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Pan’s Labyrinth (4K UHD Blu-ray Review)

One of Guillermo del Toro’s many masterpieces, Pan’s Labyrinth, is wandering on over to 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray on October 1st. For us collector’s, this is a fun problem to have. It feels like yesterday that we just traded it in for the upgraded Criterion Collection edition of the film. Now it feels we are going to bump up the presentation quality but sacrifice some extras. Though, I’m A-okay with holding onto both as the solution, though for some fellow fans, it might not be that simple. Nonetheless, this is an exciting new release from Warner Bros and we can only hope that more surprises like this one are around the corner as 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray continues to be a curious place where not everything is going to be expectedly hitting the format (Midsommar-damnit Lionsgate!). Speak with your wallet, merely based on the title not whether the edition is nit picky perfect or not, and that’s really all we are able to do. Anyway, pre-order this one through the link available below.

Film 

It’s 1944 and the Allies have invaded Nazi-held Europe. In Spain, a troop of soldiers are sent to a remote forest to flush out the rebels. They are led by Capitan Vidal, a murdering sadist, and with him are his new wife Carmen and her daughter from a previous marriage, 11-year-old Ofelia. Ofelia witnesses her stepfather’s sadistic brutality and is drawn into Pan’s Labyrinth, a magical world of mythical beings.

Guillermo del Toro followed Hellboy by once again returning to Mexico and delivering another fairy tale.  Of all 3 stories (yeah, I’d count Cronos), Pan’s Labyrinth really accomplishes being fully realized that of a new modern fairy tale.  This is del Toro’s biggest passion project of his career and one he sacrificed all he possibly could (and lost 45 lbs according to him) to see fully realized as he intended it to be.  The result works, as Pan’s Labyrinth is a masterpiece of modern cinema.Hollywood studios were offering del Toro double the budget and double the pay to see this film made in the English language.  Guillermo wanted none of this compromised.  He wanted it done his way, his vision and done correctly.  He even went as far as to personally translate and do the subtitles for the film himself as his previous two films had been problematic when it came to translating his words  By taking it to Mexico he did have less budget.  So, del Toro opted to remove his pay AND his points on the back end.  This was a project he had dreamed of doing for years and had notebooks upon notebooks of his ideas for the film, he wasn’t about to let it slide even an inch in another direction.

This film is dynamite perfect.  It takes the Grimm Fairytale to a whole new level.  Whereas maybe they were for kids before, this feels that way but is totally adult.  Many adult situations are present and damn, this film is pretty brutal and graphic.  And all of it, yes, practical effects.  Some CG was used later on to clean up some things, but most of what you see is very real.  And with that comes stuff that actually pains and counts.  It hurts in this movie when you see someone shot or cut.  And its not just there to gross you out, the violence has purpose in the story and is in good taste.

Leading the charge on all this is the character of the Captain.  He is one rat bastard son of a bitch.  This guy EASILY makes the top 10 villains list of the 2000s.  If you don’t want to punch the screen every time this guy is present, I don’t know what to tell ya.  None of its forced, just natural.  Every time you don’t think this guy could be more of a cold hearted prick, he goes and tops himself.  I don’t think I was ever happier last decade when I villain got his than this guy.  This combo of del Toro’s script and Sergi Lopez’s performance may be what makes this movie so intense and such darkness to watch.  There’s a lot of cool imagery and some supernatural characters abound, and nobody is gonna come out and say or think about it, but Lopez may be the stealthy scene stealer of the film.

Speaking of that supernatural, there’s some great creature work in the film.  Most notable is the Pale Man.  This is one of the creepiest things you might ever see in a film.  And its brought to life by none other than Doug Jones.  This thing has loose skin and its eyes in its hand and eats children and fairies.  The movement however only adds to what a disgusting eerie being it is.  Jones also plays Fauno and does a good job of providing a character you’re just not sure if you can trust.  Its the posterchild for the film and stunningly not a CG creature.  Guillermo also fits his love of bugs in with the fairies.  These things are pretty cool and meet a vicious gruesome end during the Pale Man sequence.  Once again, del Toro brings fantastic creatures and has you believing them to be real.  Whether you’re marveling at them or scared of them, the fact that they are fully realized and executed at a top level is the reason why.

So what does the end of the film mean?  Personally I can’t give you a definitive answer.  I like to believe in supernatural things and would like Ofelia’s tale to be one of that journey, but I could see the pessimistic side to it as well.  But its not totally pessimistic as she became a martyr for the revolution’s cause.  Whatever the case, I dig the hint of obscurity and leaving the film with a wonderful conversation starter after viewing it.  Guillermo himself feels that it is all real, but also understands that others can have a different view.

Video 

Disclaimer: Screen captures used in the review are taken from the standard Blu-ray disc, not the 4K UHD disc.

Encoding: HEVC / H.265

Resolution: 4K (2160p)

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

Layers: BD-66

Clarity/Detail: It kinda blows that Pan’s Labyrinth was finished with a 2K digital intermediate, making this a 4K upscale. However, the film looks quite gorgeous, now a bit darker. It handles the blacks quite lovely, which is the biggest improvement from version to version. Having all 3 releases of Pan’s Labyrinth, I spent some time swapping disc to disc as Criterion notably had a different color timing than the original release. Now, having looked through all 3 of them, I’m still not sure if the original Warner Bros was used for this or Criterion’s. The darkness and more saturated color that come with the format made it a bit more difficult for me. Feel free to step in and let me know in the comments. Detail and sharpness are improved here with a little more three dimensional feel to the image. The special effects hold up quite well here too. Though yes, most are practical, there is some digital work in the film.

Depth:  As I just mentioned, the push back and three dimensional look of the film gets a nice upgrade here and was pretty apparent when comparing images. Movements are much more fluid, lush and sweeping with a more confident format. No distortion issues presented themselves.

Black Levels: Our MVP of this upgrade is the now natural looking blacks. They are deep, well saturated and add a much more haunting look to every frame.  This was the most notable difference when comparing the images, and seeing how much more defined and three dimensional this 4K image looked than the others. No crushing witnessed.

Color Reproduction: Colors see an uptick in saturation and overall boldness. The film keeps its look but rather a little bit more pronounced and thicker appearance.

Flesh Tones: Skin tones are natural and keep a consistent look throughout the film. Details and textures are quite apparent and improved. I will say, the first time we see Vidal, his face is a bit on the red side of things and stays that way the entirety of that scene. It never looks that way again in the movie and didn’t appear that way on the other transfers. Its probably a product of the 4K upscale along with the now, darker image.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean

Audio 

Audio Format(s): Spanish 5.1 DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: English, Spanish

Dynamics: There is much to report here as this is the same 5.1 Spanish language track that has been on Pan’s Labyrinth’s Criterion edition.  Sure, an Atmos track would have been a treat, but they could have at least included the 7.1 track that’s been around since the beginning. But, lets not fool ourselves into thinking this audio is terrible, but it is disappointing. It knows exactly how to utilize each channel, is crisp, balanced and really sweeps you away and puts you right in the middle of the journey next to Ofelia.

Height: N/A

Low Frequency Extension: The faun’s stomping, gunfire, crashing, explosions and more give the most perfect pound from the subwoofer you could ask for.

Surround Sound Presentation: As mentioned before, every channel is utilized to its fullest degree. Ambient sounds are completely beautiful sounding and to a degree of volume that makes them feel present in the room with you.

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are very detailed, clear and crisp, present in any given amount of action.

Extras 

Pan’s Labyrinth comes with the standard Blu-ray edition (Same as the previous edition) and a digital copy of the film. Aside from the commentary track, all bonus features are found the regular Blu-ray disc.

4K UHD

Audio Commentary

  • By Writer/Director Guillermo del Toro

Blu-ray

Enhanced Visual Commentary

Featurettes 

  • The Power of Myth (SD, 14:23)
  • Pan and the Fairies (SD, 30:27)
  • The Color and the Shape (SD, 4:01)
  • The Lullaby – “The Melody Echoes The Fairy Tale” (SD, 2:47), “Mercedes Lullaby” (SD, 2:15)

Director’s Notebook

  • Introduction (SD, :34)
  • Del Toro’s Notes and Sketches – Instructions, Launch, Index
  • Storyboard/Thumbnail Compares – Instructions, Ofelia Enters the Labyrinth, Ofelia The Frog & The Giant Toad, Ofelia’s Death, Death of the Doctor
  • VFX Plate Comparison (SD, 1:17)
  • Galleries

The Charlie Rose Show (SD, 49:25)

Comics – The Fairies, Pan, The Pale-Man

Marketing Campaign -Theatrical Teaser, Theatrical Trailer, TV Spots

Summary 

Pan’s Labyrinth remains an all time favorite for me, and one I have no issue categorizing in the “masterpiece” section. Del Toro’s film makes its way to 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray with the visual enhancements left to finally brush up on to improve the picture while the audio remains an outstanding 7.1 track. The extras, which were pretty darn good back when this came out in 2007, are here, being on the same disc. If you want the best presentation for the film, here is your best option. Though, I would hold onto the Criterion one if you own it, for the better packaging and uptick in extras.

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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