Being a fan of Guillermo del Toro is almost a gimme at this point, given how much he’s become a pillar of nerd culture with movies like Pacific Rim and the two Hellboy films. He’s also a ubiquitous figure in documentaries and discussions about horror given his thoughtful and nuanced approach to the genre, and his appreciation of the dark and macabre side of fairy tales. It’s this love and care that del Toro put into his award-winning 2006 film Pan’s Labyrinth. Appropriately, that same degree of care went into making Criterion’s new Blu-ray release.
Criterion had previously put out del Toro’s earlier two Spanish-language films: the modern vampire fable Cronos and the post-Spanish Civil War ghost parable The Devil’s Backbone. Pan’s Labyrinth, or El Labirinto del Fauno, is at once the most child-centric and most adult of any of del Toro’s films. It’s about facing the horrors of the world—in this case, the Spanish Civil War—through the eyes of fantasy and adventure. A young girl named Ofelia, whose stepfather is a sadistic captain in the Spanish army, is approached at night by a Faun, a mythical goat-like creature, who tells her she must complete various tasks in order to get to her true place in the fairy world.
Del Toro masterfully mixes the horrors of fascism and the brutality of war with the magic of the fantastical realms hiding inside our own. Ofelia’s nighttime excursions are terrifying in their own right, but she is in control. Such is not the case in the world of the grown ups, where Franco’s regime, personified by her stepfather, routinely rounds up and murders members of the rebellion, often right in front of her. Whether the Faun and the Pale Man and the fairies are actually “real” or if they’re just the way Ofelia allows herself to deal with her life is not as important as the journey she takes. Tragic as it is, finding her own place in the world, and protecting those she loves, is a route she has to take.
This is an absolutely gorgeous and fruitful movie that works as both a dark fairy tale and as a harrowing depiction of the Spanish Civil War. Like The Devil’s Backbone, del Toro doesn’t sugarcoat anything simply for the sake of there being children at the heart of the story. These aren’t “safe” movies, and they owe much more to the Grimm Fairy Tales than the Disney-fied versions that came later. Bad stuff happens, and can happen to children just as often, if not more, than to adults. Who bears the brunt of the transgressions of adults? Children.
Criterion focuses on this discrepancy head on in its Blu-ray release, which features gorgeous cover art by Becky Cloonan. The main new feature to complement the movie’s graded 2K digital grading and 5.1 surround mix is a conversation about fairy tales and fantasy between del Toro and novelist Cornelia Funke. Funke is the author of many fantasy novels for children and was hand-selected by del Toro to write the official novelization of Pan’s Labyrinth. Together, the two of them talk about why fairy tales are important and are much more than simple kids stuff, getting to the heart of why he loves them so much. They also discuss the characters in Pan’s Labyrinth and what they represent, and how the Captain is his version of the Big Bad Wolf, as well as why the villain characters in his horror films are often the most beautiful/attractive. It’s a lovely discussion I only wish were longer.
The other major new feature is an interview with actor Doug Jones, who portrayed both the Faun/Pan and the terrifying Pale Man in Pan’s Labyrinth. He explains how he first started working with del Toro (during reshoots on Mimic) and how that blossomed into stints in the Hellboy movies before this one. Jones is a jovial and amiable guy, and his warmth radiates as he talks about how hard it was for him to learn the Spanish dialogue, even though he knew he’d ultimately be dubbed over, and why it was important to him and del Toro that the same actor who played Pan also portrayed the Pale Man.
The disc also contains all the special features from the initial 2007 DVD release, including a typically informative and deep commentary by del Toro, making-ofs, prequel motion comics, actor auditions, and an interactive look at del Toro’s notebooks.
For those of you who don’t already own Cronos and The Devil’s Backbone, Criterion is packaging all three films into a gorgeous boxset entitled Trilogía de Guillermo del Toro. This features new box art and illustrations by Vania Zouravliov, as well as a 100-page hardcover book featuring an introduction by author Neil Gaiman and essays by critics Michael Atkinson, Mark Kermode, and Maitland McDonagh, along with production notes and sketches by del Toro and illustrators Carlos Giménez and Raúl Monge.
It’s a great time to be a fan of Guillermo del Toro, and Criterion doesn’t let us down. This is a major “buy” from me.
Rating: 5 out of 5
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Images: Criterion/Warner Bros