The Film (5/5)
Guillermo Del Toro has proven since his debut film Cronos that he is one of the great genre filmmakers working today. Whether he is making horror, fantasy, or science fiction, his limitless imagination brings the cinema some of the greatest genre works in recent memory. The greatest of his works, it can be argued are the 3 Spanish language films he did throughout the 90's and through the mid-2000's. These films include the aforementioned Cronos, The Devil's Backbone, and Pan's Labyrinth. The prior 2 have seen releases on Criterion previously, while the latter has had a DNR'd to death Blu-ray release through Universal earlier in the format lifecycle, Criterion has now been given an opportunity to work their magic on one of Del Toro's greatest.
Pan's Labyrinth follow Ofelia a young girl who is living in a very dark place (metaphysically speaking). Her Father has recently died, and her Mother has remarried. Her Stepfather is Captain Vidal (Sergi Lopez), a fascist military leader who is working at the end of the Spanish Civil War to take out the remains of the communist resistance. To this end he takes Ofelia, and her pregnant Mother into Spain's rural mountains to take the resistance out.
Ofelia has a hard time adjusting to this new life, and throws herself into the fairy tales that she loves. One days a bug flies onto her, and she realizes that it is actually a fairy. She follows it into a well, and finds a faun, who tasks her with 3 challenges, and should she pass these she will be welcome in their world, which is actually her kingdom. Each of these tasks is more grotesque and challenging than the last. While this is going on her Stepfather goes about his tasks of eliminating the rebels, and her Mother's pregnancy falls into troubled territory. The real world becomes darker for the young girl, and she increasingly looks to the fantasy for escape.
Pan's Labyrinth it can be argued may be Del Toro's most startling achievement. Devil's Backbone is easily a close second, but how he blends the stark, almost hopeless reality of the last days of the Spanish Civil War with Ofelia's fantasy world in this film is near seamless. His depiction of both is truly amazing. The real world is almost too bleak and real to actually exist, and yet one can imagine that this is actually happening. The fantasy realm depicted in the film is the polar opposite, and is stunningly rendered in such fantastic and gorgeous detail.
The performances from the main cast are absolutely spot on with Ivana Baquero turning in a wonderful performance as Ofelia. Of course Sergi Lopez is superb as Vidal. I read in an interview at the time of the film's release that he actually is a comedian, and he does a wonderful dramatic and brutal turn here as the film's primary villain.
It is nice to finally have Pan's Labyrinth on Blu-ray in a solid transfer. The Blu-ray is presented 1:85:1 with a 1080p AVC encoded transfer. Everything is vastly improved from the prior edition here, detail is fantastic, grain is rendered naturally, blacks are deep and inky, and colors are absolutely striking.
The audio is presented in either a DTS-HD MA 7.1 or 5.1 track in Spanish with optional English subtitles. The tracks are quite excellent with dialogue, score, and ambient sounds coming through nicely. I did not detect any issues with the track.
An absolutely over the top slate of extras accompanies this release some of these are new, some are ported over from prior releases. There is a commentary track with Del Toro, an introduction to the film by the director, multiple interviews, documentaries, an interactive Del Toro notebook, video comparisons to concept artwork, prequel comics, a leaflet with liner notes, and so much MORE.
Pan's Labyrinth is a modern masterpiece of fantasy cinema. The Blu-ray from Criterion which is long over due is absolutely gorgeous, sounds beautiful, and comes with an immense slate of extras is one of the years finest releases. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.