Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) is a precocious and feisty teen who dreams of fairytale worlds and independence from her overbearing family. One night, after being forced by her stepmother to look after her infant brother Toby (Toby Froud), Sarah's resentfulness gets the better of her and she wishes her problematic younger sibling would just disappear. Unfortunately for Sarah her calls do not fall on deaf ears, and powerful goblin king Jareth (David Bowie) answers her cries and whisks baby Toby away. Realising her mistake, she pleads for the safe return of Toby and makes an agreement with Jareth that he will return him but only if she can successfully negotiate her way through the treacherous labyrinth that surrounds his mythical castle filled with all manner of bizarre creatures, puzzles and his own goblin army.
Review by Craig Miller:
The 1980s were definitely an interesting time for children's fantasy flicks, and no one made more memorable films in the early to mid years of said decade than puppet master Jim Henson. Having had great success with his 1970s bath-mats-on-sticks television series Sesame Street and The Muppet Show, Henson followed them up in 1982 with a much darker all-puppet fantasy feature Dark Crystal, and in 1986 he ambitiously tried to blend live action and puppetry on the big screen in Labyrinth.
Much like a maze itself, Labyrinth the movie is something of a puzzling creature full of dead ends and trickery that should involve a journey as rewarding as when you find the centre. Unfortunately it doesn't, and while it is a beacon for the 80s family/fantasy genre, and the detailed work that went into all the major aspects of the film are truly first class, today Labyrinth does not play as well as it did all those viewings ago.
The puppetry is, quite simply, exquisite. Or, more accurately, as exquisite as puppetry can be. It's dated, sure, but while Henson's muppet magic, animatronic suits and radio controlled facial technologies bring the characters to life, its unfortunately into a world with problematic pacing where reality is sentimentally disfigured and the fantasy is a bit of a bore.
Henson may be a brilliant at "muppetering", but when it comes to story-telling he is only so-so.
The whimsical story idea looks to have been lifted from classics like Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz and superimposed over the ideals of a modern 1980s setting. It's your typical teen angst, spoilt rich kid, growing up in a world that is, like, so unfair and the sickly sentimental themes typical of the era and genre: fairness, responsibility, hope, forgiveness and courage, all smash you over the head as often as the need to marvel in the puppetry does. It's a hell of a contrast!
David Bowie delivers a likeable performance as the vampy goblin king Jareth (Michael Jackson and Sting were also considered for the role), but his outfit is a disastrous distraction. A hybrid of glam rock flair and skin-tight riding jodhpurs, combined with the make-up and hair, he looks like a cross between 1980s Japanese "working girl" and an elfin Ziggy Stardust. A very young Jennifer Connelly as the heroine Sarah shows plenty of early acting prowess and it's hard to believe that she was only fourteen at the time of shooting. She has an acting maturity well beyond her years.
The technical side of the DVD is first rate. Both the transfer and the 5.1 soundtrack have been wonderfully re-mastered and I doubt the film has ever looked or sounded better. The extras package is your typical DVD lot with photo galleries from the shoot and behind-the-scenes, quite a few pages of story board art work and selected filmographies. But there is a standout. The hour-long making-of feature takes us back, deep behind the scenes, and this is where the extras excel. They've crammed a lot into 60 minutes here and this original feature has interviews with all and sundry including the master of puppets Jim Henson and screenwriter/Monty Python member Terry Jones as well as in-depth chats with Bowie and Connelly about their roles in the film.
If you're fueled by 1980s family/fantasy films and/or the masterful puppetry of Jim Henson, Labyrinth is most likely already in your collection. It's a cult classic in fantasy circles but, for the modern general movie watcher (this is really going to hurt to say) there will not be much here except, of course, nostalgic interest. Without sounding like a bit of a grandpa "I remember the good ol'days" etc etc, this may be one of those fondly remembered flicks best left as that .... fondly remembered.
Published March 10, 2005
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LABYRINTH: DVD (PG)
CAST: David Bowie, Jennifer Connelly, Toby Froud, Shelley Thompson, Christopher Malcolm, Shari Weiser, Brian Henson
DIRECTOR: Jim Henson
SCRIPT: Terry Jones, story by Dennis Lee & Jim Henson
RUNNING TIME: 97 minutes
PRESENTATION: Widescreen 2.45:1 16:9 enhanced, Dolby Digital 5.1
SPECIAL FEATURES: 'Inside the Labyrinth' documentary, storyboards, photo gallery, filmographies, trailer.
DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
DVD RELEASE: February 23, 2005