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MOVIE INFO

Director:
Jim Henson
Cast:
David Bowie, Jennifer Connelly, Toby Froud, Shelley Thompson, Christopher Malcolm, Natalie Finland, Shari Weiser, Brian Henson, Ron Mueck, Rob Mills
Writing Credits:
Dennis Lee, Jim Henson, Terry Jones

Tagline:
Where everything seems possible and nothing is what it seems.

Synopsis:
Journey into the fantastic world of Labyrinth starring David Bowie and Jennifer Connelly in one of her first lead roles, as well as a cast of incredible creatures created by Jim Henson and produced by the "Master of Myth", George Lucas!

Box Office:
Domestic Gross
$12.729 million.

MPAA:
Rated PG

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
Audio:
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles:
English
Spanish
Closed-captioned

Runtime: 106 min.
Price: $49.95
Release Date: 2/3/2004

Bonus:
• “Inside the Labyrinth” Documentary
• Photo Gallery
• Storyboards
• Filmographies
• Trailers
• Scene Composite
• Collector’s Edition  Booklet
• Character Sketch Cards


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EQUIPMENT
Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.

RELATED REVIEWS


Labyrinth: Collector's Edition Boxed Set (1986)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 18, 2004)

Unlike the Roger Eberts of the world who do this for a living, we Internet critics pretty much have free rein over what DVDs we review. As such, I sometimes like to convey why I chose to screen a particular title, especially if I give the film itself a bad review; I think it's helpful to explain why I subjected myself to an unpleasant experience. I don't want people to think I'm a masochist, after all.

I have no trouble whatsoever explaining why I picked up a copy of Labyrinth, for it's historically rooted. Why did I see the film during its theatrical run in 1986? Bowie. Why did I buy a copy of the soundtrack LP? Bowie. Why did I later spend too much money for an import CD of the soundtrack back when no US release of the CD existed? Bowie. Why did I acquire the laserdisc of the picture? Bowie. So please use your deductive reasoning skills to figure out why I got the DVD release of Labyrinth. Hint - it starts with a "B" and rhymes with "snowy"...

(Have I pointed out that I'm a big Bowie fan?)

Despite such apparent devotion to the film, I have to admit that it really is just the Bowie connection that's attached me so strongly to Labyrinth. If you put literally any other actor into the role of the Goblin King, then I not only don't I purchase multiple copies of it over the years, but I also probably never see it in the first place. (Okay, I suppose if Jagger or someone had done the role, I'd have given it a look, but Bowie takes the movie to a whole different level for me.)

This attitude should not convey an opinion that Labyrinth is a bad film, because it's not. However, it's not a terribly good film, either. I think it's much more interesting than Jim Henson's previous fantasy film, 1982's The Dark Crystal, but I find much of Labyrinth to seem pedestrian and fall flat.

Essentially, Labyrinth is just another rehash bastardization of The Wizard of Oz. The newer film's special effects are much better, and it's a given I like the songs more, though I won't get into an argument over which film has the superior music. Labyrinth, like The Dark Crystal, benefits from strong craft and attention to detail but it lacks a crucial spark that would have made it truly come alive. At no point during this film was in danger of feeling enchanted by the proceedings.

Some of the blame for that lies at the feet of the human actors involved. Yes, I do love Bowie, and unlike most other rock stars, he really can act. You wouldn't know that from his work here, though. His performance as Jareth is pretty much a dud. You'd think that Bowie'd be able to step into a part as a "Goblin King" and vividly inhabit it, but that's not the case here. He seems awkward and vaguely uncomfortable in the role and he shows no signs that he was willing or able to really open himself up and let himself go in the film.

The only other prominent human actor in Labyrinth is Jennifer Connelly as our protagonist Sarah. Conceptual designer Brian Froud's infant son Toby plays Sarah's infant brother Toby - poor kid, getting typecast at such a tender age! - and a couple of nobodies are seen as Sarah's father and stepmother early in the film, but their collective screen time is pretty minimal, especially in the case of the parents. Connelly showed us that she soon was going to be an exceptionally attractive woman, but she displayed no signs that she would be much of an actress. For certain, no one predicted her future Oscar glory based on her efforts here. She's not terrible, but Sarah seems to be something of a nonentity in her own film. Like the movie itself, there's little spark behind Connelly's performance and Sarah never develops into much of an interesting or compelling character.

At the risk of sounding like I hate everything, I must acknowledge that I intensely disliked the main non-human character in Labyrinth. That'd be Hoggle (acted by Shari Weiser, voiced by Brian Henson), a gnome who starts as a nasty little flunky of Jareth's but eventually does a Grinch on us. I've always found the little bastard annoying and unpleasant, and that attitude has not mellowed over the years. Why does Sarah develop an affection for him? I have no idea - I kept hoping Jareth would blow him up.

Ironically, one of the strongest aspects of Labyrinth stems from its remaining characters. While its main participants are either dull or annoying, the smaller supporting roles showcase a wide variety of delightful, entertaining and amusing misfits. From the Cockney worm to the "Helping Hands" to the crusty old doorknobs to about a hundred other clever characters, it's these bit parts that make Labyrinth a watchable movie. They can't quite lift it above that level, but without all the creativity that went into them, this picture would have been absolutely abysmal.

Interestingly, as I watched the antics of these creatures, I was struck by the fact that they seemed to reflect a Monty Python kind of attitude. This made sense when I discovered that Python alumnus Terry Jones penned the screenplay. (Actually, that should be rediscovered; I'd known this fact, but had forgotten it.) Director Henson made a good choice with Jones, since his wit and flair definitely add a level of entertainment to what otherwise could have been a dull and ponderous affair like The Dark Crystal.

As with that film, I definitely respected all the work and artistry that went into creating the puppet-universe of Labyrinth, but craft and creative design work don't necessarily mean you'll end up with a good movie. Ultimately, Labyrinth is a mildly entertaining diversion that offers many solid fantasy components but it never quite gels into a truly magical experience.

Interesting footnote: throughout the movie, Sarah and Jareth constantly mispronounce Hoggle’s name. At one point she calls his “Hogwart”. Did J.K. Rowling steal that name for her Harry Potter series? I don’t know, but if not, it’s any interesting coincidence.


The DVD Grades: Picture A-/ Audio B/ Bonus B

Labyrinth appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. For the third DVD iteration of Labyrinth, we found an image that seemed virtually identical to that of the prior two releases. Despite a few small problems, the picture consistently looked excellent.

Sharpness appeared terrific. Virtually the entire movie came across as nicely distinct and accurate. I noticed no issues related to softness or fuzziness during this tight, well-defined presentation. Jagged edges and moiré effects also created no concerns, and I detected no signs of edge enhancement either. As for print flaws, some light grain cropped up at times, and I also noticed the occasional speckle, but the movie generally looked quite clean and fresh.

The settings in Labyrinth tended to use fairly flat and plain hues – earth tones abounded - so the film didn’t exhibit an abundance of vivid colors. When those did appear, they most came via costumes donned by the various characters. The garb worn by participants such as Sir Didymus and the Worm showed tremendously bold and bright colors. This strong reproduction continued into more subdued hues such as the tinted armor of the Goblin warriors toward the end of the film and the leathery clothes of Hoggle; these colors looked absolutely brilliant. Black levels seemed nicely deep and rich, while shadow detail was appropriately heavy but didn’t appear overly dense. Ultimately, Labyrinth exhibited a very strong visual presentation.

For this third DVD release of Labyrinth, we got a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. (The original 1999 disc included only Dolby Surround 2.0 audio, while the 2003 Superbit take provided DD 5.1 and DTS 5.1 mixes.) The soundfield presented a fairly active affair. The forward spectrum dominated the mix and offered a good sense of presence. Music showed nice stereo imaging, while effects meshed together well and made the environment come to life pretty solidly. Elements meshed together well, though they seemed a little speaker-specific at times.

The 5.1 Labyrinth outdid the original 2.0 track in the activity of the soundfield, especially in regard to the surround channels. These seemed noticeably more involving and distinct. They always came across as somewhat weak and indistinct during the old 2.0 track, but here they became more equal partners. These added to the experience and created a nice feeling of ambience.

Audio quality was somewhat erratic but usually remained solid. Speech mostly came across as reasonably natural and distinct, but some poor dubbing caused a few distractions. That seemed particularly noticeable early in the film, as the shots between Sarah and her family looked badly looped. A little edginess crept into some of the lines as well, particularly those spoken by Hoggle.

Effects showed a little distortion on a few occasions, but usually those elements came across as nicely detailed and accurate. The effects boasted fairly good clarity as well as decent depth; Ludo’s voice and other loud pieces demonstrated nice bass response. Music varied a bit, and some of the Bowie songs were a little dense. However, they usually sounded pretty good, and the score appeared fairly rich and vibrant. Overall, the audio of Labyrinth didn’t dazzle me but it seemed good for a film from 1986.

When I compared this DVD and the old release, the former’s 5.1 audio clearly seemed superior. The old 2.0 track from the original DVD appeared somewhat thin and flat, whereas the 5.1 mix presented noticeably greater depth and vivacity. The difference didn’t seem like night and day, but I thought the 5.1 version gave Labyrinth more life and seemed more involving.

The supplements found on this Collector’s Edition expand somewhat on those of the original 1999 Labyrinth DVD. (As usual, the Superbit release included no extras.) I’ll note components unique to this set with an asterisk.

The most substantial piece comes from a 56-minute and 22-second documentary called Inside the Labyrinth. Created at the time of the film’s theatrical release, this show features movie clips and interviews with all the main participants; we hear from director Jim Henson, actors David Bowie, Jennifer Connelly, and Shari Weiser, puppeteer coordinator Brian Henson, production designer Elliot Scott, special effects supervisor George Gibbs, conceptual designer Brian Froud, writer Terry Jones, goblin armor designer Mike McCormick, slkdada Ross Hill, and director of choreography and puppet movement Cheryl McFadden. It also shows lots of great "behind the scenes" footage. Many documentaries show this kind of material, but not to the extent we see here; most of the running time is devoted to these kinds of candid shots.

Considering the technical nature of the movie - most of the characters are puppets, after all - the program easily could have become dry and lifeless, but it's not. It goes through a great mix of subjects, from various design issues to casting to the script to executing all the technical bits. Each topic is covered thoroughly enough to satisfy but not to the level where it loses interest. One fun section shows how they achieved the effect where Bowie twirls a glass ball on his hand; I loved this, because I'd always been very curious how it was done. “Inside the Labyrinth” provides a terrific documentary.

Within the *Photo Gallery, we find five subdomains. We get “Behind the Scenes” (31 shots), “Cast” (39), “Characters” (31), “Concept Art” (10), and “Vintage Posters” (2). These offer some nice looks at the elements. I particularly like the pictures in “Behind the Scenes” that show close-ups of the pieces from Sarah’s bedroom that featured in the movie.

*Storyboards seems like an odd presentation. We get 13 screens of these, but they don’t much resemble traditional storyboards. Usually those look like comic book shot compositions, but these come across more like production art, as the majority show sketches of sets and locations. Some traditional storyboards appear, but they’re displayed at such a small scale that it’s very tough to make out what they depict.

In the trailers domain, we get ads for Labyrinth as well as the Dark Crystal Collector’s Edition. Filmographies offers listings for Jim Henson, David Bowie, Jennifer Connelly and George Lucas.

Finally, a few non-disc-based extras appear. We find six *character sketch cards that show some minor characters from the film. The *scene composite places a photo of Connelly and the “Chilly Down” critters atop a piece of background art. The *collector’s edition booklet presents concept art, production notes, and a few photos from the flick.

Labyrinth will never be one of my favorite films, and if it didn’t star my all-time favorite performer, I’d probably never have bothered with it. Still, it has enough going for it that kids should enjoy it. The DVD presents a very solid picture along with fairly good audio and a roster of extras highlighted by a terrific documentary.

As the third DVD of Labyrinth, I need to address for whom – if anyone – the Collector’s Edition makes sense. Frankly, I find it really tough to recommend it to anyone other than those who a) simply, absolutely adore Labyrinth and b) have bucks to spare. Of the three packages, the CE is my favorite. The Superbit offers slightly superior picture quality, but audio seems the same, and it includes no extras. The original DVD and the CE demonstrate similar picture, but the CE’s audio is stronger, and it includes a few additional supplements.

The problem simply comes down to the money. For a list price of almost $50, you don’t get a whole lot from the CE. The extras it presents that don’t appear on the old disc seem pretty negligible and don’t merit the additional expense. Honestly, you’d probably be better off with dual ownership of both the Superbit and the original DVD than this one; the price would be about the same, but you’d have the best of all worlds that way. Barring that choice, I’d recommend the old disc for folks who like extras, and the Superbit for those who value movie presentation above all else. Leave the CE for Labyrinth obsessives.

To rate this film, visit the original review of LABYRINTH