Straight from the off I was thoroughly pleased to see that the video aspects on this blu-ray presentation were going to be a world away from what I had witnessed at the flicks. Gorgeous inky blacks complemented with deep contrasting levels provided a startling clarity to the image that was most pleasing. The colour palette remained murky and subdued but that was always by design - this was never meant to be a colourful film. Shadow detail was absolutely excellent and thankfully there was no evidence of crushing of blacks even in the deepest and darkest recesses of the picture. You will be able to pick off all the detail with ease in all of the scenes. It simply adds up to an unwavering rock solid image that you needn't bother trying to pick holes in.
The composition of the frames, shots as well as the artistic levels of cinematography used in making the movie does however focus on close attention to detail. Once again this is where this high definition release simply excels. When it comes to fine detail it is there in abundance and it is quite incredible. This blu-ray disc presents everything that was meant to be seen and then some.
Unfortunately though all that detail does reveal that there are actually two blemishes existent on this transfer. The images although razor sharp do show that matters have been enhanced artificially. It's not a massive negative and for most viewers it won't be obvious but it's there in the wider panning shots. Secondly there is a fine grain visible across the image. Both are enough for me to deduct a scoring point I'm afraid.
On the whole though there is such a marvellous intensity about the video quality on this disc that it very much befits the movie itself and it's very difficult to criticise otherwise.
Right from the off as the opening credits roll away and the film starts to emerge from a gradual fade out you will realise that this film is going to bombard all your senses. Whilst the children are playing in the grounds of the orphanage you slowly start to hear the wind whistling around you and the falling of leaves beginning to engulf you. I knew straightaway at that point that this down mix was going to be special. I didn't however realise that it was going to be something quite so special.
Throughout the movie the surround channels are used as key and integral parts of the whole delivery. The sound engineers have used all the channels of this soundtrack vigorously and put everything into optimising it all to absolute levels. There is hardly a moment that some sound or other is not coming at you in what can only be described as a 360deg full-on aural experience. The soundfield is so utterly expansive that at times I began to lose my sense of place. The tonal ambience across the front and rear stage is also so seamless that the experience becomes undeniably inclusive and involving.
Whilst there remains clear and precise direction from all the channels you simply don't have to rely on being so attentive. The whole thing has been designed so that all the sounds comes at you in a very natural manner. You just have to sit there and take it all in.
Now what truly underpins and underlines the quality of this soundtrack is the LFE support. This is rather surprising considering the type of movie it is but the low level stuff on offer here is reference material. In short this is a powerhouse demonstration on the correct and balanced use of LFE. The thuds, bumps, crashes and bangs all hit home with impeccable resolution. If you like to live by the seat of your pants then you won't have to crank up your amp too far to begin to realise that the LFE track here yields immense power and immeasurable integrity. Of course it's loud but power is nothing without control. It's that sense of control that lifts the whole soundmix to another level.
While the movie was great at the cinema, one of the best reasons to buy this blu-ray is that the audio on this disc is quite simply at a level not to be missed. I watched this movie twice in quick succession, much of the reason being in order to try find some fault with the soundtrack. It was actually even more impressive the second time around.
Q&A with J.A. Bayona - (40mins 49secs) This is a three way interview set in London on a stage. Mark Kermode interviews Juan Antonio Bayona along with Oriol Tarrago the sound designer who replaces an absent Guillermo del Toro. The whole thing feels like a home video made on the spur of the moment and as a result it's quite amateurish in its production. Bayona has in general more to say about the film than Oriol Tarrago who surprisingly sits there rather uncomfortably. Also most of the interview bizarrely discusses about the American remake of The Orphanage at great length rather than the original production itself. It all ends with a number of questions from members of the audience. Pretty tame use of 40 or so minutes and a missed opportunity if you ask me.
The making of the Orphanage - (12mins 5secs) All the cast and crew comment on the film in this Spanish based feature. Guillermo del Toro also presents a few of his thoughts. I have to warn you that the feature is as fast moving as the Spanish language itself but thankfully it's subtitled in English! Everything is presented at blistering pace and there are lots of short clips interspersed between the cast interviews. Whilst it is only 12 minutes long there is a lot of quick fire factual stuff for you to take on board in that time and it certainly keeps your interest levels for the whole time.
The set of the Orphanage - (2mins 33secs) The crew let you into the thoughts that went into deciding what the house looked like. The mock up models that were made and then the build of the actual set itself. This is all in Spanish once again.
The sound of the Orphanage - (6mins 49secs) Oriol Tarrago introduces himself as the sound designer and goes onto discuss some of the sound aspects in the movie. I must say I was incredibly disappointed with this feature. It revolves solely around the séance scene with Aurora and the parapsychologists that visit the house. Whilst this scene in many ways defines the movie I was actually hoping that Oriol would go more into the technical details used in the movie as a whole. After all the entire soundtrack was fantastic and far beyond just this one scene. Anyway it was interesting to note that the sound in this scene was recorded live and real time to help give it that extra creepiness.
Interview with Guillermo del Toro and J.A. Bayona - (8mins 19secs) Guillermo introduces an embarrassed looking Bayona and explains what part he plays in the making of the film. This is not a direct interview style feature but more so the pair of them speaking their minds in front of each other and in front of the camera. It's a good insight but it's not as insightful as it really should have been into the thinking behind the two great minds. Guillermo clearly has a lot of time for Bayona and the pair of them seem to be on each other's wavelengths. This ease of relationship between the two goes some way in explaining why the production quality of the film remained so high.
Lighting the darkness - (5mins 22secs) This was my favourite feature. It goes into the filming techniques used into giving this movie the X-factor. The lighting used in the shots was very cleverly used to create maximum suspense and tense effect. In the end the cinematography was truly stunning moving from vividly encapsulating to hauntingly spooky. It's also worthy of note to point out that the crew did not by design wish the movie to be shot in the style of a horror, they did in actual fact intend it to be visualised as a melodrama. Clearly, they accomplished that and then some.
Roger Princep - the casting - ( 8mins 48secs) A young Roger Princep talks to the camera about how he was cast for the film. There are a lot of behind the scenes conversations and how Roger was prepped to play the part of Simon. A lot of it discusses what he was scared of in real life as his fears were obviously very real. Bayona then cleverly used that real world fear and filmed Roger in believing it was real. Whilst the Orphanage is carried on the whole by Belen Rueda working with child actors is always difficult and Roger played more than his fare share in pulling it off.
Deleted Scenes - There are nine deleted scenes in total for you to view and make of what you will - Alternate ending, Alternate beginning, Tomas's Den, With Benigna, At the police station, The swing scene, Extended argument scene, Blind party scene, Extended cave scene. The most pertinent are obviously the Alternate Beginning and Alternate Ending. All the scenes have a Spanish voiceover and subtitles explaining the purpose of each scene.
Storyboards - Three of the storyboards used in constructing three of the scenes in the film - The Séance, The Treasure hunt, Tomas appears. The screen is split up and there are animations and sketches as well as the backdrop of the film itself playing along with each of the storyboard.s
Shooting the credits - (2mins 34secs) The film's opening credits start with children ripping off wallpaper and the credits are revealed beneath. This is straight out of the school of Alfred Hitchcock. The technical guys talk about how they used digital techniques to marry the visualisation of these effects.
Animatics - (8mins 41secs) This feature presents a selection of the sketches that were drawn up along with the screenplay. It's pretty much more the material used in making up the storyboards and once again you get a Spanish voiceover and subtitles filling you in on the thought process involved.
Trailers - (4min 53secs) Two theatrical trailers used in marketing and launching the film. Pretty standard stuff as you would expect.
Projections - (3mins 51secs) This is the last of the extras and it is by far the spookiest. Accompanied by a haunting score it is a silent grainy film showing Tomas and his friends from the Orphanage playing around. It almost makes the film and the events feel real. Spine chilling stuff.
To his credit, Bayona did his homework on this one and the style of the movie more than gives a nod in the direction of a certain Alfred Hitchcock. Such is the feel to proceedings and it's obviously a good lead to follow a master. That in context however does not make a remarkable film. It simply paints the backdrop of how films used to be made and how well they can still be interpreted irrespective of era. It's a proven method to make highly complex films incredibly accessible and it's one that this guy has taken to like a duck to water.
Whilst The Orphanage in my opinion remains a shade behind Pan's Labyrinth, it's still a remarkable achievement nonetheless. On the big screen I was enthralled but thankfully I was as equally captivated on the small screen. In fact I would say more so. This blu-ray disc is such a revelation it deserves all the praise it can get. Whilst the video quality is narrowly short of technical excellence, it is nevertheless still far ahead of where it needed to be. The audio on the other hand is simply phenomenal. It's atmospheric, it's enveloping in the extreme and it helps to complete the movie.
There are not many films that come about that are worthy of a must watch but the Orphanage unequivocally falls into that category. It is though not a film that you will go back to time and time again. Indeed after two successive viewings I felt increasingly saddened and would struggle to get through it for a third time. There lies the only caveat should you wish to consider buying this movie. Though in many ways that is a mute point as the blu-ray high definition presentation is such a tight package it simply demands shelf space in your collection.
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