TBT: Labyrinth (1986)

On Monday the world received some devastating news. It was announced that David Bowie, the legend, had died of cancer. I genuinely felt numb when I found out. Now I try not to get too crazy when it comes to showing grief about the death of a famous person. However, David Bowie was one of those people that actually did have a profound effect on people’s lives. He was a true artist who constantly evolved and always feels relevant. There can never be another person like him and he will never be forgotten. His death has prompted me, like everyone else who was similarly aggrieved by the news, to repeatedly listen to his entire music collection. But David Bowie was so much more than a singer. The man was an artist. He made so many great things for mankind to enjoy.

A couple of years ago, an ex-colleague of mine told me he had discovered the greatest movie he’d ever seen. It was a strange 80s film called Labyrinth. I had to laugh at his naivety. Imagine thinking I, a massive lover of all things weird and Bowie, had never seen it. I fucking love it. It’s a film that has to be seen to be believed and will never leave you looking at the world in the same way again. And I’m not just talking in relation to David’s crotch.

Labyrinth wasn’t exactly a success when it was first released in the 80s. Still, like most batshit crazy things from that era, the film gained a huge cult following and it still beloved by fans to this day. It’s easy to see why. Directed by Jim Henson, the Muppet marvel, Labyrinth’s cast is mostly made up of a ragtag bunch of puppets. Henson teamed up with Brian Froud, who had provided the concept art for his earlier film The Dark Crystal. Henson created a world that is weird, creepy and totally amazing.

Unfortunately, the story is less inspiring, It follows Sarah, a fifteen year old girl who is sick of her stepmother and annoying half-brother, Toby. Thankfully, her despair is noticed by Jareth, the Goblin King, who takes the baby back to his castle to turn it into a goblin. In order to rescue her family, Sarah must find her way through the Labyrinth to reach the castle and say the magic words to defeat him.

Boasting a script from Monthy Python’s own Terry Jones and original music from Bowie and composer Trevor Jones, Labyrinth more than makes up for the lacklustre story by creating a world that is completely engaging. The puppetry continues to be impressive even in 2016 and the creatures themselves are grotesque but fantastic beasts. The film is exciting and has something to offer people of all ages. Terry Jones’ script manages to make all of the familiar elements seem fresh and brings his own brand of wit and originality to the proceedings. I genuinely cannot praise the making of this film enough.

Then you get to the casting. Obviously humans are a bit of a luxury here so they do stand out a bit more than usual. However, I don’t think anyone can deny that the casting of David Bowie as the Goblin King has to be the best fucking decision ever made. Bowie wasn’t the only person in the running for the job with singers like Sting, Prince, Mick Jagger and Michael Jackson all being considered for the part. It’s easy to say this now but I just can’t imagine the film working as well as it did with someone else in this vital role. Bowie encapsulates Jareth and manages to bring a dangerous and seductive aspect to him whilst still being child friendly. Unlike the content of his trousers which is very un-child friendly.

Bowie was drawn to the film because of its humour and its heart. It can’t be denied that, despite its creepy visuals, Labyrinth has a great message at its centre. It has a lot to show about love, family and friendship. It ended up being Jim Henson’s last feature film before his death in 1990. Unfortunately, it was a commercial failure and was a difficult thing for Henson to take. Although now it’s easy to see that the film has had such a huge impact on so many people. Something that, according to Brian Henson, Jim was able to see before he died. It has brought so much joy to so many people in a way that only Jim Henson films only can.

I don’t know why but every now and again in my life, for no reason at all, I need this film. It’s a joy that always makes me feel like a kid. Although, nowadays I’m way more uncomfortable with the Sarah/Jareth romance. Especially when you consider how in her face Bowie’s package really was. Still, Labyrinth is never going to be on anyone’s list of Greatest Films Ever made in terms of overall quality and originality. Favourite film ever made? Well that’s a completely different story. It’s an honest to goodness classic children’s film in the 80s tradition of kidnapping and paedophilia. It’s the perfect entertainment.

So, if you’re feeling depressed at the thought of a Bowie-less world then there is one place you can always go to find a friend… should you need them.

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