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Blu-ray Review: ‘The Devil’s Backbone’ (Criterion Collection)

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devil's backbone

William Faulkner once observed that “the past is never dead. It’s not even past”. The ghost that haunts an orphanage in Guillermo del Toro’s The Devil’s Backbone embodies Faulkner’s thoughts. This ghost of a young boy finds himself trapped and the only person that seems interested in his mysterious death is recent arrival Carlos. In some respects Carlos is like a ghost himself–he’s been abandoned after the death of his father and left with complete strangers.

This transfer for The Devil’s Backbone looks absolutely stunning. Detail is exceptional and there is no overuse of digital noise reduction. The film looks quite nice in its high def debut. As good as the Sony transfer was, skin tones are more accurate here and colors a bit more on the cool side in comparison. One can only assume this transfer is the way that Del Toro has always intended the film to look like on home video as he supervised this edition.

The lossless 5.1 audio also sounds terrific. This doesn’t features an English dubbed version but does feature English subtitles.

The special features are a highlight for this release. We get an introduction by del Toro (in English), del Toro’s 2004 commentary from the Sony release, deleted scenes, sketches, a 30 minute behind-the-scenes documentary (that is excellent)as well as a 15-minute interview with del Toro discussing the creation of one of the most memorable characters in the film. We also get an excellent featurette on the designs for the film featuring del Toro.

The “Director’s Notebook” (an interactive feature) allows us to dig in to the director’s production notes/drawings for the film. The special features are rounded out by deleted scenes, a series of side-by-side comparisons of del Toro’s thumbnail illustrations and the finished film for comparison. Finally a brief featurette with Spanish Civil War historian Sebastian Faber gives viewers a historical context for the film. The original theatrical trailer is included as well.

As with all Criterion editions a booklet with an essay on the making of the film is included.

An exceptional film from director del Toro, this edition of The Devil’s Backbone is an improvement on Sony’s 2004 DVD release and is recommended.

About Wayne Klein