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The Devil's Backbone (Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]
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44 of 48 people found the following review helpful
Format: Blu-ray
Guillermo del Toro is currently known as the guy who made the Oscar-winning "Pan's Labyrinth," the "Hellboy" movies, and came close to directing "The Hobbit."

But way back in in 2001, del Toro made a movie that serves as a sport of ghost-story prequel to "Pan's Labyrinth." With its mysterious specter, innocent hero and a story set during a bloody civil war, "The Devil's Backbone" is a unique kind of horror movie -- it deftly sidesteps the cheap tricks and scares that most ghost stories employ.

Unaware that his father has been killed, Carlos (Fernando Tielve) thinks that he's being left at a remote orphanage only temporarily. Kindly Dr. Casares (Federico Luppi) sympathizes with the lonely new boy, but Carlos soon is distracted from his troubles. He keeps seeing shadows, footprints and falling pitchers -- and when he wanders down into the vaulted cellar, he catches a glimpse of a silent ghost with a bleeding head wound. Even worse, the ghost -- which was a boy named Santi -- informs him that many people there will die.

But the most dangerous one at the orphanage is the brutal former-orphan Jacinto (Eduardo Noriega), who is searching for a cache of hidden gold. As Carlos tries to figure out how Santi died -- and what angry, miserable Jaime (Íñigo Garcés) has to do with it -- the orphanage is suddenly turned into an explosive war zone. As Dr. Casares tries to protect the remaining boys, Carlos discovers the reason Santi died -- and what he wants now.

"The Devil's Backbone" is a movie filled with death: the orphanage is a dying institution in a time of war, filled with orphans and surrounded by sun-burnt grass. It even has a defused torpedo stuck right in the middle of the courtyard. By the time the ghost shows up, it seems like almost a natural part of such a ruined, quietly sorrowful place.

Fortunately Guillermo del Toro avoids cheap scares -- the ghost doesn't make weird noises or leap out at Carlos for no reason. Instead he evokes the fear of a child in a dark, creaky old house who is ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN that there's something out there. Also some beautifully creepy visuals, such as blood floating in the air as if it were in water.

But the whole creepy-ghostly-factor is eclipsed about halfway through the movie. After a slow buildup of tension, everything suddenly erupts when Jacinto suddenly reveals his true self. Suddenly we've got explosions, blood, shattered glass, mangled bodies and an all-too human enemy who is slowly closing in. It makes the ghostly Santi seem suddenly very... nonthreatening.

And though the plot seems simple, del Toro spins a spiderweb of interconnected hints and plot threads -- comic books, slug collections, a wooden leg and blood-tinged water all come into play. There's loads of symbolism, and the beautiful scenes (Dr. Casares' final poetry recital to Carmen) are handled just as powerfully as the more gory, ghastly ones (the orphans' final assault).

It's kind of amazing that this was Tielve's movie debut, because he's simply incredible -- his character slides through fear, courage, sorrow and confusion, all with a kind of unshakable innocence. Garcés is equally good; at first he seems like a mere bully, but we gradually see how troubled and guilty he feels over what happened to Santi. Noriega is thoroughly nasty as a greedy, sociopathic thug who cares about nobody except himself (even his fiancee), while Luppi is a kindly, cultured old man who obviously loves the boys as if they were his own.

I can't think of a better movie to receive a Criterion release, and there's a decent showing of material in this new release -- new subtitle translations and film restoration; a booklet by Mark Kermode; audio commentary, video introduction and new interviews with del Toro himself; older interviews; a making-of documentary; storyboards and concept sketches compared to the final film; deleted scenes with commentary; del Toro's notes, and so on.

"The Devil's Backbone" is a haunting kind of ghost story, where the ghost is not the scariest thing you'll see. A powerful, striking movie.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Format: Blu-rayVerified Purchase
The Devil's Backbone is a del Toro masterpiece. The story is psychologically scary, contains some minor, light humor and tons of atmosphere.

The story goes that a giant unexploded bomb (supposedly defused) sits in the center of an all boy's orphanage. Each child seems to be there based on the fact that their parents have died in the Spanish Civil War. In the opening a young boy dies and the rumor persists that the boy's ghost haunts the orphanage.

Mix in some greed and you have a tale that will leave you thinking.

Region A locked Blu Ray.

Video:

The best this film has ever looked. The darkness is properly exposed and there are no compression issues to be spotted, especially in the darkness shrouded areas. In the age of Blu Ray, thankfully improperly mastered video is a true rarity.

Criterion have gone back and cleaned up 1000s of instances of dust, dirt and scratches, so there really isn't any place where any of that appears in the video.

MPEG-4 AVC encoded with high bit rates.

Audio:

DTS-HD 5.1 Spanish language with optional English subtitles. Given this is the original language track, it's no surprise this is the only option on this release given Criterion's love of authenticity. Had someone else already created an English overdub, it would likely have been included, so I assume no such dub exists.

The Devil's Backbone is not an action heavy scare fest with lots of explosions. There are some scenes of explosive violence, but it's not the focus. Dialog is crisp and clean. Sound envelops you nicely with the surround options.

Extras:

10 featurettes are included, along with a commentary and trailers. The featurettes, if you want to gain a deeper understanding of the film, are well worth watching. Some are 1080i and others are 1080p.

There is also a booklet that goes in depth on the film, but for me it was more of a take it or leave it kind of thing. It was OK to read, but nothing profound.

Overall:

A great film, with a great presentation with some really deep psychological terror.

Highly recommended.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Format: Blu-ray
A mysterious ghost haunts a Spanish orphange and 10 year old Carlos is determined to find out who and why it is haunting the facility in Guillermo del Toro's exceptinal ghost story set during the Spanish Civil War. This exceptional film receives a deluxe Blu-ray treatment from Criterion. Unfortunately for those who want this edition, it is Region A locked. If you're in Europe, you'll need a region free player.

The transfer for "The Devil's Backbone" tooks absolutely stunning for this 2001 film. Detail is exceptional and there is no overuse of digital noise reduction. The film looks quite nice in its high def debute.

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

The special feaatures are a highlight on this set. 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.

We also get "Director's Notebook" an interactive feature that allows us to dig in to the director's notes on the film. "Spanish Gothic" is an interview with del Toro, deleted scenes, a series of side-by-side comparisons of del Toro's thumbnail illustrations and the finished film. We also get a brief featurette with Spanish Civil War historian Sebastian Faber and the trailer for the film. As with all Criterion editions, this features a booklet with an essay on the making of the film.

An exceptional film from director del Toro, this edition of "The Devil's Backbone" is an improved on Sony's 2004 release and is recommended.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on July 29, 2013
Format: Blu-ray
Just an excellent movie. Hands down one of my favorite ghost stories, and I think one of the greatest ever filmed. As with much of Del Toro's work, it has an amazing visual style and a compelling story. I can't recommend this enough.
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14 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Format: Blu-ray
Guillermo del Toro's 'El Espinazo del Diablo' "The Devil's Backbone" tells a story set during the Spanish civil war in the 30's where a new orphan Carlos arrives at an orphanage that holds dark secrets. A few years before a young boy named Santi was murdered and recently the other boys who call him "He Who Whispers" tell Carlos about him and when Carlos first sees Santi the ghost boy tells him that many others will die. Carlos makes fast friends with some of the other boys and they're all wary about a large unexploded bomb that has landed in their courtyard. Plus, there's also the mystery of some gold that is kept in a secret hiding place by Dr Caspares.
When del Toro makes films in his native language they're just brilliant and this one is a precursor to his even bigger hit the Oscar winning 'El Labarinto del Fauno" "Pan's Labyrinth". As you can tell, this reviewer prefers to name the films by their foreign titles. So for genuine chills in a frightening ghost story when 'El Espinazo del Diablo' comes to Criterion Blu Ray at the end of July, snag it it's worth any price. A great film with a top-notch cast the boys are naturals in this "Oliver Twist" ghost story from one of our most imaginative directors.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on October 2, 2013
Format: Blu-rayVerified Purchase
The movie looks incomparable to older versions. The picture and sound on this transfer are leaps and bounds above what you will find anywhere else. Guillermo Del Toro always does great supplemental material on his films as well. There is a lot of insight behind the storytelling and the technical side as well. This is a great movie...better than El Laberinto Del Fauno (Pan's Labyrinth) in my humble opinion. I love Pan's Labyrinth as well but there is something more tangible here and the message is more precisely delivered. Even though they are "sister" movies each should be judged on their own merits.

The supernatural element device in this film is not meant to insight horror in the same way a typical Hollywood scream flick would. There is meaning in each carefully orchestrated encounter that you do not fully realize until the the conclusion. The cinematography, story, setting, characters, direction, editing, even the sometimes brutal violence is all beautiful and none of it is filler. I wish Guillermo got to do more of this type of work instead of his mainstream projects as of late. Without a doubt he is one of the most talented and passionate directors/storytellers in the business today.

I would recommend this movie to anyone who loves a great story, great characters, and above all else a memorable experience. To quote the movie itself..." What is a ghost? A tragedy condemned to repeat itself time and again? An instant of pain, perhaps. Something dead which still seems to be alive. An emotion suspended in time. Like a blurred photograph. Like an insect trapped in amber." This movie is a beautiful creation trapped in amber awaiting you to view it with the respect and awe that it deserves. Slasher fans need not apply this is a great period piece with a hint of the supernatural and realistic brutal violence which is not glorified. It is a restrained and delicate movie that requires attention and thought to be completely enjoyed and appreciated.

It is probably obvious at this point but this is one of my favorite movies. Should I have to narrow my collection of over 150 carefully selected favorites on blu-ray down to 10 or even 5 this one makes the cut without question. Criterion has some great films in their collection and this one has earned the right to be included along with the best of them. Love it or hate it (an unlikely outcome) you have to respect the passion that went into this movie and all the things that set it apart from so many forgettable blockbusters.

My only minor complaint is that I am a bit anal about continuity on my movie shelf and the different size and color case don't fit in with the rest of my collection (I know, I know). If I had the luxury of owning more Criterion titles this might not be an issue and of course many people simply wouldn't care. There is no hope of moving the artwork over to a regular blue case though since it comes in different dimensions. So, it sticks out like a sore thumb on the shelf but it is completely worth it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on August 8, 2013
Format: Blu-ray
Being a tremendous fan of Guillermo del Toro's masterpiece Pan's Labyrinth, I have long awaited the opportunity to view its "sibling" film, The Devil's Backbone. The Criterion Collection's new Blu-ray release has finally allowed me to do so in a manner befitting del Toro's vision for the film.

Set in the final days of the Spanish Civil War, the film concerns a young boy named Carlos as he is abandoned at an orphanage set in the middle of the war-torn landscape. With the orphanage having only a minimal staff and dwindling supplies, Carlos's situation is exacerbated by bullying from the other children and encounters with the restless ghost of a boy who disappeared some time ago and whose fate seems inextricably linked to a future catastrophe that threatens the lives of everyone at the orphanage. Carlos must learn to stand up for himself, make friends, and unravel the mysteries of the ghost's past while conditions both outside and within the orphanage deteriorate and tensions build to an explosive confrontation.

Like its successor film, The Devil's Backbone works both on its own terms and as allegory on resisting oppression. The execution is neither as flawless nor as intricate as in Pan's Labyrinth, but del Toro manages to put enough of his own macabre touches -- a prosthetic limb and jars of pickled, deformed fetuses among them -- to keep things interesting. The rendering of the ghost, Santi, is wonderfully melancholic and beautiful in design. Guillermo Navarro's cinematography is sumptuous and rich. The acting is uniformly excellent, even from the child actors, and does an excellent job of drawing the audience into the story. The Devil's Backbone is not del Toro's magnum opus, but it is still a beautifully realized film and well-deserving of its quality reputation.

Criterion's Blu-ray is equally noteworthy. The cover artwork by Guy Davis is quite striking, and the audio/visual presentation is superb with significant detail and immersive surround. The big reason I waited for this release to view the film is the new subtitle translation, personally translated by Guillermo del Toro himself after going on record with his disappointment in the original translation featured on Sony's release of the film. Also included are del Toro's commentary from the Sony release, as well as several documentaries and interviews, an interactive notebook, comparisons between sketches and storyboards and the finished film, deleted scenes, the theatrical trailer, and a booklet featuring an essay by film critic Mark Kermode; a basket of riches that, frankly, I have yet to explore much of its contents, but del Toro is known for his enthusiasm and quality in his film supplements and it appears that he has given Criterion substantial access in assembling the feature package for this disc.

This is a first-rate presentation of a haunting and poignant film. Don't miss it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on December 23, 2013
Format: Blu-rayVerified Purchase
Some people think horror is about busty teens and young rebels being picked off by mysterious killers or lots of gore from a made up creature. Well this film has neither so stay away.

What you do have is a stunning film with great actors playing real people with real issues. Three or four stories are interwoven perfectly, set off with great imagery...all set around the Spanish civil war and the haunting corridors of an orphanage for abandoned children.

While the film does contain a ghost -the murdered child, Santi- the real horror of the film comes from the greed of certain adults who occupy the orphanage with the children.

This film is intelligent poetry on screen -mortality, love, hate, jealousy, greed and redemption are all explored.

This film puts many films to shame just for having a great story at it's core.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on March 6, 2014
Format: Blu-rayVerified Purchase
This Film is a must , for fans of Beauty and Terror , Which seems to be Guillermo Del-Toro Trade marks , I was fortunate to purchase
a signed Blu Ray Criterion . Del-Toro is an excellent Artist in his own , and it shows in this film , He has a way with directing chidden
so as to see the story from a child's point of view , Especially where scene's of Terror or horror to Adults would be running scared , The child is seeing , not horror , but instead hiding , the child or children are curious , a kindred spirit . The real horror is outside , with the living who willing to murder a child for just being in the way. Guillermo Del-Toro shows us, in this remarkable film .
Thank you everyone : For giving me your time.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on February 9, 2014
Format: Blu-rayVerified Purchase
Before he got really big he was doing great "smaller" flicks like this that show his style and story-telling. Without giving up the story the movie is about a boy left at an orphanage during the Spanish civil war. While there he uncovers a mystery that remains unsolved but through his ability to communicate with the deceased victim the truth unfolds. More of a story-telling than a gotcha or boo thriller type movie. And, reading an essay on the movie to understand the symbolism regarding del Toro's position on the war and socialism makes it all the more interesting.
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