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Labyrinth (1986)

August 2nd, 2006 · 11 Comments

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The make believe play world created by young Sarah (played by a 15-year-old Jennifer Connelly) is interrupted when she has to sit for her baby brother. Tired of the tyke’s crying, she threatens to summon the Goblin King and have him take the baby away. When this fails to quiet him, she blurts out “I wish the goblins would come and take you away right now!”

The room is infiltrated by playful goblins, the first of many puppets that populate the film, followed by an owl, which transforms into the Goblin King (David Bowie). He tells Sarah that he has taken the baby as a favor to her, but if she wants him back, she’ll have to make her way to his castle, which is in the center of a labyrinth.

The labyrinth turns out to be no mere maze, but a fantasy realm comprised of puzzles, illusions and fantastic creatures. Sarah meets a three-foot-tall groundskeeper named Hoggle, a seven-foot troll named Ludo and a fox-like character named Sir Didymus, who rides around on the back of a dog. These characters – all puppets – help Sarah, who has thirteen hours to reach the castle of the Goblin King before her brother is turned into a goblin.

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Labyrinth was the last feature film directed before his sudden death by Jim Henson, who came up with the story with Dennis Lee and adapted a screenplay commissioned from Monty Python’s Terry Jones. Henson’s longtime collaborators Frank Oz and Dave Goelz were among the puppeteers, but, as in The Dark Crystal, the creature designs were based on conceptual art by Brian Froud to give the puppets a look distinct from the Muppets.

This is the closest I’ve seen a live action picture create a fantasy world on par with what Miyazaki is able to accomplish in his animated films. Henson’s storyline is even similar to what would become a Miyazaki trademark: the young teenage girl who enters a fantasy world to conquer her fears of growing up.

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While the story recalls The Wizard of Oz, Alice In Wonderland and Maurice Sendak’s Where The Wild Things Are – all which can be spotted sitting on Sarah’s bookshelf – the film’s look is unique as it is brilliant. Henson decorated his world using every trick in the book, from puppets both simple and highly advanced, to models, to optical effects, and even some early CGI. No other movie that I can think of combines all this craftwork under one tent, and for the most part, it looks terrific.

Many of the visual tricks were accomplished on set, not created inside a computer. For the trick where Bowie twirls a crystal ball down his arm and around his palm, a juggler hid behind Bowie and substituted his arm for Bowie’s in the shot, which had to be accomplished without the juggler being able to watch the ball. Today, the effects team would just figure out how to do it with a computer, but in 1986, you needed magicians who could figure out how to do it for real. This is art form that has been mostly lost from movies.

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Miyazaki elects not to have his animated characters sing or dance, but Henson made the decision early to cast a rock star as the Goblin King (thankfully, Michael Jackson was not approached). This effect is a major buzzkill. Even if you can deal with the sight of Bowie walking around in tights with a ridiculous wig, his songs are atrocious. The synth pop sound and infantile lyrics took me right out of the movie.

I can respect that I am not the target demographic this was made for. The movie has a hold on a lot of women, many of whom drooled over Bowie when they were a girl and who probably fight over which is better, The Princess Bride or Labyrinth.

George Lucas served as executive producer and would have done well to learn from Henson while directing Star Wars: Episodes I-III. Where the performances in those films were listless, Connelly and Bowie’s performances are full of life. With creatures you can reach out and touch, and their puppeteers on set imbuing them with wit and energy, actors respond to them like they might another actor, not a special effect to be added later. For the viewer, this makes the film feel real. For me, this was the genius of Jim Henson.

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11 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Stacey // May 14, 2007 at 12:49 am

    Another awesome movie. Right on review.

  • 2 evgenija oleinik // Nov 9, 2007 at 3:11 pm

    i love the labyrinth !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    ive loved it all my life !!!!!!!!!!!
    (im 12 years old ) x x x x x x x x x x

  • 3 Brittany Nichole // Nov 12, 2007 at 8:58 am

    This has been my favorite movie since I was younger and I’m still an adoring fan of it. I can quote the whole movie verse for verse and I think it’s the best!!!!!!!!!

  • 4 lovely // Nov 27, 2007 at 10:51 am

    this is probably gotta be my most favorite movie in the whole world!!! i just love the theme and the music and i just think that david bowie looks amazing and jennifer connelly is gorgeous. i have 2 copies of this movie at home and i watch them all the time!!!!!!!!

  • 5 Labyrinth Lover // Aug 1, 2008 at 4:33 am

    I think I first watched this when I was around about five and I’ve adored it ever since (I’m now fifteen). I give this wonderful film an easy 10/10. Oh, and I thought that David Bowie’s singing was just magical, it really gives the film a fantastic feeling. I’ll never ever forget this film for as long as I live, and I’ll be sure to show daughters, sons, grandaughters and the lot so it can be remembered forever and ever.

  • 6 8T2 // Feb 11, 2009 at 3:32 pm

    QUITE POSSIBLY THE BEST FILM OFF ALL TIME

  • 7 samantha // Feb 26, 2009 at 4:51 pm

    I haven’t seen the whole movie all the way through yet.

  • 8 Chrisha // Apr 27, 2009 at 8:53 am

    I want to watch the second video, I just watched this movie and now im practicly obsessed with it its all i talk about <3 DAVID BOWIE LOVE!!!!

  • 9 martha // Jun 8, 2009 at 11:36 am

    oh i love it so much! i haven’t seen it for like 16 or 17 years! that one was my favourite when i was a child !ha! i have to see it asap:)

  • 10 Colleen Feeney // Aug 8, 2009 at 1:16 pm

    Labyrinth has been my fave movie since childhood. I’m also a big fan of David Bowie!
    and Jennifer Connelly is been my fave actress for some time too! I’m now 30!

  • 11 may // Oct 7, 2010 at 2:05 pm

    I was still a toddler when this was shown but my uncle used to make me watch it whem it was finally shown on TV. Surprisingly, I still remember it. I can watch it over and over again if ever I get the chance to. Probably my future kids too. I’m now 26 years old.

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