Wednesday, October 10, 2012


Directed by Jim Henson and screenplay by Terry Jones from a story by Henson and Dennis Lee, Labyrinth is the story of a teenage girl who goes into a strange world to rescue her infant brother from an evil king. The film is a fantasy feature that features puppetry and animatronics to explore a world a young girl has to venture into. Starring David Bowie, Jennifer Connelly, Toby Froud, Christopher Malcolm, and Shelley Thompson. Labyrinth is an extraordinary film from Jim Henson.

Coming home late while reciting lines from a play, Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) has to take care of her baby brother Toby (Toby Froud) as she’s frustrated with her stepmother (Shelley Thompson). With her stepmother and father (Christopher Malcolm) out, Sarah learns that Toby has her teddy bear Lancelot as she wishes for Toby to be taken away by goblins and its king Jareth (David Bowie). Sarah’s wish comes true as Jareth appears to her saying he has Toby. Sarah decides she wants Toby back as Jareth makes a deal that if she reaches the Goblin castle through the labyrinth maze, he can give Toby back to her. Sarah enters the maze as she finds herself lost in this strange world as she meets a cowardly dwarf named Hoggle (the voice of Brian Henson) who reluctantly helps her.

While going on the maze, Sarah learns that the world she is surrounded by is a cruel place where rules often change as she has great difficulty trying to get to the Goblin City. After freeing a beast named Ludo (the voice of Ron Mueck), Ludo joins Sarah and Hoggle through the maze where they encounter strange forests and creatures including a brave fox-like knight named Sir Didymium (the voice of David Shaughnessy) and his sheep dog Ambrosius (the voice of Percy Edwards) who joins them on the quest. With Hoggle having Jareth appear to him, he reluctantly serves his part for Jareth where Sarah eats a peach that is poisoned where she goes into a trance-like state. Realizing what Jareth is trying to do, Sarah decides to forge ahead to save her brother from Jareth and the goblins.

The film is a fantasy story that revolves around this young teenage girl who is in love with the world of fantasy and dreams of escaping a life from her difficult stepmother and her spoiled baby brother. When she wishes for her brother to be taken away, she gets her wish only to realize that she is causing trouble as she hopes to retrieve him back from a goblin king. It’s a premise that is typical of fantasy films but it is one that manages to invest a lot of stakes involved for the audience to be invested in. Even as the story incorporates elements of humor and musical numbers to keep things interesting throughout the course of the story.

Terry Jones’ screenplay, that features additional work from George Lucas, Elaine May, and Laura Phillips, features a lot of humor that is very offbeat in terms of the characters that Sarah meets. Yet, Jones does manage to play up that sense of fantasy where the rules and stakes often change throughout as it would play to Sarah’s development in how she has to face the idea of both fantasy and reality. With the help of some creatures she meets along the way, she would go on this journey to save her brother while eventually making decisions that would impact the journey. While Sarah is a flawed character because she’s young, impulsive, and selfish at times, she eventually grows into a young woman who understands what is really important. While there’s not much development in the antagonist Jareth, the character is still compelling enough to understand his motivations as well as the fact that he’s just a villain that just wants a baby.

Jim Henson’s direction is truly a marvel to watch for the scenes he created in this very magical and offbeat fantasy world. Through some amazing wide shots of that world along with some stylistic ones including a climatic scene between Sarah and Jareth in this labyrinth room, Henson manages to find ways to make the action engaging as well as adding suspense to the scenes. There’s also moments where Henson creates unique compositions for the musical numbers including a scene where Sarah is at a party held by Jareth that is a truly enchanting moment. The humor is definitely inspired by the antics of Monty Python as it definitely plays to the whimsical world that Sarah encounters. Overall, Henson creates a very dazzling and exotic film that appeals to a wide audience as well as create a story that isn’t heavy-handed in its message.

Cinematographer Alex Thomson does superb work with the photography from the evocative lighting schemes for the fantasy world to array of dark lights in the junkyard scene. Editor John Grover does brilliant work with the editing to play up the suspense and energy of the film that includes some dizzying montages in the fantasy scene between Sarah and Jareth. Production designer Elliot Scott does spectacular work with the set pieces such as the Goblin castle and its city along with the design of the maze, forests, and stench of eternity river.

Costume designers Ellis Flyte and Brian Froud does some wonderful work with the costumes for the look of Jareth as well as the dress Sarah wears in her fantasy scene with Froud also providing many of the film‘s conceptual design work. Makeup artist Nick Dudman does some nice work with the look of Jareth from the big hair and makeup that the character sports. The visual effects work of David McCall is pretty good for some of the film‘s strange sequences like Sarah‘s encounters with the Fiery creatures despite the fact that some of the work is quite primitive for its time. Sound mixer Peter Sutton does terrific work with the sound to capture the atmosphere of the locations as well as the chaos in the climatic battle scene at Goblin city.

The film’s score by Trevor Jones is excellent for its mixture of 80s synth-pop with bombastic arrangements to play up the sense of adventure that occurs in the film as well as the suspenseful moments. The original songs by David Bowie are quite stellar as the songs are quite catchy and memorable as it plays to Bowie’s strength as an artist as it’s among some of his better work in the much-maligned period he had in the mid to late 1980s.

The casting by Jane Jenkins is amazing for the ensemble that is created as it features some notable small performances from Christopher Malcolm and Shelley Thompson as Sarah’s father and stepmother, respectively, as well as Toby Froud as Sarah’s baby brother Toby. Many of the film’s puppet work features several voice work from Brian Henson, Percy Edwards, David Shaughnessy, Ron Mueck, and Kevin Clash along with puppetry work by Clash, Frank Oz, and many others. Jennifer Connelly is superb as Sarah by exemplifying a lot of the angst and naivete of her character only to grow into a mature woman who realizes that she has to balance the real world with the fantasy world. Finally, there’s David Bowie in marvelous performance as Jareth by displaying a sense of charm and physicality as a villain while also proving to be a cunning manipulator as it’s definitely one of Bowie’s great performances.

Labyrinth is a spellbinding film from Jim Henson that features top-notch performances from David Bowie and Jennifer Connelly. The film is definitely among one of Henson’s best work that appeals to children and adults as well as fans of fantasy films. The film is also a very entertaining piece that blends fantasy with comedy, suspense, and musical numbers that are fun to watch. In the end, Labyrinth is a remarkable film from Jim Henson.

Jim Henson Films: (Hey, Cinderella!) - (The Frog Prince) - (The Muppet Musicians of Breman) - (Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas) - (The Great Muppet Caper) - The Dark Crystal - (The Tale of the Bunny Picnic) - (Muppet*Vision 3D)

Related: Labyrinth (soundtrack)

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