth. He also touches on his Miramax experience (while making Mimic), likening it to the kidnapping of his father in the trauma stakes.

'The Power of Myth' is a fourteen-minute piece that examines the various parallels with other fairytales that can be found running through the film. Director Guillermo del Toro talks at length about the various traits embodied by the characters, likening Ofelia to Little Red Riding Hood and Vidal to the Big Bad Wolf. He also talks about the age-old human need to make sense of the world, at first by explaining the setting of the sun and the falling of the rain, and later by personifying our less desirable qualities in monsters such as werewolves and vampires. This is an extremely interesting featurette from a man who obviously has a great fondness for the world of myth and fantasy.

 Guillermo del Toro Collection, The
Next up is the disc’s new feature, the ‘Motion Menu Prequel Stories’. From what I can tell these are basically crudely animated versions of the DVD comic sketches that appeared on the original Blu-ray. There’s very short and not particularly entertaining. Speaking of the 'DVD Comic Sketches’, well they’re back and as before they focus on ‘the Pale’, ‘the Fairies’, ‘the Giant Toad’ and ‘Pan’. They are basically just two minutes of still images set to music from the film. I can't say that this sort of bonus feature ranks up there with my favourites, but at least this time it's an accompaniment to some quality material, rather than the main course itself. I’m curious to know who this ‘Pan’ is though—he wasn’t in the film…

'El Fauno Y Las Hadas' concerns man-behind-the-make-up, Doug Jones. The segment includes both behind-the-scenes and interview footage with a variety of people involved in the production as they discuss Doug’s metamorphosis into the faun and the Pale Man. There also some interesting behind-the-scenes footage of the make-up being applied to the actor, along with Doug recounting his experiences of working on a Spanish-language film when he himself does not speak the language.

 Guillermo del Toro Collection, The
‘The Colour and the Shape’ is an interesting little piece that examines del Toro’s deliberate use of colour to create three different and contrasting worlds. He explains how he consulted with Eugenio Caballero and Guillermo Navarro to ensure that the each scene used the appropriate colour palette, be it the cold blues and greys of the real world, the earthy greens of the labyrinth, or the warm golds and reds of the fantasy world. The director also points out a number of the visual parallels between the real world and the fantasy world, ensuring that this short four-minute piece is at least informative.

The ‘Storyboard/Thumbnails Compares’ segment is again introduced by del Toro, and shows a selection of the director’s storyboards along with video of the finished scene. There are four of these in total: ‘Ofelia Enters the Labyrinth’; ‘Ofelia, the Fig Tree & Giant Toad’; ‘Death of the Doctor’; and ‘Ofelia’s Death’. ‘VFX Plate Compare: Guillermo del Toro and the Green Fairy’ is an odd little feature in which the director walks around the Labyrinth set holding a green fairy on a long pole. It only runs for around a minute and is one of the more bizarre inclusions.

The ‘Director’s Notebook’ leads to a submenu containing yet another video introduction by Guillermo del Toro. In it, he explains that the following video sequences feature pages from the many notebooks filled with ideas that would eventually become Pan's Labyrinth. The pages contain drawing and notes, with some dating back as far as 1993. The director is also on hand to talk us through the pages, which deal with a variety of issues from the design of the Pale Man, to the importance of the phases of the moon in the story and the various thematic elements that run through the film.

 Guillermo del Toro Collection, The
There are six video segments in all, and my personal favourite of these is 'Lost Character: El Hombre de Madrea' (although I think the Spanish spelling of wood is madera), in which the director talks about his early concepts for what would eventually become the Pale Man. He originally conceived of a wooden man with 'something' organic living inside, but eventually decided to drop the idea. What I found interesting was the fact that del Toro unwittingly found inspiration for part of the Pal Man's design in the poster for Phantasm II (at least that appears to be the case based on his description).

Back on the main menu and we come to the featurette ‘The Melody Echoes the Fairytale’, which is another short piece in which the director discusses the reasoning behind his choice to have the central theme in the film represented by a lullaby. This is followed by another musical piece entitled ‘Mercedes Lullaby’, which as you’ve probably guessed also focuses on the central musical theme of the movie. As the feature plays we listen to the various different elements used in the final piece, from the composer’s piano playing to the actress’ humming.

The ‘Poster Gallery’ is pretty self-explanatory, and contains eight static images of various posters used to promote the film around the world. The final extra on disc two is the film’s theatrical trailer, which made quite an impression on me when I saw it at the cinema (mostly because I wasn’t expecting a faun to appear suddenly in the corner of the screen).

 Guillermo del Toro Collection, The

Overall


There you have it—three excellent films from a masterful director presented with superior audio and video than has previously been available and chock full of interesting and informative bonus material. Technically it’s hard to fault Pan’s Labyrinth—which manages to improve upon the already-impressive existing Blu-ray in all areas—and while the older films don’t fare quite so well, we’re talking about a couple of reasonably old features with miniscule budgets. To be frank I’m surprised they look and sound as good as they do. Sure they could be improved with a complete remastering job from the original negatives, but one has to wonder if there’s a large enough audience for the films to warrant the expense. The biggest problem with both is dirt and print damage, but even with these faults they still make the DVD versions look like garbage.

If this box has an Achilles heel it is the price. £74.99 for three films is not an inconsiderable amount of money and even after an Internet search the cheapest I can find the set is £51.49. Compare that with the Alien Anthology at less than forty pounds, or the Back to the Future trilogy at less than thirty pounds and things look even worse. I understand that smaller distributors don't have the resources of studios like Fox and Universal, but it’s still an issue. One has to assume that Optimum were in a bit of a damned if they do, damned if they don't position with the release—as producing and or licensing content isn't cheap—but if they released bare-bones discs everyone would be up in arms. Even so, I still think a £49.99 price tag would be more realistic; I just can't see them shifting many units at the current price, which is a real shame. Even so, if you have the disposable income and you’re a fan of del Toro’s work these currently represent the best available versions.

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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