PAN’S LABYRINTH (DVD)

4.5 Stars
Year Released: 2007
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 119 minutes
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Oftentimes when directors talk about mythology and fairy tales, they seem to be speaking more about the Disney-fied versions we’re familiar with, not the darker ones that were originally told. For “Pan’s Labyrinth,” however, director/screenwriter Guillermo del Toro dove deep into the past to come up with a haunting story reminiscent of the brothers Grimm at their best. It’s a tale that would have been told to children a couple hundred years ago but is now billed as “a fairy tale for adults,” with the appropriate rating.

No, I’m not advocating that children see this film. I’m simply commenting on the simple fact that we don’t live in the same world that people like the Grimm brothers lived in, which was one where children experienced many horrible things in their day-to-day lives, and were thus better conditioned to deal with harsh tales. And that’s fine, because there’s nothing wrong with kids being kids for a while in today’s world, and confronting its cruelty when they’re ready for it. After all, on average, they have much longer life spans than people who lived a couple hundred years ago, so they have plenty of time to absorb all of the really nasty stuff.

While “Pan’s Labryinth” is set in Spain a mere 63 years ago, 11-year-old Ofelia likely experienced her share of traumatic experiences living in a fascist country. After her father dies, she and her pregnant mother move to a mill occupied by the sadistic Captain Vidal and his small group of soldiers, who have been tasked with rooting out the guerilla fighters hidden in the nearby woods. Captain Vidal is the father of Ofelia’s unborn brother (Vidal is convinced it’s a boy, despite the lack of ultrasound technology in those days), and he handles his new family with the same cold command with which he leads his men.

Unbeknownst to Vidal, however, he has two guerilla sympathizers in his midst, along with a stepdaughter who has encountered a fairy and discovered a nearby labyrinth. There, Ofelia meets a faun who gives her three tasks to complete. Doing so will prove that she really is the reincarnation of Princess Moanna, daughter of the king of the underworld. One of her tasks, placing a mandrake root in a bowl of milk under her mother’s bed, seems to cure the woman of the complications related to her pregnancy. The others, however, are much more treacherous, and Ofelia must survive them by relying on her instincts. She comes to discover that perhaps she can’t completely trust her new magical friends, who have become her only refuge from Vidal.

I don’t want to spoil the film, but I will say that Vidal begins to figure out what has been going on under his nose, setting off a chain of events that lead to an ending reminiscent of those aforementioned original fairy tales. In the process of telling this story, del Toro has managed to create a powerful piece of art that will leave you thinking about it for days afterward. From the well-crafted dialogue to the spot-on performances to the pitch-perfect main theme, it’s hard to find much wrong with this film. It’s a unique work in an industry that places too much emphasis on rehashing the same ideas over and over again, as if its artisans are making lawn furniture.

In addition to poster art, the teaser and theatrical trailers, and various TV commercials, disc one also features a commentary by del Toro. He starts off by explaining how “Pan’s Labyrinth” is a companion piece to “The Devil’s Backbone” before leading into a discussion of his creative process. Del Toro is one of those directors who I’d call an “anti-Kubrick” — unlike Stanley Kubrick, he’s more than happy to spill his guts about his movies, laying bare almost every thought he puts into them and explaining how he pulls off his tricks. His commentary tracks are typically rich with insight, and this one is no exception.

Over on disc two, four featurettes lead off the proceedings: “The Power of Myth,” a 15-minute piece that touches on del Toro’s conception of the film and how it fits into the pantheon of fairy tales; “The Faun and the Fairies,” which lasts 30 minutes and explores how the film’s creatures were created; “The Color and the Shape,” a four-minute look at the film’s color design; and “The Lullaby,” another micro-featurette that discusses the movie’s score, including its central theme, which was meant to echo a lullaby. You also get the chance to hear the lullaby performed different ways in a brief companion piece.

Then we have “Director’s Notebook,” which shows us del Toro’s sketches and notes for the film, which stretch back to 1993. On some pages, there’s an icon you can click that takes you to a brief snippet of del Toro discussing a relevant topic. While it’s fascinating to look at del Toro’s creative process in that way, I would have preferred a more linear video piece that put all of the clips into a coherent discussion, with a separate option to look through the sketchbook pages one by one. I guess that’s a result of the need to get through a DVD’s content quickly, so I can write a review. Your mileage may vary.

In the same “Director’s Notebook” section, we also get a chance to see comparisons between del Toro’s on-set daily thumbnail sketches, the polished storyboards, and the final film. Four sequences from the movie are presented, along with a special effects comparison that shows del Toro walking through the labyrinth with a green fairy figure on a stick, next to the final version. The final part of the “Director’s Notebook” area gives us galleries of creature design and production design sketches, along with a variety of behind-the-scenes photos.

An episode of “The Charlie Rose Show” featuring del Toro, along with fellow Hispanic directors Alfonso Cuaron and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, shows up next. It runs about 50 minutes and covers a wide variety of topics, as you’d expect from an interview conducted by Rose. While it doesn’t put a lot of focus on “Pan’s Labyrinth,” it is an interesting look at the relationships between three directors with different styles but who share a common status as Hispanic filmmakers.

Next, we have four DVD comics that give us some back story on the film by focusing on the giant toad, the fairies, the faun, and The Pale Man. Each one is presented as a traditional comic book page, except with moving graphics and accompanying sound effects. Captions that fade in and out explain the story. While none of the comics are crucial to understanding the film, they’re a nice way to get to know the world del Toro has created a little better.

Finally, there are some DVD-ROM features that the packaging says don’t work on the Mac but actually do, if you simply look at the disc through the Finder. Find the file called “Mac_DVD-ROM.dmg” and double-click it to open the ROM content on a Mac. Unfortunately, this won’t work on an Intel Mac until Adobe Director is updated with that capability, but it will work on a G4 or G5 Mac.

Well, at least some of it will work on a G4 Mac. I had no problems with disc two on a 1.42GHz G4 iBook, but disc one failed to work on it. The disc one DVD-ROM content includes video clips linked to from its pre-production art, storyboards, and other images. Sounds cool to me, but you need a G5 to experience it, and my other two Macs are both Intel-based.

Over on disc two, which I was able to look at, you’ll find storyboards for the entire movie, the complete screenplay, and oodles of behind-the-scenes photos and production art.

According to Jeremy Neish of Rivetal, which creates the DVD-ROM content for New Line’s DVDs, his company has been including Mac versions of DVD-ROM content for many of the studio’s releases. Unfortunately, the packaging doesn’t let on to that because New Line doesn’t officially support Macs. I hope someday that situation is rectified, since it’s confusing for those of us who use Macs.

In the meantime, that shouldn’t stop anyone, regardless of the operating system they use, from picking up this great two-disc set and appreciating one of the most original films to come along in quite a while.



Posted on May 15, 2007 in Reviews by
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