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Labyrinth is a 1986 Jim Henson directed fantasy about Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) who accidentally wishes that the Troll King (David Bowie) would take her baby brother away. To get him back, she must find her way through a labyrinth to reach The Troll Kingdom. The story is quite simple and does not require deep analysis. The appeal of Labyrinth is not in the storyline. The appeal is in David Bowie and Jim Henson.
If you have seen Labyrinth before, and you feel as strongly about this film as most people I have spoken with, then the Astor’s restored 2k print will be sure to please. It looks pretty good for a twenty five year old film but not quite as polished as some of the other 2k prints they play at The Astor such as Logan’s Run. This is in no way a discredit to Labyrinth. Logan’s Run has a cleaner more sterile look than Labyrinth so it is an easier film to convert.
The limitations were most evident in the dance sequence with the dancing puppets with the rolling heads. You could see the black outlines around the composite shots of Jennifer Connelly. To Jim Henson’s credit, this was ahead of its time and incredibly well done. I can’t imagine this film looking much better without doing a multi-million dollar ‘George Lucas’ style clean up.
For those who haven’t seen and fallen in love with this film as many have, you may want to read on. There is something oddly refreshing about seeing a real and tangible fantasy world coming to life. No matter how grand they try to make a film such as Avatar or John Carter I struggle to get past the fact that these creatures were created on a computer and in my mind they lack the presence that I need to be emotionally engaged in a fantasy film.
Now, don’t get too excited if you are coming in fresh. This is not a perfect film and it is debatable whether Labyrinth matches the greatness of The Never Ending Story or other fantasy films from this era. As much as I loved the above elements, on a critical level, Labyrinth, as a whole was slightly hit and miss for me. The downside of this film compared to The Princess Bride for example is that I felt it was too focused on smaller children instead of maintaining a larger audience appeal. I was also slightly disappointed in Jennifer Connelly’s performance. I think she is an incredible talent but in Labyrinth she seemed to be playing the character too childish to be consistently convincing or emotionally engaging. Regardless of these minor quibbles, there is definitely more to like than dislike in this film. Even if the acting is a little unbalanced at times. It should be taken into account that Jennifer Connelly was the only actor on screen for the majority of the running time and David Bowie has enough charisma to get just about any film over the finish line. It should also be noted that this was the last film that Jim Henson directed. This film was, to a degree, the end of an era of theatrically released Jim Henson films. We got a few minor Muppet films released through Disney in the 90s that were mostly cash grabs such as Muppets in Space, but there were no groundbreaking theatrical efforts after Labyrinth. This was a shame because it is clear from their television works such as The Storyteller and Farscape that the Jim Henson Company had a lot to offer.
If you want to simply have fun at the movies with no afterthought, or experience the nostalgia of Labyrinth and the heyday of theatrically produced original Jim Henson films, or you want to take your children further into the world of Jim Henson after seeing the Muppets a few months ago. I would recommend Labyrinth. The 2k digital presentation is very good but not quite perfect. I honestly think this is the best version of Labyrinth that we will get to see for a long time. Technicalities and criticisms aside it is a lot of fun watching Jim Henson inspired silliness in a theatre with an audience.
By Wayne Pollock