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Labyrinth (1986)
Tonight's Feature Presentation

LABYRINTH (1986)

Starring: David Bowie, Jennifer Connelly, Toby Froud, Shelley Thompson, Christopher Malcolm

Written By: Terry Jones, Dennis Lee (story), Jim Henson (story) Directed By: Jim Henson

The Shot

Labyrinth has evolved from a family fairy tale into a standby date movie.  The imagination of Jim Henson, the popular introduction of Jennifer Connelly, and the “Magic Dance” of David Bowie as the Goblin King combine to create something that’s classic no matter how you decide to approach it.


The Highball

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

CHEDDAR.

Timelessly good.


Pairs Well With...

PINOT GRIGIO.

Because it’s date night and you are so much more savvy than Chardonnay.

“You remind me of the babe.”

“What babe?”

“The babe with the power.”

“What power?”

“The power of voodoo!”

“Who do?”

“You do!”

“Do what?”

“Remind me of the babe…”


Odds are that if you and a significant other snuggled up in front of a movie anytime after 1986, you already knew the exchange above.  I’m guessing that you’ve even got the tune in your head now.  Don’t be embarrassed to admit it if you also started singing; I’m pretty sure that it’s become a cultural reflex even for people who somehow haven’t heard David Bowie’s “Magic Dance” before.  The lyrics just spontaneously appear within one’s brain…

…almost as though The Goblin King himself put them there.

Ah… magic.

Since its release in 1986, Jim Henson’s Labyrinth has undergone a rare evolution.  What started as a family fairy tale (that failed at the box office) has gone on to achieve the additional status of “Top Ten Go-To Date Night Flick” (that cleans house on home video).  Indeed, I honestly can’t think of anyone I know well (from any generation) who hasn’t employed Labyrinth as a date movie. 

That’s a pretty amazing feat for a flick built around Muppets.  (Which, come to think of it, have surely contributed to a fair amount of its modern goodwill in an era that has become dominated by CGI creatures thanks in no small part to Labyrinth’s own Executive Producer, George Lucas.  The visual effects that firmly date Labyrinth as an 80s film in fact give it a kind of timeless charm.)

And Jennifer Connelly.  (Labyrinth was her first big starring role in a major Hollywood film, at the magical age of sweet sixteen: young enough to sensibly anchor a fairy tale, but also the Golden Age at which many people lock their “date” mentalities.  She’s also a magnetic heroine without playing as either ridiculous or unreal.)

And David Bowie.  (His music here is both ageless and timeless and very much separates this from the standard family sing along smarm.  His performance is charming and sinister all at once.  And his 80s glam look translates oh so very well into that of a fairy tale Goblin King…  If Connelly’s Sarah is the heart of Labyrinth, Bowie’s Jareth is its soul.)

And the art of MC Escher meeting a Brothers Grimm-style story sharpened by the wit of Monty Python’s own Terry Jones.  (The visuals are wonderful; the world is fully realized.  The story is built around a classic frame that has served human culture well for centuries, but carries with a modern sharpness.  The tale is accessible to any self-ambulatory child, and yet there is plenty made to fly past those young eyes and ears for the specific appreciation of the adults in the audiences.  And no, I’m not just referring to the lower half of David Bowie’s costume.)

Okay; maybe it’s not so crazy after all.  Indeed, now if anything seems strange, it’s the fact that Labyrinth was ever a bomb.

That’s not to say that the movie’s perfect, but it doesn’t have to be, nor should it be.  Its imperfections color its charm, and – if one wishes to get a bit more deeply analytical about things – help to cement the story as the logical construct of the mind of a sixteen year old girl who’s annoyed with her little brother.  But honestly, there’s no need to go that deep here, because at the end of the day, Labyrinth is all about timeless cinema magic, and that’s more than enough.

Magic, and the Goblin King.

And the babe.  The babe with the power.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, January 11, 2016

In Memory of David Bowie, Whose Passing Was Announced Today


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