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Labyrinth
1986 - PG - 117 Mins.
Director: Jim Henson
Written By: Terry Jones
Starring: Jennifer Connelly, David Bowie, Toby Froud
Review by: John Ulmer
   
Characters and worlds leap across the screen so joyously and with such wit and imagination in "Labyrinth," it's hard to dislike the film. Over the years it has elevated to a type of cult classic stature among such other wacky films as "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." If you do not like the film itself you must give it some sort of due credit for creating not only hoards of fans that will carry on into the future, but also completely new worlds not unlike some of the most influential films in the film industry -- "Metropolis," "2001," "Star Wars" -- all fantasy films so to speak in that they deal with another time in another place -- sometimes in another world.

The plot, if it should even be mentioned, serves simply to be a way of getting the worlds and ideas and characters across through the film. It is about a young teenaged girl named Sarah (Jennifer Connelly). Sarah likes to dress up and act in front of her dog. She seems to be obsessed with fairy tales and has an odd assortment of plush creatures decorating her bedroom.

Sarah even seems to be living in a fairytale. Her mother apparently died not too long ago. Her father remarried to evil stepmother, who actually isn't all that evil at all, but Sarah is so obsessed with turning her life into a fairytale she seems bent on making her new mother an evil stepmother.

When she is left at home to babysit her little brother Toby, she calls out to the Goblin King to come and "take the baby away." This is a pretty scary segment that could upset and scare little children so I advise some parental caution when viewing not only that scene but much of the film as well, as it isn't exactly a visually clean film. Lots or murky undertones and heavy drabs of darkness paint this portrait and while it ain't too pretty it fits the film perfectly.

The Goblin King shows up, and he bears a strange resemblance to David Bowie when he does. He takes the baby away and tells Sarah that if she wants the child back she must fight her way through a dazzling labyrinth located in an alternate universe.

Sarah, who didn't really mean it when she practically gave away her brother, has but a certain amount of time to reach the center of the labyrinth and find the child, so she embarks on her quest immediately, meeting up with a strange, ugly, vulgar little creature named Hoggle (whose name is misused many times in the film, especially by the David Bowie character, Jared the Goblin King, who calls him "Hogwart." If you drop an "S" on the end of that word it forms Hogwarts, the name of Harry Potter's school of witchcraft and wizardry, which makes me wonder if there's somehow a connection between the two, as Hogwarts isn't exactly your average, quickly-thought-up word.)

I will be the first person to admit I am not much of a fantasy buff. I tend to enjoy all genres of film in general, but fantasy is not my personal preference given the choice. I especially do not like films such as "Labyrinth": Those that are dark, brooding, almost evil and sacriligeous, and make absolutely no sense. The kind that don't really play with your mind like a realistic fantasy ("Back to the Future") but just play with worlds. I don't know, I don't like it very much. Which is why I find it surprising that I thoroughly enjoyed "Labyrinth." It's an odd film to be sure, and definitely not the sort of film I would usually enjoy -- and many times I view it and do not enjoy it quite as much as I did the last time I saw it -- but this film does more than the usual fantasy, which presents us with backwards, surreal worlds. This film presents us with surreal worlds, but they do not seem to have any limitations -- they dazzle, they enchant, and then when you think you've got it all figured out the world does a switcheroo on itself and it's completely backwards again.

Watching Sarah navigate her way through the maze adds to the fun of the film. It's like an update of "Alice in Wonderland," complete with its strange characters and backwards rules. Jim Henson's puppets add a sort of charm to the movie -- if "Labyrinth" were made in today's market it would no doubt have had computer-generated landscapes and CGI-generated characters. Sometimes a film is all the better for CGI, sometimes it's not. There's something altogether charming about seeing Hoggle as a Jim Henson muppet. Oh, he's not handsome or cute, he's really ugly, and the skin has a rubbery look to it. Unlike frame-by-frame animation techniques used in "Gremlins" (1984), "Labyrinth's" characters are actually shown walking around. Methinks they put midgets in the suits. However the outcome, it almost makes one believe they're in an alternate world with alternate races of beings.

"Labyrinth" is an odd film, a strange delight through an alternate place with wonderfully dark creatures. It might be scary for some younger viewers but if you're a fan of fantasy in the vein of "Alice in Wonderland" and "Dark Crystal," this is the movie for you.
 
Movie Guru Rating
An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant.
  4.5 out of 5 stars

 
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