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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • Spanish DTS-HD 5.1 Surround
  • English subtitles
  • 1 Disc
FEATURES
  • Audio commentary featuring Del Toro
  • Video introduction by Del Toro from 2010
  • New interviews with Del Toro about the process of creating the ghost Santi and the drawings and designs made in preparation for the film
  • ŅQue es un fantasma?, a 2004 making-of documentary
  • Spanish Gothic, a 2010 interview with Del Toro about the genre and its influence on his work
  • Interactive director's notebook, with Del Toro's drawings and handwritten notes, along with interviews with the filmmaker
  • Four deleted scenes, with optional commentary
  • New featurette about the Spanish Civil War as evoked in the film
  • Program comparing Del Toro's thumbnail sketches and Carlos Gimťnez's storyboards with the final film
  • Selected on-screen presentation of Del Toro's thumbnail sketches alongside the sections of the final film they represent
  • Trailer

The Devil's Backbone

Blu-ray
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Guillermo del Toro
2001 | 108 Minutes | Licensor: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: $39.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #666
RLJ Entertainment

Release Date: July 30, 2013
Review Date: August 11, 2013

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SYNOPSIS

The most personal film by Guillermo del Toro is also among his most frightening and emotionally layered. Set during the final week of the Spanish Civil War, The Devil's Backbone tells the tale of a ten-year-old boy who, after his freedom-fighting father is killed, is sent to a haunted rural orphanage full of terrible secrets. Del Toro effectively combines gothic ghost story, murder mystery, and historical melodrama in a stylish concoction that reminds us-as would his later Pan's Labyrinth-that the scariest monsters are often the human ones.

Forum members rate this film 9.3/10

 

Discuss the film and Blu-ray here   


PICTURE

Guillermo del Toroís The Devilís Backbone receives a Blu-ray release from The Criterion Collection. On this dual-layer disc the film is presented in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1 with a new 1080p/24hz high-definition digital transfer.

The image unsurprisingly looks wonderful. The level of detail present is astonishing, especially in the long shots of the desolate Spanish landscape around the filmís central location where you can make tiny rocks and pebbles clearly, along with the vegetation scattered through the scene. Colours are especially striking, most notably in those same sequences with rich brown landscapes and the pure blue sky above. And where it matters most, in the darker, creepier sequences, the black levels are rich and inky, looking pure and never crushing details. The image also remains crisp and clear, with nicely defined edges and no sign of digital manipulation.

Some noise creeps in some of the darker exterior shots but the presentation is otherwise clean. Film grain isnít heavy but itís present and rendered nicely, and I donít recall any print damage or flaws. Itís a newer film (released in 2001) so it isnít shocking how good it does look, but the transfer still managed to surprise me.

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.

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AUDIO

Criterion also delivers a wonderfully effective Spanish DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround track. The track as a whole is crisp and clear, delivering strong dialogue and music. But itís most effective in delivering atmosphere in many sequences. Scenes involving the filmís central ghost present footsteps or chatter, or other ďbumps in the nightĒ that naturally move around the viewer and blend effectively from speaker to speaker, and some of the filmís more action oriented set pieces (like an explosion that occurs later on) moves cleanly from front to back. Bass is subtle but effective. The filmís score also delivers an excellent amount of range, as does the track as a whole.

Overall it makes excellent use of a 5.1 surround set-up, and delivers the filmís atmosphere perfectly.

9/10

SUPPLEMENTS

I havenít seen any of the other Blu-ray editions that were released in other countries for this film, though it appears a lot of the features here were made in 2010 to possibly cover those releases (I was trying to confirm specifications on the releases found in the UK and Spain but couldnít confirm all supplements.) Even if most of the material found here appeared on other editions of the film (including Sonyís own 2004 Special Edition DVD) Criterion has thrown in some new material and put together a rather stunning package as a whole.

First is the audio commentary featuring director Guillermo del Toro that looks to have appeared on the 2004 Special Edition DVD. Itís a shockingly exhaustive track, with del Toro covering everything about the making of the film, from his early drafts of the story to the finished product, covering every minute detail in the film. And I really mean every detail from the design of the central ghost to tile that appears in a scene. Iím actually rather astounded at the amount of thought the man puts into every little thing as itís not overly obvious because everything in a scene fits so well in place and looks natural. But everything was planned, everything was designed, and he goes over the numerous influences one can find in the film: other films, artwork, novels, poetry, everything. He talks about gothic and classical influences, and his desire in creating a gothic ghost story in a non-gothic setting (the Spanish Civil War.) At times I honestly felt my head was spinning because there is so much material in here. Itís excellent and just about negates the rest of the material found on here.

The remaining supplements start with a quick introduction by del Toro recorded in 2010. At under a minute the director simply explains how the features will go over the making of the film and how it relates to Panís Labyrinth.

The next feature is a first for Criterion: a picture-in-picture feature presenting del Toroís thumbnails he drew, which play over the film in the bottom left corner when turned on. As explained elsewhere (including the commentary if I recall correctly) del Toro drew up a number of small thumbnail images planning out the film, similar to a storyboard. When available these drawings appear over their related scenes in the film. An interesting feature but it unfortunately disables the subtitles, which may be problematic for viewers who donít speak Spanish.

Summoning Spirits is a 14-minute interview with del Toro recorded for Criterion in 2013. Here the director goes into great detail (because he apparently didnít go into enough detail in the commentary) about the design of Santi, the filmís central ghost. Accompanied by a number of sketches and designs he explains the genesis of the look of the character, which he wanted to look like a cracked porcelain doll. There was a lot of back and forth between him and the effects people, but he finally got the look he wanted. He also explains some limitations he had in the way of effects because of the filmís budget (though other features almost suggest the film had a rather large budget,) such as the skeleton effect he wanted. He did find a creative way around that, though. He also goes over the look of the orphanage, from the oxidized exteriors to the darker blues of the interiors. As with the commentary itís a very dense interview with the director.

ŅQue es un fantasma? appears to be the same 2004 documentary that would have appeared on Sonyís special edition DVD. In Spanish and running at 27-minutes itís a pretty run-of-the-mill making-of, featuring plenty of behind-the-scenes footage, with members going over the development of the script, effects, make-up, design, and so on. Itís a fine piece but the material is covered elsewhere.

Spanish Gothic is another interview with del Toro, this one also from 2010. Here del Toro talks about the gothic look and feel for the film, but not before explaining some of the ideas he originally had for the film. He covers again how the film was originally to take place in Mexico with a mountain region known as the Devilís Backbone as the backdrop (he then had to change the title to refer to a medical condition when he moved it to Spain) and some more ďfairy taleĒ aspects that make it seem like it was going to be closer to Panís Labyrinth. From here he talks about how he took a ďgothic romanceĒ and had it take place during the Spanish Civil War, and then goes over the political elements that appear through the characters in the film. He then talks about its release, which happened after 9/11, and admits commercially it was the wrong time to release the film. Some of this material is mentioned in his commentary but itís actually expanded on here and makes for a rather fascinating 18-minutes.

The Directorís Notebook is a more interactive feature than weíve gotten from Criterion in a long while, calling back to their multimedia essays that appeared on some of their laserdiscs and early DVDs. Put together in 2010, the feature displays a few pages of notes on the film from del Toroís notebook, going fomr the preserved fetuses to the bomb in the courtyard. There are only a few pages you can flip through, using your remote to navigate, but thereís some video sections thrown in here. When you select a ďkeyĒ image a video interview with del Toro pops up, the director going over the content that appears on the page. Itís a short feature in total, with about 9-minutesí worth of video, but an interesting one to go through.

Designing The Devilís Backbone is another new interview recorded for Criterion, with del Toro talking about the design work that went into the film. Carlos Gimenez (whose comic Paracuellos was an influence on the film) did a lot of the design work for the film, from characters to settings, and we see a lot of those drawings here. Though cartoonish in nature you can still see how these designs came out in the finished film. Del Toro also talks about the importance of the costumes and the detail and planning that went into their looks, while also talking about how they put together the photos in the film. Some of this is again covered in the commentary but del Toro goes into far more detail here, making for another intriguing supplement.

We then get 4-minutesí worth of deleted scenes, presented here in upscaled standard-definition. There are four scenes in total, each with an optional commentary. Thereís a nice scene featuring Jacinto, but del Toro explains these scenes were all cut either because of pacing, his disappointment with how an attempt at a single-shot scene went, or because he felt a scene ruined a reveal a little later. Thereís nothing wrong with the scenes but the film wouldnít have benefitted with them.

Thereís then a 12-minute feature comparing thumbnails and sketches with respective scenes from the film. Itís a split screen presentation presenting del Toroís thumbnails and the respective sketches that Gimenez made from them on top, while the related scene plays below in a separate window. You can then use the multi-angle button to switch to either the thumbnail or sketch on their own without the related scene playing. The last two scenes are missing the thumbnails. An interesting inclusion, though itís somewhat trumped by the picture-in-picture feature that plays over the film.

To add some context Criterion next includes A War of Values, a 14-minute interview with scholar Sebastian Faber. Here he talks about the Spanish Civil War, explaining the reasons for it (it started after a failed military coup,) how it ended, and then what followed in the country for decades. He talks about some of the elements in the film and how they relate to the war. Although it of course only scrapes the surface of the way, Iím always appreciative when Criterion includes material like this.

The disc then closes with the filmís theatrical trailer and an essay by Mark Kermode, found in the included insert.

Itís a very in-depth collection of supplements, covering every aspect of the film. The material admittedly gets a little repetitive in places, and Iím disappointed at the lack of critical analysis, but itís a very thorough collection, and all worth going through.

8/10

CLOSING

Criterion has gathered some excellent material for this special edition, covering every facet of the filmís production. Combined with a rather stunning audio/video presentation this release comes with a very high recommendation for fans of the film.


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