THE ART, THE MAGIC, THE IMAGINATION. Labyrinth Chapter.
(Christopher Finch, published in 1993 by Random House, New York)
While Labyrinth has many things in common with The Dark Crystal, it differs from the earlier film in that it starts and ends in the everyday world and features human performances alongside the creations of Jim Henson's Creature Shop - even in the fantasy sequences that make up most of the movie. Seen above in a climatic scene is David Bowie, who played the Goblin King in the film. He poses on a set that is a three-dimensional representation of an M.C Escher illusionary maze - one of the many variations of the Labyrinth theme featured throughout the movie.
In 1983, Jim Henson began to plan a new fantasy movie, Labyrinth. As with The Dark Crystal, Brian Froud was to be the conceptual designer. But this time, the development process would be somewhat different.
To begin with, Labyrinth would included human characters and take place partly in the everyday world. This was not a case of inventing everything from scratch, even though much of the film would take place in a make-believe setting and involve many animatronic creatures created in the Downshire Hill Creature Shop. Labyrinth would keep the Creature Shop busy devising everything from talking door knockers to a walking junk pile. It's impossible to come up with a "typical" Labyrinth character, but the kind of complexities involved can be understood by taking the case of Hoggle - a major figure in the movie who reluctantly befriends the film's heroine.
On one level, Hoggle was simply an evolution of the "humans with muppet heads" concept that had begun with Hey Cinderella! Inside the basic Hoggle suit was an actress provided with a concealed view hole and a television monitor that showed her what the camera saw. But Hoggle's enormous head went way beyond anything imagined at the time of Hey Cinderella! This was remote-controlled, animatronic device requiring several people to operate it, one performing the lips, one the eyes, one the brows, and so on - all supervised by Brian Henson.
Coexisting with Hoggle would be characters like Sir Didymus - a courtly terrier who speaks Elizabethan English and rides a sheepdog named Ambrosius. Other inventions included Ludo (a gentle, lumbering giant with matted red fur), and the maniac "fierys", who could cause flames to leap up from the ground and separate their heads and limbs from their bodies. In fact, Labyrinth would contain the full gamut of puppet styles and animatronic innovations Jim had introduced over the years.
Labyrinth was directed by Jim Henson with all the technical flair he had brought to his early film projects. And while he did not perform any major characters, several Muppet Show and Sesame Street veterans did, including Dave Goelz, Steve Whitmire, and Kevin Clash, along with Brian Henson and Dark Crystal alumni like Dave Greenaway.
Labyrinth is a film that combines traditional fairy-tale elements with a story line that at times recalls books such as The Wizard of Oz and Through the Looking Glass. The heroine, Sarah, is a somewhat self-absorbed teenager who resents her baby half-brother, Toby. In a reckless moment, she wishes aloud that the King of the Goblins would kidnap the child. Jareth obliges, and Sarah spends the balance of the movie trying to retrieve her sibling by penetrating a maze - the labyrinth of the title - that surrounds Goblin City and Jareth's castle, where Toby is hidden. She is assisted in her quest by Hoggle, Ludo and Sir Didymus, but eventually must confront Jareth on her own and, in doing so, vanquishes her adolescent demons, bringing herself and the baby safely back to the everyday reality of her home.
The pleasures of the tale, however, are in the telling - as is so often the case in Jim Henson's projects - the telling is essentially visual. In a sense, the labyrinth itself is the film's central character, and it is splendidly realised in all it's manifestations. In places it is made up of damp, high walls, from which an exotic form of creeping plant watches with beady eyes. Elsewhere, it is like a topiary maze, such as can be found at Hampton Court Palace and in formal gardens throughout the world. Sometimes, it is just a rocky landscape, or a forest where the path winds back on itself, presenting innumerable confusing intersections. There are doors that lead to an infernal bog or - in one case - to a chute lined with talking hands. Finally, inside Jareth's castle, the Labyrinth becomes a complicated Escher-like puzzle that dislocates space and time. Always, though, the maze is achieved so convincingly that it seems to draw the heroine onward, and the viewer with her.
Trying to describe Labyrinth, Jim Henson asked the rhetorical question, "is it all a dream, like Alice's adventures in Wonderland or The Wizard of Oz? In my mind it is. But it's all rather ambiguous - dream or reality? fantasy or fact? It's whatever you make it."
One thing he was certain of was that Labyrinth "is about a person at the point of changing from being a child to a woman. Times of transition are always magic. Twilight is a magic time and dawn is magic - the times during which it's not day and it's not night but something in between. Also the time between sleeping and dreaming. There are a lot of mystical qualities related to that, and to me this is what the film is about."
Certainly much of Labyrinth has a dreamlike quality, and its atmosphere also relates (as Jim pointed out) to the books that the movie heroine, Sarah, reads: books like Alice's adventures in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz. And as with The Dark Crystal, Jim called on Brian Froud to help imagine the world to be conjured up (drawings top). Appropriately, Toby - the baby kidnapped by Jareth (David Bowie) - was played in the movie by the son of Brian and Wendy Midener Froud.>>>>>>NEXT PAGE
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