Made in 1986 Labyrinth is principally populated by puppets with there actually being only two human characters, a girl Sarah played by Jennifer Connolly, and the late David Bowie as Jareth, the Goblin King. The film was directed by Jim Henson with George Lucas as Executive Producer.
For a long time this film had escaped my notice, and I knew nothing about it. However following the recent death of David Bowie some of my skin sack’s friends were talking about the film and how good it was. As a tribute to one of its stars the film was put on TV and so I decided that now would be as good a time as any so I sat down to watch it.
Now as you know I have had issues with stuff that friends have recommended in the past (like Uncharted for example) so when someone I know advises me to watch something my eyebrow will arch and I will approach with caution...so will this fail to live up to my expectations…??
Well join me as we enter the Labyrinth to find out…
The film starts with the 15-year old Sarah rehearsing a play about a Goblin King when she suddenly realises she is late for babysitting her half-baby brother Toby. She rushed home but has a tantrum when her step-mother chastises her about her being late, and stomping into her room she realises one of her teddy bears has gone missing. Her father and step mother go out and she goes into Toby’s room to retrieve her teddy but gets frustrated when he won’t stop crying. Holding up the child she asks the Goblin King to come and take the baby away from her.
The Goblin King himself, Jareth, appears and grants her wish taking away her baby brother to his castle beyond the labyrinth. Sarah tries to explain that she didn’t mean what she said and asks Jareth to return Toby to her. Instead he transports them both to his world where he tells her that he will give her 13 hours to solve the labyrinth, if she does and gets to his castle, then he will return the child. If she fails then her brother will become a goblin himself.
Sarah sets off into the labyrinth knowing her time is ticking away as she tries to find her brother before it is too late, fortunately along the way she does encounter friendly creatures to help her on her quest…
Before we go any further I am going to address something…David Bowie was a great performer, and whilst I would be lying if I said I was a big fan of his, I can appreciate who he was and the effort he put into his work. He had a style all his own and in the case of Labyrinth he is perfectly suited to play the Goblin King…BUT…the costume he wears is a tad distracting…
Can you see it??
Yes the outfit does not exactly leave anything to the imagination regarding what Bowie has between his legs, thankfully, you will learn to ignore it as the film goes on. However, I can’t help but think that it wouldn’t have taken much to give him slightly baggier trousers or get him to wear a box.
Right, now that is out of the way let me talk about the film…I thought it was great…so I guess you can click off this review right now. But if you want to know why the film managed to win me over then continue reading and I will explain it to you…
It is one of those films in which the story itself is largely irrelevant because it is more about creating something new and unique. Sarah offering up her brother to the Goblin King from her book and then being whisked away to the labyrinth is something she just takes in her stride. She doesn’t really question it and quickly undertakes the task of venturing into the labyrinth to find the brother she didn’t seem to care about anyway.
Is she dreaming?? No idea.
Is she acting out a play by herself and imagining everything happening to her is real?? Possibly.
Is she just insane and what we don’t see is her in a padded room being restrained by a straight jacket?? Maybe
You could ask so many question about the plot and story but the simple fact is that you don’t want to. Every single one of the creatures Sarah encounters are unique, the design of them is beautiful and as the film is directed by Jim Henson (the guy behind the Muppets) all of them are practical effects. Literally everything in the film has a distinct personality including a couple of door knockers, yes, door knockers have their own character.
There are plenty of songs all of which were written and performed by David Bowie himself and like the visuals in the film they fit in with the beautifully varied world of the film. The Labyrinth itself changes from being more maze like, to dark tunnels, to sunny hedges and even a forest. For the majority of the proceedings the look and the design of the environment plus the songs are all damn near perfect…personally the sequence in which they encounter Sir Didymus who refuses to allow Sarah and her companions to cross a bridge without his permission made me laugh out loud.
The names of things within the labyrinth itself are also widely creative, I love the “Bog of Eternal Stench” and if any part of the bog gets into someone then they will smell for the rest of their lives…such a thing is genius, and is just one example of what Sarah encounters as she travels deeper and deeper into labyrinth.
The film is not flawless and as creative as it is and as much as I enjoyed the different creatures, there was one sequence which I really didn’t like. As Sarah enters a forest she encounters these weird red bird-like creatures that can pull their own heads off and throw them around. Now aside from the fact that when they encounter Sarah they attempt to pull her head off too, their song is filmed using a really, really, really bad green screen effect. The 3D effects is Jaw 3D looked more believable, I honestly have got no idea why someone who has found success with practical effects namely Jim Henson would suddenly throw in a completely out of place green screen effect. Plus I really did not like the Firey’s themselves, pulling their heads off and throwing them around more creeped me out then bowled me over with their design and song.
Plus the sequence in which Sarah wakes up in her room and thinks that she may have just been dreaming falls pretty flat…maybe this was supposed to throw the audience off but it is just so rushed that not for a second did I believe that is what the film was really going for. Thus the scene itself is pointless and doesn’t really add anything as within moments Sarah is once again on her way to the Goblin Castle.
As for Sarah herself, I did not really like her initially, she is selfish and only wants to do what she wants to do. I don’t know exactly what she was expecting would happen when she offered her brother to the Goblin King but as it wasn’t for the King himself to appear and take him away what did she actually think would happen. Still, like a tumour she does grow on you so you aren’t in a situation where you are supposed to be rooting for a character you really disliked.
So the film does drop the ball a couple of times, and I have honestly no idea if everything is happening inside Sarah’s head as she is having a seizure or just straight up dreaming, but like I said, I don’t care about such details. It is almost like Jim Henson is saying to the audience: “Look she’s trying to find her brother who has been taken by the Goblin King, now just sit back, relax and let me show you how creative I can be and what a talented actor and singer Bowie is [or was]”. I for one am absolutely fine with that. I really enjoyed this film and if you are not familiar with it then I urge you to track it down because like me I am sure you’ll get lost in the sheer creativity that has gone into each and every scene.
Yes, Bowie’s costume is a little distracting and yes the film does occasionally misstep but on the whole I thought it was so wonderfully creative that I did not care about such details. I think to give anything other than a Thumbs Up would be a massive injustice to this master class of creative ideas and very catchy songs starring the late and defiantly great David Bowie.
8/10 – Labyrinth is a beautifully made film with wonderfully creative creatures. Bowie’s talent for both acting and singing are at the forefront here as he gives Sarah the chance to solve his labyrinth and save her baby brother.