"Jump that magic jump on me! Slap that baby, make him free!"
Also known as ‘The Battle of the Bulge’, Labyrinth is a cautionary tale warning us to be careful what we wish for. Jennifer Connelly (still a kid here) plays a teenager who wishes her screaming baby brother could be swallowed up by goblins. Unfortunately her dream comes true as goblin king David Bowie hears her plea and swipes the child away. Connelly must now get to the goblin castle where Bowie resides. It’s not as easy as it sounds though because he’s built a labyrinth in front of the doors. She just needs to keep turning left and she’ll be fine…
This isn’t a film that has stood up to the test of time particularly well. Bowie is ridiculous (what’s in his trousers is serious though), and the musical numbers feel out of place. This could have been timeless but the songs put it very firmly in 1986.
There are lots of redeeming factors however. Connelly is a bit shaky but does the whole ‘lost teenager’ schtick quite well. The main plus point that stands out is the technical wizardry. This is very much a Jim Henson film but it has a unique look and feel. The set, the puppets and all the effects have a dreamlike quality to them; one could almost expect Connelly to wake up from the whole experience. It gives the movie an uneasy feeling throughout and helps add a sense of danger where it would otherwise be lacking. I feel like directors often set a tone in a film for the sake of it but not so here with Henson, he uses his mileu to great effect. I think it actually throws into doubt the mental state of the central character and leaves the door open for speculation as to whether or not she was dreaming/hallucinating. You don’t often see that in a kids’ film.
Alas, that brings me back to Bowie. He’s the one that shatters the whole illusion, and sticks out like a sore thumb. I’m not sure if he insisted on it or if it was just some strange accident, but he looks weirdly youthful considering he’s 39 years old in the film. Combine that with a ludicrous codpiece and I fear there’s been some narcissism at play.
If you’re into style over substance this is very much a film for you. It tried my patience with its metaphors (sometimes heavy-handed, sometimes leading nowhere), and Bowie never really explains why he kidnaps a child in the first place (actually he does and it’s pretty flimsy), but overall the attention to detail and imagination made for a good time.