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Sony Pictures // PG // September 29, 2009 // Region 0
List Price: $27.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted September 22, 2009 | E-mail the Author
Well, that's one
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way to get out of babysitting. Maybe Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) isn't exactly a normal teenager -- more keen on acting out pages from her storybook fantasies rather than thumbing through "Tiger Beat" or whatever it was that fifteen year old girls did back in 1986 -- but she definitely doesn't want to be stuck at home watching over her whiny baby brother. So, she does what anyone would do in her situation, really: plead with goblins to swoop in and snatch baby Toby away. Oops. Turns out that's not just another line from the Fantasy end of the Dewey Decimal System, and she strolls back into Toby's room only to find an empty crib waiting for her. Sarah pleads with The Goblin King (David Bowie) to give her back her baby brother, and no matter what strange and wonderful things His Thin White Highness offers in his place, all she wants is Toby to be snoozing away at home again. Oh, Sarah can have her brother back, but she'll have to get him first, and that means trudging all the way through a sprawling labyrinth to the Goblin King's stronghold in the dead center. The clock's ticking, though, and if Sarah can't solve the labyrinth in thirteen hours, Toby will be transformed into a goblin ::gulp!:: forever.

It's probably been close to twenty years since I last gave Labyrinth a whirl -- I grew up with a sister who watched it literally every single day for weeks on end, and that was enough for me -- but within just a few short minutes of popping in this Blu-ray disc, that wide-eyed sense of awe and wonder came flooding back. There's something enthralling and magical about every last frame of this timeless fantasy...a remnant of days when a family movie could be howlingly funny, kind of dark and sticky in its own right, and visually dazzling without mindlessly pandering to the junior set. Labyrinth is a nostalgic blast, sure, but it still holds up astonishingly well today on its own merits. I can't help but marvel at how dazzling the seemingly hundreds of creatures created by The Henson Workshop still are all these years later. These aren't Muppets statically perched on a front stoop or anything; they inhabit this strange and wonderful world, and we see seemingly every square inch of them as they skulk around it. The character designs across the board are demented and wildly imaginative, and they're so expressive -- infused with so much personality -- that it's easy to forget that these are foam rubber and latex in the first place. Labyrinth really does feel as if it's escaping into an entirely different world, and it just wouldn't be the same movie if its characters and backdrops had been churned out in a render farm in Palo Alto rather than meticulously crafted by hand.

Every square
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inch of Labyrinth is teeming with that same sense of wonder and magic. This is a movie with a gaggle of singing, dancing critters who yank out their eyeballs and kick their heads around...just as a gigantic iron gate is slammed, the sealed doors form a twenty foot robotic golem who steps out and swings an oversized battle axe...Sarah tumbles down a seemingly endless chasm of green hands that wriggle their fingers to form eyes and mouths...the climax is set against the backdrop of an M.C. Escher painting brought to life...heck, there's even a Bog of Eternal Stench. Every movie could use a Bog of Eternal Stench or two. Even with more than a full decade of making-of docs and special effects featurettes under my belt, there are still quite a few spots in Labyrinth where I found myself wondering just how they pulled off some of its great many visual tricks.

There's nothing about Labyrinth that isn't amazing, really. All of fifteen years old or so, Jennifer Connelly wasn't quite the seasoned actress she'd quickly become quite yet, but she's a remarkably engaging presence on-screen just the same. As compellingly odd, otherworldly, and regal as he is to begin with, it goes without saying that David Bowie is an inspired choice to tackle the role of The Goblin King. Some of the music Bowie wrote especially for the film -- particularly the inhumanly infectious "Magic Dance" -- is terrific as well. With Python's Terry Jones and Jim Henson among those at the helm, it follows that Labyrinth sports a razor-sharp wit, continually subverting one fairy tale cliché after another while it's at it. I'm having a tough time thinking of a climax as deliriously fun as the Goblin War is here, and I love the fact that there's such a demented streak to the movie too. I mean, Labyrinth introduces Hoggle -- Sarah's first friend in the Goblin Kingdom and one of her biggest hurdles to leap throughout her quest -- as he's spraying poison at Fairy Number Fortysomething. Turns out they're nasty little buggers. Pretty much every fairy tale has some sort of dark, twisted undercurrent; Labyrinth is just more upfront about it than most. There's a coming of age story bobbing around in here somewhere too, and the way that's fielded is a little creepy in its own right as well.

I can't help but be enthralled by Labyrinth, and it's such an experience that jotting down any sort of a review almost seems pointless; an endless string of words really can't do it justice. Visually entrancing, unrelentingly imaginative, cacklingly funny, indescribably fun, worlds sharper and more respectful of childrens' intelligence than most sarcastic-fingerquotes-"family" movies limping into theaters these days: Labyrinth is just exceptional, really, and it's a movie that's well-worth discovering -- or re-discovering! -- now that it's clawed its way to Blu-ray. Highly Recommended.

Wow. I'm really impressed by just how much of a jawdropper Labyrinth is in high-def. With the obvious exception of optical shots where the scope image unavoidably degrades, it's as perfect as anything I ever could've hoped to see out of a movie from the class of 1986. This Blu-ray disc is consistently clean, crisp, and brimming with fine detail. Contrast remains rock solid from the first frame to the last, bolstered by deep, inky blacks. Film grain hardly ever creeps in, and when it does, it's tight and nicely defined. I couldn't spot any trace of excessive filtering either, and the disc's AVC encode has enough headroom that the compression is never given an excuse to hiccup or stutter. This is really outstanding work from Sony and completely trumps anything I could've expected.

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16-bit Dolby TrueHD audio is more routine, though, sounding more like a stereo track that's disinterestedly bleeding into the surrounds. There's some mild atmosphere -- torrential rain, chirping birds, and the belches and farts of the Bog of Eternal Stench, to rattle off a few -- but not all that much in the way of directionality. Even when the goblins are skittering all around Sarah's bedroom, the action's anchored entirely up front. Only a tiny handful of effects, like Ludo's boulder-howls and the slamming of the gates to the labyrinth, are reinforced all that well by the rear channels. The surrounds come across like an afterthought in the sound design, but they do a terrific job bolstering the film's music which comes through rich and full-bodied. The original numbers by Trevor Jones and David Bowie are responsible for belting out most of the heft to the audio's low-end. The one gripe I have with the music is how low the vocals are balanced in the mix. They sound more like scratch vocals rather than something recorded in a ritzy, high-end studio, and some of the lyrics can be really tough to make out at times. The film's dialogue comes through well enough, though. My other gripe is that so few of the sound effects pack much of a wallop. Even cannonfire doesn't manage to kickstart the subwoofer. It's a decent enough effort, sure, but Labyrinth definitely looks better than it sounds on Blu-ray.

Also included are TrueHD 5.1 dubs in Portuguese and French along with a Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish track. Subtitles are offered in English (traditional and SDH), French, Spanish, and Portuguese. Brian Froud's commentary is optionally subtitled in Spanish and Portuguese as well.

  • The Storytellers: Exclusive to this Blu-ray release is a set of picture-in-picture interviews that optionally play over the film, and none of this newly-recorded footage pops up anywhere else on the disc. Warwick Davis is the biggest name on the marquee here, and also featured are Cheryl Henson, puppeteer Kevin Clash (Elmo!), make-up artist Nick Dudman, and Connie Peterson and Rollin Krewson from the Creature Workshop. The comments can be pretty great -- especially Clash, who's definitely more of a storyteller than anyone else here -- but the interviews are so sparse that this feature's almost worth ignoring entirely. Long, long stretches pass without anything -- I think there are all of three clips in the first half hour -- and when they do, it's usually just a minute or two at a time. Some of the highlights, though...? Turns out it takes two years for this sort of show dog to grow out its coat again if it's dipped in green dyed bogwater, The Once and Future Wicket chats about being continually knocked over by riding goblins and running backwards while tethered to a bunch of fake boulders, and we hear just how tough it is to get a Firey to gobble a couple of eyeballs. The dominant presence in this feature, Cheryl Henson offers some insight into her father's perception of the film and how his inspired view of children colored the story. What little material is here really is great, but I wish there were either more of it or that this could've just been compiled into a featurette instead.

  • Audio Commentary: All of
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    the extras from the 2007 DVD special edition have been carried over here, beginning with this commentary by conceptual designer Brian Froud. Endlessly engaging and personable, Froud is readily able to shoulder this track by his lonesome. For one, he explains why exactly Toby is decked out in stripes and notes that his son's day job these days isn't too far removed from his stint as Labyrinth's MacGuffiny toddler. Froud also delves into snippets of goblin and fairy lore that he sprinkled into the story, even describing how holding onto one goblin-inspired relic from the shoot landed him in trouble with airport security once upon a time. He lobs out plenty of great stories too, including the fact that it's not his fault Kenny Baker was up in flames for a moment there, but what Froud does better than anything is explore the creatures he designed. Drawing inspiration from everything from Charles Dickens to steam engines, Froud dives into his many otherworldly creations in detail. I'm impressed by just how well Froud is able to carry this commentary by himself, and I certainly enjoyed it enough to recommend giving this track a spin.

  • Journey Through the Labyrinth (58 min.; SD): This comprehensive retrospective is divided into two featurettes, each clocking in right at half an hour. The design and fabrication of virtually all of the key puppets -- frequently a mix of traditional puppetry techniques with bleeding-edge tech -- are explored at length, and the half-battalion of speakers also take care to note what each character contributes to Sarah's strange and wonderful journey. The early days of the project, from the core concept being quickly dreamed up in a limo to Terry Jones subverting pretty much everything, also get more than a little bit of attention. There's a good bit of behind-the-scenes footage highlighted as well as peeks at Jennifer Connelly's audition tape and early test footage. I'm not entirely sure why these are offered on the disc as two separate extras, but they're both well worth a look, especially for anyone with an interest in the nuts and bolts on how these fantastic creatures were brought to life.

  • Inside the Labyrinth (56 min.; SD): Somewhat surprisingly, this vintage documentary from 1986 may be the most compelling extra on the disc. That's all thanks to the sprawling amount of behind-the-scenes footage it offers up, and so many of the topics briefly touched on in "Journey in the Labyrinth" and the audio commentary score an enormous amount of attention here. The pacing is admittedly very relaxed, but that just means more time to marvel at Henson and his immeasurably talented cast and crew at work. Jennifer Connelly and Terry Jones aren't interviewed anywhere else on this disc, but they're lavished with plenty of screentime here, and we're also given much more of a detailed look at Brian Froud's sketchbook and even a peek at David Bowie in the recording studio. "Inside the Labyrinth" delves into everything, really: the elaborate choreography, the overwhelming scale of such an ambitious project with literally dozens upon dozens of puppeteers on-stage at some points, Michael Moschen blindly doing his crystal ball trick behind Bowie, lingering looks at the many sets and astonishingly detailed miniatures, Jim Henson struggling to direct both a baby and a bunch of chickens... The list of highlights just keeps rambling on from there.
Like everything coming down the pike from Sony, Labyrinth is a BD Live-enabled disc, and a handful of high definition trailers for other Blu-ray titles are also included.

The Final Word
Labyrinth is a waking dream of a fairy tale, so wonderfully strange -- bursting at the seams with the sort of boundless talent and imagination that only Jim Henson and his crew could hope to deliver -- that the film is every bit as magical today as it was when it first made its bow in theaters more than twenty years ago. It's timeless, really, continuing to coax out that wide-eyed child buried deep within me. Not only does Labyrinth hold up better than I ever could've expected all these years later, but it looks startlingly beautiful in high definition, and this Blu-ray disc also sports a reasonably nice selection of extras to boot. Highly Recommended.

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