Plot: What’s it about?
Pan’s Labyrinth came out in my sophomore year of college and was a surprise sleeper hit, even making its way to the Academy Awards with numerous nominations including Best Picture. The film still holds a 97% on Rotten Tomatoes, so it is pretty obvious that the critical reception was great for the film. It is pretty incredible that a violent Spanish-speaking period piece about the Spanish Civil War with fantasy elements mixed in was so overwhelmingly loved and embraced. I remember that when I first saw it I was absolutely floored. The theatre I was in felt the exact same way. I remember that nobody dared to say a thing until they made their way to the outside of the theatre, because the movie had hit all of them in different ways.
Pan’s Labyrinth begins with Ofelia, a precocious twelve year old girl, riding with her mother in a protected caravan through war struck Spain. Ofelia’s mother is sick due to her pregnancy and the trip has put her in danger. The caravan is bringing them to Captain Vidal so that his child can be born in his presence. Vidal impregnated her after her tailor husband died in the war. Vidal oversees a military installation that is fighting guerillas that live in the forests outside the camp. Vidal and Ofelia immediately come to bad terms, and it soon becomes quite clear that he cares most about his own legacy and little about the mother’s health or Ofelia. Meanwhile, Ofelia meets a walking stick that becomes a fairy and leads her to a Fauna in the Labyrinth outside the base camp. As Ofelia befriends Mercedes, a housekeeper for Vidal, she begins to see the true nature of the war around her and becomes deeply enveloped in fantasy. Vidal is sadistic in his attempts to kill the guerillas, and is also sadistic in how he treats all those around him. As the rebels begin to close in on the base, all of these interposed parts collide together. Fantasy will affect reality and vice versa in irreversible ways.
The film is, in my opinion, essentially a masterpiece. The acting is top notch. Child actress Ivana Baquero’s performance is extremely convincing as Ofelia. Sergi Lopez is absolutely incredible as Captain Vidal, oozing menace like almost no other villain onscreen. The supporting turns by Maribel Verdu (of Y Tu Mama Tambien fame) and Alex Angulo are both great. The cinematography by Guillermo Navarro is great and bears the same yellow and blue look and feel as the beautiful The Devil’s Backbone. The score by Javier Navarrete fits the film like a glove and helps to emphasize the fantastic elements.
At the end of the day, this is Guillermo Del Toro’s show. As writer, director, and producer it is his vision that we see on screen without compromise. Credit needs to be given where it is due, and this film was obviously a project he cared deeply about. As a viewer, I believe you will feel exactly what he wanted you to feel…. astonished.
(Note: this film has some violent content that borders on some of the most extreme that I have seen. To me, it makes perfect sense and is in no way gratuitous , but I would not want it to completely blindside you.)
Video: How’s it look?
Criterion have taken what was already a good looking transfer and have made it absolutely perfect. The video quality is stunning, with great color and depth of field. Criterion teamed up with Guillermo Del Toro and cinematographer Guillermo Navarro to make sure that the picture quality was perfect and the results are nothing short of breathtaking. The previous transfer was good as released by New Line, but this one is even better, featuring a more robust depth of field and less macroblocking. Fans will be pleased.
Audio: How’s it sound?
Similar to the video, this DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track is very high quality. Surrounds are incredibly active throughout the entire film with a very immersive feel to the entire film. Like previous Del Toro films, sound is not an afterthought, but something very well thought out and orchestrated. The score by Javier Navarrete expertly meshes with the film’s mixture of fantasy and reality. Another great transfer by Criterion.
Supplements: What are the extras?
- Director’s Introduction – this archival video introduction by director-writer-producer Guillermo del Toro was included on the 2007 release. In English, not subtitled. (1 min, 1080i).
- Del Toro and Funke – Novelist Cornelia Funke (Inkheart) sits down to discuss the role of fairy tales in Guillermo del Toro’s work with the director. This is an enjoyable piece and goes a long way to figuring out his influences. This interview was conducted exclusively for Criterion in 2016. In English, not subtitled. (40 min, 1080p).
- Director’s Notebook – presented here is an interactive gallery with Guillermo del Toro’s notebook of drawings and sketches for Pan’s Labyrinth, with short videos featuring comments from the director. The notebook was produced by Javier Soto and included on the 2007 release. The videos come to just over fifteen minutes worth of material and are pretty interesting. In English, not subtitled. (1080i).
- Doug Jones – The famous character actor discusses working with Guillermo on several projects. I enjoyed this interview. Unfortunately this interview was the only other interview conducted exclusively for Criterion in 2016. In English, not subtitled. (26 min, 1080p).
- Ivana Baquero Audition – archival footage from actress Ivana Baquero’s audition for the role of Ofelia in Pan’s Labyrinth which was shot on April 10, 2005. In Spanish, with optional English subtitles. (3 min, 1080i).
- Prequel Comics – four animated comic-books with prequel stories for creatures from the movie, which were included on the 2007 release. Once again, neat – but from the last release.
- The Giant Toad. (1 min, 1080i).
- The Fairies. ( 1 min, 1080i).
- The Faun. (1 min, 1080i).
- The Pale Man (2 min, 1080i).
- Video Comparisons – three video comparisons to see how everything came together. Once again, from the 2007 release.
- Lullaby. (3 min, 1080i).
- The Green Fairy. (2 min, 1080i).
- Thumbnails/Storyboards. (1080i).
- Del Toro Intro
- Ofelia Enters the Labyrinth
- Ofelia and the Giant Toad
- Death of the Doctor
- Ofelia’s Death
- Trailers and TV Spots – seven TV spots, a teaser, and a trailer.
- Audio Commentary – this audio commentary by Guillermo del Toro was recorded in 2007 and initially appeared on New Line Cinema’s release of Pan’s Labyrinth. This is a great commentary track that is very detailed about the film’s conception to completion.
Note: the interview with Charlie Rose from the New Line edition is missing. This was a bummer.
The Bottom Line
Pan’s Labyrinth is fantastic film and continues to leave me nearly speechless ten years later upon reviewing it. Criterion have provided a beautiful video transfer and the sound is also immaculate. The only problem that I have with this disk (and why this disk lost .5 overall) is that Criterion has provided only a few new supplements, and has left us all of the supplements that were including nine years ago, except the Charlie Rose show episode is sadly left off of this disk. Considering the amazing job that Criterion did on The Devil’s Backbone‘s supplements, this seemed a bit lazy. That doesn’t mean that the supplements are bad, they are actually pretty good, they just have been seen nine years ago. So, is this worth adding to your collection? If you own the previous disk, I still think that the Criterion disk is better, but you may want to seriously evaluate your purchase. If you don’t own the disk, this is the version to get.