‘Allo pals! (Did you say “Hello?”, Ed.) No, we said “‘Allo,” but that’s close enough. We’ll hand you over to our resident Ultimate Movie Geek who has fought his way here through hardships unnumbered and dangers untold (well, he watched a film and wrote some words about it) as he takes us back to 1986 and invites you to enter the Labyrinth!
I have been tasked with this week’s 80s Movie Challenge giving my personal memories of the film Labyrinth. Written by Dennis Lee and Jim Henson, whom also directed, screenplay by the late great Terry Jones, and starring the legend that is David Bowie, it is a film that is filled with humour, stakes and some brilliant memorable music from Bowie himself.
Labyrinth was released in 1986, one whole year after I was born. So, I only saw this when it was shown on the telly. I would say it was BBC1 because my parents in their wisdom, well, my mum… she recorded it onto a video, something that I feel is a lost art. She would get a new VHS and record a movie off the tv, cut out the image and description of the film from the newspaper and stick it to the back of the box. We had loads of films like this from Temple of Doom and Flight of the Navigator to Who Framed Roger Rabbit and E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial.
The first time I saw this I must’ve been 6 or 7, my dad is a lifelong David Bowie fan with cassettes and records that I would come to listen too, as my musical taste evolved from the Turtle Rap! Slightly…
Labyrinth had a budget of $25 million. The film was a box office disappointment, grossing $12.9 million during its U.S. theatrical run.
The film opens up with some 80s CGI. A dodgy blocky owl that flies around the black screen introducing the credits, then seamlessly cutting to a real white barn owl. The owl begins to watch the 16-year-old Sarah played by every adolescent’s crush, Jennifer Connolly. She is a reciting a passage from her book The Labyrinth with her dog Merlin!
Realising she is late to babysit her half-brother Toby, she rushes home. Once her father and stepmother leave, she realises Toby has been in her room playing with one of her stuffed toys, Lancelot. This along with the fact that she isn’t listened to by her parents, Toby’s crying she isn’t happy. Sarah wishes that the Goblin King would come and take him away.
Goblin King! Goblin King! Wherever you may be, take this child of mine far away from me!
One of the set-ups is that she can’t remember exactly the words to use from the book. The opening sees her reciting, but getting wrong the passage from the book. When she’s wishing for Toby to be taken, she again makes a mistake, and we get the reveal of the Goblins. Jim Henson’s creature shop succeeds again in creating some exceptional goblins, that are both scary and funny.
Toby disappears and is replaced with a Goblin. This scene is brilliant as it treads the 80s line of having actual scares in a PG film. It builds to a crescendo of the Barn Owl bursting through the window and transforming into as Jareth The Goblin King. David Bowie in all his glory! With big clothes, big hair and a big bulge, but this is a family film, so we won’t go into that!!!
He offers to fulfil Sarah’s dreams in exchange for Toby, as she regrets her wish. He gives her 13 hours to solve the labyrinth before Toby becomes a Goblin forever!
Entering the Labyrinth
The design of the Labyrinth is so imaginative that each act seems to take place in a different world. From the medieval village of the Goblin Village, the junkyard, the Higgledy Piggledy stone maze to The Bog of Eternal Stench and the M.C Escher inspired final showdown.
The film does not really stop, there are no lulls in momentum as Sarah travels through the Labyrinth meeting colourful characters and making new and old friends along the way. It’s a journey that we’ve all made, from the sexual awakening allusions, growing up, at the same time as holding onto your childhood are all touched upon.
The characters in the film are all colourful and different from Hoggle (Brian Henson) peeing into a pond and killing fairies, to A very helpful cockney worm offers her a cup of tea, and suggests she goes ‘that way’ to get to the castle. . Ludo, a rock calling monster, Sir Didymus, an anthropomorphic fox who rides on the back of an old English Sheepdog called Ambrosius, join Sarah on her quest to get to the castle.
The whole of the labyrinth is full of imagination from the two riddling doors and the tunnel to the oubliette that is filled with Helping Hands! It’s a mind fuck that keeps on giving. There is one part that I don’t feel works, and for me, it always felt slightly jarring. The Fireys were strange lanky creatures that were bright orange and red and seemed to enjoy removing their limbs and heads. It was funny and a little disturbing if I remember, and when they try to remove Sarah’s head I think it must’ve scared me!
The final showdown is superb. Recreating MC Escher’s Relativity, with Toby crawling up and down the stairs with Sarah always two steps behind. Jareth watches on singing Within You, that works so well during this scene. Everything falls down, and again the visuals, of the stairs and walls floating around both Sarah and Jareth is amazing. He confronts her saying:
“Everything that you wanted; I have done. You asked that child be taken; I took him. You cowered before me; I was frightening, I have reordered time, I have turned the world upside down, and I have done it all for you! I am exhausted from living up to your expectations of me. Isn’t that generous?
I ask for so little. Just let me rule you, and you can have everything that you want.”
I suppose you have to be Bowie to pull that off!
It’s sad that the film wasn’t as well-received as it is thought of today. It is a great kids’ film, that doesn’t coddle the audience. Labyrinth produces scares and laughs, and I’ll admit that when I was younger there were moments that made me jump. That’s what makes a good family film. It has stood the test of time and is a time capsule to the 80s. It’s so imaginative that it inspired a four-volume comic book sequel from Tokyopop called Return to Labyrinth between 2006 and 2010. There is even talk of a sequel/spin-off movie set in the same universe in the works.
Prior to re-watching Labyrinth for the 80s Movie Challenge, I just watched this film as a great fantasy, but there’s more to it! What completely escaped me was that Jareth didn’t just want another Goblin, (I’ve got three if you want them!), but he also wants Sarah. As the film goes on, it becomes more about him wanting her than him really wanting the baby. He’s trying to trip her up at every step. He tries to set her back by reducing the time and sending out poisoned peaches.
But he sang some bloody catchy songs, and that is what made the character. Jareth is compelling, he seems lonely, and I feel that is what Bowie brought to the role. And have I mentioned how catchy the songs are. I’m listening to the soundtrack as I write!
Sarah finally remembers the exact words to release her from the labyrinth. She is transported back to her home, with Toby fast asleep in bed. Giving up a piece of her childhood she tucks Lancelot in Toby’s bed. Sarah is growing up, but seeing her friends in the mirror, she knows she doesn’t need to leave it all behind.
My 80s Movie Challenge Labyrinth
Choosing Labyrinth for my 80s Movie Challenge was easy because it is the sort of film you play on a Sunday afternoon. It is one of those films that can take you away. It is bloody brilliant and will have you singing each song in your best Bowie voice. Ah hell, why wait for Sunday, stick it on now! Ah hell… I forgot to talk about Bowie’s Crotch!
Come back next week as Francis Fisher keeps us in the comic-fantasy realm to talk about Iocane powder, rodents of unusual size, shrieking eel infested waters and a certain Dread Pirate.
If you think that sounds inconceivable, that’s because it is! Prepare to die! It’s 1987’s The Princess Bride!