Friday, May 6, 2016

Review: Labyrinth

Starring: David Bowie, Jennifer Connelly
Director: Jim Henson
Rating: PG
Run time: 1 hour 41 minutes
Genre: Fantasy

Jim Henson. Terry Jones. George Lucas. Brian Froud. David Bowie.

If these names don't make you giddy with geeky joy, you, my dear reader, had a very different childhood than I did. Jim Henson is best known for wondrous creations like The Dark Crystal, The Muppets and Fraggle Rock. Terry Jones is a comedian, screenwriter and actor known for being part of Monty Python. George Lucas is the creator of Star Wars as well as multiple other franchises. Brian Froud is an artist known for creating elaborate fantasy creatures such as those in The Dark Crystal. David Bowie was an actor and fantastic musician. These people combined created one of the most influential movies of my childhood. This is the movie that ignited my intense love for fantasy.

'A selfish 16-year old girl is given 13 hours to solve a labyrinth and rescue her baby brother when her wish for him to be taken away is granted by the Goblin King.' [Source: IMDB]

Sarah is a typical teenage girl. Her parents divorced with her father remarrying and providing her with a baby brother. She retreats into her books and desire to be an actress like her mother. It's no surprise that she dislikes her stepmother and resents being used as a babysitter for her little brother. When she's left home to tend to the crying child, Sarah begins to tell Toby the story of the Goblin King. This tactic doesn't work out very well so she calls on the goblins for help. Little did she know that the Goblin King would respond to her very request....

Jareth, The King of the Goblins, takes the baby to his kingdom. He urges Sarah to forget the baby and go back to her childish things. She inists on having her brother returned to her. Jareth decides to give her a chance to solve the Labyrinth in thirteen hours. If she can accomplish this task, he'll return her brother to her. If not, the baby will become part of Jareth's kingdom. As Sarah sets off to find her way through the labyrinth, she meets a myriad of creatures that will either help or hinder her along the way. Hoggle, a dwarf, is one of the first she meets and somewhat befriends. He's a coward, afraid of Jareth, but willing to help her for a price. There are other creatures in the Labyrinth that are willing to either help or hinder her along the way.

How much is Sarah willing to endure to get Toby back? Her path isn't an easy one with obstacles popping up along the way. There is more to this journey than just Sarah. Jareth's motives aren't particularly clear. Why did he take the baby? Was it for Sarah's own sake or something more? He seems to be a character that's longing to be loved. Despite being the Goblin King, Jareth gazes longingly toward Sarah and follows her quest through his crystal ball. It's often that he sets the obstacles in her path to see if she'll stumble and falter. Who wouldn't be charmed by someone who has given you exactly what you've asked for?

The musical aspects of Labyrinth are fun and heartbreaking at times. David Bowie has always been a spectacular performer. This film comes as no exception to the depths of his talents. Whether he's singing to a crying baby or belting out a heartbreaking ballad, he's an intriguing character that captures your attention. I found myself wanting to know more about him and his motivations. Why was he alone? Handsome, talented, the king of his own kingdom and yet...alone in the crowd. He didn't seem cruel to his people. The goblins didn't appear to be lacking anything they needed. 

Sadly, you don't get any backstory on his character. This is ultimately Sarah's story. The ballroom sequence is beautifully costumed and produced. It only furthers my questions on Jareth's realm. Where were all these people while she was going through the Labyrinth? Sarah doesn't encounter any of them except in the ballroom. Is this all a dream? Or is it real? I'd lean toward the latter since Jareth is quite capable of magic. Conjuring up an enchanting ball for a girl who loves fairy stories is no huge task.

Another example of interesting set design comes from a unique room in Jareth's castle. There are stairs that go to nowhere, stairs that are upside down and endless passageways. This room is inspired by Dutch artist, M.C. Escher. Jim Henson was inspired by the artist's work. Henson wanted to explore what the viewer would see as reality or imagination. It's a scene that is as iconic as the ballroom scene was for me. Shouldn't all castles have Escher rooms? It would be quite thrilling for adventure seekers!

There's a common theme running through the film. Sarah often repeats the phrase 'it's not fair' as she faces the obstacles around her. In her mind, nothing is fair whether it's a trick played on her by a goblin changing marks she's left to find her way or Jareth throwing her a curve ball. The transition from childhood to being a young adult is often filled with things that we believe aren't fair or just. Yet, that's simply the way life is. Sarah learns this lesson through her encounters in the labyrinth. Life isn't fair and we'll have to work harder in order to come through the roadblocks ahead of us.

Rating: 5/5

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