Oct 14, 2021
By Austin Trunick
Jennifer Connelly. Muppet goblins. A farting swamp. A baby crawling up walls and on the ceiling. The prominent bulge in David Bowie’s tights. Who can forget the one-of-a-kind world created by Jim Henson and his team for 1986’s Labyrinth, one of the weirdest puppet-centric family fantasy films of the ‘80s not named The Dark Crystal?
Teenage Sarah (Jennifer Connelly, fresh off Argento’s Phenomena) feels put out by having to watch her baby half-brother, Toby, while her parents go out for dinner, and makes a wish upon a prayer that the Goblin King—a character from the fantasy book she’s reading—would come and take the child away. To her surprise the Goblin King himself, Jareth (David Bowie, fresh off Tonight) flies through her bedroom window and takes her up on the offer. Feeling remorse over selling her brother to the wizard-king of another dimension, she tries to take back her wish. Jareth offers a wager: if she can find her way through his winding labyrinth before thirteen hours pass, she can have her brother back. If she fails, the baby will be transformed into one of his goblins.
This is where Sarah enters the Wonderland-like world of the Goblin King and his labyrinth. This is a place where everything is either backwards or upside-down, and nothing is quite as it seems. She’s helped along her way by a diminutive ogre named Hoggle, a gentle behemoth by the name of Ludo, a chivalrous dog-thing known as Sir Didymus, and a host of strange creatures she meets inside the maze.
Labyrinth is far from a perfect film—the pacing really drags in the middle—but it’s certainly a unique one, deserving of the cult adoration it’s enjoyed over the last three-plus decades. The premise—dreamed up by Henson and Monty Python’s Terry Jones—offers ample opportunity for Brian Froud and Jim Henson’s creative puppetry and visual effects to run wild. There is some truly advanced stuff on display—such as Hoggle’s radio-controlled facial expressions—combined with old-fashioned, practical tricks. (It’s hard not to grin thinking about poor juggler Michael Moschen, who was forced to hide underneath David Bowie’s cape to make it look like the Thin White Duke was the one constantly swirling those crystal balls.) And speaking of the mercurial rock star, the movie boasts several original tunes to accompany his charmingly creepy performance as a magical baby-napper who lives in a cave full of grotesque Fraggles and obsesses over a teenage girl.
If you’re inquiring into a deluxe, anniversary edition UHD for the film, chances are it’s one you grew up with—and love for all of its bizarre quirks, visionary puppet work, imaginative setting, and Bowie-filled soundtrack. Chances are, too, that you already own it in a prior home video edition, perhaps even the 4K disc from a few years back. Is it worth your money to upgrade?
There are two primary additions to this 35th Anniversary release, and they’re massive. The first is a series of audition tapes and screen tests for various young actresses going out for the role of Sarah, which ultimately went to Connelly. Among them are a few very notable ‘80s ingénues, including Molly Ringwald, Jill Schoelen, and Mrs. Marty McFly herself, Claudia Wells. Obviously these are early auditions, with the starlets mostly reading from script pages in their hands to someone off-camera, so the polish isn’t there—but it’s an interesting glimpse into how others might have interpreted the role. It’s fun to imagine Ringwald, in peak John Hughes era, surveying her fantasy surroundings with an air of measured skepticism. (It probably wouldn’t have worked, but it’s fun to think about.)
The other new addition is a reel of never-before-seen deleted and extended scenes, with or without the option to view them with Brian Henson’s commentary. Nothing here is life-changing, and most of the cuts were sensible, but like the audition tapes, they offer an interesting look at Henson and Froud’s filmmaking process. For Bowie fans, there’s the full-length version of the “Magic Dance” scene, which has a lot more footage of Bowie prancing with puppets and tossing around a fake baby, which is probably worth the price of admission. Interestingly, this take also uses Bowie’s early studio version of the song, with the singer himself voicing most of the Muppets’ vocal parts—before Henson’s team came in and added their own dubbing. It’s a cool curio.
An outstanding number of bonus materials have been carried over from the prior Blu-ray edition, which is included as the second disc in this set.
As for the UHD, Labyrinth is an overly beige movie, and doesn’t benefit from the vibrant colors that HDR brings to some films. The 4K resolution is very noticeable, though, when it comes to details—you can really appreciate the time and love that was put into the movie’s many creatures, and all of the effort that went into bringing this world to life. Fans of the soundtrack will enjoy their choice of Dolby Atmos, DTS 5.1 or 2.0 audio options.
Housed in a handsome book-style box that resembles the tome seen in the movie, it’s a lovely edition and clearly the best version of Labyrinth released thus far. (The stiff-looking image of Bowie and Connelly is a removable plastic slipcover that can be removed, leaving behind the more elegant book.) Diehard Labyrinth fans who already have the 30th Anniversary will probably still want to upgrade just for the two new bonus features; meanwhile, it should be an auto-purchase for any Henson or Bowie fans who haven’t yet upgraded from their DVD.