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Labyrinth: Anniversary Edition DVD Review

Labyrinth (1986) movie poster - click to buy Labyrinth

Theatrical Release: June 27, 1986 / Running Time: 101 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Jim Henson

Cast: David Bowie (Jareth), Jennifer Connelly (Sarah), Dave Goelz (puppeteer: Didymus, The Hat, Guard, Left Door Knocker, Firey 3), Steve Whitmire (puppeteer: Guard, Firey 4, Ambrosius), Karen Prell (puppeteer: The Worm, The Junk Lady, Firey 2), Ron Mueck (puppeteer/voice: Ludo, voice: Goblin, co-puppeteer: Firey 2), Kevin Clash (puppeteer/voice: Firey 1, puppeteer: Guard, Ambrosius), Shari Weiser (puppeteer: Hoggle), Brian Henson (puppeteer/voice: Hoggle, voice: Goblin), Anthony Asbury (puppeteer: Right Door Knocker, Firey 5), Frank Oz (puppeteer: The Wiseman), Toby Froud (Toby), Shelley Thompson (Stepmother), Christopher Malcolm (Father), Natalie Finland (Fairy)

Songs: "Underground", "Dance Magic", "Chilly Down", "As the World Falls Down", "Within You"

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By Kelvin Cedeno

Jim Henson and his team are best known for the creation of the lovable oddballs called the Muppets. After directing a plethora of TV specials featuring these characters (as well as the film The Great Muppet Caper), Henson felt like using the techniques he had developed for the Muppets for something new and different. The 1980s gave him the opportune time to do so. During this decade, various studios were churning out live-action fantasy due to the enormous success of the Star Wars series,
giving the world movies like Dragonslayer, The Neverending Story, and Return to Oz. Henson's first contribution to the genre came was The Dark Crystal, released in 1982. While the film underperformed at the box office, Henson was undaunted. He was determined to use his skills and the experience gathered from Crystal to unleash an even greater fantasy. The result was 1986's Labyrinth.

Labyrinth tells the story of 15-year-old Sarah (Jennifer Connelly), a girl with a flair for the dramatic. She longs to be treated as an adult, but allows her childish tendencies to overshadow her. Her frustration is manifested towards a night of babysitting her toddler half-brother Toby (Toby Froud). After wishing that the Goblin King of her Labyrinth book would take Toby away, Sarah immediately finds this wish granted. The Goblin King himself (David Bowie) arrives, eager to make more of Sarah's wishes come true. Her only other wish is to get Toby back, and the King allows her to do so under one condition: she must travel through his labyrinth in under 13 hours, otherwise Toby will be transformed into one of the King's goblin servants.

As the clock ticks away, Sarah travels through this maze. During her journey, she comes across bizarre characters who, more often than not, prove to be neither helpful nor hindering but instead rather maddening. A few of these characters accompany Sarah on her journey, including the morally ambiguous Hoggle, the sweet and loyal giant Ludo, and the noble swashbuckler Didymus.

A teenaged Jennifer Connelly plays Sarah Williams, a 15-year-old girl who must find her way through a confusing labyrinth to rescue her baby brother. Rock icon David Bowie plays Jareth, the conniving Goblin King who shows up in Sarah's bedroom.

If the above synopsis sounds like a blend between Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz, that would be correct. The film has the style and tone of the former and the story structure of the latter. Jim Henson was quite obviously a fan of both stories, frequently referencing and lampooning them on "The Muppet Show." Thankfully, despite being reminiscent of these two works, Labyrinth doesn't feel like an inferior knock-off. It manages to become its own entity thanks to the visual flair of Jim Henson and the wittiness of screenwriter Terry Jones (best known for his work in the Monty Python troupe).

The film is filled with striking imagery, from a face being formed out of strategically placed rocks, to a palace with staircases going in mind-boggling directions. Every scene is pure eye candy, and this is made more remarkable by the fact that the goblin world isn't filled with the sort of eye-popping colors of Wonderland and Oz. Jim Henson's signature puppetry is put to excellent use here, as Sarah, Toby, and the Goblin King are the only humans found in this alternate reality (Sarah's father and stepmother make brief appearances in the beginning). The creatures are all so expressive and distinctive that, as with the most famous Muppet shows and films, it's easy to forget these are puppets and animatronics.

Jennifer Connelly and David Bowie are obviously the two key players in this story, and both turn in solid performances. While Connelly is now a famous, Oscar-winning actress, Labyrinth was only her third starring role. It occasionally shows, but in general, she plays Sarah with a natural warmth and an understanding of the character's development. Bowie, too, had only acted in a handful of roles, but unlike Connelly, he was already famous thanks to his rock music career. This level of fame was what landed him the role of the Goblin King, as Henson wanted a rock star to not only play the role, but provide songs for the film's soundtrack. Bowie rose to both challenges. His performance as the Goblin King is refined and understated, and his suave manner helps sell the scenes where he entices Sarah with her wildest dreams.

Fox-knight Sir Didymus, sheepdog Ambrosius, gentle giant Ludo, and the morally ambiguous dwarf Hoggle are among the colorful characters that encounter and accompany Sarah inside the maze. Sarah and Jareth stand foot-to-foot in a curious collection of staircases seemingly inspired by Dutch artist M.C. Escher's lithograph "Relativity."

While Labyrinth excels in many aspects, it is certainly not without its share of flaws. As noted earlier, Connelly's performance as Sarah sometimes comes across as forced, particularly in the film's opening. In fact, the whole set-up to get Sarah to the labyrinth feels awkward. Although we quickly learn she is a very dramatic girl, it seems strange that she sincerely calls upon a character from a book she's reading to kidnap her brother. This is made all the more odd by the fact that she barely seems surprised when the Goblin King arrives. Sarah herself comes across likable enough thanks to Connelly, but the script (which handles all the other characters so effortlessly), has trouble making her a distinctive figure. She bears neither the naοve-but-motherly instincts of Dorothy Gale nor the curious and sassy attitude of Alice Liddell. She frequently comes across as a little too whiny and smug for her own good,

More posters, photos, and postcards from Labyrinth,
The Dark Crystal, and other Jim Henson films
and while this is obviously to accentuate her growth as a person throughout the tale, it slightly undermines her maturity in the last act.

Such points don't bring down an otherwise well-crafted film, though. Labyrinth is an engaging fantasy that contains memorable images, clever dialogue, catchy songs from David Bowie, and the type of high-quality puppetry one usually associates with Jim Henson. It's a shame the film, like many other fantasies of the 1980s, wasn't financially successful upon release. Its underwhelming box office performance has been forgotten over the years, however, as the movie's developed a cult following most commonly among fans of Henson, fantasies, and the '80s. Some of these supporters have dabbled in Labyrinth fan fiction, which probably helped encourage Tokyopop and the Jim Henson Company to issue manga-style comics, the first volume of which is now available.

Catering to their relatively newfound popularity, Sony is granting new life to both Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal next week. Each is called an Anniversary Edition, which works for the 25-year-old Crystal but not so much for Labyrinth, which turns 21, not a number associated with celebration lest the movie plans on visiting a bar.

This 2-disc Anniversary Edition marks the fourth DVD incarnation of Labyrinth. The first release, issued in 1999, contained a documentary from the time of the film's release, filmographies, and a trailer. The second release, in 2003, was part of Sony's Superbit collection, which dropped all bonus material in favor of supposedly the highest caliber in picture and sound. Reaching stores in 2004, the third time out was a Collector's Edition, which brought back all of the features from the first DVD and added a gallery and some physical supplements such as a booklet and sketch cards. How does this fourth release compare? Read on and find out (or, you could always cheat and skip to the last paragraph, but that's not very fun).

Buy Labyrinth: Anniversary Edition on DVD from DVD Details

2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, Japanese),
Dolby Digital Stereo (Portuguese)
Subtitles: English, French, Japanese, Portuguese
Closed Captioned
Release Date: August 14, 2007
Suggested Retail Price: $24.96
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (DVD-9s)
Black Keepcase in Cardboard Box


Labyrinth is presented in its 2.35:1 theatrical aspect ratio and has been given a new anamorphic transfer for this edition. Considering how solid previous presentations of the film have been, the difference here is not astounding.
Netflix, Inc.
That said, there is some improvement to be found. The overall color palette is warmer and more natural here. Sharpness and detail also step up slightly. The only negative aspect of this transfer is that it's zoomed in slightly from the original frame. But this isn't anything to fret over, considering the loss amounts to a few negligible pixels (like any standard TV's overscan) which don't harm the composition.

The disc's Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation is a direct port over from the previous edition, which isn't a concern at all considering how well it holds up. Speech (although occasionally varying in quality) always comes across clearly, and the score never overpowers it. Surrounds are utilized fairly well, although they're more often used for the expansion of David Bowie's songs than sound effects.

"Inside the Labyrinth" shows David Bowie in the sound studio, recording his songs for the film. Jennifer Connelly gives an interview for the 1986 documentary "Inside the Labyrinth." Jim Henson, the mastermind behind the Muppets, gives direction in the happily-resurfacing hour-long original "Labyrinth" documentary.


The first disc contains one lonely supplement: a newly-recorded audio commentary by concept artist Brian Froud. Now, at first that may seem rather limited in scope. After all, how much film information can a single concept artist bring to the table? Happily, the answer is quite a lot. Froud not only was involved with the concept art stage of Labyrinth, but he also designed the costumes and creatures, as well as working closely with director Jim Henson and writer Terry Jones on the film's story. Because of this, he's able to cover a vast amount of topics dealing with both the film's technical aspects as well as its story and character portions. The most interesting of his anecdotes involves the stories involving the infant Toby, who was actually played by his own young son. Froud keeps things lively and makes this track well worth a listen.

All of the other supplements are on the second disc, beginning with the documentary found on the standard and Collector's Edition releases entitled "Inside the Labyrinth" (56:23). This is a TV special from the film's original release, but unlike most TV specials today, it gives an earnest and in-depth look at the production rather than just encouraging a trip to your theater. Sit-down interviews with the cast and crew are interspersed with behind-the-scenes footage, the latter of which takes up most of the documentary. The piece provides a fascinating glimpse at the special effects and puppetry that went into Labyrinth. If there's one complaint to be made, it's that the documentary primarily focuses on the technical aspects of the film, so little is heard about the film from a script and acting point of view.

Next, we have essentially a new hour-long documentary that's split up into two halves. The first half, "Journey Through the Labyrinth: Kingdom of Characters" (27:56), explains the creation of Labyrinth's cast of bizarre personalities. New interviews with the crew are combined with newly-discovered test footage. What's interesting about how this documentary is structured is all of the film clips and topics and presented in chronological order, giving off a vague sense of a visual commentary. This is especially highlighted by the fact that there are several stretches of film clip footage being played while we hear an interviewee speaking. While a lot of the technical wizardry is discussed, there's a better balance here than in the vintage doc, as the metaphors and deeper subtexts of the story are brought to light here.

The documentaries' test footage excerpts illustrate some of the filmmakers' trials in character design. The one and only George Lucas talks about "Labyrinth" in the two new documentaries. A young Jennifer Connelly auditions for the role of drama queen protagonist Sarah.

The second new featurette/half-documentary, "Journey Through the Labyrinth: The Quest for Goblin City" (30:02), follows the same structure as the previous portion, this time dealing mainly with the human characters. Character motives and appearances are explained, and anecdotes on cast interactions flow. It's odd that both this and the previous piece weren't just edited together to form a long documentary. Considering both segments approach their respective topics in story order, putting them together would've made a nice, hour-long approach to the film's storyline via interviews and behind the scenes footage. Still, this is a minor quibble. Together, they form a satisfying and revealing look into the film's creation.

Finally, we have a series of galleries that originally showed up on the Collector's Edition DVD. These are broken down into Behind the Scenes (30 stills), Cast (40 stills), Characters (30 stills), Concept Art (10 stills), Vintage Posters (2 stills), and Storyboards (13 stills). There's some interesting photos and artwork, but they're slightly marred by being severely windowboxed and by being quite limited.

The menus are surprisingly dull. They are completely static without any sort of musical accompaniment. Still, even in this form, they're a step up from the previous editions. The Superbit edition simply contained a steely menu in the style of other titles in the line. The standard and Collector's Edition used grainy production photos for each menu. Here, at least, the Anniversary Edition contains nicely Photoshopped work that evokes the feeling of the original theatrical poster. These, like all of the non-"Inside the Labyrinth" features, are anamorphically enhanced. Curiously, all of the supplements have Portuguese subtitles, but not English ones.

George Lucas and Jim Henson do some on-set collaboration in a scene from the new "Journey Through the Labyrinth" documentaries. A piece of concept art in the gallery depicts Toby amidst goblins. There's no animation or music to Disc 1's Main Menu.

The two discs are housed in a black dual Amaray case. A surprisingly sturdy slipcover slips over the casing from the left hand side, much like Digipak slipcovers. It replicates the case artwork, but adds an extra touch with a lenticular front depicting Jareth and Sarah in an orb floating over the labyrinth.

Unfortunately, the theatrical trailer found on both the standard and Collector's Edition fails to show up here.
Instead, we get a selection of previews for Ray Harryhausen in Color, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Dark Crystal, and Mirrormask.

After praising the strength of the included bonuses, it's worth pointing out this Anniversary Edition's supplemental shortcomings. First and most importantly is the lack of participation from both Jennifer Connelly and David Bowie. They appear briefly in the 1986 documentary, but don't show up for retrospective interviews at all in either of the new "Journey Through the Labyrinth" segments. Also, it's been rumored that the rough cut of Labyrinth ran nearly three hours. It's hard to validate how true that rumor is considering that in the final film, each scene directly leads into the other one, leaving little to no room for cut sequences. Still, it's hard to believe that absolutely no excised footage exists. It's possible that anything left on the cutting room floor has been lost, especially considering the test footage found in the supplements was only recently discovered. Speaking of which, it would've been nice to have seen all this footage unedited. They only appear sporadically throughout the two new featurettes, and when they do, there's always a voice over from an interviewee. This (as well as Jennifer Connelly's briefly-seen screen test) would make fascinating supplements in their own isolated section. Of course, the music videos for the David Bowie songs of Labyrinth would have been very welcome here, though presumably rights issues and a lack of effort to overcome them account for their absence. Finally, the loss of the trailer is disappointing, and the fact that it's appeared on two previous DVD editions makes its absence even more conspicuous.

Sarah and Jareth share a dance in a glitzy '80s fantasy style ballroom sequence. Bubbles float in Jennifer Connelly's general direction.


Regardless of what it lacks, the 2-disc Labyrinth: Anniversary Edition still stands clearly as the film's best DVD release to date. To anyone who already owns any of the previous incarnations, this comes as a worthy double dip (or triple, or quadruple for the fanatics out there). The image quality may not blow the older ones out of the water, but it provides a marked improvement, while the hour of new interviews and footage, coupled with Brian Froud's commentary, offer a wealth of insight. This set is highly recommended to both fans of the film and fans of whimsical fantasy fare.

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Related Reviews:
The Jim Henson Company:
The Dark Crystal: 25th Anniversary Edition
The Muppet Show: Season 2 • The Muppet Show: Season 1 • Dinosaurs: Seasons 1 and 2 • Dinosaurs: Seasons 3 and 4
The Muppet Movie • The Great Muppet Caper • The Muppet Christmas Carol • Muppet Treasure Island (Kermit's 50th Anniversary Editions)

1980s Fantasies:
Return to Oz • Flight of the Navigator • Something Wicked This Way Comes • Tron • Big: Extended Edition • The Watcher in the Woods
Dragonslayer • Voyagers! The Complete Series • The Black Cauldron • The Gummi Bears: Volume 1 • The Secret of NIMH: Family Fun Edition

Starring Jennifer Connelly: Dark Water • The Rocketeer | Featuring David Bowie/His Music: The Prestige • The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

Alice in Wonderland • Spirited Away • James and the Giant Peach • The Muppets' Wizard of Oz • The Last Mimzy • Mr. Toad's Wild Ride

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Reviewed August 8, 2007.

Text copyright 2007
Images copyright 1986 TriStar Pictures, The Jim Henson Company, Lucasfilm Ltd and 2007 Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.