August 10, 2016 Finding The Center Of Labyrinth 30 Years Later
“Everything I’ve done, I’ve done for you. I move the stars for no one,” warns the Goblin King, Jareth (David Bowie: The Hunger 1983, The Prestige 2006) to young Sarah (Jennifer Connelly: Career Opportunities 1991, The Day the Earth Stood Still 2008) in the 1986 British/American Fantasy Adventure Labyrinth. Directed and co-written by the late legendary puppeteer, Jim Henson, creator of The Muppets, Labyrinth was produced by Eric Rattray (First Knight 1995) from a screenplay written by comedic writer Terry Jones (Monty Python and the Holy Grail 1975, Erik the Viking 1989). Coming four years after Henson’s 1982 Fantasy film Dark Crystal, Labyrinth was released via TriStar Pictures on June 27, 1986. Met by mixed reviews initially, Labyrinth has no doubt found an audience through the years as it celebrates its 30th anniversary in 2016.
Labyrinth starts with Sarah’s (Connelly) dad (Christopher Malcolm: The Empire Strikes Back 1980) and stepmom (Shelley Thompson: Trailer Park Boys: The Movie 2006) interrupting her roleplay to babysit her baby brother Toby (Toby Froud) while they go to one of their functions. Immediately, Toby starts crying, and on impulse, Sarah wishes the Goblin King (Bowie) would take him away. Suddenly, the lights go out, and when they come back on, Toby is gone. She wishes him back, but Jareth tells her, “What’s done, can’t be undone.” However, he tells her if she can get through the labyrinth to his castle, she can have her brother back. Can Sarah find her way through the Labyrinth and save Toby from being turned into a Goblin?
When production began, the working script was a joint effort of Henson, George Lucas from Star Wars fame, Laura Phillips, and Elaine May (Heaven Can Wait 1978, The Birdcage 1996), a process that went through twenty-five treatments from 1983 to 1985, and went right to the 11th hour. Bowie, who had been tapped early in the project’s inception, was pivotal in molding the finished product.
That in mind, casting went through several iterations for the character of Sarah. Eventually, the part went to American actress Connelly, to the British Bowie, in hopes of making the film more marketable. Connelly was 14 year of age at the time, so her reactions to her world were spot on. Aside from Sarah, her parents and Jareth were the only human characters. Sarah’s parents are typical while Jareth has a fun, dark humor to him with a matter-of-fact honesty to him. Initially, Connelly and Bowie had trouble working with the puppets, but by the end of the five month shoot they had grown accustomed to their cloth-covered co-stars. The puppets are a menagerie of the familiar with the look of the Goblins like Hoggle, a fully realized puppet with Sheri Weiser in the suit while Henson’s son Brian did the voice to the strange-like The Fireys that were tall, feathery beings, whose limbs remove. Interestingly enough, the owl soaring in during the opening credits is the first time a computer generated animal showed in a film.
Considered very much a musical, the music of Labyrinth played a vital part in the film’s effectiveness. A combined effort musically between Rockstar Bowie and Film Score Composer Trevor Jones, the songs played/performed throughout the film are simply unforgettable. Naturally, Bowie is highlighted with his singing talent that adds narrative to the tracks ranging from upbeat “Magic Dance” to the ballad-esque “Within You.” In fact, one would be lying if they said they did not dance in front of their television screen while watching Labyrinth as a child and acting out the scenes. This could especially be said during the memorable scene where The Fireys explain their approach to life in the song “Chilly Down.”
While certainly more of a children’s film, the world Henson’s created is whimsical and scary at the same time, to a point that Sarah could conceivably fail at saving Toby with long shots to show the vastness of the Labyrinth. Then, inside the Labyrinth, Henson used artist M.C. Escher’s Relativity (1953) for the endless maze of stairs to further make saving Toby impossible. On the same note, the real world sets, which were shot in West Wycombe Park, West Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, England, UK, are beautiful in their normalness. So, while the world and puppets may be a little frightening, their humorous nature and dialectic balance it out for a light-hearted feeling that help even the smallest of children see the realization of the Fantasy. Most of all, it provides laughter, fun, and music.
From the year Labyrinth was released, merchandising has kept the film in the public eye beginning with 1986’s computer game that was a tie-in to the endless t-shirts and toys on the market to this day. Then, the film has been referenced to many times throughout in other areas of film/Pop Culture. For instance, the 1988 Spanish film, Super Xuxa Contra o Baixo Astral, where a Gypsy caterpillar warns Xuxa that things are not what they seem. Another example is 2005’s Mirrormask when a performer spins glass globes over each other like Jareth does.
In addition, the Manga publisher TokyoPop released a four-book graphic novel series that ran from 2006 to 2010, titled Return to Labyrinth, that centered on Jareth courting a teen Toby to be his heir to the throne. Since Labyrinth’s release, a sequel has been batted around, but with the tragic passing of Bowie at the beginning of 2016, fear is that it would never come to pass. However, weeks following Bowie’s death, TriStar Pictures closed a deal with The Jim Henson Co. to in fact make the sequel a reality. That in mind, it will reportedly be a sequel to the original, and not a reboot.
All in all, while some Fantasy genre films tend to drag along, the pace of Labyrinth is spot-on as it methodically draws out and clips with an urgency, taking viewers on a roller coaster ride. While today’s younger audience might think the movie plods, hopefully they will take the time to focus on its sheer beauty and creative nature. It explodes the imagination in the most vivid way, and that is part of the magic of being a child in the first place.
Like most family/children based films of yesteryear, Labyrinth had a positive life lesson learned tucked within all the humor, dancing Goblins, and singing. Those life lesson are that one needs to take responsibility for their actions, realize that life is not always fair, and most of all, take nothing for granted. Needless to say, Jim Henson, David Bowie, Jennifer Connelly. and crew left an indelible mark on the movie world as well as in the minds of children of all ages with their magical world inside Labyrinth.