Test of Time: Labyrinth (1986)

We all have certain movies we love. Movies we respect without question because of either tradition, childhood love, or because they’ve always been classics. However, as time keeps ticking, do those classics still hold up? Do they continue to be must see? So…the point of this here column is how a film stands against the Test of Time, if the thing holds up for a modern horror audience.

Director: Director: Jim Henson 
Starring: David Bowie, Jennifer Connelly, and lots of puppets

The passing of David Bowie seemed like a universal sucker punch, and even though people die all the time, sometimes unfortunately a death slaps a big collective bunch of us (just like the death of the great Alan Rickman at age 69). I wasn’t old enough to enjoy Bowie at his creative peak, but I discovered his music in college and never turned back. Anyway, with his death at age 69, it seems like the right time to revisit perhaps his most well-known venture into feature films, the one that united him with two big time visionary filmmakers in Jim Henson and George Lucas.

Under the examination: LABYRINTH .

I see many Halloween outfits coming next year.

THE STORY: Bratty Sarah (a young Jennifer Connelly) is sick of her baby brother and her step mom, so she makes a wish to the Goblin King (Bowie) to take him away. I’m not quite sure how she knew about the Goblin King, but no matter: when she wishes, he actually shows up, takes the baby, and puts her into a mystical labyrinth world (even though she isn’t really surprised when she is transported to a new time and dimension). Once there, she has to find her way through the labyrinth in 13 hours or her baby brother will be turned into a little baby goblin. Things don’t go so smoothly as the Goblin King blocks her path at every way thanks to an assortment of characters who closely resemble Jim Henson puppets.

Still creepy. On many levels. 

WHAT STILL HOLDS UP: Written by Jim Henson, Dennis Lee (who composed all the music for FRAGGLE ROCK), and Terry Jones (the same guy from Monty Python though much of his contributions were rewritten), the story for LABYRINTH…well, really doesn’t matter all that much because what makes the film great is multifold in terms of characters, practical effects, set design, costumes, music, and creativity. Then there’s the force of Jim Henson, George Lucas, and David Bowie, which is a tough three-headed monster to argue with in terms of quality.

I listed characters first because that’s what stands out most from LABYRINTH. A good fantasy movie – which this obviously is, though a dark one – needs impressive and freakily unique creatures that can stand the test of time. And the film has plenty of that. My favorite is most likely many people’s favorite character: Ludo. Something is great about a massive monster with sensitive eyes, no? Chewbacca. Frankenstein's monster. Shrek. Harry Henderson. Ludo might not get the same kind of universal recognition those others receive, but damn he’s a great character (him walking across those fart rocks still makes me laugh) and makes me wish filmmakers would just stop the freakin overuse of CGI.

Oh, Ludo. 

Yeah, I know digital effects (by the way this movie has one of the first fully computer animated effects) look dandy and all while allowing stories to go places they never could, but not everything has to be that way. Come on…watch old Ludo lumber around. It’s fantastically odd and surreal, which can only come from real live puppets. This kind of eschewed weirdness that CGI can never recreate.

At the same time, it’s a damn shame the world lost Jim Henson almost 25 years ago because Hollywood could never duplicate his style. Not only was he one of the last great puppet makers, but he had his own creative design, look, and feel to his creations. Much like a Tim Burton (when he was still good), we don’t have enough distinct styles that truly seem other worldly. Jim Henson had that. And people can bash George Lucas all they want today, but his creative fingerprints are all over this thing. By the way, I always thought LABYRINTH was a massive hit, but eh… not so much. Made for around $25 million, it only pulled in a little more than $12 million at the box office, though something tells me it still earned cash in the home market.

Now that's a unique group of friends. 

As for David Bowie, well…what’s there to say. I could be a critical dick and talk about his super tight pants or the very weird dance musicals, but not today. Now I won’t claim Bowie was a genius actor, but no one can deny his charisma and charm. Other big time musicians have acted like Mick Jagger who has oozed charisma on stage for 50 years, but in a movie…eh, he’s always a little flat. Here, Bowie doesn’t have that problem. The guy looks like he’s enjoying the hell out of being the Goblin King, and why not. The guy dominates every scene he’s in though…perhaps being surrounded by puppets helps with that. Regardless, it’s a great performance, and one that’ll creep out kids for generations to come.

WHAT BLOWS NOW: LABYRINTH obviously is a kid’s movie which means things get a bit cheeseball. As much as I enjoy revisiting childhood movies, sometimes they seem to run a little long. I think Henson could have sliced off about 20 minutes. And I do have one question: What the hell does the Goblin King want with the baby? It’s a little weird when he’s chilling at his castle home base with a baby on his lap. Just saying… Also, as I said in the story recap, it really bugged me when Connelly finds herself transported to a new time and dimension and never looks surprised. Really? Not even mild shock? At least the WIZARD OF OZ gave Dorothy a few minutes to orientate herself.  

Looks like they're watching TV. 

THE VERDICT: Does LABYRINTH scream 1986 with that Bowie hair and inappropriate tight pants? You bet. Is it a dark kid’s movie? Yep. Do the talents of Henson, Lucas and Bowie help to elevate the film to make it something truly unique? Indeed. LABYRINTH is far from being the best movie ever produced, but it still retains the magic, and with the loss of Bowie and Henson, that magic will live on for years to come.  



No jokes. That's a great photo of powerful and creative folks right there. 



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