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A view from the Blu (-ray) on DVDBeaver by Leonard Norwitz

The Orphanage [Blu-ray]

(aka "El Orfanato")


(Juan Antonio Bayona, 2007)







Review by Leonard Norwitz


Blu-ray: New Line Home Entertainment



Region: 'A'-locked (as verified by the Momitsu region FREE Blu-ray player)

Runtime: 1:45:48.383

Disc Size: 30,719,007,764 bytes

Feature Size: 28,063,752,192 bytes

Video Bitrate: 27.92 Mbps

Chapters: 24

Case: Locking Blu-ray case

Release date: April 22nd, 2008



Aspect ratio: 2.35:1

Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps

Video codec: VC-1 Video




DTS-HD Master Audio Spanish 5586 kbps 7.1 / 48 kHz / 5586 kbps / 24-bit (DTS Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 24-bit)



English (SDH), English, Spanish, none



• 4 Making-of Featurettes:
• When Laura Grew Up: Constructing The Orphanage (17:30)
• Tomas' Secret Room (10:10)
• Horror in the Unknown: Makeup Effects (9:20)
• Rehearsal Studio (3:35)
• Still Galleries
• Marketing Campaign (Trailers & Posters)



The Film: 8
The name over the tile is familiar: Guillermo Del Toro, the man who brought us Pan's Labyrinth, Hellboy and The Devil's Backbone. Del Toro is the producer of this ghost story from first-feature-film director, Juan Antonio (or "J.A." as he prefers to be credited) Bayona.

Borrowing elements from Poltergeist, The Innocents, Don't Look Now, The Shining and Somewhere in Time (have you ever thought of Somewhere in Time as a ghost story?), Bayona and screenwriter, Sergio Sanchez, have fashioned an intelligent and capable piece of work that stands on its own as narrative, and is helped by a director who cut his teeth on the music video genre where a knowledge of editing and art direction comes in handy for this elemental drama.

Belén Rueda, whom you might remember as Julia in Alejandro Amenábar's Mar Adentro, is Laura. This is the first time she has had to carry a film, and carry it she does. At one point her character is asked her age. I think she says 33, or something close to that. Rueda is actually 10 years older and looks it. I remember thinking that these Spaniards really live life – they don't hide their years or their life experience on the faces. Laura should look ten years older for all she has been through and is about to go through. She won all kinds of acting awards for her performance in this film, and justly deserved. It's just the sort of role the Academy usually eats up: pained, angry, loving, sensitive, frightened and brave all at once and by turns. Bravo!

Laura is about 9 years old when she must leave her friends at the orphanage for a new home and a new life. Twenty-odd years later Laura returns with her husband and their adopted child, Simón (9 year old Roger Princep in his first movie role). They purchase the house with the intention of providing a home for "special needs" children not unlike Simón, who, as Laura and her husband/doctor, Carlos, are keenly aware, may not actually be long for this world. The house itself is situated above a wild and beautiful beach, and watched over by a long-vacant lighthouse.

Not content with ingredients enough for a handful of ghost stories, Sanchez and Bayona introduce twists and turns that would be the envy of a ride at Disneyland. For starters, Simón is at an age where he still entertains himself with imaginary playmates, much to the chagrin of Carlos, some of whom Simón brought with him from wherever they lived last. But one of them is new. As Laura regales Simón with Barry's Peter Pan and Wendy, we are not all that surprised to learn that Tomás was once a child who lived at the orphanage many years ago. But is Tomás a good Pan or an evil one? What is his agenda, and does it involve anyone else at living there now or, for that matter, anyone else living? Alas, the answer, it turns out, is not all that simply told, though we can be thankful that this is not one of those "things are not as they seem" movies. We are, at last, rewarded by our commitment to solving the mystery. And, like the Henry James' story, it even has a moral.

Image: 7/9   NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.
(I am starting a new scoring system for the Image with this review in order to have the first number rationalize with the other scores.): The first number indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other Blu-ray discs on a ten-point scale. The second number places this image along the full range of video discs (both Blu-rays and DVDs.)

Of the questions that must confront a director of such a tale, two of the most important must be: the overall look of the film and especially the house, and how the ghosts will manifest. Should they appear as real, translucent or, perhaps, imaginary? Who should see them? Should it be clear to us who is real and who is not, who is living and who is dead? I shall only say that the solution taken by Bayona is very unlike Shyamalan in The Sixth Sense. Carrying this line of thought into the DVD image, should there be some enhancement or other digital technique to create a sensation of fantasy? What about digital noise reduction that can leave an imprint of a fine dust on the image? Even if its intention is otherwise, might such a tool add to the effect, or does it get in the way. I am usually sensitive to DNR, but less so in this film for the reason just stated. Also, I felt no need to have the DVD image utterly transparent, as it may have been in the theatre. In some ways in this movie, murky is good.

There is an extended episode in the movie that is seen via some of the lowest-fi live video feed imaginable. The intention is to add to the illusion of unreality as the medium wanders through the house looking for spirits. But aside from that, most of the movie is quite sharp, if deliberately desaturated, regardless of location or time frame. As for matters of contrast, the image is spot on. Blacks have good shadow information, just enough to keep us worried as Laura and Simón wander through house, cave, or "out there". I wish I could say the same for edge enhancement, which can be observed along the occasional vertical edges of buildings against the sky. I can't really fathom the thinking that authorizes this sort of business on DVD - HD or SD. Its intended audience couldn't really care less, so why should the rest of us suffer?
















Audio & Music: 10/8
What's a ghost story without atmospherics – not just intriguing art direction, but really scary sounds. The uncompressed DTS HD Master Lossless audio track has that – and more; It has space. Empty, scary space. The space that Laura and the children, living and dead, play in. This space is not realizable in a standard DTS or DD 5.1 mix because the overhang of every sound, great and small would simply obliterate the illusion. The atmospherics outside the house and the noises within are all fabulously realized – and fully demonstrate what can be achieved in this medium.


Operations: 8
While not taking advantage of any motion possibilities within the menu proper, every page is readily understood. Let's hear it for the Top Menu, which permits easy return to whatever menu you came from previously – very handy when you're knew deep in a Bonus Feature and you want to get out.

Extras: 5
The Extra Features for the Blu-ray edition are the same as for the SD DVD, and not even the trailers are in high-definition. The image quality is not of very high quality even taken into account its 480 origins. There are several brief making-of segments, totaling some xx minutes, that take a peek at production design, makeup, digital effects, rehearsals, casting and music. The Still Galleries are nice, if you like that sort of thing. At least they're clear, abundant and nicely framed.



Bottom line: 8
Keeping in mind that The Orphanage is a ghost story, not a horror movie, it works on that level in terms of visuals and audio. The ghosts are revealed as neither diaphanous nor as particularly frightening. They themselves, do not leap off the screen with axes and knives. It is enough that the protagonist imagines the worst, and often is not disappointed in that. The uncompressed DTS HD audio mix is nothing short of fantastic and is ample proof of what Blu-ray is all about.

Leonard Norwitz
June 6th, 2008

Revisited: April 16th, 2010







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About the Reviewer: I first noticed that some movies were actually "films" back around 1960 when I saw Seven Samurai (in the then popular truncated version), La Strada and The Third Man for the first time. American classics were a later and happy discovery.

My earliest teacher in Aesthetics was Alexander Sesonske, who encouraged the comparison of unlike objects. He opened my mind to the study of art in a broader sense, rather than of technique or the gratification of instantaneous events. My take on video, or audio for that matter – about which I feel more competent – is not particularly technical. Rather it is aesthetic, perceptual, psychological and strongly influenced by temporal considerations in much the same way as music. I hope you will find my musings entertaining and informative, fun, interactive and very much a work in progress.

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