De Toro’s Spanish fable “Pan’s Labyrinth” transfers to 4K with a mixed outcome
Updated: Oct 17, 2022
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
Captain Vidal's housekeeper Mercedes (Maribel Verdu) comforts 11-year-old Ofelia (Ivana Baquero), who's struggling with a new life in Northern Spain under her military stepfather and dealing with her mother's sickness who's very pregnant.
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4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital copy; 2006; Spanish with English subtitles, R for graphic violence and some language; streaming via Amazon Video/Prime, Apple (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)
Best “extra”: a new YouTube interview with writer/director Guillermo del Toro
IMAGINARY WORLDS, says writer/director Guillermo del Toro, can be more “real” than geography, religion or any other societal constructs that we may agree upon as adults. How real? “I happen to believe that fantasy and stories have the same weight in shaping who we are as real things.”
So when he envisioned “Pan’s Labyrinth,” the story had to feel eternal, one that was rooted in a long tradition. If it felt new, he says, audiences wouldn’t connect.
Connect they did. A three-time Oscar winner (cinematography, art direction, makeup) and a nominee for original screenplay, original score and best foreign-language film, “Pan’s” is as powerful and thought-provoking today as it was when the credits first rolled 13 years ago.
Set in Spain in 1944, five years after the fascists’ triumph in the civil war, 11-year-old Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) and her pregnant mother Carmen (Ariadna Gil) are taken by the girl’s stepfather Vidal (Sergi López), a sadistic captain, to a rural outpost where he starts hunting down the remaining rebels. She soon encounters a fairy-like insect who leads her to the foreboding underground labyrinth of the faun (Guillermo favorite Doug Jones). He tells her she’s the incarnation of a princess and can achieve immortality and reclaim her kingdom if she completes three tasks.
(1) " Pan's Labyrinth" opens during the summer of 1944, with Ofelia on the ground as blood goes back into her body. De Toro says, "It's not about a girl dying, but about a girl giving birth to herself." (2) Ofelia and her mother Carmen (Ariadna Gil) travel to meet Captain Vidal. (3) During a break on the trip, Ofelia finds a stone to a strange statue in the woods. (4) Capt. Vidal (Sergi López) greets Carmen and Ofelia at his new home, an abandoned mill on the edge of a forest that shelters resistance fighters.
“Pan’s” only sounds like a fairy tale. The film is driven by its ambiguity – we never learn what’s real and what isn’t, and del Toro never compromises. Critic Michael Atkinson summed it up in an essay he wrote for Criterion’s 2016 Blu-ray release: “This only seemingly simple tale is in fact stretched on a rack between opposing impulses: between understanding the world and escaping it, between innocence and experience … as high-flying as it is predatory and cruel.”
The late Roger Ebert had a similar take when he reviewed the movie. “What makes [it] so powerful, I think, is that it brings together two kinds of material, obviously not compatible, and insists on playing true to both, right to the end.”
Del Toro (“The Shape of Water,” “Hellboy,” “The Devil’s Backbone”) shares his thoughts in an insightful new interview that, for some reason, Warner Bros. didn’t include on this new 4K Ultra HD incarnation. Not that it hurts for extras. They include two commentaries (audio and pop-up video) with de Toro who says the movie nearly killed him, with many sleepless nights, and lost over 45 pounds during the production. A handful of features ("The Power of the Myth," "Pan & the Fairies," "The Color and the Shape") are carried over from previous editions, plus animated comics, a look at del Toro’s notebook, and more – all of them good.
The director and Oscar winner cinematographer Guillermo Navarro captured the fairytale on 35mm film (1.85:1 aspect ratio), but sadly because of visual effects and computer rendering it was mastered in 2K. The overall clarity and sharpness of this 4K presentation is minimal compared to del Toro’s supervised 2K remaster for The Criterion Collection released in 2016. In fact, this presentation may be the same master, which was substantially sharper without digital noise reduction applied that hampered the original HD master (2007) featured on U.S. Blu-rays, included in this set. The U.K. Blu-ray never had DNR applied.
Natural film grain dances across the screen and facial close-ups exhibit fine detail, but wide shots and medium shots miss the clarity of films scanned and mastered in true 4K.
The HDR toning (HDR10 disc & Dolby Vision – some digital platforms) is where “Pan’s Labyrinth” shines. The overall grading is darker – especially within the shadows, giving a richer and deeper experience with the two distinct color palettes de Toro orchestrated.
“I think color is incredibly important. It conveys emotion and it conveys a sense of energy and it conveys a tale when you coat it carefully. The real universe is all grays, blues, and greens, muted, cold colors and unfriendly. The fantasy world is golden and red and it helps tell the story of which world is more nurturing… desirable.” – writer/director Guillermo de Toro
(1) Ofelia rests with her mother who's been extremely ill during her pregnancy. (2) A fairy reveals itself to Ofelia. (3 & 4) Ofelia discovers the fauno, a fantastical creature played by Doug Jones. He believes she's the Princess Moanna and has given her three challenges to prove her immortality.
The eight-channel DTS-HD soundtrack featured on the original Blu-ray has been replaced with a six-channel DTS-HD track. A strange selection, but de Toro made that same choice for the Criterion release, but on that disc, you had the option for the alternate 7.1 surround track.
Aside from the swap, the soundtrack is still excellent with environmental effects bouncing around the room and the dialogue front and center. But, most importantly the Oscar-nominated score from composer Javier Navarrete was mostly built around a simple lullaby “Long, Long Time Ago (Hace mucho, mucho tiempo) with strings, harp, choirs, and piano.
But if you want to know what films inspired him – Victor Erice’s “The Spirit of the Beehive” and Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil” top the list – why he couldn’t make a movie that he wouldn’t die for, or how his upbringing in Mexico informs his movies’ DNA, by all means go to YouTube and put Pan’s Labyrinth with Guillermo del Toro in the search field.
– Craig Shapiro
(1) Ofelia prepares to enter a dying fig tree with dry branches, and an old trunk - the home of a monstrous toad settled in its roots. (2) Guerrilla fighters wait for their next strike against Capt. Vidal and his Nationalist troops. (3) Vidal discovers a tube of antibiotics left at the campfire of the guerrillas. (4) One of Ofelia's challenges was to visit the orge, who sees with eyes set in the palms of his hands.
(1) The funeral for Carmen, who died giving birth to her son. (2) The ruthless Cpt. Vidal shoots Doctor Ferreiro (Álex Angulo) in the back. (3) Mercedes is surrounded by Vidal's troops. (4) Ofelia enters the throne room of the underworld.
4K RELEASE TRAILER