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Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Jim Henson|
|Produced by||Eric Rattray|
|Screenplay by||Terry Jones|
|Music by||Trevor Jones|
|Edited by||John Grover|
|Running time||101 minutes|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Jim Henson|
|Produced by||Eric Rattray|
|Screenplay by||Terry Jones|
|Music by||Trevor Jones|
|Edited by||John Grover|
|Running time||101 minutes|
Labyrinth is a 1986 British-American musical fantasy adventure film directed by Jim Henson, executive produced by George Lucas and based upon conceptual designs by Brian Froud. The film stars David Bowie as Jareth and Jennifer Connelly as Sarah. The plot revolves around 15 year old Sarah's quest to reach the center of an enormous otherworldly maze to rescue her infant brother Toby, who has been kidnapped by Jareth, the Goblin King. With the exception of Bowie and Connelly, most of the significant characters in the film are played by puppets produced by Jim Henson's Creature Shop.
Labyrinth started as a collaboration between Jim Henson and Brian Froud, with ideas for the film first being discussed between them following a screening of their previous collaboration, The Dark Crystal. Terry Jones from Monty Python wrote the first draft of the film's script early in 1984, drawing on Brian Froud's sketches for inspiration. Various other script-writers, including Laura Phillips (who had previously written several episodes of Fraggle Rock), George Lucas, Dennis Lee, and Elaine May, subsequently re-wrote and made additions to the screenplay, although Jones received the film's sole screen-writing credit. Labyrinth was shot on location in Upper Nyack, Piermont and Haverstraw in New York, and at Elstree Studios and West Wycombe Park in the United Kingdom.
The New York Times reported that Labyrinth had a budget of $25 million. Labyrinth was a box office disappointment and only grossed $12,729,917 during its U.S theatrical run. The commercial failure of the film demoralized Henson to the extent that his son Brian Henson remembered the time of the film's release as one of the most difficult periods of his father's career. It would be the last feature film directed by Henson before his death in 1990.
Although it was met with a mixed critical response upon its original release in mid 1986, Labyrinth has since gained a strong cult following and tributes to it have been featured in magazines such as Empire and Total Film. A four-volume manga sequel to the film, entitled Return to Labyrinth, was published by Tokyopop between 2006 and 2010. In 2012 Archaia Studios Press announced they were developing a graphic novel prequel to the film.
A barn owl watches a teenager, Sarah Williams (Jennifer Connelly), reciting lines from her favorite book called The Labyrinth in a park. As she struggles to remember the final line of her monologue, the town clock chimes seven o' clock and Sarah remembers she has to babysit her brother Toby. She rushes home and has a confrontation with her impatient stepmother.
Following her parents' departure, Sarah realizes that her teddy bear, Lancelot, is missing from her room. She finds the toy in Toby's room and resentfully declares a wish that the goblins would take the baby away. Abruptly, Toby vanishes and a barn owl flies into the room, transforming into Jareth: King of the Goblins (David Bowie). Jareth tells Sarah that he will return her brother if she can solve his Labyrinth within thirteen hours. He transports Sarah and himself to the Labyrinth, then leaves Sarah to start her quest.
At the entrance of the Labyrinth, Sarah meets Hoggle, a grumpy and obstinate dwarf who refuses to help her. She advances through the labyrinth alone and overcomes a series of obstacles during her journey, including a Knights and Knaves logic puzzle, before eventually trapping herself in an oubliette. Jareth sends Hoggle into the oubliette to free Sarah and misdirect her back to the beginning of the labyrinth. However, Sarah makes a trade with Hoggle while in the oubliette, and convinces him to take her as far as he can through the Labyrinth instead.
As they travel, Sarah and Hoggle encounter a group of goblins tormenting a gentle beast named Ludo, whose roars frighten Hoggle and lead him to flee. Sarah saves Ludo and travels with him but the two become separated. A group of revelers with detachable limbs called the Fire Gang harass Sarah until Hoggle reappears to rescue her. Shortly afterward they pass through the Bog of Eternal Stench where they are reunited with Ludo and add another to their party: Sir Didymus, a chivalrous, fox-like knight who guards the bridge that leads away from the bog.
Hoggle offers Sarah an enchanted peach that Jareth had ordered him to give to her. Upon biting the peach, Sarah falls into a trance and finds herself in a dream-like ballroom where Jareth attempts to seduce her. The sound of a striking clock reminds Sarah that she needs to save her brother and she frees herself from the vision to resume her quest. After rejecting an old goblin junk lady who tries to convince her to stay in a recreation of her room filled with all the discarded possessions she outgrew over the years, Sarah rejoins Ludo and Sir Didymus, and the three of them approach the Goblin City that surrounds Jareth's castle. Hoggle appears and disables a giant robot that guards the city gate. Sarah forgives Hoggle for his earlier betrayal of offering her the enchanted peach and continues with all her friends through the city, successfully defeating the soldiers of the goblin army who have been sent to stop them.
Upon reaching Jareth's throne room, Sarah decides to go forward alone. She finds Jareth and Toby in a vast, stair-filled room, and attempts unsuccessfully to find a path to reach her brother. She is interrupted by Jareth, who confronts her face-to-face and asks her to abandon her quest in order to stay with him forever.
Sarah, however, vehemently rejects the overture and begins to recite the monologue from the beginning of the film once again in order to help her concentrate on repelling Jareth and rescuing her brother. As he prepares to cast the ultimate spell over her, she finally remembers the last line: "You have no power over me." Jareth, acknowledging defeat, returns Sarah and Toby to their home, whereupon she finds Toby sleeping in his crib, apparently oblivious to the previous events.
Upon having a seat at her vanity, Sarah discovers that she can see Hoggle and the rest of her friends from the Labyrinth, but only behind her through a reflection in the bedroom mirror, as when she turns to face them, they are not there. Sarah tells her friends that she does need them after all, whereupon they appear in her room, surrounding her. The film closes as Sarah and the creatures celebrate her victory over Jareth. Outside the bedroom window, a barn owl briefly watches the party before flying away.
Goblin Corps performed by Marc Antona, Kenny Baker, Michael Henbury Ballan, Danny Blackner, Peter Burroughs, Toby Clark, Tessa Crockett, Warwick Davis, Malcolm Dixon, Anthony Georghiou, Paul Grant, Andrew Herd, Richard Jones, John Key, Mark Lisle, Peter Mandell, Jack Purvis, Katie Purvis, Nicholas Read, Linda Spriggs, Penny Stead, and Albert Wilkinson.
Goblins performed by Don Austen, Michael Bayliss, Martin Bridle, Fiona Beynor Brown, Simon Buckley, David Bulbeck, Sue Dacre, Geoff Felix, Trevor Freeborn, Christine Glanville, David Greenaway, Brian Henson, Jim Henson, Brian James, Jan King, Ronnie Le Drew, Terry Lee, Christopher Leith, Kathryn Mullen, Angie Passmore, Michael Petersen, Nigel Plaskitt, Judy Preece, Michael Quinn, Gillie Robic, David Rudman, David Showler, Robin Stevens, Ian Tregonning, Mary Turner, Robert Tygner, Mak Wilson, and Francis Wright.
Labyrinth features allusions to a range of literary and filmic sources, many of which were recognized by contemporary reviewers. Richard Corliss noted that the film appeared to have been influenced by The Wizard of Oz and the works of Maurice Sendak, writing that "Labyrinth lures a modern Dorothy Gale out of the drab Kansas of real life into a land where the wild things are." Nina Darnton wrote that the plot of Labyrinth "is very similar to Outside Over There by Mr. Sendak, in which 9-year-old Ida's baby sister is stolen by the goblins."  Copies of Outside Over There and Where the Wild Things Are are shown briefly in Sarah's room at the start of the film. The film also features an end credit stating that "Jim Henson acknowledges his debt to the works of Maurice Sendak".
The film's concept designer Brian Froud has stated that the character of Jareth was influenced by a diverse range of literary sources. In his afterword to The Goblins of Labyrinth, Froud wrote that Jareth references "the romantic figures of Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights and a brooding Rochester from Jane Eyre" and the Scarlet Pimpernel. Bowie's costumes were intentionally eclectic, drawing on the image of Marlon Brando's leather jacket from The Wild One as well as that of a knight "with the worms of death eating through his armour" from the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm.
The dialogue starting with "you remind me of the babe" that occurs between Jareth and the goblins in the Magic Dance sequence in the film is a direct reference to an exchange between Cary Grant and Shirley Temple in the 1947 film The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer.
According to the film's conceptual designer Brian Froud, Labyrinth was first discussed between himself and director Jim Henson during a limousine ride on the way back from a special screening of their 1982 fantasy film The Dark Crystal. Both agreed to work on another project together, and Froud suggested that the film should feature goblins. On the same journey, Froud "pictured a baby surrounded by goblins" and this strong visual image - along with Froud's insight that goblins traditionally steal babies - provided the basis for the film's plot.
Discussing the film's origins, Henson explained that he and Froud "wanted to do a lighter weight picture, with more of a sense of comedy since Dark Crystal got kind of heavy - heavier than we had intended. Now I wanted to do a film with the characters having more personality, and interacting more."
Labyrinth was being seriously discussed as early as March 1983, when Henson held a meeting with Froud and children's author Dennis Lee. Lee was tasked with writing a novella on which a script could be based, submitting it at the end of 1983. Jim Henson approached Terry Jones to write the film's script as "his daughter Lisa had just read Erik the Viking and suggested that he try me as screen-writer."  Jones was given Dennis Lee's novella to use as a basis for his script, but later told Empire that Lee had produced an unfinished "poetic novella" that he "didn't really get on with." In light of this, Jones "discarded it and sat down with Brian [Froud]'s drawings and sifted through them and found the ones that I really liked, and started creating the story from them."
While Terry Jones is credited with writing the screenplay, the shooting script was actually a collaborative effort that featured contributions from Henson, George Lucas, Laura Phillips and Elaine May. Jones himself has said that the finished film differs greatly from his original vision. According to Jones, "I didn't feel that it was very much mine. I always felt it fell between two stories, Jim wanted it to be one thing and I wanted it to be about something else." Jones has said his version of the script was "about the world, and about people who are more interested in manipulating the world than actually baring themselves at all." In Jones' original script, Jareth merely seems "all powerful to begin with" and is actually using the Labyrinth to "keep people from getting to his heart."
Jones has said that David Bowie's involvement in the project had a significant impact on the direction taken with the film. Jones had originally intended for the audience not to see the center of the Labyrinth prior to Sarah's reaching it, as he felt that doing so robbed the film of a significant 'hook.' With the thought of Bowie starring in the film in mind, Henson decided he wanted Jareth to sing and appear throughout the film, something Jones considered to be the "wrong" decision. Despite his misgivings, Jones re-wrote the script to allow for songs to be performed throughout the film. This draft of the script "went away for about a year," during which time it was re-drafted first by Laura Phillips and subsequently by George Lucas.
An early draft of the script attributed to Jones and Phillips is markedly different from the finished film. The early script has Jareth enter Sarah's house in the guise of Robin Zakar, the author of a play she is due to perform in. Sarah does not wish for her brother to be taken away by the goblins, and Jareth snatches him away against her will. Jareth is overtly villainous in this draft of the script, and during his final confrontation with Sarah he tells her he would "much rather have a Queen" than "a little goblin prince." The early script ends with Sarah kicking Jareth in disgust, her blows causing him to transform into a powerless, sniveling goblin.
The re-drafted script was sent to David Bowie, who found that it lacked humor and considered withdrawing his involvement in the project as a result. To ensure Bowie's involvement, Jim Henson asked Jones to "do a bit more" to the script in order to make it more humorous. Elaine May met with Henson several months prior to the start of filming in April 1985, and was asked to polish the script. May's changes "humanized the characters" and pleased Henson to the extent that they were incorporated into the film's shooting script.
At least twenty-five treatments and scripts were drafted for Labyrinth between 1983 and 1985, and the film's shooting script was only ready shortly before filming began.
The protagonist of the film was, at different stages of its development, going to be a King whose baby had been put under an enchantment, a princess from a fantasy world and a young girl from Victorian England. In order to make the film more commercial, it was ultimately decided that the film's lead would be a teenage girl from contemporary America. Henson noted that he wished to "make the idea of taking responsibility for one's life - which is one of the neat realizations a teenager experiences - a central thought of the film."
Auditions for the lead role of Sarah began in England in April 1984. Helena Bonham Carter auditioned for the part, but it was ultimately decided it would be better to cast an American actress. Monthly auditions were held in the U.S until January 1985, and Jane Krakowski, Yasmine Bleeth, Sarah Jessica Parker, Marisa Tomei, Laura Dern, Ally Sheedy, Maddie Corman and Mia Sara all auditioned for the role. Of these, Krakowski, Sheedy and Corman were considered to be the top candidates. Fifteen year old actress Jennifer Connelly was ultimately chosen to play Sarah after her audition on January 29, 1985, "won Jim [Henson] over" and led him to cast her within a week. According to Henson, Connelly was chosen as she "could act that kind of dawn-twilight time between childhood and womanhood." Connelly moved to England in February 1985 in advance of the film's rehearsals, which began in March. Discussing her understanding of her role with Elle, Connelly said that the film is about "a young girl growing out of her childhood, who is just now becoming aware of the responsibilities that come with growing up."
The character of Jareth also underwent some significant developments during the early stages of pre-production. According to Henson he was originally meant to be another puppet creature in the same vein as his goblin subjects. Henson eventually decided he wanted a big, charismatic star to the play the Goblin King, and decided to pursue a musician for the role. Sting and Michael Jackson were both considered for the part, however it was ultimately decided that David Bowie would be the most suitable choice.
"I wanted to put two characters of flesh and bone in the middle of all these artificial creatures," Henson explained, "and David Bowie embodies a certain maturity, with his sexuality, his disturbing aspect, all sorts of things that characterize the adult world." Henson met David Bowie in the summer of 1983 to seek his involvement, as Bowie was in the U.S for his Serious Moonlight Tour at the time. Henson continued to pursue Bowie for the role of Jareth, and sent him each revised draft of the film's script for his comments. During a meeting that took place on June 18, 1984, Henson showed Bowie The Dark Crystal and a selection of Brian Froud's concept drawings to pique his interest in the project. Bowie formally agreed to take part on February 15, 1985, several months before filming began. Discussing why he chose to be involved in the film, Bowie explained that "I'd always wanted to be involved in the music-writing aspect of a movie that would appeal to children of all ages, as well as everyone else, and I must say that Jim gave me a completely free hand with it. The script itself was terribly amusing without being vicious or spiteful or bloody, and it had a lot more heart in it than many other special effects movies. So I was pretty hooked from the beginning."
The team that worked on Labyrinth was largely assembled from talent who had been involved in various other projects with the Jim Henson company. Veteran performers Frank Oz and Dave Goelz operated various puppets in the film, as did Karen Prell, Ron Mueck and Rob Mills who had all worked with Henson on Fraggle Rock. Kevin Clash, who had previously been a crew member on Sesame Street, also worked on the film. Members of Henson's family also worked on the production, including son Brian Henson and daughter Cheryl Henson. Newcomers working on the production included puppeteer Anthony Asbury, who had previously worked on the satirical puppet show Spitting Image.
Labyrinth took five months to film, and was a complicated shoot due to the myriad of puppets and animatronic creatures involved. In the making-of documentary Inside the Labyrinth, Henson stated that although Jim Henson's Creature Shop had been building the puppets and characters required for around a year and a half prior to shooting, "everything came together in the last couple weeks." Henson noted that "even if you have the characters together, the puppeteers start working with them, they find problems or they try to figure out what they're going to do with these characters."
Although each of the film's key puppets required a small team of puppeteers to operate it, the most complex puppet of the production was Hoggle. Shari Weiser was inside the costume, while Hoggle's face was radio-controlled by Brian Henson and three other operators. Speaking in the Inside the Labyrinth documentary, Brian Henson explained that Weiser "does all the body movement and her head is inside the head. However, the jaw is not connected to her jaw. Nothing that the face is doing has any connection with what she's doing with her face. The other four members of the crew are all radio crew, myself included." Speaking of the challenges involved with performing Hoggle, Brian Henson said that "five performers trying to get one character out of one puppet was a very tough thing. Basically what it takes is a lot of rehearsing and getting to know each other."
At the early stages of filming, stars Connelly and Bowie found it difficult to interact naturally with the puppets they shared most of their scenes with. Bowie told Movieline "I had some initial problems working with Hoggle and the rest because, for one thing, what they say doesn't come from their mouths, but from the side of the set, or from behind you." Connelly remarked that "it was a bit strange [working almost exclusively with puppets in the film], but I think both Dave [Bowie] and I got over that and just took it as a challenge to work with these puppets. And by the end of the film, it wasn't a challenge anymore. They were there, and they were their characters."
The film required large and ambitious sets to be constructed, from the Shaft of Hands to the rambling, distorted Goblin City where the film's climatic battle takes place. The Shaft of Hands sequence was filmed on a rig that was roughly forty feet high, and required nearly a hundred performers to operate the grey, scaly hands integral to the scene. Connelly was strapped into a harness when shooting the scene, and would spend time between takes suspended mid-way up the shaft.
The set of the Goblin City was built on Stage 6 at Thorn EMI Elstree Studios in London, and required the largest panoramic back-cloth ever made. According to Production Designer Elliot Scott, the biggest challenge he faced was building the forest Sarah and her party pass through on their way to Jareth's Castle. The film's production notes state that "the entire forest required 120 truckloads of tree branches, 1,200 turfs of grass, 850 pounds of dried leaves, 133 bags of lichen, and 35 bundles of mossy old man's beard."
While most filming was conducted at Elstree Studios, a small amount of location shooting was carried out in England and the U.S. The park seen at the start of the film is West Wycombe Park in Buckinghamshire, England. The scenes of Sarah running back home were filmed in various towns in New York, namely North Nyack, Piermont and Haverstraw.
Most of the visual effects in Labyrinth were achieved in camera, with several notable exceptions. The most prominent of these post production effects was the computer generated owl that appears at the opening of the film. The sequence was created by animators Larry Yaeger and Bill Kroyer, and marked the first use of a realistic CGI animal in a film.
The scene where Sarah encounters the Fire Gang had to be altered in post-production as it had been filmed against black velvet cloth, and a new forest background was added. Jim Henson was unhappy with the compositing of the finished scene, although he considered the puppetry featured in it worthy of inclusion.
Jim Henson received help editing the film from executive producer George Lucas. According to Henson, "When we hit the editing, I did the first cut, and then George was heavily involved on bringing it to the final cut. After that, I took it over again and did the next few months of post-production and audio." Henson went on to explain that "When you edit a film with somebody else you have to compromise. I always want to go one way, and George goes another way, but we each took turns trading off, giving and taking. George tends to be very action-oriented and he cuts dialogue quite tight; I tend to cut looser, and go for more lyrical pauses, which can slow the story. So, I loosen up his tightness, and he tightens my looseness."
The soundtrack album features Trevor Jones' score, which is split into six tracks for the soundtrack: "Into the Labyrinth", "Sarah", "Hallucination", "The Goblin Battle", "Thirteen O'Clock" and "Home at Last".
David Bowie recorded five songs for the film: "Underground", "Magic Dance", "Chilly Down", "As the World Falls Down" and "Within You". "Underground" features on the soundtrack twice, first in an edited version that was played over the film's opening sequence and secondly in full. "Underground" was released in various territories as a single, and in certain markets was also released in an instrumental version and an extended dance mix. "Magic Dance" was released as a 12" single in the U.S. "As the World Falls Down" was initially slated for release as a follow-up single to "Underground" in Christmas 1986, but this plan did not materialize. The only song Bowie did not perform lead vocal on is "Chilly Down", which was performed by Charles Augins, Richard Bodkin, Kevin Clash and Danny John-Jules, the actors who voiced the 'Firey' creatures in the film.
Steve Barron produced promotional music videos for "Underground" and "As the World Falls Down". The music video for "Underground" features Bowie as a night-club singer who stumbles upon the world of the Labyrinth, encountering many of the creatures seen in the film. The clip for "As the World Falls Down" integrates clips from the film, using them alongside black-and-white shots of Bowie performing the song in an elegant room.
The production of Labyrinth was covered in multiple high-profile magazines and newspapers in anticipation of its release, with articles appearing in The New York Times, Time and Starlog magazine. An article that appeared in The New York Times shortly after filming wrapped in September 1985 focused heavily on the film's large scale, emphasizing the size of the production and selling Labyrinth as a more "accessible" film than The Dark Crystal due to the casting of live actors in its key roles. An hour-long making-of documentary that covered the filming of Labyrinth and included interviews with the key figures involved in its production was broadcast on television as Inside the Labyrinth.
Labyrinth was featured in music trade papers such as Billboard due to David Bowie's soundtrack for the film. Bowie was not heavily involved in promoting the film but Jim Henson was nonetheless grateful that he produced a music video to accompany the song "Underground" from the soundtrack, saying "I think it's the best thing he could have done for the film." Ted Coconis produced a one-sheet poster for the film's North American release.
A range of merchandise was produced to accompany the film's release, including plush toys of Sir Didymus and Ludo, a board game, computer game and multiple jigsaw puzzles. An exhibition of the film's characters and sets toured across shopping malls in various cities in the U.S, including New York, Dallas and Chicago. Labyrinth was featured in an exhibition titled 'Jim Henson's Magic World' that was shown at the Seibu Department Store in Tokyo in August 1986.
Labyrinth received its U.S premier on June 27, 1986. It was released in South America next, and was released in Argentina under the title Laberinto on July 10, 1986 and in Brazil as Labirinto - A Magia do Tempo (Labyrinth - The Magic of Time) on July 24, 1986. The film was released in Japan on July 26, 1986; Jennifer Connelly visited the country to promote its release.
Labyrinth started playing in UK theaters on November 28, 1986. The film received a royal premier on December 1, 1986, in London, with the Prince and Princess of Wales in attendance. Jim Henson, Brian Henson, Brian Froud, Jennifer Connelly, and the animatronic creature Ludo were all present to support the film. The royal premier brought the film a significant level of media coverage in the UK and an article that appeared in The Sun quoted Diana, Princess of Wales, as remarking "isn't he wonderful!" upon being introduced to Ludo.
The film was rolled out in other European countries largely between December, 1986, and February, 1987, and premiered in France as Labyrinthe on December 2 and in West Germany as Die Reise ins Labyrinth (The Journey into the Labyrinth) on December 13. The film was released in Denmark as Labyrinten til troldkongens slot (The Labyrinth to the Troll King's Castle) on February 20, 1987, and saw its last theatrical release in Hungary under the tile Fantasztikus labirintus (Fantastic Labyrinth) when it premiered there on July 7, 1988.
Labyrinth was first released on home video in 1987 by Embassy Home Entertainment in the U.S and by Channel 5 Video Distribution in the U.K. Sony re-issued Labyrinth on video in 1999 in the U.S under the name of its subsidiary company, Columbia TriStar. Labyrinth was re-issued on VHS in the U.K in the same year, with Inside the Labyrinth included as a special feature.
Labyrinth was first released on DVD in 1999 in the U.S, and has since been re-released on DVD in 2003 and 2007. All DVD releases of the film feature the Inside the Labyrinth documentary as an extra. The 2003 re-release was described as a collector's edition, and featured a set of exclusive collectors cards that featured concept art by Brian Froud. The 2007 release was promoted an Anniversary Edition, and featured a commentary by Brian Froud and two newly produced making-of documentaries: "Journey Through the Labyrinth: Kingdom of Characters" and "Journey Through the Labyrinth: The Quest for Goblin City" which featured interviews with producer George Lucas, choreographer Gates McFadden and Brian Henson.
The film was released on Blu-ray in 2009, in a package that replicated the extras featured on the 2007 Anniversary Edition DVD. The Blu-ray release featured one new special feature, a picture-in-picture track that lasts the length of the film and features interviews with the crew and several minor cast members including Warwick Davis.
Labyrinth opened at number eight in the U.S. box office charts with $3,549,243 from 1141 theaters, which placed it behind The Karate Kid Part II, Back to School, Legal Eagles, Ruthless People, Running Scared, Top Gun, and Ferris Bueller's Day Off. In its next weekend at the box office, the film dropped to number 13 in the charts, only earning $1,836,177. By the end of its run in U.S cinemas the film had grossed $12,729,917, just over half of its $25 million budget.
|"As he did with less success in The Dark Crystal, Mr. Henson uses the art of puppetry to create visual effects that until very recently were possible to attain only with animation. The result is really quite startling. It removes storyboard creations from the flat celluloid cartoon image and makes them three-dimensional, so that they actually come alive and interact with living people. The technique makes animation seem dull and old-fashioned by comparison."|
|— Nina Darnton of The New York Times on Labyrinth's technical achievements.|
The film received mixed reviews from critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film averages a 64% positive rating. On Metacritic, which uses a "weighted average" of all the critics' scores, Labyrinth scores 50 out of 100.
While acknowledging that Labyrinth was made with "infinite care and pains," Roger Ebert gave the film two stars out of four as he felt that the film "never really comes alive." Ebert said that as the film was set in an "arbitrary world" none of the events in it had any consequences, robbing the film of any dramatic tension. Gene Siskel's review of Labyrinth for the Chicago Tribune was highly negative, and he referred to it as an "awful" film with a "pathetic story," "much too complicated plot" and a "visually ugly style." Siskel objected to the film's "violent" plot, writing that "the sight of a baby in peril is one of sleaziest gimmicks a film can employ to gain our attention, but Henson does it."
Other critics were more positive. Kathryn Buxton found that it had "excitement and thrills enough for audiences of all ages as well as a fun and sometimes slightly naughty sense of humor." Bruce Bailey admired the film's script, stating that "Terry Jones has drawn on his dry wit and bizarre imagination and come up with a script that transforms these essentially familiar elements and plot structures into something that fairly throbs with new life." Bailey was also impressed by the film's depth, writing that "adults will have the additional advantage of appreciating the story as a coming-of-age parable."
Several critics noted the film's subtext, and found it successful to varying degrees. Saw Tek Meng acknowledged that "Sarah's experiences in the labyrinth are symbolic of her transition from child to woman" but ultimately found the film "too linear" for its latent themes to come through. Nina Darnton compared the film's tone to the writings of E.T.A. Hoffman, stating that Hoffman's The Nutcracker "is also about the voyage to womanhood, including the hint of sexual awakening, which Sarah experiences too in the presence of a goblin king." Darton enjoyed the film and considered it to be more successful than Henson's previous collaboration with Brian Froud, The Dark Crystal.
Jennifer Connelly's portrayal of Sarah polarized critics and received strong criticism from some reviewers. Critic Kirk Honeycutt referred to Connelly as "a bland and minimally talented young actress" Writing for The Miami News, Jon Marlowe stated that "Connelly is simply the wrong person for the right job. She has a squeaky voice that begins to grate on you; when she cries, you can see the onions in her eyes." Contrary to these negative views, an anonymous review in St. Petersburg Times praised her acting saying that "Connelly makes the entire experience seem real. She acts so naturally around the puppets that you begin to believe in their life-like qualities."
Bowie's performance was variously lauded and derided. In his largely positive review of the film, Richard Corliss praised him as "charismatic" referring to his character as a "Kabuki sorcerer who offers his ravishing young antagonist the gilded perks of adult servitude." Bruce Bailey enjoyed Bowie's performance, writing that "the casting of Bowie can't be faulted on any count. He has just the right look for a creature who's the object of both loathing and secret desire." In a largely critical review, the St. Petersburg Times found that "Bowie forgoes acting, preferring to prance around his lair while staring solemnly into the camera. He's not exactly wooden. Plastic might be a more accurate description."
The film's mixed reviews and poor box office takings demoralized Jim Henson to the extent that his son Brian remembered the time of the film's release as being "the closest I've seen him to turning in on himself and getting quite depressed." It would be the last feature film directed by Henson before his death in 1990.
Since Jim Henson's death, Labyrinth has been re-evaluated by several notable critics. A review from 2000 in Empire magazine called the film "a fabulous fantasy" and wrote that "David Bowie cuts a spooky enough figure in that fright wig to fit right in with this extraordinary menagerie of Goth Muppets. And Jennifer Connelly, still in the flush of youth, makes for an appealingly together kind of heroine." Writing for the Chicago Tribune in 2007, Michael Wilmington described Labyrinth as "dazzling," writing that it is "a real masterpiece of puppetry and special effects, an absolutely gorgeous children's fantasy movie." In 2010 Total Film ran a feature called 'Why We Love Labyrinth' which described Labyrinth as a "hyper-real, vibrant daydream, Labyrinth's main strength lies in its fairytale roots, which give the fantastical story a platform from which to launch into some deliriously outlandish scenarios." In their February 2012 issue, Empire featured a four-page spread on Labyrinth as part of their Muppet Special.
Despite its poor performance at the American box office, Labyrinth was a success on home video and later on DVD. David Bowie told an interviewer in 1992 that "every Christmas a new flock of children comes up to me and says, 'Oh! you're the one who's in Labyrinth!'" In 1997, Jennifer Connelly said "I still get recognized for Labyrinth by little girls in the weirdest places. I can't believe they still recognize me from that movie. It's on TV all the time and I guess I pretty much look the same."
Labyrinth has become a cult film. Brian Henson remembered his father Jim Henson as being aware that Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal both had cult followings by the time of his death in 1990, saying that "he was able to see all that and know that it was appreciated." Academic Andrea Wright wrote that Labyrinth has managed to maintain audience popularity long after its initial release to a greater extent than The Dark Crystal. Since 1997, an annual two-day masquerade ball called the "The Labyrinth of Jareth" where revelers come dressed in costumes inspired by the film has been held in Hollywood, CA. Labyrinth has a significant Internet fandom, and as of September 22, 2013, Fanfiction.Net hosts over 8300 stories in its Labyrinth section.
The strong DVD sales of Labyrinth prompted rights-holders the Jim Henson Company and Sony Pictures to look into making a sequel, and Curse of the Goblin King was briefly used as a place-holder title. The decision was ultimately taken to avoid making a direct sequel, and instead produce a fantasy film with a similar atmosphere. Fantasy author Neil Gaiman and artist Dave McKean were called in to write and direct a film similar in spirit to Labyrinth, and MirrorMask was ultimately released in selected theaters in 2005 after premiering at the Sundance Film Festival.
Since the initial release of the film, Labyrinth has been translated to other forms of media. The film was novelized by A.C.H. Smith as Labyrinth: A Novel Based On The Jim Henson Film, which is currently out of print. A three-issue comic book adaptation, which was first released in a single volume as Marvel Super Special #40, was published by Marvel Comics. Tokyopop, in partnership with The Jim Henson Company, published a manga-style four-volume comic called Return to Labyrinth, written by Jake T. Forbes, illustrated by Chris Lie, with cover art by Kouyu Shurei. Return to Labyrinth follows the adventures of Toby as a teenager, when he is tricked into returning to the Labyrinth by Jareth. The first volume was released August 8, 2006, with a second following on October 9, 2007 and a third on May 1, 2009. In an afterword to the second volume, editor Tim Beedle announced that the series, originally planned as a trilogy, was being extended to include a fourth volume. The fourth and final volume of Return to Labyrinth was released on August 3, 2010.
Archaia Entertainment, in collaboration with The Jim Henson Company, is developing a prequel comic book about the story of how Jareth became the Goblin King. Project editor Stephen Christy has stated the graphic novel will be a "tragic story." While it is still in the early stages of development, there are plans for the novel to integrate music into the plot in some way. David Bowie is being approached by Archaia Comics in order to seek permission to use his likeness, and ascertain if he wishes to have any involvement in the project. Brian Froud is serving as a creative consultant on the project. Froud will be producing covers for the series, as well as character designs. Archaia released a Labyrinth short story titled Hoggle and the Worm for Free Comic Book Day on May 5, 2012 and another titled Sir Didymus' Grand Day on May 4, 2013.
In addition to these print media tie-ins, a Muppet Babies episode with a similar plot, "Nice to Have Gnome You", incorporates clips from the film and features Miss Piggy going on a quest to recover her copy of Alice's Adventures In Wonderland. The film was also adapted for the Commodore 64 and Apple II home computers in 1986 as "Labyrinth: The Computer Game". Different versions were also released in Japan the following year for the Family Computer console and MSX computer, under the title Labyrinth: Maō no Meikyū.
On April 3rd, 2014, Seattle rapper Nacho Picasso paid tribute to David Bowie with a single titled 'David Blowie'. The track finds him appropriating Bowie's role as the Goblin King in Labyrinth. Produced by Picasso's cousin Raised By Wolves, it samples "Within You", a song from the film's soundtrack. The single art depicts Bowie's character.
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