The dark and magical originality of Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth is most deserving of its continued praise and popularity. A labor of love that saw del Toro waive his directorial fee and other remunerations to protect realization of his vision. That unbridled passion and uncompromised dedication to vision is merely the opening salvo to the cinematic gifts Del Toro has at his command. He may have lost the purity of his voice with his English language productions (like Pacific Rim and Crimson Peak, regardless of how much fun or beautiful they may be), but his ability to speak in the voice of cinema with such knowledge is never far away.
The Production: 4.5/5
“A long time ago, in the underground realm, where there are no lies or pain, there lived a Princess who dreamed of the human world. She dreamed of blue skies, soft breeze, and sunshine. One day, eluding her keepers, the Princess escaped. Once outside, the brightness blinded her and erased every trace of the past from her memory. She forgot who she was and where she came from. Her body suffered cold, sickness, and pain. Eventually, she died. However, her father, the King, always knew that the Princess’ soul would return, perhaps in another body, in another place, at another time. And he would wait for her, until he drew his last breath, until the world stopped turning…”
Set in 1944, against the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War, 12-year-old Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) travels with her pregnant mother, Carmen (Ariadna Gil) to be with her stepfather, the brutal Spanish army Captain Vidal (Sergi López). The Captain is charged with fighting the resistance hidden in the mountains and forests of the countryside. Ofelia is enamored with her books, fairytale stories that her stepfather, whom she does not like or trust, has little patience for. Ever curious in her new surroundings, Ofelia follows a strange insect that seems to lure her. She discovers a labyrinth, and beneath the surface, a magnificent and frightening Faun he proclaims that Ofelia is the lost Princess Moanna. As the faun explains, Princess Moanna was the daughter of the King of the Underworld; a girl who became lost during a visit among humans. Blinded by the sun with her memory erased, she became mortal and died. Her distraught father, believing that her spirit would one day make its way back to the Underworld, erects labyrinths around the world so she might find her way back. The faun tells Ofelia of three tests she must pass to prove that she is the princess and to grant her access to the Underworld. Ofelia agrees to undertake the tests while at home her mother struggles with the crippling pregnancy, her father plots the destruction of the freedom fighters, and the spies in her house plot their revenge against the Captain and his army.
Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth is a cinematic gift of such rarity it is difficult to find peer concepts so lovingly and expertly realized in celluloid. A rich, visual feast for the eyes and the imagination that delivers a masterfully crafted tale of magic and gut-wrenching freedom-fighter war reality. It is the contrasting innocence of young Ofelia and her journey to complete magical tasks, with the brutality of her stepfather’s execution of bloody war tactics and unflinching coldness towards her, that seem to enroll our hearts and imaginations so completely. That the film is also populated with interesting supporting players and plots, specifically the role of Mercedes and Dr. Ferreiro (played by Maribel Verdú and Álex Angulo respectively), and their tense existence subverting and resisting the malice of Captain Vidal while under his unsuspecting nose at great risk to their lives, is all the more reason to fall in love with the potency of Del Toro’s vision.
Much praise must go to the central performer, young Ivana Baquero, who infuses Ofelia with strength, curiosity, and a trembling fearlessness and enormous bravery and sense of wonder that pull her between innocence and heroism. Surrounding her is a fine cast of performers. Her mother in the film, portrayed by Ariadna Gil, is protective and tragic without melodrama. Their mother-daughter bond in the film feels real. Sergi López’s Captain Vidal is a cold, calculating sort of evil. López reportedly delivered his lines more monotone and deeper than his natural speaking voice, giving him a dispassionate tone fitting the malice he personifies. And Doug Jones, who gave life to the Faun and the Pale Man, captures the strange contortions and creature menace wonderfully.
A beautifully composed and vividly imagined world that, as del Toro states, serves as a parable of the potency and import of choice, and contains a myriad of references to other fairytale works and symbolic statements (eyes are a strident example, beginning with the eye-socket that Ofelia places back into a brush-hidden carving), and deeper meanings to creatures representing political power (The Faun and our doubts of his trustworthiness) and religious power (the Pale Man and his waning opulence and stigmatic eyes). Ultimately, Pan’s Labyrinth is at turns lush and bleak, human and magical, and intertwines the tale of our world and tale of the underworld with great storytelling skill and passionate filmmaking vision.
3D Rating: NA
For this release of Pan’s Labyrinth, Criterion improves upon the already solid Blu-ray release with the 2K digital intermediate finishing process from the 35mm original camera negative used for its theatrical release, providing the film with the closest look to del Toro’s original vision (with, as the booklet states, additional color changes to further realize del Toro’s vision) – all supervised by the director.
Delightful clarity, impressive contrast, brighter and better contrasts in color (particularly the forest in daylight) are notable highlights of this transfer and presentation. Textures are detailed and the impressive set and creature work is showcased well.
The fully digital soundtrack was remastered from the original digital audio master files and is available to enjoy either in Spanish 5.1 Surround DTS-HD Master Audio or an alternate 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio surround sound (the 5.1 was used for this review). The sound field is impressive, clarity in the separation, warmth in the sound design, and excellent handling of levels throughout and particularly immersive surround effects. I should also note that Javier Navarrete’s lullaby-laced score for Pan’s Labyrinth serves as an intrinsically emulsifying presence, capturing the grit and grace that by turns wash over us as del Toro’s tale unfolds. A wonderful soundtrack for standalone listens too.
Special Features: 3.5/5
There isn’t a good deal that’s new here, mostly a couple of new interviews (with the director, and one of Faun/Pale Man actor Doug Jones), with the rest of the special features largely coming from the previous 2007 Blu-ray release. Still, collectively this is still a good examination and appreciation of the film (though, in sum, not as deep as the film really deserves).
New Special Features:
- New interview with del Toro by novelist Cornelia Funke about fairy tales, fantasy, and Pan’s Labyrinth
- New interview with actor Doug Jones
- Footage of actor Ivana Baquero’s audition for the film
- Booklet containing an essay by film critic Michael Atkinson
Previously Available Special Features
- Audio commentary by del Toro from 2007
- Four 2007 making-of documentaries, examining the characters, production, special effects, themes, and music of the film
- Interactive director’s notebook
- Animated comics featuring prequel stories for the film’s menagerie of creatures
- Programs comparing selected production storyboards and del Toro’s thumbnail sketches with the final film; visual effects work for the Green Fairy; and elements of the film’s score
- Trailers and TV spots
Pan’s Labyrinth unfolds its majesty, magic and mystery just like the gold leaf pages of a dusty and old fairytale book from the library, one we might read huddled around a dim and flickering light in the middle of the night. How we absorb the story is as moving as the story itself. That’s Del Toro’s gift here. An adult fairytale; bloody, brutal, surprisingly dark, and one that plays to our innate hopes and unconscious memories of fairytales, heroism, meaning and possibility. A triumph that comes Highly Recommended!