Continuing with Guillermo del Toroís Spanish language films (after releasing Cronos and The Devilís Backbone), The Criterion Collection presents Panís Labyrinth on a dual-layer Blu-ray in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The 1080p/24hz high-definition presentation is sourced from the theatrical 2K digital intermediate created from the original 35mm negatives.
The notes on the restoration mention that colour adjustments have been made to match del Toroís original vision for the film, and in comparison to the original DVD and Blu-ray editions the colours do look a bit different: some scenes can look a bit more greenish, grays look a little deeper, and other scenes in the fantasy world can maybe be a bit more yellowish. Iím sure some people feeling this is revisionism will object, but it varies throughout and doesnít vary too wildly in comparison to other home video releases; it didnít bother me and still suits the film.
As to overall quality itís a definite step up in comparison to the previous Warner/New Line DVD and Blu-ray editions. It of course improves substantially over the DVD edition, but it also improves quite a bit over the Warner Blu-ray as well. The image for that release looks a bit flat, hurt more than likely by some overzealous noise reduction: it looked processed and hurt the image. The film is a wonder in design, and the details, particularly in the fantasy elements of the film, are abundant. They didnít pop as they probably should have in the previous releases but they have a renewed life here. The textures are particularly strong here, close-ups on the Faun now presenting finer details that werenít as obvious before.
The image also looks far more filmic now. Yes, the source for this is a 2K digital intermediate created for the 2006 theatrical distribution of the film and maybe a new 4K scan could really add a lot, but as it is it does hold up very well. Grain is rendered rather nicely and remains natural. Colours look nicely saturated, with some brilliant reds in a few sequences. Black levels are fairly deep, and though some shadow detail gets lost I still found them nice enough. It was brought to my attention that there is apparently some macroblocking noticeable in screen captures taken at other sites, but I canít say I ever noticed anything of the sort while watching the film. I noticed a similar issue in a couple of shots while watching Criterionís presentation of A Short Film About Killing, so itís possible, but if the issue is here I certainly didnít notice it. As far as I could see it was about as clean as one could hope.
In the end I found it offered a significant improvement over the previous releases from Warner. The image is sharp, detail is higher, and it still retains a filmic look. Iíd say it was worth the upgrade. 9/10
All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.
Criterion carries over most of the Warner/New Line features found on previous editions, while also adding a few of their own. The same 25-second introduction by the director (where he proclaims this film almost destroyed him) from the previous editions is here, along with his 2007 audio commentary. Del Toro manages to cover a variety of subjects around the making of the film, going into detail about his original intentions with the story, a companion to The Devilís Backbone, that managed to morph a bit after 9/11. He draws parallels between the two films at times but spends more time talking about the various influences, which range from Alice in Wonderland and Dickens to various artworks. Even video games, in terms of sound design at least, influenced this film. But what I enjoyed most about the track (and this is expanded upon in another feature on this release) is when he talks about the general story, its fairy tale aspects, and how he likes to leave things open to the audience, giving them enough information to draw their own conclusions. Scattered about are some very funny moments (he expresses his deep hate for working with horses, using a few choice words when describing them) making for a very entertaining track that also has the benefit of being incredibly detailed.
New for this edition is a 39-minute conversation between del Toro and author Cornelia Funke, who both talk about the fairy tale and fantasy elements in their work. Itís a very dense conversation, covering the importance of fairy tales, how they carry on through generations, their structure, while also getting into various influences on them. Yet the most interesting element to the discussion is how one presents fairy tales to modern audiences. Del Toroówho covers this a bit in the commentary trackóexplains how he wanted Panís Labyrinth to carry all the elements of a fairy tale, to the point where the story doesnít explain everything or leaves a number of loose things hanging out there; things just happen as they should in a fairy tale. This can prove difficult with modern audiences because they do expect things to be explained, but of course, as they explain, this ultimately ruins the magic. The two, unsurprisingly, are quite knowledgeable on the subject and they both have a lot to share here. Itís a solid new feature.
Most of the remaining features are carry-overs from the previous releases. The directorís notebook is an interactive feature. After a brief intro by del Toro you can then dig into an interactive gallery featuring the filmmakerís notebook. As you flip through you can click various icons to playback video covering everything from building the sets (to fit nicely in the 1.85:1 framing) to creature design to miniature work. In total the video features only run about 15-minutes but they offer some interesting insights into the filmís design and the detail and thought that went into every little aspect of it.
A series of documentaries, also from previous editions, are next up. The Power of Myth could almost be considered a 14-minute summarization of the topics covered in the previous del Toro/Funke conversation, going over the filmís fantasy elements, its story, and his defense of using character types in a film like this. The Color and the Shape and The Melody Echoes the Fairy are both short pieces, the former about the use of colour in the film to represent the different worlds, and the latter about the development of the filmís music, del Toroís daughter seeming to have final say. They run about 4-minutes and 3-minutes respectively.
Pan and the Fairies proves to be the better one of the documentaries. The 30-minute piece gets into incredible detail about the design of the creatures in the film, the Faun and the Pale Man in particular. For this we get plenty of video footage of actor Doug Jones getting done up in the make-up for both characters, as well as see him practice in costume, getting used to some of the complicated elements (like the legs of the Faun). Itís also fun watching Jones, in Pale Man make-up, trying to eat a Subway sandwich. From a technical perspective it was probably the most fascinating feature (even my children, who walked into the room while I was watching it, were fascinated by it).
Following that Criterion next provides a new 26-minute interview with actor Doug Jones, who plays both the Faun and Pale Man in the film. He talks about his career (which primarily consists of acting under a lot of make-up) and how he first came to work for del Toro, which was for a last-minute shoot for Mimic, which then led to him doing Hellboy and then Panís Labyrinth. The biggest handicap for him during Panís Labyrinth was that he didnít speak a word of Spanish, and to add authenticity he did learn the Spanish lines (he was ultimately dubbed over, though), but del Toro brought him on because he knew he would be the best to bring the character(s) to life. He also talks about working the mechanics of the costumes in this film, which is accompanied by more footage of Jones practicing his movements in the Faun outfit, and he gives a great amount of detail to the workings of the costumes. On top of all this and the difficulties acting in the outfits, he talks about creating the characters and using the makeup and costumes as extensions to his performance. This latter aspect, about acting under makeup and creating a character along the lines of the Faun, prove to be the highlights of an already strong interview.
Moving on Criterion ports more material from the old release: 3-minutesí worth of audition footage featuring Ivana Baquero, followed by animated prequel comics which offer backstories to the Faun, the Pale Man, the Fairies, and the frog. Each animated segment runs about a minute and is literally presented as an animated comic book page.
A collection of multi-angle video comparisons present a few scenes accompanied by thumbnail sketches and storyboards (Iíll avoid naming the scenes as to not give away any spoilers). Three of the four present 3 angles: a 3-way comparison between the sketches, storyboards, and final scene; the sketches presented on their own; and the final storyboard. One scene only presents the rough sketches and the comparison between them and the final scene. With these you get the bonus of seeing how the toad scene was played out originally, after other features explained that the scene had to be changed just before shooting began.
The disc then closes with the filmís theatrical and teaser trailers, along with 7 TV spots. The included insert then features an essay by Michael Atkinson on the filmís blending of real history with fantasy into a coming-of-age tale.
Iím a little disappointed that most of the material is recycled, but it, along with Criterionís new material, does offer an exhaustive look at the filmís production and its fantasy elements. Itís still a strong set of features and everything is worth going through. 8/10