For this very first entry, I'll be looking at Jim Henson's Labyrinth. One of my friends recommended it to me with such boundless enthusiasm that I knew it had to be the first entry. With the current Muppet fever raging and the film recently celebrating its 25th anniversary, Labyrinth is a good place to start. Starring a young Jennifer Connelly and an impressively costumed David Bowie, it is one of those films that people seem to have seen as a child and loved. Or they've watched it when they were older and not enjoyed it quite so much. Unless of course, you're like I was and haven't yet seen it all, (a fact that was usually met with a mixture of horror and disbelief).
Plotwise, the film follows stroppy teen Sarah (Connelly) who is forced to babysit her baby brother by her supposedly evil stepmother but instead, wishes that the Goblin King will take him away. Jareth (Bowie), said Goblin King, naturally grants this wish and when Sarah attempts to take it back, issues her a challenge; she must make it through the Labyrinth to the castle beyond the Goblin City in 13 hours, or her brother becomes a goblin himself.
Quickly establishing a theme of 'be careful what you wish for', the film wastes no time in grounding itself in other key themes and influences. Although closer to its darker sequel, Return to Oz, than the Judy Garland musical, the yellow brick road is a clear forerunner to Jareth's Labyrinth. Sarah's journey is nicely twisted with references to several fairytales (such as Snow White) littered throughout the film. And, like all good fairytales, the key themes in Labyrinth are timeless; growing up, accepting responsibility and, even by the filmmakers' own admissions, sexual awakening. The latter theme is an interesting layer to the film, one that I would hope be missing from childhood viewings of the film. Yet as an older viewer, I can't help notice the strange relationship between Sarah and Jareth, one in which she clearly feels a certain attraction, as evidenced in the ballroom scene. Also, there is also the overwhelming presence of Bowie's crotch in pretty much every scene he's in. If that doesn't scream sexual connotations, then I don't know what does.
Like the Muppets, Labyrinth features a combination of human actors and puppets, and creates an entire world in which you not only believe this to be possible but that you buy into wholeheartedly. In these days of motion-capture and CGI, it's actually really nice to return to a film in which reality and fantasy has a more organic relationship. For an older film too, it does not show its age as much as other films of a similar age. Granted there are a couple of dodgy effects shots and there's an overwhelming 80sness to it all, but for the most part, it's aged pretty well. The interaction between Sarah and her friends Hoggle, Sir Didymus and Ludo (who I adore) is one aspect I most enjoyed. Similarly, the Magic Dance routine in which Bowie struts about with various dancing goblins is a great set piece that emphasises both the humour and the slightly darker undercurrent of the whole film.
Although slightly less weird than Henson's earlier work, The Dark Crystal, the puppets are still more grotesque than adorable but Sarah's friends are imbued with such well-rounded characters that they are far more loveable than their outward appearances would suggest. Likewise, the nastier creatures are granted the right amount of menace while Bowie's Jareth straddles the fine line between charming and maniacal. Connelly also gives a very good performance, beginning the film as an insufferable brat and learning that, though life isn't fair, she does have a certain amount of control over it, including accepting her role as the older sibling.
So, the question is, do I love Labyrinth as much as my friend does?
Well the short answer is no, but that is not to say I didn't like the film. On the contrary, I really enjoyed watching it; it's got a cracking sense of humour, it stills looks stunning and the performances are all fantastic. Yet Labyrinth strikes me as a film that should be watched as a young child - it's a film to grow up with that only gets better with age as you become more aware of the many themes contained within its simple yet effective plot. It holds a place of affection in many people's hearts and will continue to do so for many years to come because, despite the thumping 80s soundtrack, it's pretty timeless, a darker fairytale that's as much about growing up as it is about David Bowie's extremely tight trousers.