With his movie Lady in the Water, director/writer M. Night Shyamalan
tried to create a new fairy tale, a modern fable that would capture the
imaginations of viewers. He failed miserably, instead making a self-indulgent
and muddled film that wasn't captivating and barely watchable. Writer/director
Guillermo del Toro (Blade II, Hellboy) attempted a similar thing
last year with Pan's Labyrinth and created a mystical, magical world
that is both horrible and full of promise. Like many of the original
Grimm's fairy tales, this is a dark tale with evil and cruelty and is not
necessarily a story for children.
Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) is an 11-year old girl who, as the movie begins,
is reluctantly moving to the mountains of Spain with her pregnant mother
to be with her new step-father, Captain Vidal (Sergi López).
The time is 1944, and the fascists have won the Spanish Civil War, but
there are still some Communists rebels holding up in the mountains.
It's Vidal's job to capture them, but he'd rather just slaughter them all.
Thrust into a violent and unfamiliar world, Ofelia spends much of her
time reading fairy tales, and when she sees a strange bug fly into her
room and land on her leg, she's not terribly surprised to discover that
it's really a fairy that has been sent to bring her into the forest.
Following the small flying creature, Ofelia is lead through an ancient
labyrinth and down into a deep well. At the bottom she meets a faun
who reveals that she's not just an ordinary girl, but the daughter of a
king. In order to be able to return to her kingdom however, the faun
must be sure that Ofelia is pure and hasn't been tainted with the curse
of mortality. In order to prove herself she has to accomplish three
tasks before the next full moon, only days away. Each one is more
dangerous than the last.
All the while Captain Vidal searches for the rebels, cutting the locals
rations so they won't have any food to share and torturing or killing anyone
he suspects of helping them. With Ofelia knowing that one of the
maids is helping the resistance, and her mother's pregnancy taking a turn
for the worse, the girl is left with no one to turn to and no one to help
This movie does a magnificent job of weaving its two plot lines, that
of Ofelia's reality and that of the world she hopes to escape to, together
and making the whole greater than the sum of the two parts. Especially
at the end, when the two worlds come crashing together, the film is at
its strongest and most intense.
While the movie can be enjoyed at face value, but people who enjoy digging
beneath the surface will find a lot here. Filled with allegories
and clues that are open to varying interpretations, this is a film that
can be talked about for hours on end. Of course the most basic question
is what part is real? Is Ofelia's faun just in her imagination or
has he really come to rescue her. The parallels between the fairy
story line and the harsh real world are interesting too. No matter
how horrific Ofelia's task, the anguish that man inflicts on his fellow
man is much more intense. Then there's the imagery and visual cues
hidden through the film, references to Greek mythology, and Christian religious
motifs that will spawn many conversations.
The film is also technically superb. The cinematography is fabulous
and is one of the main reasons that the film works so well. The Spanish
hillsides look cold and forbidding and the labyrinth is has an earthy,
ancient feeling that seems like it could be real. The acting is also
top rate. Young Ivana Baquero is amazing, bringing just the right
mixture of innocence and fear to the role, while Sergi López comes
across as truly vile without becoming a caricature.
The only problem I had with the film was some aspects of the script.
In a couple of places people's actions didn't ring true. (When the
maid is leaving the storage barn, why didn't she finish the job first?)
Also some things were a little too black and white. The fascists
were evil, and history proves that out, but the communists they were fighting
would likely have been just as bad. The rebels hiding in the mountains
are portrayed as a bit too noble and selfless and that distracts from the
realistic atmosphere the movie is trying to create. In the whole
scheme of things, these are minor matters however, as the film works wonderfully
as it is.
The Blu-ray Disc:
The video quality of this disc is simply stunning. I was really
blown away by the look and atmosphere of the film and how well that was
reproduced on this Blu-ray disc. From the very first scenes the disc
is impressive with a tight, sharp picture and a wonderfully wide color
palate that makes the film quite astonishing. The level of detail
is excellent too. Viewers can see the fine texture on the fairies
wings and the bark-like wrinkles on the faun's skin.
There are several distinct looks to this movie too, from the bright
austere room of the Pale Man to the dark and earthy look of the bottom
of the well to the realistic appearance of the command center where Ofelia's
living, they all look wonderful. Blacks are solid and deep, the colors
are nothing short of magnificent. From the Pale Man's pinkish-white
skin to the Faun's grayish skin that has been weathered by age, the hues
and tones used in the film are lovingly reproduced. This is an amazing
film with a unique style and feel and this Blu-ray disc does a magnificent
job of reproducing it.
The short version: One of the best soundtracks I've ever heard.
The longer version: a totally immersive audio track, the DTS HD Master
Audio 7.1 track (in the original Spanish with optional English subtitles
translated and written by Guillermo del Toro himself) sounds phenomenal
even when powering 5.1 speakers like my set up. The both the visual
and aural designs of the film were made to draw the viewer into the world
that Ofelia was living in, and this soundtrack was very successful in
doing that. The entire soundstage is constantly being used and even
the softest noises are carefully placed. Whether Ofelia is crawling
through mud and bugs inside a dying tree or just lying with her mother
in bed, there are sounds, subtle and overt, coming from all corners.
And that's just during the regular scenes. When the action starts
the speakers get a real workout, with bullets flying and explosions rattling
As impressive as the battle scenes are, I was more moved by the more
sonically sedate scenes. Where the maid claws the dirt away from
a cobblestone that hides her cache of letter to be passed on to the resistance
for example, the scraping of her fingernails on the stone and her hurried
breath create a very suspenseful scene. This is a case where the
sound really enhances the atmosphere of the film. Hollywood should
take note too: there wasn't any overbearing 'scary' music playing
at the time, just the sound of someone breathing fast while digging up
Technically the disc was above reproach too. Due to the wide dynamic
range, both the soft sounds and the loud booms were easily discernable.
The bass was tight and the mids were warm sounding. There wasn't
a hint of distortion or cracking either. An amazing soundtrack that
is reference quality.
New Line has ported over the entire set of bonus items found on the
SD version of the film, and though they are all presented in SD, it is
a very comprehensive set of features that adds significantly to the value
of the disc.
The disc starts out with a video prologue by director/writer Guillermo
del Toro in which he talks about how much he put into the making of this
movie and the sleepless nights that he endured. It only last a minute,
but is a nice beginning.
There's also a director's commentary by del Toro. He provides
a good track and it is very enjoyable to listen to, even though he has
a bit of an accent. He talks about the production of the film and
the cast, and points out some interesting details that many viewers probably
missed (such as all the faun icons sprinkled through the film.) Though
it sometimes gets a bit technical, this is still an enjoyable track and
well worth listening to.
The Power of Myth is a 15 minute featurette that looks at fairy
tales that inspired the movie. That's followed by Pan and the
Fairies, a half hour look at the special effects of the movie and how
they were created. This latter documentary was my favorite on the
disc, a very enthralling look that the creation of the movie.
The Color and the Shape is a four-minute examination of the cinematography.
The film has such an interesting and unique look that I found this featurette
to be much too brief. The subject really deserved a longer and more
in depth look. The same can be said of The Lullaby: The
Melody Echoes the Fairy Tale. This examination of the music only
lasted 5 minutes and could have gone on much longer.
One of the best bonus items on this disc is an installment of the Charlie
Rose Show. This 50-minute program has a discussion between directors
Guillermo del Toro, Alfonso Cuaron (Children of Men), and Alejandro
Inarritu (21 Grams) which is very interesting and well done.
The Director's Notebook is a set of short interview pieces accessed
through an interactive notebook. While some of the subjects were
interesting I found the method of accessing them a bit gimmicky.
The Storyboard Comparisons last 6-minutes and presents del Toro's
original drawings, the actual storyboards, and the scene from the film
all on the same screen. There's also a VFX Plate Comparison
which has a light test for one of the fairies, four short comic book stories,
a photo gallery, and an extensive collection of trailers, TV spots, and
promotional posters for the film.
In addition to all of that, there is an Enhanced Visual Commentary
with del Toro, exclusive to the Blu-ray and HD DVD versions of the film.
This is a Picture-in-Picture track that takes clips from the documentaries
already on the disc and plays them in a window while the film is running.
I found this rather annoying and not really worth the trouble they obviously
went to. NOTE: This is not a Profile 1.1 feature and should
run on virtually all Blu-ray players.
This bonus section has A LOT of stuff in it, and just about all of it
is interesting and worth watching. A really top-notch group of extras.
Filled with wonderful images, a well thought out story, and some absolutely
superb acting, Pan's Labyrinth is a work of art. This story
of a young girl growing up in bad times is sure to stay with viewers long
after the movie is over. The Blu-ray presentation is excellent with
a great picture and one of the best audio presentations I've heard.
Ever. Add to that a wonderfully full selection of bonus items and
the result is a don't-miss disc. DVDTalk Collector Series.
Note: The images in this review are not from the Blu-ray disc and do
not necessarily represent the image quality on the disc.