Original release: June 27th, 1986
Running time: 101 minutes
Director: Jim Henson
Writers: Terry Jones, Dennis Lee, Jim Henson
Cast: David Bowie, Jennifer Connelly
Some adventures you never forget, no matter how little you were. While mine were mostly misadventures, such as getting locked in my parent’s closet while playing and falling into a lake during an ill-prepared stunt, there were a few occasions when everything worked out just perfectly. There was nothing I liked better than escaping into make-believe; into a world where nothing’s as it seemed, a place where evil can be fought and where my friends, who fought alongside me, were the ones I could really rely on to catch me should I fall… Never mind they were fur-based creatures with voices that resembled mine at different pitches.
Even before I saw Labyrinth, this was a world I knew well, but after seeing it, it was the only one I wanted to be real. It appealed to a kid like me who had an over-active imagination and not that many real friends. I was already familiar with the world of Jim Henson as both Sesame Street and The Muppet Show were among my daily favourites, but Labyrinth was different…it was much darker, more magical, sometimes scary but often fun.
In the film we meet Sarah (Jennifer Connelly), a teenage girl who likes to live in a world of make-believe. Reciting a play called Labyrinth, she struggles to remember the final lines of her monologue, but then realises she’s late for babysitting brother, Toby. Rushing home, her stepmother is annoyed she’s late again. After an argument, Sarah storms off to her room and sees her favourite teddy bear, Lancelot, is missing. Her parents have given him to Toby. Going to his room, Sarah looks at him resentfully and makes the wish the little goblins hiding in the shadows have been waiting for.
With Toby now gone, Jareth the Goblin King (David Bowie) stands before her. She knows who he is and instantly regrets wishing Toby away. To get him back, Jareth tells her she has to solve the Labyrinth and she only has 13 hours to do it. After that, Toby will be his, and he tries to tempt her to forget about him by giving her a crystal orb that will show her her dreams. Undeterred, Sarah refuses the crystal ball and decides to go after Toby; Jareth has him in the castle beyond the goblin city. This is where the fun and adventure begins. As Sarah embarks on her quest she quickly learns nothing is what it first appears to be. Walls move, paths change and when it looks like you’re getting closer, you’re actually moving further away. Luckily she finds some help on the way.
There’s Hoggle, a grumpy dwarf who first refuses to help her but changes his mind when Sarah gives him a shiny trinket. Ludo is a giant creature but he’s extremely affectionate and loyal, Sarah comes across him tied up and hanging upside down and after freeing him, he remains by her side. Sir Didymus is a pint-sized knight who’s very brave and will fight anything, whatever the size, along with his trusty dog, Ambrosius. They face all sorts of obstacles in the labyrinth, such as puzzles, dark pits and something that scared me very much as a child – the Fire Gang. With their interchangeable heads, removable eyes, and strange dance moves, they were enough to give any kid nightmares, but Hoggle manages to save Sarah before they end up falling into the Bog of Eternal Stench.
With time running out, Jareth changes the rules of the game and sends Hoggle with an apple that will make her forget about Toby. Once she bites into it, she enters a dream-like world that’s even more alluring than the labyrinth. Dressed as a princess at a masquerade ball, Sarah begins to fall under Jareth’s spell as he attempts to seduce her.
Remembering she has to rescue Toby, Sarah breaks through the dream and rejoins her friends as they approach the castle. The final part of her journey must be undertaken alone though. She finds Jareth and Toby in a maze of impossible staircases, and though he tries to tempt her again, Sarah finds the only way to defeat him is through the words she was never able to remember before.
Labyrinth never fails to surprise me. Though I’ve seen it many times as a child, the more I watch it, I see things I missed before. On the surface it’s a really fun adventure, a real feel-good hero’s journey and a great story about the world of make-believe. Yet there are other themes running in the undercurrents of the film. Loss of innocence, corruption, seduction, power, perception and illusion all come into play when we look at Jareth. He’s an androgynous symbol and for some reason, attaining Toby is his prime goal, but he also sees something he wants in Sarah, a girl whose innocence attracts him.
As with The Wizard Of Oz and Alice In Wonderland, Labyrinth’s main character is a girl who hasn’t yet reach womanhood. Thrust into a separate reality where nothing seems to make any sense, Jareth keeps a watchful on her, but even before she enters the labyrinth, he knew of her existence. At the beginning of the film we see the owl sitting atop an obelisk, and the owl later transforms into Jareth. By the film’s end, when Sarah returns home with Toby and her friends reappear in her room, I always felt it was a perfect moment – I would’ve loved for that to happen in real life. Yet it was only recently I noticed the owl was once again present in this scene, looking through Sarah’s window. Though she says to Jareth “You have no power over me” and we think he’s been destroyed, here he is again, just like before – has she won or did he?
Despite these troubling elements, Labyrinth, with its mix of fantasy and adventure, together with an excellent soundtrack featuring some great David Bowie songs, such as Magic Dance and Underground, is one of my all-time feel-good favourites. It provides pure escapism and it’s an adventure that ends a lot better than many of my ill-conceived ones!
The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is a composer and music producer with a philosophy degree. Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and World Cinema, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.
You can find his music on Soundcloud .