Film Review: Labyrinth

There are loads of films that start out life as box office flops and yet end up becoming classics due to the strength of the cult that grows around them. Shawshank Redemption and Withnail & I instantly spring to mind while Labyrinth can also be included in the list. Nobody went to see it and critics panned it, and yet, in its later life it has come to be much loved by a strong following myself included. And so when my local independent cinema put on a “one night only” screening I jumped at the chance.

While I love Labyrinth and the madness it contains within, I should point out that I am not blindly in love with it. I am fully aware of its flaws and if I’m honest, David Bowie have never really been overly convincing to me in the role of the Goblin King and the less said about his dress sense and “openness” the better. But I think a lot of the criticism thrown at the film is very much a case of people looking too hard at it. Picking holes purely for the sake of it and wanting to not follow the rest of the herb. For me, Labyrinth is a visual feast and if you start to look beyond the images and characters and into the deeper meanings then, it seems to me you’ve missed the point!

David Bowie - Labyrinth Goblin King

I haven’t watched Labyrinth for a couple of years and I was slightly worried that the film, which is now 28 years old, would feel its age. But I shouldn’t have worried. Rather than appear dated and out fashioned, it’s managed to mature with a real retro charm to it. In the same way you now look back at dated technology like the cassette tape or floppy disc and feel a warm charm in it’s now disconnected place in society, and lack of seeming reason in a contemporary world. I instantly looked at Labyrinth and felt an overriding sense of comfort and happy remembrance of past times.

One of the strengths in this film lies in its connection to Jim Henson and his skilled puppeteers. In the same way, you never tire of the quality and perfectionism Aardman bring to a world of plasticine, Henson has corned the world of rubber puppet madness and made it untouchable. And when you take a medium so fitting to the world they are placed in and combine it with the comedy madness of Monty Python the recipe starts to make sense.

And it’s those two separate parts harmonising so well that create a film, that for me at least the more I watch it, the more it gets better and the more I notice. It’s the little touches, whether they be in the script and comic writing of Terry Jones and the characters he creates – I challenge anyone not to wish Sir Didymus and Ambrosius were real – to the set and character design of Henson – the milk bottles by the front door of the Goblin Castle – that really turn a fun film into a work of blossoming class. I even left wondering whether Hoggle the Dwarf was modelled on Pete Postlethwaite?

Labyrinth - Sir Didymus, Ambrosius & Hoggle The Dwarf

You cannot help though, however much you try not to, to look deeper into the film, to look towards the hidden meanings and how the film tries to explain the transition we go through as we grow up. How life throws challenges and responsibilities at us and the actions and reliance’s we need to take and accept to form a sensible outcome and build a life for ourselves. It’s a simple idea: life is one big maze of challenges, but it’s also an adventure in which people will come and go. Not everyone will like you, people will try to stop you and hurt you. But along the way, friendships will be made that will prove stronger than any obstacle when tested and that life, will guide you through if you give it a chance.

I’m glad Labyrinth is getting better with age, and I’m glad that the more I watch it the better it seems to get and the more of the little nuances and hidden gems I seem to discover. I’m very much part of the cult that love this classic and having finally seen it on a big screen, my love is stronger now than ever before.

Just don’t mention Christopher Malcolm’s last line!

8 out of 10 stars (8 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

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