My absolute favorite movie of all time is, without any semblance of a doubt, Labyrinth. I do not remember exactly how I came across the movie, but I know that I was first exposed to it when I was incredibly young, probably no more than three years old, and I ended up seeing it most likely due to the fact that my then-babysitter had it in for her own advantage rather than mine. Either way, that garbled memory is the first that I have of Labyrinth and of David Bowie, who I then thought to be a woman due to the mullet-wig he wore for his role in the film. Since my first viewing of Labyrinth all of those years ago, I have since watched the fantasy/adventure/musical film at least two-hundred times. As a result of having told my husband, who is here sitting in close proximity to me at the moment, that I was writing in this review that I had seen Labyrinth at a minimum of two-hundred times, and that as a result, I had completely memorized the film, he asked me what a certain character from the film’s opening line was, which I was able to immediately recite, and so he sits here impressed.
At first glance, the film seems to be simplistic in its plot. Sarah (played by Jennifer Connelly), a teenage girl who’s active imagination frequently gets her into trouble with her father and step-mother, recites the words from a favorite book of hers which allows Goblins to come into her reality and to take away her young half-brother, Toby. While Sarah had thought that her dramatic recital was simply an extension of her play, the Goblins to actually cause young Toby to disappear, and as a result, Sarah must follow him into the fantastical world he has been taken to in order to rescue him from the Goblin King, Jareth (played by David Bowie).
Once Jareth has allowed Sarah a chance to rescue Toby from the Castle beyond Goblin City, she spends the movie aware of how she is running down the clock, as Jareth has allowed her thirteen hours to complete her search for Toby. If Sarah is unable to locate and rescue her brother, he will be turned into a Goblin himself, something that Jareth clearly wants to have happen. After Jareth sets the clock at thirteen hours and leaves Sarah to begin her mission, Sarah finds herself on the outside of a very large Labyrinth, outside which we first meet Hoggle.
Hoggle is a grouchy Goblin in Jareth’s employ, whom Sarah quickly tries to befriend. After having a short conversation with the disgruntled Goblin, who tries to inform Sarah that things within the Labyrinth are not always as they seem, an idea which is reinforced when Sarah attempts to pick up a fluttering fairy, which she believes will grant her wishes, but that bites her instead. Hoggle also informs her that it seems that she takes too many things for granted, a theme which is repeated throughout the film. After Hoggle helps Sarah to enter the Labyrinth, she readily dismisses him and officially begins her search for her brother.
Throughout her journey, Sarah makes friends with a few unlikely characters, and discovers a few things about herself as well. The personalities of characters in the film are not quite what they seem to be at the beginning as we realize as the film progresses. Jareth, the Goblin King, is at first portrayed as an evil ruler of a nightmarish kingdom, a wicked monster who steals away young children. However, as the movie goes on, viewers see that Jareth seems to be more of an unlucky and unwilling ruler of the Goblins, who appear to be a bunch of bumbling idiots rather than a group of devious fiends. Jareth seems to be simply making an effort to help Sarah out by stealing away her young brother, which, as pointed out in the film, she did ask him to do. In addition, he also appears to be quite fond of Toby, perhaps hoping to eventually have a Goblin companion who is not a complete moron.
Sarah herself begins the film as a mellow-dramatic, surly teenage girl who resents the world and everyone in it for keeping her from her imaginings. Throughout Labyrinth, she progresses to become a young woman instead of a child, and learns that though imagination is a great thing to have, that sometimes responsibilities are necessary, and that in order to accomplish goals, one should be certain to make lifelong friends and to fulfill one’s duties to friends and family.
Hoggle is certainly an interesting character. In the employ of Jareth, he goes back and forth between being a friend to Sarah and a servant of the Goblin King. Hoggle very much fears Jareth, who is certain to keep close tabs on Hoggle as he realizes that Sarah is making every effort to befriend or else to bribe the grouchy Goblin. Though Hoggle at first allows Sarah entry into the Labyrinth, when we next see him he is helping Sarah to get closer to the Castle, despite Jareth’s directions that he lead her back to the beginning of the Labyrinth, though only because he was bribed. When Jareth discovers that Sarah is receiving help from Hoggle, whose name everyone keeps forgetting, he ups the stakes of the game between him and Sarah, and shortens the amount of time in which she has to rescue Toby. As a result, Sarah has difficulty believing anything that Hoggle says or does, though Hoggle does point out that despite her fears of him betraying her; she really has no other choice but to do so anyway at that point. Hoggle also admits that he is indeed a coward, and that he is very much afraid of Jareth, which they both agree is no position at all to be in.
In the end, I found myself caring for each of the characters, even ones that were not introduced until almost the very end of the film. Though Jareth, Sarah, Hoggle and Toby are certainly the main characters, there are also peripheral characters that one ends up caring for and about. Even these peripheral characters develop throughout what little portion of the film that they are in, which results in quite a good story line.
All in all, Labyrinth is really rather a good film about a young girl’s journey into adulthood, a journey which is accompanied by the musical talents of Trevor Jones and David Bowie, Jim Henson’s creatively designed Muppets, and George Lucas’ film genius. The film is inspired in that even though the majority of the characters are either Muppets or else live-action characters from the eighties, the story is solid and it entertains people from every generation, as Labyrinth is a story that everyone can relate to on one level or another. The soundtrack is also incredible, but that’s a whole different review. I will simply leave that whole aspect alone save the statement that Bowie performs not just ably, but incredibly well, both as an actor and as a vocalist. I cannot imagine this film with anyone else performing Jareth’s role but Bowie, as he is a terrifying yet lovable personality with a tendency to lean a bit towards the strange. Therefore, he was perfectly cast as the Goblin King.
Special effects for this film are a bit lacking, though for an eighties movie, they really aren’t that bad. Rather than trying to be impressive, I believe that the filmmakers preferred them to be artistic. For example, there is an entire chapter of the film in which Bowie’s character sings, where the part of the world that he and Sarah are in resembles M.C. Escher’s “Stairs,” which truly makes for a trippy and artsy scene. Most of the special effects are rather lame and unbelievable, but when one considers that the artists were working with Muppets, it ought to be easily understood that this film was never intended to be anywhere near the “Star Wars” special effects level.
I recommend this film to absolutely everyone. This film is psychologically deep enough for adults of every age to enjoy the film’s plot; Bowie is big enough and has encompassed enough decades to be at least recognized if not idolized by people from at least two generations, Jennifer Connelly has become something of a sex symbol in enough films to become remarkably well-known, and anyone who does not know who Jim Henson and/or George Lucas are must have had their heads in the sand for long enough that showing them this film would be doing them a favor in reintroducing them to society, as well as to what good taste is. This is, without a doubt, a perfect film.
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