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Why It Works: Labyrinth

01.22.2016
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Why It Works is an ongoing column which breaks down some of the most acclaimed films in history and explores what makes them so iconic, groundbreaking, and memorable.

****SPOILERS AHEAD****

Well, if you like awesome people, the past few weeks have been a bitch. Among others, we lost the great Alan Rickman and the legendary David Bowie. Look for some Rickman love in next week's Face-Off, but today we're looking at the Thin White Duke's turn in Jim Henson's wonderfully weird LABYRINTH. Starring David Bowie, Jennifer Connelly, and a bunch of puppets, produced by George Lucas, written by Monty Python member Terry Jones, and directed by Henson himself, LABYRINTH captured imaginations and transfixed a generation. Here's why it works:

WHY WE LIKE THE CHARACTERS:

"For my will is as strong as yours, my kingdom as great... Damn. I can never remember that line." LABYRINTH opens on a young maiden in a glade confronting her adversary... until she forgets a line and we realize Sarah is just a young girl in a park reciting from a book she loves. As with most normal-person-in-a-fantasy-land stories, we identify with Sarah as the frustrated protagonist who imagines a life more exciting than her own. Sure, Sarah can come across as a bit whiny, and she shows no love for her baby half-brother Toby, but once Toby is taken into the Labyrinth, she quickly reveals herself as a selfless character prepared to do what's right.

Raise your hand if this was your first celebrity crush.

Atop his throne in the castle at the center of the Labyrinth sits Jareth, the Goblin King. While Jareth is in many ways a classic villain, stealing babies and tormenting his subjects, he also represents what's going on in Sarah's real life (more on this later). Whether Jareth represents a sexual awakening for Sarah or simply the inevitability of adulthood, it reveals why he is such a complicated character-simultaneously scary, charming, fun, aggressive, fascinating, and oddly obliging. Beyond Jareth and Sarah, the Labyrinth is full of distinctive side characters, from the trio of the kind but duplicitous Hoggle, the lovably oafish Ludo, and the noble Sir Didymus to the affable worm, the wiseman and his hat, the enigmatic door guards, the deceitful junk lady, the Fire Gang, and a host of bumbling goblins. Seriously, what's not to like? Most movies have like zero goblins.

"And remember, fair maiden, should you need us..."

WHY WE CARE:

For as wacky as LABYRINTH can be, we have a very primal and real objective to keep us grounded. Sarah's brother has been taken, and she only has 13 hours in which to save him. Granted, the story goes off-roading left and right, giving us whatever musical number or dream sequence it feels like at the time, but we are never unsure of what our heroine needs or the urgency of the situation at hand. Along the way, we remain engaged as Sarah comes across countless creatures, locations, and puzzles. While a film purist could argue that things like songs and other disjointed scenes that don't drive the plot forward or develop character make for a bad film, LABYRINTH keeps these detours fun, interesting, and peppered throughout the real story. Also, shut up, those people.

A completely unnecessary scene, but the film would certainly be worse off without it.

WHY WE'RE SATISFIED:

Okay, so Sarah defeats Jareth, gets her brother back, and celebrates with a puppet slumber party; fine. Here's the thing, though. LABYRINTH is all a dream. Sorry, but it is. If you look closely in the establishing shots of Sarah's bedroom, you can see a Hoggle bookend, a stuffed Sir Didymus (whose dog Ambrosious is basically Sarah's dog Merlin), a stuffed Ludo (as well as a copy of Where The Wild Things Are), a labyrinth game, a Jareth figurine, M.C. Escher's Relativity, a ballgoer music box, a stuffed firey, a slew of fairy tale books, and playbills from several musicals her mother once starred in. What's more is that several newspaper clippings show Sarah's mother with her on and off stage lover, who happens to bear a striking resemblance to- you guessed it- David Bowie. We don't know to what degree Sarah's mother is absent from her life, but it becomes very clear that LABYRINTH is about a girl coming to terms with the real world by way of an imagined one. Toby is a product of her father's marriage to a new woman, and the villain of the story takes the face of her mother's lover.

Fun fact: Jim Henson strongly considered both Sting and Michael Jackson for the role of Jareth.

At the end of the film, we see Sarah putting various items into a drawer, including clippings of her mother, her music box, and the Labyrinth book. While none of this is expressly mentioned in the film, we understand that Sarah has reached a point of acceptance and can let go of some things as a result. Right at this point, however, Ludo, Hoggle, and Didymus appear to Sarah, resulting in her admission that she still needs them. This is where the whole it-was-all-a-dream thing becomes satisfying rather than disappointing. For one, it's only implied (rather than shoved down your throat in an "ooh, bet you didn't see that coming" moment), which allows us to focus on the plot the first time through and appreciate its significance in later viewings. More importantly, though, is that imagination is not just the device through which the story is delivered; it's the point of the story. We must cope with reality, and living in a fantasy world is maybe not the best way to do that... but imagination and dreams are still vital to living a beautiful life and should not be forgotten as the burdens of the real world weigh us down.

Come on, people. Tell me this isn't still great.

WHY WE REMEMBER:

Too often artistic projects with a dream creative team fail to equal the sum of their parts and end up disappointments as a result. Fortunately, with plenty of silly Python-esque humor from Terry Jones, great performances from Jennifer Connelly and David Bowie, memorable songs written and performed by Bowie, and the wonderful world from the minds of Jim Henson, George Lucas, and conceptual designer Brian Froud, LABYRINTH is an exception. It should also be noted that LABYRINTH joins a heap of 80's movies which, despite being targeted toward children, are stranger and, at times, creepier than most films out there. In the age of fluffy, forgettable, CGI kids' fare, it's nice to look back on films that weren't afraid to push the envelope and gray the boundary between childhood and adulthood. Between LABYRINTH turning 30 this summer and the passing of the incomparable David Bowie, expect to see plenty of tributes and celebrations over the coming months, all of which are well-deserved.

Thoughts? What else worked for you? What didn't? Strike back below!

If you have any movies you'd like to see put under the microscope, let us know below or send me an email at brianbitner@joblo.com.

CLICK IMAGE TO OPEN GALLERY & SEE MORE PICS...

Source: JoBlo.com

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11:38AM on 01/22/2016
I absolutely love this movie. I hadn't noticed all the little details, but then again, it's been a white (I'm one of the few who has it but didn't pull it out the moment I got the sad news -- it's on my to-do list). As movies about the trials and tribulations of being a teenage girl on the cusp of adulthood go, I'm still impressed how clearly that theme is explored.
I absolutely love this movie. I hadn't noticed all the little details, but then again, it's been a white (I'm one of the few who has it but didn't pull it out the moment I got the sad news -- it's on my to-do list). As movies about the trials and tribulations of being a teenage girl on the cusp of adulthood go, I'm still impressed how clearly that theme is explored.
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11:11AM on 01/22/2016

Interesting take on a heroes quest

One thing I really enjoyed, that took my young mind several viewings to catch, was that everything Jareth did was to please Sarah. He even mentions how he's exhausted himself living up to her expectations. That's why she wasn't able to save Toby until it was truly what she wanted to do at the end. She took responsibility for what was happening and recognized that she was the one with the power.

I think that was a great twist on the traditional heroes quest. That the antagonist is only bad
One thing I really enjoyed, that took my young mind several viewings to catch, was that everything Jareth did was to please Sarah. He even mentions how he's exhausted himself living up to her expectations. That's why she wasn't able to save Toby until it was truly what she wanted to do at the end. She took responsibility for what was happening and recognized that she was the one with the power.

I think that was a great twist on the traditional heroes quest. That the antagonist is only bad because it's what the protagonist needs so they can have their epic story.
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9:21AM on 01/22/2016
Sure, I remember it more for having a major crush on Jennifer Connelly at the time but it really was a great movie. What's not to love about it?
Sure, I remember it more for having a major crush on Jennifer Connelly at the time but it really was a great movie. What's not to love about it?
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8:40AM on 01/22/2016

LABYRINTH is a YA movie, rather than a kids film

At its heart, it's the story of a girl growing up and letting go of her fantasy world. Viewed in that light, the movie really is a classic film whose themes resonate still today. Both David Bowie and Jennifer Connelly have rarely been better - yes, I fell in love with Jennifer when seeing this film for the first time.

In that light, I have to disagree with your assessment that the masquerade scEene was unnecessary. Most girls dream of being the pretty princess at the ball, wooed by a
At its heart, it's the story of a girl growing up and letting go of her fantasy world. Viewed in that light, the movie really is a classic film whose themes resonate still today. Both David Bowie and Jennifer Connelly have rarely been better - yes, I fell in love with Jennifer when seeing this film for the first time.

In that light, I have to disagree with your assessment that the masquerade scEene was unnecessary. Most girls dream of being the pretty princess at the ball, wooed by a mysterious stranger, and that sequence brings that fantasy to life. It also shows that Jareth is in love with her, and wants to keep her in the bubble forever. Sarah's smashing her way out of this teen fantasy to go rescue her brother is another essential element in her path towards maturity. Now, if you'd called out that song-and-dance with the goblins throwing their heads around, I'd agree with you.
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1:01PM on 01/22/2016
Oh, I definitely think it's a necessary scene to tell the story. I just meant it could be deemed unnecessary from a Screenwriting 101 standpoint. The fact that this movie breaks those rules in favor of telling the emotional story is part of what makes it great. Thanks for reading!
Oh, I definitely think it's a necessary scene to tell the story. I just meant it could be deemed unnecessary from a Screenwriting 101 standpoint. The fact that this movie breaks those rules in favor of telling the emotional story is part of what makes it great. Thanks for reading!
3:36AM on 01/22/2016
Labyrinth, along with a lot of 80's "kids", movies work because they don't treat children like pampered fragile little coddled shitbags that can't handle anything shocking or offensive or not all perfect sunshine and rainbows. Yeah that sentence was a rant but movies like this, The Neverending Story, and The Dark Crystal owned my childhood. Yet today if they tried to get released they'd probably be rated R. That being said this was, and still is, one of my favorite movies all time. Bowie is a
Labyrinth, along with a lot of 80's "kids", movies work because they don't treat children like pampered fragile little coddled shitbags that can't handle anything shocking or offensive or not all perfect sunshine and rainbows. Yeah that sentence was a rant but movies like this, The Neverending Story, and The Dark Crystal owned my childhood. Yet today if they tried to get released they'd probably be rated R. That being said this was, and still is, one of my favorite movies all time. Bowie is a god.
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5:23AM on 01/22/2016
Imagine that if The Land Before Time (the first movie, not sequels) were to be released in present day, the studio would receive a very large amount of complaint for mistreating the protagonist's mother. Unlike us, 80s kids can endure such pain.
Imagine that if The Land Before Time (the first movie, not sequels) were to be released in present day, the studio would receive a very large amount of complaint for mistreating the protagonist's mother. Unlike us, 80s kids can endure such pain.
2:28AM on 01/22/2016
For me, Labyrinth works because it was made in the 1980s with mostly practical special effects instead of CGI. These special effects are tangible and look very real, unlike CGI we have nowadays. They just don't make movies like Labyrinth or even The Never Ending Story anymore.
For me, Labyrinth works because it was made in the 1980s with mostly practical special effects instead of CGI. These special effects are tangible and look very real, unlike CGI we have nowadays. They just don't make movies like Labyrinth or even The Never Ending Story anymore.
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