Movie Review – Labyrinth (1986)
by HELEN GEIB
Labyrinth, directed by Jim Henson and starring Jennifer Connelly and David Bowie, has a limited theatrical run this year in honor of its 20th anniversary. I remembered the film fondly, but not well from when I last saw it almost that many years ago. Then I was within the target young adult age range. It proved an unexpectedly great pleasure to revisit Labyrinth as an adult. It is the good family film that I remembered, but it is also a lovingly realized work of fantasy and an impressive technical achievement.
I don’t remember enjoying Labyrinth this much when I saw it as a girl and one of the reasons may be that I didn’t see it in the theater. I don’t positively remember whether I saw it in the theater on its initial release, but I definitely remember that the last time I saw it was on video on a modestly sized TV. That was no way to see it.
Abandon any misconception that Labyrinth is a Muppet movie that can just as well be watched on TV. The great detail and depth of field of the many and varied sets, the rich coloring in the landscapes and costumes, the creatures large and small, the marvelous effects work, Bowie’s larger than life Goblin King and Connelly’s charming and spunky fairy tale heroine all demand to be seen on the big screen to be fully appreciated.
The labyrinth and the castle at its center are among the stars of the show. The labyrinth is a marvelous creation encompassing a series of sets with varied fantasy art and literature antecedents. Maurice Sendak, Lewis Carroll, traditional English fairy tales and Henson’s own earlier work are prominent influences. The interior of the castle is a vertiginous Escher print realized as a three-dimensional set, and is fully as stunning and dream-like as the idea promises.
Labyrinth is a musical as well as a fantasy and integrates several original songs written and performed by Bowie into the narrative. The staging of the musical numbers merges fantasy imagery and glam rock to captivating effect. The highlight of Labyrinth as musical is the sensual court ballroom number, sure to set every female heart aflutter.
One reason that I know I liked Labyrinth more on this viewing than the first is that my younger self was disappointed at the absence of a storybook romance. My adult self is more than satisfied to see a coming of age fantasy tale with a young woman protagonist and not a human male in sight above the age of the heroine’s infant brother. I always liked that Sarah was intelligent, kind and resolute.