Mar 22, 2013

[Movies] Labyrinth (1986)

It still weirds me out that I randomly bump into people who haven't seen Labyrinth. Yes, I concede the fact that the movie is a tad obscure by modern standards. Plus I need to be speaking to a relative age-peer for this to even work - there are a number of younger folks who have not been assaulted by David Bowie in spandex.

Then again, I also realized (like many good yet older movies) that I haven't gotten around to posting a review of the movie on this blog. It's for this very reason that I've dedicated two days for movie reviews - Mondays typically include the newer stuff while Fridays is when I celebrate the older ones. And this is a movie that fully deserves to be immortalized on this blog, in a manner of speaking.

And with luck, more of you geeks will go out and find a copy of this movie and experience it for yourselves. I promise you, it'll change your life, in a manner of speaking.

Synopsis: Labyrinth is a 1986 fantasy movie directed by Jim Henson based on a screenplay ultimately credited to Terry Jones. George Lucas was one of the movie's producers and many of the character designs came from Brian Froud.

The protagonist of our tale is the young Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) who is left to babysit her brother Toby. Due to a petty frustration, she draws inspiration from the play that she is preparing for (called The Labyrinth) and declares that she wishes the goblins would take her brother away. But then the goblins hear her and she is visited by Jareth, the Goblin King (David Bowie), who initially appears in the form of a barn owl.

His goblins have taken her brother Toby and the only way for her to get him back is to solve his labyrinth within 13 hours. If she fails, then her brother will be lost forever. Thus Sarah finds herself at the entrance of the Labyrinth with the Goblin King's castle looming far in the distance. She initially meets a dwarf named Hoggle (voiced by Brian Henson), but he doesn't have much help to offer her and thus she journeys into the Labyrinth alone.

The movie remains rather dark, although not quite as dark as Henson's prior theatrical effort, the equally beautiful The Dark Crystal. The various puppets that populate the magical world of Labyrinth are an odd mix of the cute and the disturbing - which makes sense given the works of Maurice Sendak were some of the many influences of the movie. And it's this appeal that helped define the movie and keep it so striking.

The pairing of Jennifer Connelly and David Bowie does make for a slightly disturbing image. After all, she was incredibly young at the time and David Bowie was just so...David Bowie. And those gray leggings of his left little to the imagination - and oddly drew a lot of screen time. I swear, the camera keeps going back there!

But yes, acting was still a mixed bag, especially for Connelly, but still not too bad given (1) her age and (2) the fact the sets were littered with puppets and furthermore (3) David Bowie's crotch.

Beyond the human characters, the movie had quite a number of interesting personalities that forever scarred colored my childhood for years to come. And for anyone to come up with all those ideas ranging from the little worm lady in the beginning to the helping hands scene - it defies belief how all those elements came together as this story. And every time I re-watch the movie I still get the chills with some of them and find myself laughing along at other times.

The movie was visually stunning - and I'm not just referring to that dizzying chase sequence towards the end. Each set was well done and in line with a singular aesthetic vision. It's a shame that the critics did not appreciate the movie when it first came out since I still feel it's quite the work of art. It wasn't until the movie hit the home video market that I think people really started to appreciate what we really had here.

This is not a children's movie - at least not one that I'd have a kid watch unsupervised. Beyond David Bowie's crotch, the movie does have a deeper meaning behind Sarah's journey and the various challenges and pitfalls that she faces in her efforts to save her brother represent her overall growth as an individual. But she won't truly appreciate that until much, much later.

Labyrinth is a delightfully dark fantasy piece. It has comedy, musical numbers, helping hands and of course lots and lots of amazing puppets. Thus the movie rates 4 dancing goblins out of a possible 5.

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