‘You remind me of the babe…’
If you do not know the next line, then you my friend did not have a childhood. Let me educate you. ‘Babe with the Power’.
‘Dance Magic Dance’ is just one song from the sublime soundtrack of the 1986 fantasy film Labyrinth. The film, that stars a young Jennifer Connelly and a screen credit from the late great David Bowie, is the ultimate in fantasy getaway. Featuring a fantastical maze, strange creatures and a quest, it remains a landmark cult film with a killer soundtrack to boot.
Sarah (Connelly), spends her time in fantasy. A world of goblins, Kings, magic and far off lands. When she spitefully wishes her baby brother be taken away, The Goblin King Jareth (Bowie) grants her wish. To save young Toby and get back home safely she has thirteen hours to find her way through an enchanted maze, before her brother is turned into a goblin forever. On her way, Sarah makes new strange friends as well as fearsome enemies on the quest to beat the wicked but alluring Goblin King.
The film is the last written and directed feature of puppeteer Jim Henson and made by the same team behind The Dark Crystal and featured another large selection of puppet, animatronic and suited characters.
Labyrinth is beautiful not just in its characters and music but also its simplicity. By introducing us to a young girl, then through a quest transporting her into the fantasy world, the realms of possibilities are opened. Any and all creatures she encounters feel plausible. The doors talk, fairies bite and the largest of all the beasts in this world is also the most childlike. Audiences imagine themselves being drawn into this world and follow Sarah on her quest.
With only a small human cast the film is dominated by creature’s brought to life by Jim Henson and his team. From gentle giant Ludo, troublesome Hoggle, and the musically co-ordinated Fireys, each character is given colour, texture, features and interacts with the cast in a way only Henson (creator of The Muppets), could achieve. The selection of techniques used to bring the creatures to life is still, today, fascinating. With a mixture of hand puppets, larger multi-controlled puppets, costumes and animatronics, such things are rarely seen on our screens today (perhaps Yonderland and recent Muppets‘ movies).
For so much of its young audience, Labyrinth was their first exposure to David Bowie and his music: Not only singing the majority of the films songs but also writing them alongside original score composed by Trevor Jones. From its beautifully poignant opening song, featuring a CGI Owl in the credits, to the ultimate slumber party ending scene, the music adds a depth and emotion to the film like musical compliment should. For many, some of Bowie’s best work is featured in the film, (As the World Falls Down anyone?)
By the time the film was released, Bowie had already dominated the world of music and helped put British talent on the global scene. Here he channels all his charm and charisma for the morally ambiguous Goblin King Jareth. Despite his flaws and warped morals, he draws you in to his character and Sarah’s attraction to him is felt by all who watch.
Today Jennifer Connelly is regarded as one of Hollywood’s most diverse and talented leading ladies and it all started here in her breakout role. Picked from a large selection of up and coming actresses, including a young Helena Bonham Carter, she is able to play moody teen with fanatical child all rolled into one. The labyrinth is Sarah’s journey, not just through the maze but also into adulthood and the responsibilities and consequences that come with that. Her on screen chemistry with Bowie is palpable and is part of the reason scores of young women (and I am sure men), confess to Bowie’s character being their sexual awakening.
Despite the film’s status and popularity, it was not a success on its original release. With a budget of $25 million (high for the time), it only grossed half of this back on release. It was a blow to Henson and his team and was, sadly .the last of his feature film work. Jim Henson died in 1990. As this year the film’s star and legend David Bowie passed away, Labyrinth becomes all the more precious. He could sing, write, and has remained an influential figure in musical culture but he could hold his own on the screen as well.
A cult classic worthy of its praise, Labyrinth remains a staple of childhood, musically memorable and for many the ultimate fairy-tale quest.
Labyrinth celebrates it’s 30th on DVD & Blu-Ray now!