“Labyrinth” (1986) – Menace and Magic Through Puppets

In light of the passing of musician and actor David Bowie, it only seemed natural to revisit the film that put his iconic visage on my radar as a child: Jim Henson’s Labyrinth. Henson and Bowie were obviously a natural fit for the time, with their work evoking a similar (though in Henson’s case, far more family friendly) sense of elaborate mystique and surreal glee that marked both artists as auteurs. The presence of Bowie allowed Henson to open his palette to other horizons, ones that recall the more unhinged surreal imagery of his early short films. This can be particularly seen in the MC Esher style climax, which fits the major themes of deception and misdirection. After all, Jareth the Goblin King is very much a character of temptation and mischief, even if his motives are a bit hard to place.

Then again, that ambiguity is part of what gives Labyrinth as distinctive a stamp as it does. The world of Jareth is never elaborated on in detail, but showcased for all its nonsensical and silly glory while keeping the constantly looming threat of The Goblin King in check. Clearly, another major theme of Labyrinth is the ever looming fear of adulthood for Jennifer Connelly’s Sarah. Denying responsibility is what sets her on the path towards Jareth, having to realize the unfair nature of the world around her through these bizarre and untethered rules of the Goblin Kingdom. It’s all brought to life gloriously through the detailed production design and over the top synthesized songs. Some of the detours could have been edited down (mainly the Fiery song and dance number), but it all manages to paint the tapestry of this environment without ever spelling things out too elaborately. Easily a highlight of the 80s fantasy trend.

Date Rewatched: 1/11/16

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Goblin puppets


Lucasfilm and Tristar Pictures


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