VOD film review: Labyrinth
Ivan Radford | On 17, Jan 2019
Director: Jim Henson
Cast: Jennifer Connelly, David Bowie
Watch Labyrinth online in the UK: Netflix UK / Sky Cinema / NOW / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store
“It’s only forever, not long at all.” Those are the words of Jareth the Goblin King, who turns a young girl’s world upside down in 1986’s fantasy gem Labyrinth. Sarah (Jennifer Connelly), a 16-year-old older sister to baby brother Toby (Toby Froud), finds herself irritated by his crying and wishes for him to be taken away. And so up pops Jareth who offers Sarah her dreams in exchange for Toby, and whisks him away to his labyrinth. Sarah, regretting her request, tries to find him and get him back home – before her time runs out and he’s turned into a goblin.
What ensues is the kind of child-in-a-strange-land tale that has long been a staple of the fantasy, coming-of-age genre – one in which the strangeness and scariness of the kingdom encountered by our young hero is partly dangerous because it represents, on some level, the adult world. At the start of the film, we can see copies of Where the Wild Things, The Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland in Sarah’s room, and Labyrinth plays out like a trippy blend of all three – given an added flourish all its own.
That’s partly thanks to a gloriously unnerving performance from David Bowie. Who else would you cast as Jareth the Goblin King, an unusual, intimidating, adult, disarming, agile, playful figure? Bowie turned down the part of a Bond villain in A View to a Kill (a part taken by Christopher Walken) before ending up taking Jareth – a more intriguing family-friendly challenge, with Bowie writing five songs for the movie. He brings his signature style to the soundtrack as well as the screen, and that larger-than-life persona seeps through the whole production, amplifying that feeling of being lost in a maze that’s beyond our normal realm.
But Bowie also reportedly moved away from the 007 film because he feared a blockbusting actioner would mostly involve watching his stunt double do things. Labyrinth’s staying power, beyond Bowie’s enchanting screen presence, lies in precisely that physical quality, with director Jim Henson crafting a practical world full of matte paintings, tangible props and remarkably hands-on effects (literally, in the case of the Shaft of Hands sequence), which makes everything that bit more eerily convincing. Kinetic camerawork, tumbling visuals and dizzying ball featuring Bowie in full musical flight are mesmerising to behold now, while puppetry is delivered by Muppets veterans Frank Oz, Dave Goelz, and Steve Whitmire among others.
Connelly is excellent as the young woman learning to take responsibility for her actions, and for lives that aren’t just hers. While the script doesn’t always quite come together, there’s a nice throughline of humour (Monty Python’s Terry Jones worked on the script). Combined with the iconic music and sheer imagination of the filmmaking team – a climactic showdown in an Esher-like staircase is jaw-dropping stuff – the result is a cult adventure that still rings with a creepy absurdity and appealing, monstrous charisma today. It’s not quite forever, but that’s an impressively long time.
Labyrinth is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription. It is also available on Sky Cinema. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it on NOW, as part of an £11.99 NOW Cinema Membership subscription. For the latest Sky TV packages and prices, click the button below.