Director Guillermo del Toro?s masterful (and now Oscar-winning) meditation on real-life horrors and fairy tale fantasy comes to DVD in a beautifully-appointed package from New Line Home Video. The film certainly doesn?t need me to heap any more praise on it (see our previous review here), but suffice to say that it?s one of those rare movies that can actually restore your faith in the magic of cinema, sitting transfixed in a dark theater as you?re transported to a world that?s been so perfectly realized, you actually experience a shock when you walk back into the real world after it?s over.
The two-disc special edition is nearly as meticulous in documenting the film?s production as del Toro and his collaborators were in bringing its fantastical world to life. Central to the package is an information-packed audio commentary by del Toro himself, and like his previous commentaries on Hellboy and earlier films, it?s practically a doctoral course in cinema. Talking virtually nonstop throughout the entire two-hour running time, del Toro reveals the mythic elements of the scenario and his various inspirations in crafting the story, which date back to the time he was making Cronos. It?s a heady discussion at times, touching on Jungian archetypes, Dickens? David Copperfield, the contrast between real violence and magical fantasy, the concept of death and the meaning of immortality, plus the various painters and artists he referenced when designing the look of the film. But the education-averse need not fear: there are plenty of sequences where the tech-loving director also comes back down to a mechanical level to explain how a particular effect was achieved or how a specific creature was developed. (For instance, in the gun battles in the woods between the Fascist soldiers and the rebel partisans, there were no actual guns fired or squibs set off, for fear of igniting the dry forest floor ? it was all done via digital manipulation). It?ll also be no surprise to anyone who?s followed his career when del Toro admits in the discussion that he hates dialogue in films, and would prefer to tell his stories without words; he also reveals his disdain for traditional fantasy, and so preferred to ground his fairy tale story in reality, emphasizing the more mundane aspects of his lead character Ofelia?s life, without ?harp music or photo filters,? as he says. It?s a great commentary track, if a bit tiring when listened to in one sitting ? there?s just too much information to process in a short two-hour block of time.
Disc two offers a greater variety of material, which can thankfully be sampled in smaller segments rather than needing to be absorbed all at once. As expected, several documentary featurettes (directed by Javier Soto) cover various aspects of the production, but in a happy surprise, they aren?t divided up into the traditional segments for pre-production, shooting, effects, marketing, and so forth. Instead, the nitty-gritty of the f/x work ? especially the costumes for the faun and the pale man, both portrayed by Hellboy?s Doug Jones in the film ? are covered in the half-hour piece ?Pan and the Fairies.? Jones is seen donning the DDT-built costumes, and various rejected designs of the creatures are also shown. There are also short featurettes on del Toro?s color-coding within the film, a topic well-covered in the commentary already, as well as the lullaby which serves as the main musical theme. The best featurette, however, is ?The Power of Myth,? a 15-minute conversation with del Toro which serves as a good supplement to his commentary, since he is allowed to go into greater detail on the main themes of the film, as well as discuss his attempt to simplify its screenplay and characters in order to enhance their fairy tale-like attributes, a decision he says met with considerable resistance from Hollywood producers, who felt the need to over-explain everything in the story.
Other supplements on the second disc include an anecdote-filled, 50-minute episode of PBS?s Charlie Rose show, in which del Toro is interviewed along with friends and fellow Mexican filmmakers Alejandro González I?árritu (Babel) and Alfonso Cuarón (Children of Men); there is also a short supplement in which sequences not depicted in the film are given a brief comic book-style animated treatment. Del Toro?s own impressive work as an artist is shown in a section which documents the filmmaker?s ever-present working notebooks; there are sample pages from his Pan?s Labyrinth books, featuring illustrations and lots and lots of text ? it?s a fascinating peek inside the creative man?s mind, and one can only imagine what some of the unidentified sketches were intended to be. Even more video interviews with del Toro are included in this section, in which he gives further details about his planning process. Finally, several voluminous galleries of design sketches, photos from the f/x workshop and Spanish location shoot, DDT creature designs, production sketches, and more, round out the very full disc.
As expected, the feature film itself looks fabulous, presented in a gorgeous 1.78:1, 16:9 enhanced transfer with optional, white English subtitles. Besides the commentary, there are three audio options for the film, including robust Dolby Digital 5.1 EX and DTS 6.1 ES tracks. A single-disc edition is also available which drops the second disc of supplements while retaining the audio commentary, but anybody who?s a fan of the film already knows which one they need to own ? think of it as a collection of dark, bedtime stories presented by a singular talent who?s finally begun to receive his dues from the mainstream world of entertainment. Thankfully, he hasn?t lost his vision because of it.