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Labyrinth 4K UHD review: Dir. Jim Henson [35th Anniversary Edition]

Like many who grew up in my era, that’s not that long ago folks (promise), you were usually a fan of either the Dark Crystal or the Labyrinth from the Jim Henson’s directorial back catalogue. As you’ll come to realise, for me it was always the latter, which became a firm favourite in my life since its release in 1986. Whilst initially, I might have been too young to comprehend everything, the deeply visual world of goblins, fiery-red creatures in the woods, mazes that confused, doorknobs that bewildered, tunnels of talking hands, alongside friendly worms with tea, has stayed with me forever.

So, as we hit the 35th Anniversary of Labyrinth, it’s a wonderful time for a special 4K UHD release from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, but does the film stand up in quality, or does that even matter when a film like this is so engrained in my very being?

As a brief background, Labyrinth tells the tale of Jennifer Connelly’s 16-year-old Sarah, a girl who still enjoys living in a fantasy world as she struggles to face the day-to-day reality of life without her mother in her life and dislikes her dad’s new partner. One night, her dad (Christopher Malcolm) and stepmother (Shelley Thompson) are going out and she’s asked to babysit her baby brother Toby (Toby Froudcheck out his puppetry links today!) but she also resents her time being taken away. After quoting and wishing what she believes is fiction, her brother is taken away by David Bowie’s iconic Goblin King and then she only has 13 hours to solve a dangerous, brilliant labyrinth, and try to rescue him before he becomes like the other Goblins in the city.

In the wider sense, Labyrinth is undoubtedly a tale of growing up and taking responsibility for one’s actions. It’s also a story of self-discovery, belief and trust, whilst simultaneously fighting the all-too-well-known struggles of adolescence. When we first meet Sarah, and by the way I can only hear her name in the voice of Bowie, she clearly has a taste for the theatrical and fantastical, which is maybe a sign of her not quite having a stable relationship with her absent mother, and somewhat idolising her, shown in the pictures and clippings Sarah keeps in her room. This subtext is easy to overlook, especially in the world of Henson, where so much of what comes along is full of life and distraction, quite purposefully I feel.

Those opening scenes where Sarah reads from The Labyrinth book and the chaos of Bowie’s Goblin King arrives to take her brother away are still an equal measure of fascinating and genuine horror. The Goblins, you see, are always in her room as Jarrod (the Goblin King) tells Sarah it’s too late to get her brother back, as they hide in corners, drawers and under the bed covers. But the fear and mystery doesn’t stop Sarah, she immediately takes control and realises she must get her brother back and so the journey into the Labyrinth, of both the mind and soul, must begin.

In what was only Connelly’s fourth film role at the time, she excels as a young woman trying to take control of an unsettling situation. It’s great to have a hugely accomplished female lead in that era, and this is maybe something Henson and the team wouldn’t have been allowed to do if it wasn’t such a fantastical setup. She’s a perfect balance of being a teenager and also becoming an adult, and while it would have been a few years before I could realise that narrative, she’s a captivating lead in this world that echoes the Wizard of Oz, Where the Wild Things Are and Grimm’s Fairy Tales.

David Bowie’s Jarrod is perfectly cast, that voice, his unique look and power is more than evident. He’s intimidating but also willing to give anyone a chance, although he doesn’t think his Labyrinth can be solved, and so the smart side of his character is also lost in the fact that he’s also a tyrant and far too self-confident to even believe Sarah could get near his world until, of course, she begins to…

In terms of how it ages, one of the things that dates Labyrinth is the use of synthesizers in the film score, and while it does add to the fantasy element and separation in that sense, its over-dramatic nature sets it firmly in the mid-1980s. However, this might be another thing I’m biased about, as Bowie’s songs also date it in the right way, as they fit every moment, and this comes down to his pure, songwriting talent. Compositions such as As the World Falls Down and Magic Dance complement iconic important scenes effortlessly.

Labyrinth also wouldn’t even be worth talking about if we didn’t delve into the brilliance of the puppetry and its magnificent ingenuity. From Hoggle (or Hogwash) being Sarah’s honest/lying/easily manipulated guide, to the helping hands that guide her downwards (Alice in Wonderland-style) but do try to help, they’re marvel to witness. As well as all the different Goblins and their unique personalities, there’s the talking ‘playing card’ doors, the doorknobs that argue, Sir Didymus and my personal favourite, Ludo – the great friendly beast that Sarah rescues and he has a penchant for calling rocks if they’re in trouble: what a skill!

Labyrinth has the advantage of so many practical sets, where costumes, puppets and situations mean the majority of scenes don’t feel the pain of time. Looking just as imaginative as ever, crisp even in 4K UHD, despite the odd greenscreen giving away the age – especially the Fierys! However, painted backgrounds, with extensive real structures means fun adventure and escapism. There are also several stand-out scenes that includes the masquerade ball sequence, which is a beautiful blend of decadence and dreams, which breaks down and floats off like it’s been abruptly submerged under water.  The spectacular, upside down nature of Henson’s world is truly realised in the M. C. Escher’s Relativity-inspired finale, that looks incredible to this day and, in truth, I’m happy to never know the depths of how it was all created and put together.

While it might be the 35th Anniversary of Labyrinth, the restored 4K UHD literally sparkles on screen and this is a hugely welcome re-visit to the world of Jim Henson and his huge team, which I will shortly list, and sure I’m biased but even the smallest imagination would be pulled into this iconic, inventive world. Check out the screentests for Sarah on the Extras, as well as a plethora of other special features, all listed below!

Labyrinth: 35th Anniversary 4K UHD Edition is released on 6 September, order yours now!

Puppeteers and Voices:

Brian Henson for Hoggle (with Shari Weiser in the body suit), plus Ron Mueck, Dave Goelz, David Barclay, Karen Prell, Frank Oz, Steve Whitmire, Kevin Clash, Anthony Asbury, Don Austen, Michael Bayliss, Martin Bridle, Fiona Beynor Brown, Simon Buckley, David Bulbeck, Sue Dacre, Geoff Felix, Trevor Freeborn, Christine Glanville, David Greenaway, Brian James, Jan King, Ronnie Le Drew, Terry Lee, Christopher Leith, Kathryn Mullen, Angie Passmore, Michael Petersen, Nigel Plaskitt, Judy Preece, Michael Quinn, Gillie Robic, David Rudman, David Showler, Robin Stevens, Ian Tregonning, Mary Turner, Robert Tygner, Mak Wilson, Francis Wright, Marc Antona, Kenny Baker, Michael Henbury Ballan, Danny Blackner, Peter Burroughs, Toby Clark, Tessa Crockett, Warwick Davis, Malcolm Dixon, Anthony Georghiou, Paul Grant, Andrew Herd, Richard Jones, John Key, Mark Lisle, Peter Mandell, Jack Purvis, Katie Purvis, Nicholas Read, Linda Spriggs, Penny Stead, Albert Wilkinson, Danny John-Jules¸ Percy Edwards, David Shaughnessy, Timothy Bateson, Michael Hordern, Denis Bryer, Antony Jackson, Douglas Blackwell, David Healy, and Robert Beatty – I’ve surely missed some of you, please tell me if so, happy to add.

4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray  Bonus Materials Include
 
Limited edition collectible set presented as a 28-page Digibook—featuring rare artwork, photography and early script pages, all from deep within the Henson Archives—styled to resemble Sarah’s book of The Labyrinth from the film
 
4K ULTRA HD DISC

  • Feature presented in 4K resolution, with Dolby Vision
  • Dolby Atmos audio + 5.1 audio + original theatrical 2-Channel Surround audio
  • Special Features:
     
    • : Deleted & Alternate Scene Oubliette
      • Over 25 minutes of never-before-seen lost and alternate scenes, with all-new commentary from Brian Henson!
    • Sarah’s Screen Tests
      • A collection of rare, original screen tests for the role of Sarah! Featuring Molly Ringwald, Trini Alvarado, Tracey Gold, Claudia Wells, Jill Schoelen, Maddie Corman and Danielle von Zerneck

BLU-RAY DISC

  • Feature presented in high definition, sourced from the 4K master
  • Dolby Atmos audio
  • Special Features:
  • “The Henson Legacy” Featurette
  • Labyrinth Anniversary Q&A
  • “Remembering The Goblin King” Featurette
  • The Storytellers (Picture-in-Picture)
  • Commentary by Conceptual Designer Brian Froud
  • Original Making-of Documentary “Inside The Labyrinth”
  • “Journey Through the Labyrinth: Kingdom of Characters” Documentary
  • “Journey Through the Labyrinth: The Quest for Goblin City” Documentary
  • Theatrical Trailers

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