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(Special Edition)

I know it sounds ridiculous to say this, but THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE ($20) is a genuinely haunting ghost story. Directed and co-written by Guillermo del Toro, THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE is a smaller, and more personal supernatural film, the just seems even more beautifully realized than his big budget Hollywood movies. Set during Spanish Civil War of the 1930s, THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE takes place in a decimated private school run by its headmistress Carmen (Marisa Paredes) and Professor Casares (Federico Luppi). Now serving as an orphanage, the school houses a small group of boys that lost their parents to the war. Carlos (Fernando Tielve) is the latest arrival at this refuge that has an unexploded bomb in the middle of its courtyard as a grim reminder that, although the actual war is far removed from the school, death is ever present.

Another grim reminder of death is the ghostly apparition of Santi (Junio Valverde), the spirit of a murdered boy that walks the school corridors and tries to make contact with Carlos. Although very much alive, a despicable handyman named Jacinto (Eduardo Noriega) haunts the school by day working to patch up the aging facilities, while his nights are spent searching a cache of gold that he believes is hidden somewhere on the grounds of the school. After repeated encounters with Santi and a rather grim, otherworldly warning, Carlos comes to understand what the spectral boy wants and how his fate is intertwined with the other boys at the school.

Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment has made THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE available on DVD in a 1.85:1 widescreen presentation that has been enhanced for playback on 16:9 displays. This is a great looking transfer that produces a sharp and very nicely defined image. Colors appear bold and rich in bright sunlight, and very nicely saturated under interior lighting. Flesh tones appear natural, except those that are necessarily supernatural. Blacks are inky, whites are clean, plus the picture has excellent contrast and very fine shadow detail. The film elements appear very clean, and there is little by way of an overtly noticeable grain structure. Digital compression artifacts are never a cause for concern.

THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE comes with a truly fine sounding Dolby Digital 5.1 channel Spanish language soundtrack. Instead of being highly directional and showy, this soundtrack produces a great deal of creepy atmosphere that greatly enhances the key spectral appearances. Of course, directional effects are well implemented when required, but atmosphere takes president over a WOW factor. Dialogue sounds clean and natural, although I am in no position to judge intelligibility of the Spanish being spoken. The bass channel is very solid and gives a necessary depth to the sound effects and music. Speaking of the music, Javier Navarreteís suitably atmospheric score is rendered with an excellent sense of presence. No other language tracks are provided, but English subtitles have been included.

Full motion video, animation and sound serve to enhance the DVD's interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a nice complement of supplements. Starting thing off, director Guillermo del Toro is on hand to provide a highly informative and interesting audio commentary. A Directorís Thumbnail Track is provided on a subtitle channel, which synchronizes the directorís original drawings to the sequences in the film that he was pre-visualizing. Que Es Un Fantasma : The Making of The Devilís Backbone is a serious twenty-seven minute program (broken up into six parts) that looks at the various elements of the filmís production. Four Deleted Scenes are provided on the DVD, and while the material is interesting enough, none of it warrants being cut back into the film. The Thumbnail/Storyboard Comparisons provides a visual progression of various sequences- from del Toroís crude drawings, to polished storyboards, and finally the completed film. Several Still Galleries, plus previews for THE DEVILíS BACKBONE, HELLBOY, and DARKNESS FALLS close out the extras.

THE DEVILíS BACKBONE is a haunting, character driven ghost story that strikes a real emotional cord. Columbiaís Special Edition DVD looks great, sounds just fine and packs on some very nice extra features. If you like a good ghost story, or are fond of director Guillermo del Toroís work, then you should definitely check out THE DEVILíS BACKBONE. Recommended.



The Devil's Backbone (Special Edition) (2001)


DVD reviews are Copyright © 2004 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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