Technically, LABYRINTH remains an unmatched achievement. Jim Henson’s tireless, unbelievably detailed creature work is phenomenal. Everything from the gigantic Ludo to the diminutive Hoggle is flawlessly realized, vibrant and believably alive. It’s the kind old fashioned practical effects that are sorely missed in CG-filled movies today. Aside from the Muppets, there’s other stuff to like. Many of the characters and sequences are fun, with tons of creative cool on display. The corridor of “helping” hands, the visual illusions and the LSD-laced sequence with the head switching puppets are exciting to see brought to life.
Unfortunately, all that goodness is wasted on a poor story and as a cohesive narrative, LABYRINTH loses the viewer. Jim Henson may be a creative genius and master puppeteer, but he’s not a particularly good director. The story plods along between set pieces without any nuance, the human acting is more stilted then the characters made of rubber and plaster, and there are parts that reach Kraft macaroni levels of cheesiness. I like David Bowie as a singer, but the 80s song and dance numbers here are just awkward and creepy. (A 40 year old dude singing love songs to a teenage girl…c’mon!)
Things start off on the wrong foot with the main character Sarah being dangerously annoying. She continues to be whiny and thankless for the majority of the time, which didn’t exactly suck me in to her adventure. It also doesn’t help that the fairy tale “logic” the film sets up for itself seems to be randomly discarded. LABYRINTH is a movie about blurring the lines between imagination and reality, but the idea was clumsily handled. I very much appreciate the concept of being forced to grow up against one’s will, and I get that the two worlds are connected (pay attention to Sarah’s room at the beginning), but overall whatever magical message Henson was suggesting just didn’t click for me. As a result the final confrontation with the Goblin King is a total copout.
I love a good fantasy movie and was sincerely looking forward to being transported back to the magical world of Jim Henson, but only found myself thinking that if I want a LABYRINTH, I’ll gladly take PAN’S over David Bowie’s.
Commentary by conceptual designer (and Toby’s dad) Brian Froud: This is probably one of the only movies where a design artist has enough to say to fill an entire commentary. Froud takes his time explaining the craft behind the Muppeteering, where the ideas for the film originally came from, as well as plenty of trivia and facts for fans.
Inside the LABYRINTH (56:22): This documentary, from the time of the movie’s original theatrical release, is almost more interesting than the final film itself. Behind the scenes footage and interviews go over pretty much every set piece, character and creature. It’s pretty incredible to see all the puppeteering and Jim Henson managing all the chaos, with some Muppets taking two or three people to maneuver. As a bonus you also get David Bowie in the studio, being…well, David Bowie.
Kingdom of Characters (27:56): A more in-depth look at the puppet characters, including lots of early test footage and current interviews with the crew and producer George Lucas.
Quest for the Goblin City (30:01): Another current retrospective on the filming and creature/set design, featuring even more behind the scenes stuff.
Six different Galleries and a handful of Previews round out the disc
Extra Tidbit: David Bowie’s codpiece. There. Now when you watch LABYRINTH and see Jareth the Goblin King, you won’t be able to look at anything other than his crotch.