Life Isn’t Like Your Fairy Tales

At a lavish banquet, the fascist sociopath Captain Vidal verbally denigrates the rebels. Those at the table agree. Among them, a Catholic priest, who furthers that point, stating that not even God wants them.

Fascism is an infection. By Pan’s Labyrinth’s opening, the church, the women, the soldiers – they all fell to its ugliness. The last purity in Pan’s Labyrinth is a girl who in dealing with the unrelenting terror of this regime, escapes to a world of fantasy. That’s all she has, and even that the regime seeks to silence.

There’s a time motif in Pan’s Labyrinth. Fascist leader Vidal (Sergei Lopez) frequently refers to his watch, a measure of ensuring total obedience. His first words note a caravan is late; he scowls at the thought. Entering the Pale Man’s domain, Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) sets a sand timer, taking prominent space in the frame, keeping her controlled. Then, Ofelia’s mother endures an agonizing pregnancy, each contraction, each kick drawing her nearer to fate.

Pan’s Labyrinth’s unflinching cruelty and torture doesn’t avoid the worst of humanity

At one stage, Pan’s Labyrinth’s camera pans a bread line. Rations were recently cut. A doctor noted earlier that might not be enough for the people; Vidal shrugs it off as he pushes to starve the rebels, or anyone who dares not conform to his ways. Control breeds acquiescence. Mercedes (Maribel Verdu), a maid to Vidal, calls herself a coward for serving him. That’s how fascists win.

It’s a story about tragedy and self-sacrifice, distilled through the mind of a pre-teen girl who cannot comprehend her world’s implications. Her fairy tale covers for suffering; violence is projected as monsters, her deceased father drawing her toward a goal she doesn’t understand.

Against the totalitarian backdrop, it does at times feel exploitative – using this child to imbue Pan’s Labyrinth with added dramatic weight – and yet in the end this story makes a choice to end with sorrow. Fascism is fought by all, and defeated by even the tiniest moments of defiance. That cost is incalculable though, and Pan’s Labyrinth’s unflinching cruelty and torture doesn’t avoid the worst of humanity. No wonder Ofelia seeks escape in books and fairy tales. And, even those exhibit elements of fear or harm, forcing her bravery.

“Magic does not exist,” says Ofelia’s mother, something Ofelia denies until the end, believing that magic will make right because nothing else in her world can.

Video

This transfer will divide people. It’s… imperfect. Finished at 2K, Pan’s Labyrinth looks as such with softness inherent to the original cinematography. Upscaling draws out minor instances of greater detail, generally facial texture. Work on the Faun stands out more than before too, but to note, it’s marginal improvement.

Not only dramatically dark but visually too, black crush runs through this presentation. This HDR pass is unable to sort through shadows to find detail, with only a few exceptions. Those shadows not at pure black struggle with pockets of noise. While grain adequately resolves elsewhere, compression fails in darker areas falling toward artifacts. Note a weird static pixel-like artifact around the hour and five minute mark.

In the early acts, brightness cranks up, the most obvious improvement over the previous Blu-rays. Sun scatters across a forest, flaring up in the best way. Where allowed, this returns later, although by design, Pan’s Labyrinth remains muted. Even then, depth betters those prior presentations.

Deeper color works to this transfer’s benefit, jumping between the distinctly ‘00s orange and blues. Density rises, forceful with flesh tones, and giving those near monochromatic scenes a natural sense of melancholy even with digital grading behind them.

Audio

Using the same DTS-HD 5.1 mix, this firm audio track embellishes the world with ambiance. Persistent rain spreads to each channel, and Ofelia’s fairies flutter around. Positioning is always accurate. Heavier action including a forest shoot-out captures bullets in motion, sending debris falling on impact.

Low-end exhibits strong dynamics, whether pounding from Pale Man or bomb explosions in the finale. Even horses run past the frame, thundering with each step. It’s satisfying, same as it ever was.

Extras

Extras carry over from the Blu-ray (which in turn carried over from a DVD release). Guillermo del Toro provides a solo commentary, shared on the UHD and Blu-ray. Everything after is on the Blu-ray.

Four pieces are contained under featurettes, the best (and longest) of the lot being Pan & the Fairies which deals with the film’s visuals. Power of Myth looks into inspirations for the film, while two brief featurettes deal with the color, tone, and music.

A nearly hour long episode of The Charlie Rose Show has multiple Spanish filmmakers discussing their work, del Toro included. A director’s notebook contains loads of material from the planning process and storyboards, including some additional brief featurettes. Digital comics and a section of trailers complete this disc.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

Pan's Labyrinth
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
5

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Guillermo del Toro’s anti-fascist parable Pan’s Labyrinth is a masterpiece in dealing with terror, loss, and sacrifice.

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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our Patreon-exclusive set of 43 full 4K screen shots grabbed directly from the UHD: