Labyrinth (1986)

2016.12: Labyrinth (Network Airing, HD)

lab1I’m rather late to the party with this one. I’ve been a fan of Jim Henson’s work for many years, ever since I watched The Dark Crystal on VHS long ago, but I never got around to watching Labyrinth. Maybe it looked too much like a kids movie- I never watched The Neverending Story, either. There’s nothing wrong with kids movies, you understand, but back at the time, well, it passed me by without getting much interest. Over the years I’ve understood it has quite a following. There’s even been a remake/reboot mooted recently to various excitement/consternation.

Likely scheduled because of the recent passing of David Bowie, the film got screened on a Sunday afternoon over here and I finally got around to watching it.

I think Labyrinth is a film some people feel very strongly about, as they likely grew up with it and you get rather attached to stuff you ‘connect’ with as you grow up. So maybe I should  get this out there right now- I didn’t like the film.

Maybe you had to be there at the time it first came out, or grew up with it as a kid on VHS or DVD or something. The music score is abominable. I’m not trying to be contentious and critical of the Bowie songs, I’m really referring to the Trevor Jones score- it’s terribly dated 80’s drums etc and dates the film horribly. It just sounds so wrong and hurts the film terribly, making the film seem so of its time when it should feel more timeless, especially with all the fantasy elements. Which is why I rather think you had to have seen the film at the time it came out to really fall for it- if you watched the film back in 1986 and loved it, then that same music that turns me off so profoundly is likely just another of those things you love returning to.

There’s also something ‘off’ with the script or the editing. Maybe it’s the casting of Jennifer Connelly (“heresy!” I can hear her fans shouting at me), who just feels too old (16 at the time, I think) to play the films protagonist, Sarah. Now here I admit I may be just plain wrong- the fact she seems too old to me may be just me missing the point. Maybe the film is all about a girl too old for her childish books and games and having to ‘grow up’ to save her infant brother from the Goblin King. But if that’s the case, I think the film fails to bring that across very well or I wasn’t paying enough attention (hey, it happens).  It might simply be that the film doesn’t establish her character or background/world sufficiently before the fantasy stuff happens. There’s some hints of her being spoilt and lost in her own world, maybe not having any friends, wondering gardens reciting the words from a play or fantasy book, but she’s swept into the fantasy world too soon for this to be developed properly. Maybe more of her humdrum reality needed to be shown first. At the end there’s a kind of Wizard Of Oz thing going on with elements of her adventure being objects in her bedroom, as if they were triggers of her subconscious and everything was all a dream. Or maybe I’m missing something. Should a simple fantasy film be quite so confusing? Is it just me or bad storytelling?

Likely its just me. Afterall, Henson was a genius, right? For me, Labyrinth was just a reminder of the better Henson stuff, like the great The Storyteller tv series from a few years after (far too short-lived, why not a reboot of that rather than another Labyrinth?). The Dark Crystal is wonderful, too, but no, I didn’t ‘get’ Labyrinth. Infact it had me reaching for my Blu-ray of Ridley Scott’s Legend, which came out the year before and remains far more impressive visually and thematically. Legend isn’t perfect and deserves its detractors/criticisms but it seems to have aged far better (for one thing, the Goldsmith score is much better – no, I refuse to acknowledge that Tangerine Dream version- and ageless compared to Jones’ Labyrinth score) and is a far superior fantasy.

So not only am I late to the party but I guess I’m even something of a party-pooper; I really didn’t like Labyrinth. As a fan of Henson, I feel wrong even writing that, especially in the face of such evident adoration for the film over the years. So I guess I’ll leave everyone else at the party and leave the room now…