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Feature


Pan’s Labyrinth (also known as El Laberinto del Fauno) is the sixth major motion picture from Mexican director Guillermo del Toro, most famous for his comic book adaptations Hellboy and Blade II. Set just after the end of the Spanish Civil War, this Oscar-nominated film tells the story of a young girl named Ofelia (Ivana Baquero), who is forced to move to the country with her heavily pregnant mother.

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…

While I don’t intend to get into a lengthy discussion about the film—primarily because I feel that it’s the sort of movie that is better left largely unexplained—there are a couple of things I’d like to mention. Firstly, the performances are universally excellent, especially Sergi Lopez’s Vidal. Lopez manages to create a character so thoroughly repugnant he gives serial slashers like Fred Krueger and Jason Vorhees a run for their money. Youngster Ivana Baquero is also remarkably assured as Ofelia, bringing just the right amount of innocence and rebelliousness to the role. Special mention must also go to Doug Jones, who had the difficult task of bringing the faun to life; a task complicated by his inability to speak fluent Spanish.

Secondly, I enjoyed the way the director toyed with the audience, allowing the viewer to interpret the proceedings in a number of ways. Many of the real-world events depicted in the film are mirrored in the fantasy world, which lends credence to the theory that the whole thing is just an elaborate fantasy created by a young girl desperately trying to escape a situation over which she has no control. However, the beauty of the film lies in the fact that it is left to the viewer to decide just how much is real and how much is the product of Ofelia’s over-active imagination. As I’ve already stated, I’m not going to delve into the inner-workings of the plot or give an opinion either way. Instead, I suggest that people view the film themselves and draw their own conclusions.

Pan's Labyrinth

Video


Pan’s Labyrinth is presented in its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and enhanced for 16:9 displays. On the whole this is an admirable transfer of a simply gorgeous looking film. While I would normally be critical of some of the 'less-than-black' blacks, if memory serves this was also particularly noticeable when I saw the film theatrically. This would make it a stylistic choice, rather than a fault with the transfer itself. However, this does mean that shadow delineation isn’t quite as good as you’d expect from such a recent release.

The above excepted, there isn’t much to criticise about the image presented on this disc. The various locations depicted throughout the film are represented by their own distinct palettes, with the waking world characterised by organic colours such as lush greens and earthy browns. At night the image takes on a cold, steely-blue appearance with a hint of green filtering, while the fantasy world is represented by gold and warm, uterine reds. The superb colour rendition handles all of this with aplomb. While the image isn’t the sharpest I’ve ever seen, it’s perfectly acceptable and has a very ‘film-like’ appearance. Close examination revealed little or no edge enhancement, and there were no other digital nasties to speak of. All things considered this is a very good effort that just falls short of the best transfers around.

Audio


Optimum provides a choice of Spanish language tracks in either Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo or 5.1. I chose the latter for review purposes. I was very impressed by the track on offer here, which delivers an enveloping, atmospheric experience from the outset. The opening scenes in which Ofelia journeys to her new home are understated, but the whispering of the wind and the chirping of birds creates a solid aural foundation for what is to come. Once the fantasy elements are introduced there are many neat discrete effects, such as the clicking and buzzing of the fairies as they fly around the soundstage. Bass is also reasonably powerful when it needs to be.

Pan's Labyrinth
Dialogue is balanced nicely in the mix and remains intelligible throughout, while subtitles are well-translated. However, there are a couple of instances where they flash by too quickly, the most obvious being during the opening narration. The film’s omnipresent score, which uses Mercedes’ lullaby as the basis for much of the music, is well-balanced in the mix and a perfect accompaniment to the on-screen action. All-in-all the track is proof positive that a film doesn’t need to be filled with explosions and futuristic effects to sound great.

Extras


Aside from a couple of promotional trailers for Cronos and The Devil’s Backbone, the only extra on disc one is a 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. This track is probably the single most impressive bonus feature in the set.

Pan's Labyrinth
Disc two opens with a short video piece from Guillermo del Toro, 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 forthcoming Hellboy sequel, 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.

Pan's Labyrinth
Next up are a series of 'DVD Comic Sketches: The Pale, the Fairies, the Giant Toad and Pan'. This is 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.

'El Fauno Y Las Hadas' concerns the 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.

‘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.

Pan's Labyrinth
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.

Pan's Labyrinth
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).

Pan's Labyrinth

Overall


Pan’s Labyrinth is yet another great piece of work from Guillermo del Toro. I’m not as hopelessly in love with it as many people seem to be, but I can appreciate why so many are enamoured with the film. Thankfully Optimum has delivered another great package, especially in the audio-visual departments, and the quality of the supplemental material is significantly better than the majority of stuff found on DVD these days.

However, I can't help feeling just a little bit short-changed by the relative lack of behind-the-scenes material. Sure the interviews and short video segments are nice, but after the mammoth documentaries found on del Toro's Hellboy set they seem somewhat less impressive. It would have been nice to hear more from the cast and crew as well, but thankfully the inclusion of another great commentary track goes a long way towards redressing the balance. Even with those caveats this is still a superior presentation of a tremendous feature, and it comes highly recommended.


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