Labyrinth (1986 film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Jim Henson|
|Produced by||Eric Rattray|
|Screenplay by||Terry Jones|
|Music by||Trevor Jones|
|Edited by||John Grover|
|Distributed by||TriStar Pictures|
|Box office||$12.9 million (US only)|
Labyrinth is a 1986 musical fantasy film directed by Jim Henson, produced by George Lucas, and based upon conceptual designs by Brian Froud. It revolves around 15 year-old Sarah's (Jennifer Connelly) quest to reach the center of an enormous otherworldly maze to rescue her infant brother Toby, whom Sarah wished away to Jareth the Goblin King (David Bowie). Most of the film's significant characters are played by puppets produced by Jim Henson's Creature Shop, apart from Bowie and Connelly.
The film started as a collaboration between Henson and Froud following their previous collaboration The Dark Crystal. Terry Jones of Monty Python wrote the first draft of the film's script early in 1984, drawing on Froud's sketches for inspiration. Various other scriptwriters rewrote it and added to it, including Laura Phillips, Lucas, Dennis Lee, and Elaine May—although Jones received the film's sole screenwriting credit. It was shot on location in Upper Nyack, Piermont, and Haverstraw, New York, and at Elstree Studios and West Wycombe Park in the United Kingdom.
The New York Times reported that Labyrinth had a budget of $25 million. The film was a box office disappointment, grossing $12.9 million during its U.S. theatrical run. The commercial failure demoralized Henson; his son Brian remembered the time of the film's release as one of the most difficult periods of his father's career, and it was the last feature film that he directed. It was met with a mixed critical response upon its release, but it has since gained a large cult following. Tokyopop published the four-volume comic sequel Return to Labyrinth between 2006 and 2010. In January 2016, it was announced that a remake was in development,  which screenwriter Nicole Perlman described as more of a "spin-off" in the same fictional universe.
- 1 Plot
- 2 Cast
- 3 Influences
- 4 Production
- 5 Release
- 6 Reception
- 7 In other media
- 8 Sequel
- 9 References
- 10 Bibliography
- 11 External links
15-year-old Sarah Williams recites from a book titled "The Labyrinth" in the park with her dog Merlin but becomes distracted by a line she is unable to remember while being watched by a barn owl. Realizing she is late to babysit her baby brother Toby, she rushes home and is confronted by her stepmother Irene before she and her father Robert leave for dinner. Sarah has many toys that she has grown out of and realizes that Toby is in possession of her treasured teddy bear Lancelot. Frustrated by this and his constant crying, Sarah rashly wishes Toby be taken away by the goblins. She is shocked when Toby disappears and Jareth, the Goblin King, appears before her, offering Sarah her dreams in exchange for the baby. She refuses, having instantly regretted her wish, and Jareth reluctantly gives Sarah 13 hours to solve his labyrinth and find Toby before he is turned into a goblin forever. Sarah meets a dwarfish man named Hoggle, who aids her in entering the labyrinth. She has trouble finding turns and corners but then meets a talking worm who inadvertently sends her in the wrong direction.
Sarah ends up in an oubliette, where she reunites with Hoggle. After they confront Jareth and escape one of his traps, the two encounter a large beast named Ludo. Hoggle flees in a cowardly fashion while Sarah befriends Ludo. After another riddle, she loses him in a forest. Hoggle encounters Jareth, who gives him a drugged peach and instructs him to give it to Sarah, calling his loyalty into question, as he was supposed to lead her back to the beginning of the maze. Sarah is assaulted by a group of creatures called Fireys with detachable body parts who try to remove her head, but Hoggle comes to her aid. Thankful, she kisses him, and Jareth magically sends them to the Bog of Eternal Stench as punishment, where they reunite with Ludo. Sarah, Hoggle, and Ludo meet a guard of the bridge out of the swamp named Sir Didymus, an anthropomorphic fox, and his Old English Sheepdog "steed" named Ambrosius. After Ludo howls and summons a trail of rocks to save Sarah from falling into the bog, Didymus joins the group (her three new friends are just like some of the toys in her room). After the group gets hungry, Hoggle gives Sarah the peach and runs away as she falls into a trance and begins to forget her quest. She has a dream where Jareth comes to her at a masquerade ball, proclaiming his love for her, but she begins to remember and escapes, falling into a junkyard. After an old Junk Lady fails to brainwash her and her memory is jogged, she is rescued by Ludo and Didymus, and they are right outside Goblin City near Jareth's castle. They are confronted by the gate guard, but Hoggle bravely comes to their rescue. Despite his feeling unworthy of forgiveness for his betrayal, Sarah and the others welcome him back, and they enter the city together.
Jareth is alerted to their presence and sends his goblin army to stop them, but Ludo howls and summons a mountain's worth of rocks to chase the guards away, and they enter the castle. Sarah insists she must face Jareth alone and promises to call the others if needed. In a room modeled after M. C. Escher's Relativity, she confronts Jareth while trying to retrieve Toby. She recites the lines from her book that mirror her adventure to that point, but she still cannot remember the last line. As Jareth begs her to fear him, love him and obey him, promising he will love her, and give her anything she wants, she remembers the line, "You have no power over me!" Defeated at the last second, Jareth returns Sarah and Toby home safely and turns into a barn owl, flying away.
Realizing how important Toby is to her, Sarah gives him Lancelot and returns to her room. After she hears her father and stepmother come in, she sees her friends in the mirror and realizes even though she is growing up, she still needs them in her life every now and again. In an instant, a number of the major characters from the Labyrinth appear in her room for a raucous celebration, and she reunites with Hoggle, Ludo, Didymus, and Ambrosius. As they celebrate, Jareth, in his owl form, watches from outside and then flies away into the night.
- David Bowie as Jareth the Goblin King, the ruler of the Goblins.
- Jennifer Connelly as Sarah Williams, a 15-year-old girl who journeys through the labyrinth to find her baby brother.
- Toby Froud as Toby Williams, Sarah's baby brother.
- Christopher Malcolm as Robert, Sarah and Toby's father.
- Shelley Thompson as Irene, Toby's mother and Sarah's stepmother.
- Natalie Finland as the Labyrinth Fairies, a bunch of deceitful barefoot fairies that reside in the labyrinth.
- Juggler Michael Moschen performed Jareth's elaborate crystal-ball contact juggling manipulations.
|Shari Weiser (in body suit)|
|with Rob Mills|
|Sir Didymus||Dave Goelz
with David Barclay
|The Worm||Karen Prell||Timothy Bateson|
|The Wiseman||Frank Oz||Michael Hordern|
|The Hat||Dave Goelz||David Shaughnessy|
|The Junk Lady||Karen Prell||Denise Bryer|
|The Four Guards||Steve Whitmire||Anthony Jackson|
|Right Door Knocker||Anthony Asbury||David Healy|
|Left Door Knocker||Dave Goelz||Robert Beatty|
|Fiery #1||Kevin Clash|
|with David Barclay & Toby Philpott|
|Fiery #2||Karen Prell
with Ron Mueck & Ian Thom
|Fiery #3||Dave Goelz
with Rob Mills & Sherry Ammott
|Fiery #4||Steve Whitmire
with Cheryl Henson & Kevin Bradshaw
|Fiery #5||Anthony Asbury
with Alistair Fullarton & Rollin Krewson
|Ambrosius||Steve Whitmire||Percy Edwards|
|Goblins||Don Austen, Michael Bayliss
Martin Bridle, Fiona Beynor Brown
Simon Buckley, David Bulbeck. Sue Dacre
Geoff Felix, Trevor Freeborn
Christine Glanville, David Greenaway
Brian James, Jan King, Ronnie Le Drew
Terry Lee, Christopher Leith,
Kathryn Mullen, Angie Passmore
Michael Petersen, Nigel Plaskitt
Judy Preece, Michael Quinn
Gillie Robic, David Rudman
David Showler, Robin Stevens
Ian Tregonning, Mary Turner
Robert Tygner, Mak Wilson
|Michael Attwell, Sean Barrett,
Timothy Bateson, Douglas Blackwell,
Anthony Jackson, Peter Marinker,
Goblin Corps performed by Marc Antona, Kenny Baker, Michael Henbury Ballan, Danny Blackner, Peter Burroughs, Toby Clark, Tessa Crockett, Warwick Davis, Malcolm Dixon, Anthony Georghiou, Paul Grant, Andrew Herd, Richard Jones, John Key, Mark Lisle, Peter Mandell, Jack Purvis, Katie Purvis, Nicholas Read, Linda Spriggs, Penny Stead, and Albert Wilkinson.
Richard Corliss noted that the film appeared to have been influenced by The Wizard of Oz and the works of Maurice Sendak, writing, "Labyrinth lures a modern Dorothy Gale out of the drab Kansas of real life into a land where the wild things are." Nina Darnton wrote that the plot of Labyrinth "is very similar to Outside Over There by Mr. Sendak, in which 9-year-old Ida's baby sister is stolen by the goblins". This almost got the film into legal trouble, as the similarity caused Sendak's lawyers to advise Jim Henson to stop production on the film. However, the legal complaint was eventually settled, with an end credit being added that states, "Jim Henson acknowledges his debt to the works of Maurice Sendak." Sendak's Outside Over There and Where the Wild Things Are are shown briefly in Sarah's room at the start of the film, along with copies of Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, and Grimms' Fairy Tales.
The film's concept designer Brian Froud has stated that the character of Jareth was influenced by a diverse range of literary sources. In his afterword to The Goblins of Labyrinth, Froud wrote that Jareth references "the romantic figures of Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights and a brooding Rochester from Jane Eyre" and The Scarlet Pimpernel. Bowie's costumes were intentionally eclectic, drawing on the image of Marlon Brando's leather jacket from The Wild One as well as that of a knight "with the worms of death eating through his armour" from Grimms' Fairy Tales. In his audio commentary of Labyrinth, Froud said that Jareth also has influences from Japanese Kabuki theatre.
The dialogue starting with phrase, "you remind me of the babe" that occurs between Jareth and the goblins, in the Magic Dance sequence in the film, is a direct reference to an exchange between Cary Grant and Shirley Temple in the 1947 film The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer.
Origins and script
According to the film's conceptual designer Brian Froud, Labyrinth was first discussed between himself and director Jim Henson. Both agreed to work on another project together, and Froud suggested that the film should feature goblins. On the same journey, Froud "pictured a baby surrounded by goblins" and this strong visual image – along with Froud's insight that goblins traditionally steal babies – provided the basis for the film's plot.
Discussing the film's origins, Henson explained that he and Froud "wanted to do a lighter weight picture, with more of a sense of comedy since Dark Crystal got kind of heavy – heavier than we had intended. Now I wanted to do a film with the characters having more personality, and interacting more."
Labyrinth was being seriously discussed as early as March 1983, when Henson held a meeting with Froud and children's author Dennis Lee. Lee was tasked with writing a novella on which a script could be based, submitting it at the end of 1983. Henson approached Terry Jones to write the film's script as "his daughter Lisa had just read Erik the Viking and suggested that he try me as screen-writer." Jones was given Dennis Lee's novella to use as a basis for his script, but later told Empire that Lee had produced an unfinished "poetic novella" that he "didn't really get on with." In light of this, Jones "discarded it and sat down with Brian [Froud]'s drawings and sifted through them and found the ones that I really liked, and started creating the story from them."
While Jones is credited with writing the screenplay, the shooting script was actually a collaborative effort that featured contributions from Henson, George Lucas, Laura Phillips, and Elaine May. Jones himself has said that the finished film differs greatly from his original vision. According to Jones, "I didn't feel that it was very much mine. I always felt it fell between two stories, Jim wanted it to be one thing and I wanted it to be about something else." Jones has said his version of the script was "about the world, and about people who are more interested in manipulating the world than actually baring themselves at all." In Jones' original script, Jareth merely seems "all powerful to begin with" and is actually using the Labyrinth to "keep people from getting to his heart."
Jones has said that Bowie's involvement in the project had a significant impact on the direction taken with the film. Jones had originally intended for the audience not to see the center of the Labyrinth prior to Sarah's reaching it, as he felt that doing so robbed the film of a significant 'hook.' With the thought of Bowie starring in the film in mind, Henson decided he wanted Jareth to sing and appear throughout the film, something Jones considered to be the "wrong" decision. Despite his misgivings, Jones re-wrote the script to allow for songs to be performed throughout the film. This draft of the script "went away for about a year", during which time it was re-drafted first by Laura Phillips and subsequently by George Lucas.
An early draft of the script attributed to Jones and Phillips is markedly different from the finished film. The early script has Jareth enter Sarah's house in the guise of Robin Zakar, the author of a play she is due to perform in. Sarah does not wish for her brother to be taken away by the goblins, and Jareth snatches him away against her will. Jareth is overtly villainous in this draft of the script, and during his final confrontation with Sarah he tells her he would "much rather have a Queen" than "a little goblin prince." The early script ends with Sarah kicking Jareth in disgust, her blows causing him to transform into a powerless, sniveling goblin. In the extensive junkyard scene, Jareth operates the Junk Lady as a puppet, whereas in the film she is autonomous. There is actually a pub or bar in the Labyrinth where the Man with Hat and Hoggle gather, and the river Lethe in Greek myth is mentioned. As well, the ballroom scene features extensive dialogue between Jareth and Sarah, whereas in the film there is none (although there is in the novelization by A. C. H. Smith), and the goings-on with the dancers in the ballroom are more overtly sexualized.
The re-drafted script was sent to Bowie, who found that it lacked humor and considered withdrawing his involvement in the project as a result. To ensure Bowie's involvement, Henson asked Jones to "do a bit more" to the script in order to make it more humorous. Elaine May met with Henson several months prior to the start of filming in April 1985, and was asked to polish the script. May's changes "humanized the characters" and pleased Henson to the extent that they were incorporated into the film's shooting script.
At least twenty-five treatments and scripts were drafted for Labyrinth between 1983–85, and the film's shooting script was only ready shortly before filming began.
The protagonist of the film was, at different stages of its development, going to be a King whose baby had been put under an enchantment, a princess from a fantasy world, and a young girl from Victorian England. In order to make the film more commercial, they made the lead a teenage girl from contemporary America. Henson noted that he wished to "make the idea of taking responsibility for one's life – which is one of the neat realizations a teenager experiences – a central thought of the film."
Auditions for the lead role of Sarah began in England in April 1984. Helena Bonham Carter auditioned for the role, but was passed over in favor of an American actress. Monthly auditions were held in the U.S. until January 1985, and Jane Krakowski, Yasmine Bleeth, Sarah Jessica Parker, Marisa Tomei, Laura Dern, Ally Sheedy, Maddie Corman, and Mia Sara all auditioned for the role. Of these, Krakowski, Sheedy and Corman were considered to be the top candidates. 14-year-old actress Jennifer Connelly "won Jim [Henson] over" and he cast her within a week. According to Henson, Connelly was chosen as she "could act that kind of dawn-twilight time between childhood and womanhood." Connelly moved to England in February 1985 in advance of the film's rehearsals, which began in March. Discussing her understanding of her role with Elle, Connelly said that the film is about "a young girl growing out of her childhood, who is just now becoming aware of the responsibilities that come with growing up."
The character of Jareth also underwent some significant developments during the early stages of pre-production. According to Henson he was originally meant to be another puppet creature in the same vein as his goblin subjects. Henson eventually wanted a big, charismatic star to play the Goblin King, and pursued a musician for the role, considering Sting, Prince, Mick Jagger, and Michael Jackson before choosing Bowie.
"I wanted to put two characters of flesh and bone in the middle of all these artificial creatures," Henson explained, "and David Bowie embodies a certain maturity, with his sexuality, his disturbing aspect, all sorts of things that characterize the adult world". Henson met David Bowie in the summer of 1983 to seek his involvement, as Bowie was in the U.S. for his Serious Moonlight Tour at the time. Henson continued to pursue Bowie for the role of Jareth, and sent him each revised draft of the film's script for his comments. During a meeting that took place on June 18, 1984, Henson showed Bowie The Dark Crystal and a selection of Brian Froud's concept drawings to pique his interest in the project. Bowie formally agreed to take part on February 15, 1985, several months before filming began. Discussing why he chose to be involved in the film, Bowie explained, "I'd always wanted to be involved in the music-writing aspect of a movie that would appeal to children of all ages, as well as everyone else, and I must say that Jim gave me a completely free hand with it. The script itself was terribly amusing without being vicious or spiteful or bloody, and it had a lot more heart in it than many other special effects movies. So I was pretty hooked from the beginning."
The team that worked on Labyrinth was largely assembled from talent who had been involved in various other projects with the Jim Henson Company. Veteran performers Frank Oz and Dave Goelz operated various puppets in the film, as did Karen Prell, Ron Mueck and Rob Mills who had all worked with Henson on Fraggle Rock. Kevin Clash, a crew member on Sesame Street best known for voicing the character Elmo, worked on the film. Members of Henson's family also worked on the production, including son Brian and daughter Cheryl. Newcomers working on the production included puppeteer Anthony Asbury, who had previously worked on the satirical puppet show Spitting Image.
Labyrinth took five months to film, and was a complicated shoot due to the myriad of puppets and animatronic creatures involved. In the making-of documentary Inside the Labyrinth, Henson stated that although Jim Henson's Creature Shop had been building the puppets and characters required for around a year and a half prior to shooting, "everything came together in the last couple weeks." Henson noted, "even if you have the characters together, the puppeteers start working with them, they find problems or they try to figure out what they're going to do with these characters."
Although each of the film's key puppets required a small team of puppeteers to operate it, the most complex puppet of the production was Hoggle. Shari Weiser was inside the costume, while Hoggle's face was radio-controlled by Brian Henson and three other operators. Speaking in the Inside the Labyrinth documentary, Brian Henson explained that Weiser "does all the body movement and her head is inside the head. However, the jaw is not connected to her jaw. Nothing that the face is doing has any connection with what she's doing with her face. The other four members of the crew are all radio crew, myself included." Speaking of the challenges involved with performing Hoggle, Brian Henson said, "five performers trying to get one character out of one puppet was a very tough thing. Basically what it takes is a lot of rehearsing and getting to know each other."
At the early stages of filming, stars Connelly and Bowie found it difficult to interact naturally with the puppets they shared most of their scenes with. Bowie told Movieline "I had some initial problems working with Hoggle and the rest because, for one thing, what they say doesn't come from their mouths, but from the side of the set, or from behind you." Connelly remarked, "it was a bit strange [working almost exclusively with puppets in the film], but I think both Dave [Bowie] and I got over that and just took it as a challenge to work with these puppets. And by the end of the film, it wasn't a challenge anymore. They were there, and they were their characters."
The film required large and ambitious sets to be constructed, from the Shaft of Hands to the rambling, distorted Goblin City where the film's climactic battle takes place. The Shaft of Hands sequence was filmed on a rig that was roughly forty feet high, and required nearly a hundred performers to operate the grey, scaly hands integral to the scene. Connelly was strapped into a harness when shooting the scene, and would spend time between takes suspended midway up the shaft.
The set of the Goblin City was built on Stage 6 at Elstree Studios near London, and required the largest panoramic back-cloth ever made. According to Production Designer Elliot Scott, the biggest challenge he faced was building the forest Sarah and her party pass through on their way to Jareth's Castle. The film's production notes state, "the entire forest required 120 truckloads of tree branches, 1,200 turfs of grass, 850 pounds of dried leaves, 133 bags of lichen, and 35 bundles of mossy old man's beard."
While most filming was conducted at Elstree Studios, a small amount of location shooting was carried out in England and the U.S. The park seen at the start of the film is West Wycombe Park in Buckinghamshire, England. The scenes of Sarah running back home were filmed in various towns in New York, namely Upper Nyack, Piermont and Haverstraw.
Shooting wrapped on September 8, 1985.
Most of the visual effects on Labyrinth were achieved in-camera, with several notable exceptions. The most prominent of these post-production effects was the computer-generated owl that appears at the opening of the film. The sequence was created by animators Larry Yaeger and Bill Kroyer, and marked the first use of a realistic CGI animal in a film. The owl head maquette had to be rescued from a skip when Omnibus, the animation company, went bankrupt in 1987.
The scene where Sarah encounters the Fire Gang had to be altered in post-production as it had been filmed against black velvet cloth, to disguise the puppeteers, and a new forest background was added behind. Jim Henson was unhappy with the compositing of the finished scene, although he considered the puppetry featured in it worthy of inclusion.
Henson received help editing the film from executive producer George Lucas. According to Henson, "When we hit the editing, I did the first cut, and then George was heavily involved on bringing it to the final cut. After that, I took it over again and did the next few months of post-production and audio." Henson went on to explain, "When you edit a film with somebody else you have to compromise. I always want to go one way, and George goes another way, but we each took turns trading off, giving and taking. George tends to be very action-oriented and he cuts dialogue quite tight; I tend to cut looser, and go for more lyrical pauses, which can slow the story. So, I loosen up his tightness, and he tightens my looseness."
The soundtrack album features Trevor Jones' score, which is split into six tracks for the soundtrack: "Into the Labyrinth", "Sarah", "Hallucination", "The Goblin Battle", "Thirteen O'Clock" and "Home at Last".
Bowie recorded five songs for the film: "Underground", "Magic Dance", "Chilly Down", "As the World Falls Down" and "Within You". "Underground" features on the soundtrack twice, first in an edited version that was played over the film's opening sequence and secondly in full. "Underground" was released in various territories as a single, and in certain markets was also released in an instrumental version and an extended dance mix. "Magic Dance" was released as a 12" single in the U.S. "As the World Falls Down" was initially slated for release as a follow-up single to "Underground" at Christmas in 1986, but this plan did not materialize. The only song Bowie did not perform lead vocal on is "Chilly Down", which was performed by Charles Augins, Richard Bodkin, Kevin Clash, and Danny John-Jules, the actors who voiced the 'Firey' creatures in the film.
Steve Barron produced promotional music videos for "Underground" and "As the World Falls Down". The music video for "Underground" features Bowie as a nightclub singer who stumbles upon the world of the Labyrinth, encountering many of the creatures seen in the film. The clip for "As the World Falls Down" integrates clips from the film, using them alongside black-and-white shots of Bowie performing the song in an elegant room. Both videos were released on the 1993 VHS tape Bowie - The Video Collection and the 2002 two-disc DVD set Best of Bowie.
In 2017, Capitol Studios announced that it will be reissuing the soundtrack on a Vinyl disc, this will include all five originals songs of David Bowie along with Trevor Jones's score.
The production of Labyrinth was covered in multiple high-profile magazines and newspapers, in anticipation of its release, with articles appearing in The New York Times, Time and Starlog magazine. An article that appeared in The New York Times shortly after filming wrapped in September 1985 focused heavily on the film's large scale, emphasizing the size of the production and selling Labyrinth as a more "accessible" film than The Dark Crystal due to the casting of live actors in its key roles. An hour-long making-of documentary that covered the filming of Labyrinth and included interviews with the key figures involved in its production was broadcast on television as Inside the Labyrinth.
Labyrinth was featured in music trade papers such as Billboard due to David Bowie's soundtrack for the film. Bowie was not heavily involved in promoting the film, but Jim Henson was nonetheless grateful that he produced a music video to accompany the song "Underground" from the soundtrack, saying, "I think it's the best thing he could have done for the film." Ted Coconis produced a one-sheet poster for the film's North American release.
A range of merchandise was produced to accompany the film's release, including plush toys of Sir Didymus and Ludo, a board game, computer game and multiple jigsaw puzzles. An exhibition of the film's characters and sets toured across shopping malls in various cities in the U.S, including New York City, Dallas and Chicago. Labyrinth was featured in an exhibition titled 'Jim Henson's Magic World' that was shown at the Seibu Department Store in Tokyo in August 1986.
Labyrinth opened in America/Germany theaters on June 27, 1986. The film received a royal premiere on December 1, 1986 in London, with Charles, Prince of Wales and Diana, Princess of Wales in attendance. Jim Henson, Brian Henson, Brian Froud, Jennifer Connelly, and the animatronic creature Ludo were all present to support the film. The royal premiere brought the film a significant level of media coverage in the United Kingdom and an article that appeared in The Sun quoted the Princess of Wales as remarking, "Isn't he wonderful!" upon being introduced to Ludo.
The film was rolled out in other European countries largely between December 1986 and February 1987, and premiered in France as Labyrinthe on December 2 and in West Germany as Die Reise ins Labyrinth (The Journey into the Labyrinth) on December 13. The film was released in Denmark as Labyrinten til troldkongens slot (The Labyrinth to the Troll King's Castle) on February 20, 1987, and saw its last theatrical release in Hungary under the title Fantasztikus labirintus (Fantastic Labyrinth) when it premiered there on July 7, 1988.
The movie was released in Brazil on December 25, 1986 where it was named "Labirinto – A Magia do Tempo" (Labyrinth – The Magic of Time).
Labyrinth was first released on VHS, Betamax, and pan and scan LaserDisc in 1987 by Embassy Home Entertainment in the US and by Channel 5 Video Distribution in the UK. New Line Home Video re-released the film on LaserDisc in Widescreen through Image Entertainment in 1994. Sony Pictures Home Entertainment re-issued the film on VHS for the last time in 1999 in the US under the name of its subsidiary company, Columbia-TriStar and in the UK the same year, with Inside the Labyrinth included as a special feature.
The film made its DVD premiere in 1999 in the US, and has since been re-released on DVD in 2003 and 2007. All DVD releases of the film feature the Inside the Labyrinth documentary as an extra. The 2003 re-release was described as a collector's edition, and featured a set of exclusive collectors cards that featured concept art by Brian Froud. The 2007 release was promoted an Anniversary Edition, and featured a commentary by Brian Froud and two newly produced making-of documentaries: "Journey Through the Labyrinth: Kingdom of Characters" and "Journey Through the Labyrinth: The Quest for Goblin City" which featured interviews with producer George Lucas, choreographer Gates McFadden of Star Trek fame (listed as Cheryl McFadden) and Brian Henson.
The film was released on Blu-ray in 2009, in a package that replicated the extras featured on the 2007 Anniversary Edition DVD. The Blu-ray release featured one new special feature, a picture-in-picture track that lasts the length of the film and features interviews with the crew and several minor cast members including Warwick Davis.
A 30th Anniversary edition of Labyrinth was released on DVD, Blu-ray, and 4K Blu-ray on September 20, 2016. There also will be an Amazon exclusive version with packaging similar to Jareth's Escher-style stairs. New features include "The Henson Legacy" featuring Jennifer Connelly and members of the Henson family discussing Jim Henson's puppetry style and includes a visit to The Center of Puppetry Arts, which houses many of Jim Henson's puppets. Adam Savage from Mythbusters hosts a Q&A with Brian Henson, David Goelz, Karen Prell, and Sheri Weiser. Jennifer Connelly, Brian Henson, and Cheryl Henson pay tribute to David Bowie in "The Goblin King".
Labyrinth opened at number eight in the U.S. box office charts with $3,549,243 from 1,141 theaters, which placed it behind The Karate Kid Part II, Back to School, Legal Eagles, Ruthless People, Running Scared, Top Gun, and Ferris Bueller's Day Off. In its next weekend at the box office, the film dropped to number 13 in the charts, only earning $1,836,177. By the end of its run in U.S cinemas the film had grossed $12,729,917, just over half of its $25 million budget.
|"As he did with less success in The Dark Crystal, Mr. Henson uses the art of puppetry to create visual effects that until very recently were possible to attain only with animation. The result is really quite startling. It removes storyboard creations from the flat celluloid cartoon image and makes them three-dimensional, so that they actually come alive and interact with living people. The technique makes animation seem dull and old-fashioned by comparison."|
|— Nina Darnton of The New York Times on Labyrinth's technical achievements.|
The film received mixed to positive reviews from critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film averages a 70% positive rating from 43 reviews; the general consensus states: "While it's arguably more interesting on a visual level, Labyrinth provides further proof of director Jim Henson's boundless imagination." On Metacritic, which uses a "weighted average" of all the critics' scores, Labyrinth scores 50 out of 100 meaning “mixed or average reviews”.
While acknowledging that Labyrinth was made with "infinite care and pains", Roger Ebert gave the film two stars out of four as he felt that the film "never really comes alive". Ebert said that as the film was set in an "arbitrary world" none of the events in it had any consequences, robbing the film of any dramatic tension. Gene Siskel's review of Labyrinth for the Chicago Tribune was highly negative, and he referred to it as an "awful" film with a "pathetic story", "much too complicated plot" and a "visually ugly style". Siskel objected to the film's "violent" plot, writing, "the sight of a baby in peril is one of sleaziest gimmicks a film can employ to gain our attention, but Henson does it."
Other critics were more positive. Kathryn Buxton found that it had "excitement and thrills enough for audiences of all ages as well as a fun and sometimes slightly naughty sense of humor". Bruce Bailey admired the film's script, stating, "Terry Jones has drawn on his dry wit and bizarre imagination and come up with a script that transforms these essentially familiar elements and plot structures into something that fairly throbs with new life." Bailey was also impressed by the film's depth, writing, "adults will have the additional advantage of appreciating the story as a coming-of-age parable."
Several critics noted the film's subtext, and found it successful to varying degrees. Saw Tek Meng acknowledged, "Sarah's experiences in the labyrinth are symbolic of her transition from child to woman" but ultimately found the film "too linear" for its latent themes to come through. Nina Darnton compared the film's tone to the writings of E.T.A. Hoffman, stating that Hoffman's The Nutcracker "is also about the voyage to womanhood, including the hint of sexual awakening, which Sarah experiences too in the presence of a goblin king." Darton enjoyed the film and considered it to be more successful than Henson's previous collaboration with Brian Froud, The Dark Crystal.
Connelly's portrayal of Sarah polarized critics and received strong criticism from some reviewers. Critic Kirk Honeycutt referred to Connelly as "a bland and minimally talented young actress" Writing for The Miami News, Jon Marlowe stated, "Connelly is simply the wrong person for the right job. She has a squeaky voice that begins to grate on you; when she cries, you can see the onions in her eyes." Contrary to these negative views, an anonymous review in St. Petersburg Times praised her acting saying, "Connelly makes the entire experience seem real. She acts so naturally around the puppets that you begin to believe in their life-like qualities."
Bowie's performance was variously lauded and derided. In his largely positive review of the film, Corliss praised him as "charismatic" referring to his character as a "Kabuki sorcerer who offers his ravishing young antagonist the gilded perks of adult servitude". Bruce Bailey enjoyed Bowie's performance, writing, "the casting of Bowie can't be faulted on any count. He has just the right look for a creature who's the object of both loathing and secret desire." In a largely critical review, the St. Petersburg Times found, "Bowie forgoes acting, preferring to prance around his lair while staring solemnly into the camera. He's not exactly wooden. Plastic might be a more accurate description."
The film's mixed reviews and poor box office takings demoralized Henson to the extent that his son Brian remembered the time of the film's release as being "the closest I've seen him to turning in on himself and getting quite depressed". It was the last feature film directed by Henson before his death in 1990.
Since Henson's death, Labyrinth has been re-evaluated by several notable critics. A review from 2000 in Empire magazine called the film "a fabulous fantasy" and wrote, "David Bowie cuts a spooky enough figure in that fright wig to fit right in with this extraordinary menagerie of Goth Muppets. And Jennifer Connelly, still in the flush of youth, makes for an appealingly together kind of heroine." Writing for the Chicago Tribune in 2007, Michael Wilmington described Labyrinth as "dazzling", writing that it is "a real masterpiece of puppetry and special effects, an absolutely gorgeous children's fantasy movie". In 2010 Total Film ran a feature called 'Why We Love Labyrinth' which described Labyrinth as a "hyper-real, vibrant daydream, Labyrinth's main strength lies in its fairytale roots, which give the fantastical story a platform from which to launch into some deliriously outlandish scenarios". In their February 2012 issue, Empire featured a four-page spread on Labyrinth as part of their Muppet Special.
Labyrinth received several award nominations in 1987. The film was nominated at the British Academy Film Awards for Best Special Visual Effects, and received two Saturn Award nominations, for Best Fantasy Film as well as Best Costumes. Labyrinth was also nominated for a Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation.
Despite its poor performance at the American box office, Labyrinth was a success on home video and later on DVD. David Bowie told an interviewer in 1992, "every Christmas a new flock of children comes up to me and says, 'Oh! you're the one who's in Labyrinth!'" In 1997, Jennifer Connelly said "I still get recognized for Labyrinth by little girls in the weirdest places. I can't believe they still recognize me from that movie. It's on TV all the time and I guess I pretty much look the same."
Labyrinth has become a cult film. Brian Henson remembered his father, Jim Henson, as being aware that Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal both had cult followings by the time of his death in 1990, saying, "he was able to see all that and know that it was appreciated." Academic Andrea Wright wrote that Labyrinth has managed to maintain audience popularity long after its initial release to a greater extent than The Dark Crystal. Since 1997, an annual two-day masquerade ball called the "Labyrinth of Jareth Masquerade Ball" where revelers come dressed in costumes inspired by the film has been held in Los Angeles. Labyrinth has a significant Internet fan following, and as of September 1, 2015, Fanfiction.net hosts over 8,900 stories in its Labyrinth section.
The strong DVD sales of Labyrinth prompted rights-holders the Jim Henson Company and Sony Pictures to look into making a sequel, and Curse of the Goblin King was briefly used as a place-holder title. However, the decision was ultimately taken to avoid making a direct sequel, and instead produce a fantasy film with a similar atmosphere. Fantasy author Neil Gaiman and artist Dave McKean were called in to write and direct a film similar in spirit to Labyrinth, and MirrorMask was ultimately released in selected theaters in 2005 after premiering at the Sundance Film Festival. On January 22, 2016, Sony Pictures announced that a reboot is in development with Lisa Henson as producer and Nicole Perlman attached as the screenwriter. However, on January 25, Perlman confirmed on Twitter that while she is working on a Labyrinth project with the Jim Henson Company, it is not a remake or reboot. Perlman also discussed the timing of the rumors in conjunction with David Bowie's death and said, "Henson Co & I started talking in late 2014, so the timing of these rumors is so upsetting. I would never seek to profit from Bowie's death." Although fandom has produced its own fan fiction sequels, some fans of the original film voiced opposition to a remake or sequel.
In other media
Since its initial release, Labyrinth has been translated to other forms of media. The film was novelized by A. C. H. Smith as Labyrinth: A Novel Based On The Jim Henson Film, in 1986. Along with Smith's novelization of The Dark Crystal, Archaia Publishing reprinted Labyrinth with illustrations in 2014. A three-issue comic book adaptation, which was first released in a single volume as Marvel Super Special #40, was published by Marvel Comics. The film was also adapted for the Commodore 64 and Apple II home computers in 1986 as Labyrinth: The Computer Game. Different versions were also released in Japan the following year for the Family Computer console and MSX computer, under the title Labyrinth: Maō no Meikyū.
- Tokyopop, in partnership with The Jim Henson Company, published a manga-style four-volume comic sequel between 2006 and 2010 called Return to Labyrinth, written by Jake T. Forbes and illustrated by Chris Lie, with cover art by Kouyu Shurei. Return to Labyrinth follows the adventures of Toby as a teenager, when he is tricked into returning to the Labyrinth by Jareth.
- Archaia released a Labyrinth short story titled Hoggle and the Worm for Free Comic Book Day on May 5, 2012 and another titled Sir Didymus' Grand Day on May 4, 2013.
- To mark the film's 30th anniversary, Archaia released Labyrinth: 30th Anniversary Special, a collection of seven short stories, in August 2016. Another collection of six stories was released the following year, titled Labyrinth: 2017 Special. In 2018 the two collections were compiled as Labyrinth: Shortcuts, which also included two new stories.
- Between 2018 and 2019, Archaia published Labyrinth: Coronation, 12-issue comic series written by Simon Spurrier and illustrated by Daniel Bayliss. The series is a prequel about how Jareth became the Goblin King. Beginning in 1790s Venice, the story revolves around an infant Jareth who has been stolen by the previous ruler of the labyrinth, known as the Owl King, and follows the quest of Jareth's mother, Maria, to rescue her son.
- The first installment of Labyrinth: Under the Spell, another 12-issue series, was released by Archaia in November 2018.
In January 2016, Nicole Perlman announced that she had been hired to write the script for the sequel. By April 2017, Fede Álvarez signed on as director, as well as co-writer with Jay Basu. Henson's daughter Lisa Henson, and Bowie's son Duncan Jones will serve as co-producers. By October of 2018, Álvarez confirmed that the script was complete.
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