“I ask for so little. Just fear me, love me, do as I say, and I will be your slave,” says Jareth the Goblin King to Sarah Williams.
The original Digital Shortbread link: Labyrinth (1986).
Jim Henson brought joy and education to children and adults through TV programs such as Sesame Street, The Muppet Show, and Fraggle Rock. He eventually became involved in feature filmmaking as well (such as the first three Muppet movies; he made his directorial debut with 1981’s The Great Muppet Caper). After co-directing 1982’s The Dark Crystal with Frank Oz, Henson next focused on another fantasy film that would require technical challenges that pushed the limits of special effects technology at the time (and would also be a musical). I was fortunate enough to catch a midnight screening of Labyrinth three years ago on the big screen at the Landmark Midtown Art Cinema during a visit to Atlanta, Georgia. It was fun seeing it again after having seen it many years before on cable. I was finally able to catch a midnight screening of the film a few months ago at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema in New York City, and it was a joy to see it once more on the big screen. This review of Labyrinth is my entry in the Decades Blogathon hosted by Three Rows Back & Digital Shortbread.
1986’s Labyrinth follows a teenage girl who embarks on a quest to save her baby brother, who’s being held hostage by the Goblin King in his castle after she had originally wished for him to take her half-brother away. Henson gathered together an impressive ensemble that includes Jennifer Connelly (as Sarah Williams), David Bowie (as Jareth the Goblin King), Toby Froud (as Toby Williams), Christopher Malcolm (as Robert Williams), Shelley Thompson (as Irene Williams), Brian Henson (as the voice of Hoggle), Ron Mueck (as the voice of Ludo), David Shaughnessy (as the voices of Sir Didymus and the Wiseman’s bird hat), Percy Edwards (as the voice of Ambrosius), Timothy Bateson (as the voice of the Worm), Michael Hordern (as the voice of the Wiseman), Denise Bryer (as the voice of the Junk Lady), David Healy (as the voice of the Right Door Knocker), Robert Beatty (as the voice of the Left Door Knocker), and Kevin Clash (as the voice of Firey #1). Connelly gives an engaging performance as the young Sarah, who must undertake a physical and emotional journey through a labyrinth in order to get to the Goblin King’s castle. Bowie is simultaneously cruel, seductive, and otherworldly as the Goblin King in a mesmerizing performance.
The screenplay by Terry Jones explores a coming-of-age story influenced by The Wizard of Oz, Alice In Wonderland, Outside Over There, and Where the Wild Things Are. Alex Thomson’s cinematography is beautiful, and Elliot Scott’s production design creates a diverse number of locations, including swamps, villages, and castle interiors (I especially loved the M.C. Escher-esque stairs and the Bog of Eternal Stench). The costume designs by Brian Froud and Ellis Flyte are stunning (especially the ones featured in the ballroom sequence), and John Grover’s editing moves the film at a good pace. The spectacular special effects are a seamless blend of practical effects, puppetry, and blue screen compositing. Trevor Jones delivers an eclectic score that complements the songs contributed by Bowie (As the World Falls Down is my favorite song of the bunch). Henson’s Labyrinth is a remarkable achievement that showcases an entertaining coming-of-age story as well as his boundless imagination. Although not a box office success, it has developed a cult following over the last 30 years and is now a classic fantasy film.