Though Oscar-winning writer/director Guillermo del Toro’s been working since the mid-’80s, the majority of audiences know him as the director of either Hellboy (2004), Pacific Rim (2013), and The Shape of Water (2017). In cinema-focused circles, however, del Toro’s more than just a populist director. He’s a master of genre-busting storytelling. He can take something perceived as basic, like Marvel’s vampire-killing comic book character Blade, and turn it into the best of a franchise through the use of creative practical effects and a focus on the interpersonal. Even amid one of his more spectacle-driven films, Pacific Rim, a tale of giant robots fighting equally giant interdimensional monsters, del Toro manages to find the heart within, adding some soul where another director would produce something as entertaining but lifeless. There’s a magic and wonder that pervades del Toro’s work, inviting audiences to return again and again. Opening the door for new guests is 2006’s Oscar-winning El laberinto del fauno, more commonly known as Pan’s Labyrinth in the United States, as Warner Bros. Home Entertainment releases the film for the first time in 4K UHD, complete with bonus features that had never been released before.
Set five years after the Spanish Civil War, young girl Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) accompanies her pregnant mother Carmen (Ariadna Gil) to a remote camp in the countryside where Ofelia’s stepfather, Captain Vidal (Sergi López), works daily to stamp out the resistance hiding in the woods. Strangely, as the world around Ofelia grows every more violent due to the sadistic tendencies of her stepfather, it conversely becomes more magical after a woodland faerie follows her back to camp. The faerie leads Ofelia to the Faun, a creature of great wisdom, who believes Ofelia to be the reincarnation of a lost princess. As the Faun tasks Ofelia with three challenges to prove her worth, the violent reality of her new family rises up to meet the fantasy realm in brutal conflict. More than any other production Guillermo del Toro’s worked on, Pan’s Labyrinth’s use of the fantastical mirrors the savagery of humanity, raising the question of whether innocence is ever something which can be regained.
While Pan’s Labyrinth isn’t as financially successful as other de Toro properties Blade II (2002), Pacific Rim, or even Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008), this adult fairytale has moved audiences to the point of demanding a Criterion release, which it received in 2016 as a marker for the 10th anniversary. For the uninitiated, Pan is as much a tale of the brutality of war and the cruelty of man, as it is about the power of personal choice and integrity over blind subservience and misplaced morals. Though marketed as a fairytale, Pan is far more Grimm than Disney, refusing to look away from the barbarism of man when others would simply imply the cruelty. But this isn’t blood-letting for the sake of it, either. The violence serves a purpose in translating both the realism of war, as well as the thematic nature of loss of innocence. Ofelia is a young girl in search of answers, in search of agency, as she’s moved from her home to the woods, is told to address a stranger as “father,” and is given orders for every action and thought she engages in. By contrast, the magical creatures she encounters offer something else: opportunity and choice. Within Ofelia is a desire to rebel against what’s she’s told, to break free from a life that feels outside of herself, even if it means crossing over into a magical realm to do it. Who among us hasn’t wanted to be embraced by the magical as a child? To be found and told that we are special? That is until the boot heel of reality stepped on our dreams.
Sound heavy? Then you’re ready to experience Pan’s Labyrinth.
If you’re reading this review, chances are you’re already aware of the substance and intent of the film and have come here to find out two specific things: How’s it look? What comes with it? The former is easier to explain than the latter as the 4K resolution is the most noticeable aspect of this new release. Fans of del Toro know he has an impeccable eye for detail and the higher resolution on Pan’s Labyrinth merely increases those features in the original release. The real world possesses a grittier, natural earth tone, playing with the psychological notion that Ofelia’s life is tramped down, stunted from the open-eyed, innocence that she wishes to maintain. This makes the opening sequence of cars driving through the woods give off the sense of a physical toll, rather than a sense of wonder. Later, when the faerie leads Ofelia through the dark to the Faun, a switch subtly occurs wherein the colors are more vivid and full of life, but also the darkness seems ready to swallow her up. That’s the wonderful inky blacks 4K offers, adding an element of danger into a conversation which is also slightly menacing due to the Faun’s character design. Considering how significant it is for the audience to understand the difference between both aspects of the story within Pan, the 4K resolution makes the fantasy elements more vibrant and real, while the realistic elements look like a nightmare. While the picture remains impressive on the original Blu-ray release, the 4K resolution really brings out the differences in tones and textures, making the conflicting worlds truly seem separate, yet aligned.
As far as special features go, this release is advertised as containing several hours of previously unreleased material. For anyone who’s never purchased Pan’s Labyrinth or only picked up the original Blu-ray release, this upgrade may be exactly what you’re looking for. It comes with the usual stuff you expect in a release of this stature: commentaries, behind the scenes featurettes, trailers, marketing materials, and more. What really sets the 4K UHD Blu-ray Combo Packrelease apart from any others is the Enhanced Visual Commentary, which is only available on the Blu-ray disc. The Enhanced Visual Commentary has writer/director del Toro offering both audio commentary on the film with the added bonus of visual materials presented as picture-in-picture. For fans of del Toro or Pan, this is the bonus feature that makes the purchase worth it. Rather than just listening to him, each time he appears, the movie takes on a guided tour feel. As Ofelia finds the stone and places it into the statue in the start of the film, the very thing which kicks off her fantastical adventure, del Toro offers his thoughts on this moment thematically while a picture appears of the miniature used to represent the fairy kingdom.
A word of caution on two fronts:
The first is that most of the special features included in the 4K UHD edition of Pan’s Labyrinth are included with the 2016 Criterion Collection release, which included a 2K restoration of the film. So if you already have this edition, be advised that there’s more the same than different about the two. The second is for those who are less familiar with the film itself. It is an incredible piece of cinema, which remains just as powerful years after its initial release in 2006. That said, it is not for the squeamish. In order to be truthful to the period and make the pull toward the magical realm all the more tantalizing for Ofelia, Guillermo del Toro doesn’t flinch from the horrible side of humanity. There are no winners in war. Everyone loses something. This, perhaps, gets at the heart of del Toro’s view of the world, which seems to be the notion that we should look for the magic in things, the things no one else looks for, just like Ofelia. In that, we can truly appreciate what’s around us and find connection, not incongruence.
Pan’s Labyrinth Ultra HD release Bonus Features
Ultra HD disc contains the following special features:
- Audio commentary by Guillermo del Toro
Blu-ray disc contains the following special features:
- Enhanced visual commentary by Guillermo del Toro
- Audio commentary by Guillermo del Toro
- Video prologue by Guillermo del Toro
- Five Featurettes:
- The Power of Myth
- The Faun and the Fairies
- The Color and the Shape
- The Director’s Notebook
- The Lullaby
- The Charlie Rose Show featuring directors Alfonso Cuarón and Guillermo del Toro
- Marketing Campaign
Available on 4K UHD Blu-ray Combo Pack and digital October 1st, 2019.