- by Jeff Beck
Labyrinth (30th Anniversary Edition): The Fantasy Classic Celebrates a Milestone (Blu-ray)
Jim Henson’s “Labyrinth” is one of those classic fantasy films that an entire generation has fond memories of growing up with. As one of those kids, I must have seen the film at least a few dozen times throughout my youth, and thoroughly enjoyed it as the vivid and bizarre experience it was always meant to be. Prior to rewatching it this week, it had probably been about ten years since I last saw the film, and with its 30th anniversary happening this year, it was the perfect time to go back and revisit a childhood favorite that I always had such affection for. But would it stand up to the test of time and still dazzle me as an older adult, or are those fond memories of the film destined to remain just that?
“Labyrinth” tells the story of a teenager, Sarah (Jennifer Connelly), who is forced to stay at home to watch her baby brother, Toby (Toby Froud), while her parents go out for the evening. In her frustration, she makes a plea for the Goblin King to come take Toby away, never imagining that he really would. She immediately regrets her decision and asks for him to be returned, resulting in Jareth (David Bowie), as the King is called, giving her 13 hours to solve a labyrinth leading to his castle and rescue the child, or else he will become a goblin. The labyrinth presents all kinds of interesting challenges, but with help from some friends she makes along the way, she never lets her determination waver in her quest to save her baby brother.
Coming back to a film like this after several years is something of a surreal experience, because you know it so well, and yet, there are parts that you just might not react to the same way as you did before. To be sure, Jim Henson’s extraordinary creations, in addition to his incredible team of puppeteers, are a large part of why the film works as well as it does, and are one of the top reasons why so many remember the film (undoubtedly causing more than a few nightmares for the younger crowd). Even after three decades, the creatures are still fascinating to watch, with the work holding up really well. Sure, there are moments throughout that are very cheesy and obvious (i.e. you can tell they’re trying to hide the puppeteers off screen), but that’s part of the film’s charm. It is a kids’ movie after all, though obviously its appeal has always gone beyond that of youngsters.
Then, of course, there’s the mesmerizing presence of the late, great David Bowie, singing songs that most of us still know the words to after all of these years. The songs were always rather hypnotic, and somewhat catchy, especially when it came to “Magic Dance.” Aside from his astounding musical ability, Bowie just seemed like the perfect fit for a fantastical role like this, utilizing his intriguing personality to deliver a memorable performance that blends right into the mystical setting. Indeed, he too is another reason the film is remembered as well as it is.
These are things that the film will always be remembered for, fondly or otherwise, but the interesting thing about rewatching this film after so long is the ability to come back to it with a fresh perspective, and alas that doesn’t always result in things looking as rosy as they once were. For instance, this time around, the story didn’t seem to hold up nearly as well, especially when it came to the final act. For the film’s first hour (out of an approximately 90-minute runtime), there are interesting obstacles, compelling characters, and plenty of excellent visuals to keep the viewer engaged, but when we come to the last 30 minutes or so, all we get is a rather forgettable battle in the Goblin City and a confrontation between Sarah and the Goblin King that leaves a little to be desired. It’s well-designed visually, as Sarah and Jareth navigate a room full of Escher-esque staircases, but it ends up playing more like a silly music video of the period, ending with a very quick exchange of words.
That being said, “Labyrinth” was always meant to be a more visually-stimulating film than one in which the narrative pulls you in. After all, the story is pretty basic (Teenager goes through labyrinth to rescue her brother), leaving it up to the design team to make something that will leave a lasting impression. Luckily for us, they certainly did, including a number of beloved characters like the shifty Hoggle, the big and loveable Ludo, and the feisty, yet noble, Sir Didymus. It’s characters like these that make you want to come back and revisit the film, for you feel like you come to know them after this amazing and brief journey. This is not even to mention the film’s stunning production design that puts these characters in one strange location after another as they make their way deeper and deeper into the titular maze.
And so, on this occasion, I find that “Labyrinth” does still hold up very well as far as its excellent creature and set designs go, and the music and characters are still as great as they ever were, but in terms of its narrative, the last part of the film could have definitely used a little retooling to make the climax and conclusion stronger than they are. This is probably why this is the part of the film I remembered the least, providing very little that’s as memorable as what comes before it. However, as mentioned, there’s still plenty here to enjoy. “Labyrinth” is the kind of film that’s always going to have a devoted legion of fans, and now with it being re-released for its 30th anniversary, it will more than likely garner many more. It remains a classic of the fantasy genre, and even after many more years have gone by, that’s simply never going to change.
“Labyrinth” comes to Blu-ray in a 2.35:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of excellent quality. Using the original 35mm camera negative as the source, the film was fully restored at 4K resolution, enhancing all of its rich detail and truly making it look better than it ever has before. There remains a little grain in the image throughout, but that’s to be expected of a film that’s this old, and besides, it does nothing to interfere with the film’s outstanding new look. The Dolby Atmos audio is also a significant improvement, giving new clarity to the dialogue, David Bowie’s songs, and Trevor Jones’ score. Overall, the fans will no doubt be extremely pleased with the outstanding treatment the film has received.
Commentary by Conceptual Designer Brian Froud: A decent commentary that has Froud giving you some interesting background on the film.
Reordering Time: Looking Back at Labyrinth (10 Minutes): A fantastic look behind the scenes at the making of the film, featuring new interviews with Jennifer Connelly, Brian Henson, and more. Also features a lot of neat footage shot on set.
The Henson Legacy (11 Minutes): A featurette that has the Henson family reflecting on their father’s incredible career.
Remembering the Goblin King (5 Minutes): A sweet featurette that has Jennifer Connelly and others looking back at working with the great David Bowie.
Anniversary Q&A (41 Minutes): An interesting Q&A with some of the puppeteers/vocal performers. Moderated by Adam Savage.
Inside the Labyrinth (56 Minutes): An excellent vintage “Making of” featurette that features tons of behind the scenes footage and archival interviews with the cast and crew.
Journey through the Labyrinth: Kingdom of Characters (28 Minutes): A fascinating featurette that has the crew discussing how the film’s multiple memorable characters were created. Also features lots of character test footage.
Journey through the Labyrinth: The Quest for the Goblin City (30 Minutes): Another “Making of” featurette that explores areas such as the film’s origins, Jennifer Connelly’s performance, and creating the characters.
The Storytellers – Picture in Picture: This gives you the option to watch the film with crew commentary, which pops up every now and again throughout.
Booklet: Built right into the film’s case is a booklet filled with lots of info about the film, including some interesting behind the scenes tidbits and an interview with David Bowie.
Even after 30 years, “Labyrinth” remains a fantasy classic, utilizing its beloved characters, unique creature and set designs, and a charming performance from David Bowie to deliver a memorable film filled with magical elements. The story might not be able to stand up to the incredible world that Henson and his team created, but in the end, this is a film that is more so about the visual experience, and because of that, it has stood the test of time.
Now available on Special Edition Blu-ray.
Follow me on Twitter @BeckFilmCritic.