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Having already reviewed the standard definition release of Pan’s Labyrinth, I see no reason to write an entirely different review for this Blu-ray release. My opinion of the film still stands and I feel it was expressed perfectly adequately the first time around. Additionally, because this Blu-ray Disc contains only the bonus material found on the standard definition release (no BD exclusives I’m afraid) I’ve also chosen to adapt that portion of my standard definition review for inclusion here.

Pan's Labyrinth

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.

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.

Pan's Labyrinth
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.

Video


Pan’s Labyrinth is presented as a VC-1 encoded 1080p/24 transfer at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. Those of you who bought the standard definition version will be in familiar territory here, as the transfer is all-but identical to that release (resolution aside). Thankfully this means some superb use of colour to represent the various 'words' depicted in the movie, with lush greens, earthy browns and cold, steely-blue nights in the 'real' world, while the 'fantasy' world is represented by golds and uterine reds. Although presented in 1080p the the image isn’t the sharpest I’ve ever seen, but it’s perfectly acceptable and lends the transfer a very 'film-like' appearance (as opposed to the often artificial look of some modern features). Edge enhancement was not visible from my seating position (around ten feet from a 42" screen) and there were no compression artefacts to speak of.

If you read my standard definition review you might remember that I commented on the blacks, which weren't quite as black as I would have liked. The same still applies here, but watching on an LCD TV slightly exacerbates things. However, I never found it distracting and it is exactly how the film looked when I watched it at the cinema, so it's obviously a stylistic choice rather than a problem with the transfer. Unfortunately it means that shadow detail isn’t quite as good as you’d expect from such a recent release. Even with those minor quibbles, this is still a perfectly acceptable transfer of what is a simply gorgeous looking film.

Pan's Labyrinth
Out of curiosity I decided to give the standard definition DVD a whirl to see how an up-converted 576p image compared to a 1080p one. The answer—much to my surprise—was very favourably. From my seating position fine detail wasn't as easy to discern, but on the whole it measured up pretty well. Obviously the closer I got the the screen the less impressive the image looked, but I was amazed by how well it stood up to scrutiny under normal viewing conditions. I'm not saying it was a match for the high definition edition, but it wasn't a million miles away. It certainly gave me food for thought...

Audio


Optimum provides a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack in the film’s original Spanish language. I was very impressed by the track on the standard definition release, save for a minor audio glitch in the opening moments. The glitch took the form of a slight stutter that coincided with one of the characters breathing heavily. I didn’t actually realise it was a flaw in the audio until someone more familiar with the soundtrack mentioned it, but I’m happy to report that it has been corrected for the Blu-ray release.

As with the DVD's Dolby 5.1 soundtrack, the 640Kbps Dolby track here delivers an enveloping, atmospheric experience from the very first scene. Once again I'm in danger of repeating comments from my previous review, but the track is so similar it's hard to find new ways of saying the same things. The opening scenes are understated, but no less impressive than the more elaborate effects that come later. There are plenty of discrete effects 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 subtitles are well-translated on the whole. However, as with the standard definition release there are a couple of instances where they flash by a little too quickly. The film’s omnipresent score uses Mercedes’ lullaby as the basis for much of the music and is well-balanced in the mix.

Pan's Labyrinth
I also took the opportunity to compare the standard definition release's Dolby Digital 5.1 track to the Dolby Digital 5.1 track on the Blu-ray edition. For this I used my player's internal decoders to send the audio to my amplifier as PCM using the 5.1 analogue outputs. Without touching the volume control the Blu-ray track was considerably louder than the standard 5.1 effort, with a 'fuller' sound and deeper bass. I also noticed some subtle differences in the placement of effects during a couple of the scenes I sampled, with the BD track having a stronger presence at the front of the soundstage at the expense of some surround action. Even though there was very little to choose between them the BD track just had the edge, but both are very impressive. A Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track is also available.

Extras


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. This track is probably the single most impressive bonus feature in the set.

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 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.

Pan's Labyrinth
'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.

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 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. Beyond the obvious advantages of the high-definition Blu-ray format, Optimum has improved upon the standard definition release of the film by fixing the glitch that ever-so-slightly detracted from the greatness of the audio mix. The quality of the supplemental material is still solid, although the lack of any BD-exclusive features is lamentable and my comments from the standard definition release still stand.

By this I mean that I can't help feeling just a little bit short-changed by the relative lack of behind the scenes material, and the complete lack of any BD exclusive features only intensifies this. The interviews and short video segments are all well and good, but compared to the in-depth documentaries found on del Toro's Blade II and Hellboy releases 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 an excellent presentation of a tremendous feature and will make a very worthy addition to your Blu-ray library.

* 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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