Country: USA, UK
Genre: Adventure, Fantasy, Music
Director: Jim Henson
Music: Trevor Jones
Cinematography: Alex Thomson
LABYRINTH is Jim Benson’s follow-up of the grotesquely eye-opening puppet enterprise THE DARK CRYSTAL (1982), and also his final painstaking work, where he pairs a cherubic Jennifer Connelly and a trend-setting David Bowie (look at his 80s coiffure!) as human actors with all his accomplished puppets, to present a spellbinding fairytale in a labyrinth at the heart of a Goblin kingdom. It was a disastrous commercial failure upon its release, but time has been pretty generous to it and now it has achieved the cult status and even a possible sequel has been hatched for many years.
As bedazzling as Bowie plays the almighty Jareth the Goblin king, this is no prince and princess romance considering Connelly’s Sarah is only a 15-year-old, after her embittered wish accidental becomes true, Sarah faces a daunting task and must solve the labyrinth within 13 hours, otherwise her little stepbrother Toby (Froud) who has been snatched by Jareth and his underlings, will become a goblin forever.
Not as otherworldly as THE DARK CRYSTAL, but again Benson and his prop teams let their imagination soar with no boundaries, there are biting fairies, countless helping hands, the paradoxical door riddle, a juggernaut cleaner, talking walls, head-detached creatures called Fierys, the bog of eternal stench, junk-yard hags, behemoth metallic guards just to name a few. Plus, the picture distinguishes itself as a prototype of computer-generated CGI technology,
For Sarah, it is also a journey of learning not to take things for granted, don’t be as spoiled and selfish as she is in the beginning, and making friends alongside, soon she will be accompanied by the cowardly dwarf Hoggle, the giant beast-looking Ludo, who is actually very timid and can summon rocks, and a chivalrous fox named Sir Didymus. All is granted with vivid impersonations thanks to the excellent puppeteers behind them. One innate shortcoming of puppets-operation is the lack of fluidity in motion, especially during the large-scale actions, that’s why the film slackens a bit in its second half when Sarah’s squad grows, and during the castle-raiding scenes, it becomes rather distractive. But as luck would have it, a final highlight arrives in a gravity-defying stairwell resembles M.C. Escher’s RELATIVITY, where Sarah faces off Jareth alone and rebuffs his conquest, her mission finally has been accomplished and Jareth is defeated and morphs into the form of an owl.
Bowie contributed five songs to the soundtrack, the most striking one is AS THE WORLD FALLS DOWN, played in a critical scenery where Sarah’s memory is fading and she appears as a princess in a masquerade, captivated by Jareth’s gaze and supposedly should forget about her mission and capitulate to Jareth’s glamour. Connelly is peachy and sufficiently engaging as a little heroine acquires wisdom and compassion in this phantasm fable, as the film cunningly suggests with all the paraphernalia in her bedroom of a girl obsessed with a fanciful wonderland. I could imagine if I had watched it when I was a kid, this movie could have been stuck in my memory as an all-time classic, and I doubt the current cinematic puppetry can ever reach the same altitude of ingeniousness and virtuosity.