The work of Jim Henson has yielded plenty of fruit for children of all ages, from his creative connections on Sesame Street to The Muppet Show and Fraggle Rock. Even lesser-seen Muppet endeavors like Emmett Otter's Jug-Band Christmas (1977) and The Christmas Toy (1986) brought us warm tales told from a unique perspective. Henson's untimely death in 1990 cut short a career filled with success and creativity, yet his legacy of memorable characters will never be forgotten. His last feature-length directorial effort was Labyrinth (1986), a coming-of-age tale mixing humans with his unique brand of characters to create a fantasy film bursting with style and charm. It's doubly poignant this year, after the death of star David Bowie in January.
Labyrinth follows Sarah (Jennifer Connelly), a 15 year-old whose intense love for fantasy worlds overshadows her responsibilities at home. Sentenced to baby-sit baby brother Toby while her father and stepmother enjoy an evening out, Sarah becomes increasingly annoyed with this rude interruption of her blossoming imagination. Determined to rid herself of such adult responsibilities, the young girl wishes for Jareth, The Goblin King (David Bowie)---a character in her favorite book, "Labyrinth"---to take the child away to his faraway kingdom...and unfortunately, it works. She finds herself in said kingdom, outside of a labyrinth that must be solved in 13 hours if she wants to rescue her brother from The Goblin King's castle. As with most tales of fantasy, from The Wizard of Oz to Pan's Labyrinth, unusual characters are met along the way and everything is not always what it seems; hidden passageways are as common as talking worms and gravity-defying staircases. Watching from the comfort of his castle is Jareth himself, who occasionally interferes with Sarah's progress while nursing a certain level of respect and affection for the girl.
The goal of returning home with her brother stays in the background; more than anything else, Labyrinth is about the journey, not the destination, showing us how Sarah emotionally grows and develops during a particularly turbulent time in her life (we also get not-so-subtle hints about her feelings for Jareth, especially during a dream-like trance after Sarah eats a mysterious piece of fruit). In one particularly clever sequence, she's tempted with the promises of toys and memories from her childhood if she agrees to stop looking for the maze's center. Co-written by Dennis Lee and Monty Python member Terry Jones (who penned the screenplay), Labyrinth has held up perfectly well during the last 30 years and remains a charming, heartfelt family adventure, thanks to the obvious love and care that went into just about every detail, costume, puppet, and piece of set design. You don't have to have grown up with Labyrinth to appreciate it, either: I didn't see it for the first time until well into my twenties.
It's also earned an embarrassingly high number of home video releases (there are more---these are just the ones we've reviewed), each one offering new bits, baubles, and small A/V upgrades along the way. Perhaps the biggest overall jump arrives with Sony's brand new 30th Anniversary Edition: available as either a 4K UHD release, a standard Blu-ray (reviewed here), or a deluxe package that hogs a bit of shelf space, there's no shortage of choices depending on your level of Labyrinth fandom. This standard Blu-ray option offers plenty of bang for your buck, sporting a brand new 1080p transfer (sourced from a recent 4K restoration) and a solid amount of old and new bonus features that delve deep into the film's production and lasting legacy.
One of the biggest selling points of this 30th Anniversary Edition is a brand new 1080p transfer created from the film's recent 4K restoration, which apparently used Jim Henson's own personal print of Labyrinth as a reference. The results are often jaw-dropping: this is obviously a film loaded with fine details and textures, which are rendered perfectly here and showcase a tremendous amount of depth at times. Color balance and saturation appear accurate with no obvious signs of bleeding, while contrast levels and shadow detail are all uniformly strong. Film grain is very consistent with no apparent digital issues including edge enhancement, artificial sharpening, or excessive noise reduction. Also available as a 4K UHD release, this is one of the best treatments of a catalog title I've seen to date. It's worth the price of admission alone, but there's more here than just a nice new transfer.
DISCLAIMER: The still images and promotional photos on this page are decorative and do not represent the Blu-ray under review.
Equally impressive is the film's brand-new Dolby Atmos mix, which defaults to a Dolby TrueHD 7.1 presentation for those with more modest setups. Labyrinth has always been a great-sounding film and this is its best presentation to date, featuring a strong amount of channel separation, thundering doses of LFE, crisp dialogue, well-balanced music cues, and just about every other positive that you can think of. Like the new 1080p transfer, this track does an exceptional job of creating the proper atmosphere and enhances the film's overall effectiveness from start to finish. Optional dubs are included in Spanish, French, German, and Italian (Dolby Digital 5.1), with subtitle options available in English, SDH, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, Indonesian, Korean, Mandarin (simplified or traditional), and Thai during the film and all applicable bonus features. Impressive!
The stylish, simple interface replicates the original poster artwork; separate menus are offered for chapter selection, audio/subtitle setup and bonus features. Seen above, this one-disc package arrives in a beautiful Digibook Case that includes 28 pages of timelines and production history, short essays, vintage photos and drawings, character profiles, and other notes about the film. Also tucked inside is one promotional insert, a short letter from Brian Henson, and a Digital Copy redemption code.
New to this release are three short new retrospective featurettes with key members of the cast and crew (apparently from the same sessions). "Reordering Time: Looking Back at Labyrinth" (10 minutes) features Jennifer Connelly, The Center for Puppetry Arts' Vincent Anthony, and three of Jim Henson's children (Brian, Lisa, and Cheryl), who are more than willing to talk about the film and Henson's massive work ethic. A few vintage Henson interview clips (many taken from the older "Inside the Labyrinth" documentary, also included) are also shown briefly. "The Henson Legacy" (11 minutes), featuring the same contributors, takes a more career-minded look at Jim Henson's body of work, also showcasing many of the original puppets and props on display in Atlanta's The Center for Puppetry Arts. Finally, "Remembering The Goblin King" (5 minutes) is a tribute to David Bowie, featuring a few short scenes from the film, vintage on-set clips and photos, and short comments from some of the same contributors.
Also new here is a 30th Anniversary Q&A (42 minutes) moderated by Adam Savage and featuring Brian Henson, Karen Prell, Dave Goelz, and actress Shari Weiser. Most of their discussion revolves around the film's production and their puppetry careers as a whole, with time at the end devoted to a handful of audience questions. It's a fine enough extra that most will enjoy, although I'm personally not a big fan of live Q&As. Finally, the last new extra is a collection of three Trailers for the film (4 minutes total)---always a nice touch, especially just about every past DVD and Blu-ray hasn't included much from the marketing department.
Carried over from Sony's 2009 Blu-ray are a feature-length Audio Commentary by conceptual designer Brian Froud, the two-part behind-the-scenes featurette "Journey Through the Labyrinth" ("Kingdom of Characters" and "The Quest for the Goblin City", 58 minutes total), the long-form vintage documentary "Inside the Labyrinth" (56 minutes), and the Picture in Picture "Storytellers" Mode that plays interviews with the cast, crew, and famous fans over the film itself (glad this didn't get lost in the shuffle). Paired with the new material, it's a perfectly well-rounded collection of extras that leave almost no stones unturned.
Jim Henson's Labyrinth was the legendary puppeteer's last film, and it's easily his most popular and enduring "live-action" effort (don't get me wrong, The Dark Crystal is great too). The film's light tone pairs well with its imaginative, fully-realized visuals, while the lead performances of Jennifer Connelly and the late David Bowie make it a joy to watch for kids and young adults of all ages. Sony's 30th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray is a major step up in every department and, unless you opt for the 4K UHD release, the best it's ever looked on home video: featuring a sparkling new restoration, terrific Dolby Atmos audio, a handful of new extras, and terrific Digibook packaging, it's a no-brainer for fans and first-timers alike. Very, very Highly Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs, and writing in third person.