The Devil’s Backbone appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Not many problems arose in this terrific transfer.
Across the board, sharpness seemed excellent. The movie displayed virtually no instances of softness at any time. Instead, it remained crisp and detailed. Jagged edges and shimmering created no concerns, and I saw no issues with edge enhancement. As for print flaws, a couple of specks popped up, but that was it, as the movie almost always came across as clean and fresh.
Not exactly chock full of color, two tones dominated Backbone. We got a mix of fairly amber daylight shots as well as cold, bluish evening images. Occasional examples of other hues popped up, but those tints played the most significant role. The colors always looked well-defined and full. Blacks came across as deep and firm, while shadows were clear and appropriately opaque. The image remained excellent at all times.
While not quite as good as the visuals, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of The Devil’s Backbone also was satisfying. Much of the film presented a modest scope, but the soundfield opened up the environment well. The music demonstrated good spaciousness, while effects proved to be accurately placed and neatly blended. The movie went mostly for a feeling of general creepy ambience, but when necessary, the elements played an important role. Santi’s feet skittered effectively around the room, and a few other sequences used the surrounds nicely as well. The overall impression seemed engrossing and convincing.
No problems with audio quality manifested themselves. Dialogue remained natural and distinctive, with no signs of edginess or intelligibility issues on display. Music was subdued - as it should be - and the score sounded full and warm, with good dynamics. Effects also mainly played a background role, where they showed nice clarity and accuracy. Bass response was deep and firm. When the subwoofer kicked into gear, it presented tight low-end material without any distortion or boominess. Ultimately, the audio of Backbone worked well.
For this special edition DVD, we get a mix of supplements. Some of these repeat from the prior DVD, while some are new. I’ll designate features unique to this release with an asterisk, and at the end of the review, I’ll summarize what elements showed up on the old one but not here.
We open with an *audio commentary from director Guillermo del Toro, who provides a running, screen-specific discussion - or “ramble”, as he calls it. Del Toro sells himself short, for although his “ramble” infrequently deals directly with the movie’s on-screen action, he goes into many interesting topics. Much of the emphasis focuses on the gothic romance genre, as del Toro chats about the history of that form of art and literature as well as other issues related to it. He also talks about various personal and profession influences, character nuances, and symbolism. Del Toro doesn’t tell us much about the actual making of the movie; the earlier DVD included a different commentary that apparently delved into that subject, so he didn’t want to repeat himself. In any case, the “ramble” on this disc offers a deep and rich look at the film and del Toro’s feelings on the subject; it’s a strong commentary.
An unusual feature, the *director’s thumbnail track uses the subtitle stream to show drawings. The thumbnails offer del Toro’s crude storyboards, and they appear throughout the movie to correspond to the action. This is a cool way to display them, with one notable drawback: since the art utilizes the subtitle domain, we get no English translation as we watch. That means you’ll probably have to check out the thumbnails on their own, but they’re still a fun addition.
Next we find a documentary called *Que Es Un Fantasma. In this 27-minute and 17-second program, we find behind the scenes materials, movie snippets, and interviews with del Toro, co-writer Antonio Trashorras, art director Cesar Macarron, unit production manager Esther Garcia, director of photography Guillermo Navarro, makeup effects designers David Marti and Montse Ribe, and actors Eduardo Noriega, Fernando Tielve, Inigo Garces, Irene Visedo, Marisa Paredes and Federico Luppi. They discuss the origins of the film, its unusual setting, its themes, locations, sets and cinematography, effects, directing children, character elements, and del Toro’s approach to directing. It features an episodic nature that makes the presentation a bit choppy, but a lot of solid information appears. “Fantasma” goes through many useful topics efficiently and provides a quality examination of the movie’s creation.
After this we get a set of four *Deleted Scenes. Taken together, these fill three minutes and 32 seconds. As one might infer from their brevity, not much happens in these clips, as three of the four offer minor bits of character expansion; the fourth just shows a little more of the boys as they work against their foe. We can watch the scenes with or without commentary from del Toro. He concisely tells us why the segments got the boot.
For more art, we go to the Thumbnail/Storyboard Comparisons. These let us contrast the crude drawings and more finished work for six scenes along with the final film. The thumbnails show up in the upper left with the storyboards in the upper right and the movie in the lower half of the screen. The segments run between 62 seconds and three minutes, 29 seconds for a total of 11 minutes, 53 seconds of footage. The presentation is good, as this feature gives us a nice look at the planning process for the film.
Additional material of this sort shows up in the *Galleries. These provide stillframe looks at “Characters” (19 screens), “Art Direction/Set Design” (26), “Prosthetic Effects” (15), “Thumbnails” (6), and “del Toro’s Director’s Notebook” (3). Some interesting images show up here, and in a user-friendly format; all of them come via thumbnails, so we can jump to desired pictures without cycling through the whole lot.
Lastly, in the *Previews domain, we find some ads. This area includes trailers for Backbone, Hellboy and Darkness Falls.
Those asterisks noted what comes over from the old DVD and what new material pops up here. What do we lose from the prior release? The main omission is an audio commentary with del Toro and director of photography Guillermo Navarro. We also fail to get a short “making of” featurette and a few ads for other flicks that differ from those found in this set’s “Previews”.
An unusual take on the ghost story genre, The Devil’s Backbone proves consistently satisfying. It moves at its own pace and may test the patience of some, but it one gives it a shot and allows oneself to become immersed in the setting, it pays off effectively. The DVD offers excellent picture quality along with very strong audio and a nice collection of supplements.
I definitely recommend Backbone, and for those who don’t own the prior DVD, the 2004 special edition is the one to get. It includes a more substantial roster of extras and retails for $10 less. Whether or not it merits an “upgrade” from fans who already have the original remains to be seen. The new release touts a “brand-new director-supervised HD film transfer”, though I fail to understand why a three-year-old movie needs a new transfer.
If we remove the transfer from the equation, the issue comes down to supplements. This new set includes many more than those on the old one, and they’re consistently high quality. If these interest you, the 2004 edition merits an “upgrade”, especially if the prior one’s transfer disappointed you in some way; the more recent disc offers very strong visuals. I do think it’s too bad that Columbia didn’t present the smattering of extras exclusive to the old DVD here, as their inclusion would make this a truly excellent set.