DVD Review: 'Pan's Labyrinth'


I ran out of superlatives this winter in urging people to go see Guillermo Del Toro's "Pan's Labyrinth." The magical film, far and away the best of 2006, hits DVD on Tuesday (May 15) in a a pair of editions that more than live up to its status as a true masterwork.

Set in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, "Pan's Labyrinth" is an adult fairy tale (that R-rating shouldn't be ignored) about an innocent girl (Ivana Baquero) who learns that she may be destined to rule a magical underground kingdom, but only if she can accomplish a trio of daunting quests. The alternative world of fairies, fauns and giant toads is certainly preferable to the tangible real world, which includes her sociopathic, fascist stepfather.

"Pan's Labyrinth" won well-deserved Oscars for production design and make-up and also stole the Academy Award for cinematography (Guillermo Navarro would have been my second choice behind "Children of Men" DP Emmanuel Lubezki), but I suspect that decades from now, it will stand as 2006's defining film. A companion text to Del Toro's 2001 drama "The Devil's Backbone," "Pan's Labyrinth" is soaked in traditional fairy tale richness, telling a deceptively simple story that works as both moral parable and contemporary metaphor and which loses nothing in richness from repeated viewings.

New Line is releasing the film in both one and two-disk DVD sets. The single-disk set contains the beautifully transferred film, plus Del Toro's commentary, which may be all that some people need. As fans of the director's earlier DVDs know, Del Toro is one of the half-dozen finest cinematic tour guides, an always candid storyteller who could probably talk over his films three or four times without a single awkward pause or silence. Del Toro goes into great depth on the film's narrative and visual structure and the library of embedded literary, artistic and historical references is so vast it's hard to imagine anybody noticing all of them without a few hints. The first disk also includes the movie's marketing campaign, which is illustrative for those wondering how Picturehouse was able to turn this difficult project into an award season favorite and a surprise hit.

Because he only has time for a single commentary track, Del Toro fills in any blanks about the movie in the extras-packed second disk. You can spend over an hour on four featurettes, which range from a brief acknowledgement of Javier Navarrete's haunting lullaby of a score (Del Toro had to force the composer to just deliver a melody) to the 14-minute "Power of Myth," in which Del Toro goes all Joseph Campbell on the film's thematic underpinnings. The longest of the featurettes is the 30-minute "Pan and the Fairies," a look at the genesis of the film's creatures (Del Toro notes that despite the film's English-language title, the character played by Doug Jones is a faun and not, in fact, Pan) and the make-up and effects work that went into bringing them to the screen.

Shorter featurettes (called "pods") are littered within Del Toro's Director's Notebook, pages of sketches, plus addition interviews with the filmmaker and his various craftsmen. There are also extensive galleries of production and creature design, as well as a scrapbook and storyboard-to-screen comparisons.

Although it isn't new to the DVD, the inclusion of a roundtable chat between Charlie Rose and the Three Amigos (Del Toro, Alfonso Cuaron and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu) is superb.

Once again, I'm out of superlatives. Just check this one out.

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