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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Labyrinth (1988)

Muppet puppeteer Jim Henson's second solo directional effort is his own distinct vision of a dream world that is visually stunning, but after awhile it becomes a mind-strainer that isn't nearly as mentally stimulating as it should be. Labyrinth is not a deep film, it is actually very innocent, it is the elaborate setting  that provides all of the depth. The plot is just a different take on the always popular theme of young children trying to leave their "terrible"  lives by escaping to a world of wonder and beauty. Sarah Williams (Jennifer Connelly) is a 15-years-old, she things the world is a harsh place so she lives in her own little world where she is a beautiful, beloved queen. Sarah hates he step-brother, Toby (Toby Froud), so to get rid of him she chants the sacred line "I wish the goblins would take you away...RIGHT NOW." And her wish is granded, Jareth King of the Goblins (David Bowie) takes Toby away and the only way she can get him back is if he solves the labyrinth and reaches his castle.

Jennifer Connelly is radiant in her breakthrough role as naive Sarah whose curiosity is always getting the better of her. Her performance is innocently sweet and caring, she does a wonderful job guiding us through Henson's fascinatingly weird world of tricks and mazes of the mind. As the Goblin King, Jareth, David Bowie is able to act the exact same way he does on stage as a one of the greatest performers ever. His performance isn't a sinister as a villain should be, but his numbers and deceptiveness are impressive. The real performances though are those of the puppeteers who effortlessly bring the creatures of Labyrinth to life.There is Hoggle (puppetry by Sheri Weiser and voice by Brian Henson) who is the gatekeeper/reluctant guide of the Labyrinth whose mischievious ways are a nice mix of sinister and sweet. Then there is the loving beast, Ludo (puppetry by Ron Mueck and Rob Mills and voice by Ron Mueck also). And the last of the major puppet creatures is the fox-like guard of the "Bog of Eternal Stench," Sir Didymus, (puppetry by Dave Goelz and David Barclay and voice by David Shoughessy) who is hilariously entertaining in all fight scenes. With only a few characters performed by action actresses/actors, it is the puppets that run the show. The endless supply of them becomes a entertaining charm for a film that really needs it.

Labyrinth had many great names involved in its making: co-produced by  George Lucas, wrote by Monty Python alum Terry Jones, the songs were performed by David Bowie, the score was composed by Trevor Jones -- prior to this film he composed the scores for both Time Bandits and Excalibur in 1981 -- and Jim Henson's already mentioned presence also added to the hype. With all these creative minds working, the problems with the story don't surprise me. So many artistic minds working on one film is a recipe for disaster. Jim Henson does seem to have the majority of the creative freedom, but I refuse to believe that having the previously mentioned personalities did not affect the weak points in the content of the film. Jones' witty humor, Bowie's strong, but extremely eccentric performance with Henson's puppetry and storytelling pace are constantly colliding on a one-way road to disappointment.

Over and over again I was impressed by the world Henson created; a different creature at every turn, visual tricks galore, and puppetry that works close to perfection with the live-action performances. There is so much to appreciate and praise from the filmmaking process of Labyrinth, but the end result doesn't hit home. Its length (101 minutes) drags on and the story has some weak spots where Henson seems to be showing off his talents unecessarily -- the "Fire Gang" scene being a perfect example. Films that are set in alternate worlds only work when the setting is used to its full potentian, a strong story is keeps the flow moving at a steady pace, and, most importantly, it keeps our attention. Labyrinth succeeds on only one of those requirements: its setting is used wonderfully. Unfortunately, the storytelling inconsistency makes leave Henson's handiwork all by its lonesome.


  1. Great blog! The only thing I might add is a section talking about you. Give some background about who you are, where your from, how long you’ve been a movie fan. Otherwise I like your blog every much. I enjoy your movie selections. I’ve seen most of these films and I will comment in the future. Keep up the good work!

    P.S. I like your Labyrinth review although I enjoyed the film more than you did. Seeing David Bowie with all those Muppets was pretty amusing. Incidentally, Jim Henson directed The Great Muppet Caper in 1981. That would make it his "first solo directional debut".

  2. Wow I actually want to see this! Seems pretty interesting good or bad. Splendid review adam!

  3. I think I've grown to like this film more as an adult than I did as a child. I still think it's quite an unsettling film - Henson's great characters are really creepy - those talking hands for example. And Bowie is a terrifying bad guy too! But I love the songs and the imagination that has gone into to it. I'd put this down as one of my favourite films from the 1980s.

  4. I agree with 95% of what you said, which is why I'm confused. I love the creature effects; I love Bowie; and it's a simple tale that can be enjoyed by everyone.

    Labyrinth is definitely not supposed to be mentally stimulating in the sense you seem to be getting at. It's praise every aspect of the movie except the story, but you didn't say what was wrong with it.

    "Its length (101 minutes) drags on and the story has some weak spots where Henson seems to be showing off his talents unecessarily -- the "Fire Gang" scene being a perfect example."

    What's wrong with that sequence? And what's wrong with the story in general? Baby brother gets kidnapped, sister has to go find him, gets trapped in a labyrinth, eventually saves baby brother. That's pretty much it.