Labyrinth is very difficult for me to review, it being my favourite movie of all time (my second is Logan’s Run), but I felt it was time. This can be my tribute to the late David Bowie who must be remembered for his incredible role in this as Jareth the Goblin King as well as his music legacy.
The team behind Labyrinth was full of incredible talent: Directed by Jim Henson of The Muppets fame and produced by George Lucas best known for Star Wars. A young Jennifer Connelly (best supporting actress in A Beautiful Mind) plays Sarah starring alongside David Bowie as the Goblin King. The conceptual design was by Brian Froud, an exceptional Faerie illustrator known for creating the Lady Cottington books who also worked with Henson on The Dark Crystal. His wife Wendy Froud, best known for creating Yoda from Star Wars, also worked on the film with model-making/costumes plus their infant son played Sarah’s baby brother, Toby. The screenplay was by Terry Jones of Monty Python fame. Less well-know is that Gates McFadden aka Doctor Crusher from Star Trek TNG (credited as Cheryl McFadden) did the choreography. Also Danny John-Jules (Red Dwarf) voiced/sang as the Fireys. Yet despite this amazing conglomeration of talent Labyrinth was a box office failure however it subsequently became a cult classic.
The story follows Sarah a teenage girl left to babysit her baby brother Toby when she takes a page from her favourite book called Labyrinth and wishes the Goblins would take him away. She is astonished when the Goblin King actually turns up to fulfil her wish and tries to take it back but he tells he the only way to get her brother back now is to solve his Labyrinth in 13 hours. Here she enters a dreamlike fantasy world populated by goblins brilliantly brought to life by Jim Henson’s Creature Workshop and its excellent puppetry.
David Bowie as Jareth the Goblin King brings his full game with both acting and singing. The music is part of what makes this movie so special, I own a copy of the soundtrack and enjoy listening to it. The incidental music is very atmospheric and the songs hit different emotional notes in the film from the upbeat “Dance Magic Dance” to the heart wrenching “Within You.” It’s both very 80s and very fantasy and nothing sounds quite like it.
Of course Bowie also does a good job of looking believably out-of-this-world and with his sexual magnetism he is a good object of temptation for Sarah. But he is also a tragic figure; Terry Jones said that Jareth was using the Labyrinth to “keep people from getting to his heart.” Originally written more villainously Bowie asked for more humanity and humour and he delivers it. I’m a little in love with Jareth.
Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) is a teenage girl who stereotypes her Step Mother as ‘wicked’ and clearly has issues accepting her new, actually half-brother. It’s ambiguous whether the adventure really happens or is only in Sarah’s head (there sure are a lot of similarities between the toys in her bedroom at the beginning of the movie and the creatures that turn up in the Labyrinth). Regardless the message seems to be that a healthy fantasy life can help you work out your emotional issues! Sarah makes a good heroine because she doesn’t seem intimidated by Jareth, challenges him despite his power and if anything he seems frightened by her as she makes progress. Connelly’s acting makes the interaction with the Goblin puppets very believable, plus she has good chemistry with Bowie.
Of course I have to talk about the puppets. Puppets does not really do them justice, as some have multiple operators/puppeteers and animatronics. Hoggle is the most impressive: actually an animatronic head with a voice actor and an actress playing his body wearing glove-hands much bigger than her own with which she was supposed to manipulate props. Hoggle’s face with it’s astonishing range of expressions is convincing yet obviously not human which probably prevents him from falling into the uncanny valley. Hoggle is full of life, character and humorous dialogue. There are many more puppets besides, all wonderfully individual and creative, some only appearing on screen for a few seconds as part of the background detail. That is part of what makes Labyrinth so rewatchable: there’s so much you have undoubtedly missed something. (Yes, this is why this review is so freaking long!)
If the puppets are impressive the sets are equally so, with one in particular near the end of the movie (if you’ve seen it you know the one) mind-blowing. If I had to criticize anything it would be effects that did not really work i.e. the CGI owl and the blue screen effects (actually a black screen) are… less convincing than other parts and age the movie. Occasionally the flimsy set/costume materials ruin the illusion a little.
Labyrinth is a very light-hearted fantasy adventure story with a lot of humour mixed in. There is much to impress and even if you don’t like it (WHAT! Are you crazy!?) then you must admire the craftsmanship that went into creating it. And I’ve missed out a lot like Ludo and Sir Didymous. I could write so much more, but I am keeping you. Just go and watch Labyrinth right now!