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LABYRINTH *****

Directed by Jim Henson.
Starring Jennifer Connelly, David Bowie, Frank Oz, Michael Hordern.
UK 1986 101 minutes Certificate: U

 

Released by Sony Pictures on 4K UHD and Blu-ray on September 6th, 2021

 

Was there ever a time when we weren’t in love with Jennifer Connelly? Somewhat different to our own, her childhood seemed framed around the three legends with whom she worked, in different countries, within a short space of time. She was young Deborah in Sergio Leone’s sweeping epic ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA (1984), insect-fondling, supernaturally gifted Jennifer in Dario Argento’s loveably bonkers PHENOMENA (1985) and Sarah in Jim Henson’s LABYRINTH (1986), in which she has 13 hours to solve said labyrinth and spends the film regretting her wish for her bawling baby brother be whisked away by goblins. Connelly was a major boyhood / girlhood (delete as appropriate) crush for many thanks to this triumvirate before graduating to puberty-assisting, sexy adult roles in contemporary noirs like THE HOT SPOT (2000) and, later, well-earned critical respect for versatility in awards fare like REQUIEM FOR A DREAM (2000) and A BEAUTIFUL MIND (2003).

 

Was there ever a time when we didn’t idolise (and, admit it, rather fancy) David Bowie? By the mid-eighties, he had traversed personas like Ziggy and the Thin White Duke and entered a lucrative pop phase scoring major hits both solo (you know you still love “Let’s Dance”) and in collaboration with Queen and Mick Jagger. The divisive Tin Machine was just round the corner. As the Goblin King fixated on the charming youth fleeing from her own perceived slavery (to a “wicked stepmother” no less), Bowie brings a keen sense of the sinister, enormous charisma and a distracting bulge in grey tights that none of us have forgotten over the last thirty-five years. Around the same time as ABSOLUTE BEGINNERS, he wrote five songs for LABYRINTH with composer Trevor Jones, and it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the role.

 

 

Repeat viewings reinforce the distinctly Python-esque humour and offbeat, chipper incidental characters that one would expect from a screenplay written by Terry Jones. Dead-end conversations with grumpy / deaf door knockers, amusing “false alarms”, eyeball dice, hospitable worms, “The Bog of Eternal Stench” and a grouchy helper named Hoggle (voiced by Brian Henson and mistakenly named “Hogwart” at one point) introduced as he pees into a fountain. Jones’ script acknowledges its many influences on screen: an early pan around Sarah’s bedroom reveals copies of “The Wizard of Oz”, the works of Hans Christian Andersen and “Where the Wild Things Are”, while the author of the latter, Maurice Sendak, gets a special dedication at the end. It remains a witty, funny, busy adventure, punctuated by encounters on perilous bridges, bitey fairies, shaggy dogs with chattering teeth and that peculiar, masked ball seduction set piece. The puppetry is outstanding, encompassing complicated-looking musical numbers often featuring scores of puppets, chickens, and a contented looking baby in the same shot.

 

Sony have added Dolby Vision HDR to LABYRINTH’s second 4k incarnation, though only the most eagle-eyed viewers will notice the difference between this handsomely packaged 35th anniversary edition and the earlier 4k release to mark its 30th year. The movie looks colourful and rich in either transfer and only an ungrateful fool would bemoan the obvious ageing of certain process shots and blue screen elements. New to this release are 26 minutes of valuable, VHS-quality deleted / alternate scenes (with optional Brian Henson commentary) and a fascinating, almost hour-long compilation of Sarah screen tests allowing us to ponder over “what might have been” had the appealing Jill Schoelen, Claudia Wells or Molly Ringwald (amongst others) won the role. The included Blu-ray ports over assorted documentaries and behind the scenes footage from earlier releases, including the comprehensive “Inside the Labyrinth” doc, Brian Froud’s insightful audio commentary and the fun “Reordering Time – Looking Back at Labyrinth”.

 

Commercially underwhelming at the time but a mainstay of 80s fantasy on VHS and TV, this remains a visual treasure trove and exhilarating nostalgia trip. For maximum effect, watch it with another 80s gem in which a young brunette has a limited time frame – and succession of weird encounters – to solve a labyrinth, Tony Randel’s somewhat gorier (and cheaper) HELLBOUND: HELLRAISER II (1988). Either way, to paraphrase Sarah’s words at the very end, we’ll always, for whatever reason, need LABYRINTH in our lives.

 

Steven West.

 

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