A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 208 – Labyrinth

Labyrinth – September 24th, 2010

The trouble with doing this project in the manner in which we’ve been doing it is that while we’ve planned for some things, we haven’t planned for others. We’ve got Pi lined up for March 14th next year and we’ve got a slew of Christmas movies (many of which are season staples for me anyhow) and we’ve got two planned for Halloween weekend. We did Pirates of Penzance on Talk Like a Pirate Day and we did video game movies and Stand By Me for PAX East. But we’ve also been trying to do things when we find out it’s someone’s birthday. The thing is, we don’t have a calendar of birthdays we look at and plan for. We just pick a relevant movie when we find out about it. Sometimes we come up short.

I hadn’t realized how quickly we’ve whipped through our Muppet collection until I found out today was Jim Henson’s birthday and went looking for a movie to watch. Aside from the Christmas themed movies we’ve only got three left, I think. Muppets Take Manhattan, Muppet Treasure Island and Labyrinth. Huh. So we picked this. It’s a lovely movie in places and I like that it’s recognizably a Henson production without being necessarily a Muppet production. Sure, there are plenty of creatures in the movie who were made with the same techniques in the same place, but Kermit is nowhere to be found here. It’s more like The Dark Crystal than The Muppet Movie and it’s got Brian Froud’s aesthetic, but you can see Henson’s touch all over it.

Let’s get some criticisms out of the way first. Some of the effects haven’t aged well. In particular the scene with the Fireys is really painfully an obvious bluescreen-type effect. The lighting on the Fireys and Sarah is off from the background that’s been put in behind them and you can see a black border around the wispier parts of the Fireys’ heads fairly frequently. Which is a pity, as I like the Fireys as a concept and the puppets themselves are fun. When they go to chase Sarah they look great. But it’s distracting during their main scene. Sarah herself is more than annoying for a good chunk of the movie. I remember being thoroughly confused by her rapid turnaround in the beginning, from being sure her father didn’t care to being pissed when she realized he did. I suppose that’s the nature of being a teenager. I probably pulled crap like that on my parents. But it’s not endearing, and as the heroine of the story, I want Sarah to be someone I like and want to succeed.

Part of the problem is the story itself. It’s a growing up story wrapped in a quest plot – like so many are – and in order to show the character’s growth from petulant child to responsible young woman she’s got to start out petulant. After all, if she’s still doing A-OK as a child, then why the need for her to grow up? That being said, she whines a lot. Think of Luke Skywalker in the beginning of Star Wars, wanting to pick up some power converters. It’s that level of whining. I recently discovered a fantastic site full of old Apple II and Apple IIgs games and found that there was a game made based on this movie. It’s clunky and almost impossible to control without a joystick, there’s no manual and the menu controls take some getting used to. The movie sequence where a creepy Apple II graphic version of Jareth tells you that he knows all about you made me laugh my ass off. And then it endeared itself to me forever by putting “complain” in your action menu. It also gives you “adumbrate” and “manicure”, which I can only assume are eventually things you need to do. Who knows. I can’t get past the goblin guards with a mouse for control.

Back to the movie. For all that I’m not big on Sarah until about midway through the movie and I’m disappointed at how the Fireys look these days, I do love the movie. I love it so very much. I love it enough that I know it entirely by heart. I make reference to it all the time. It is one of my very favorites and if it hadn’t been Jim Henson’s birthday today I might have saved it for a really bad day as a movie to cheer me up. It’s that sort of movie for me. I probably could have reviewed it without watching it, even. I could just recite it from memory. It’s not complicated, of course, so that helps.

As I mentioned, it’s a quest story. Sarah is a teenage girl living with her father and step-mother and baby step-brother, Toby. Her parents leave her home to babysit for Toby and Sarah is feeling rather sullen about this. She makes a wish she surely believes won’t come true, that the goblins will come and take Toby away. And to her surprise, they do. Jareth, the Goblin King, appears and tells her he thought he was doing what she wanted, but if she wants Toby back, she’ll have to get through the labyrinth that surrounds the Goblin City and his castle. She has 13 hours. And thus begins the quest. She meets many friends on her way through, starting with Hoggle, a dwarf who works for Jareth. Then come Ludo and Sir Didymus. She encounters stranger creatures, like an old man with a talking hat and the aforementioned Fireys (who can detach their heads and limbs and toss them around), some talking stone heads who speak of doom and the helping hands, which I also count as a bizarre location. The hands, incidentally, are one of my favorite bits of the movie. They’re a tunnel of hands which work together to make faces which then speak. Fantastic bit of art, that. There are other bizarre locations, like the Bog of Eternal Stench and a junkyard full of memories. Sarah makes her way through them all to the final confrontation with Jareth.

I could probably do all sorts of analysis on this movie. Jareth’s a figure to study, and his relationship to Sarah is downright creepy when you really get into it. I mean, my illogical mind says “Sarah! Forget about getting the baby back! Stick with Jareth! Do you know who he is? He’s David Fucking Bowie! Look at his pants!” But my logical mind points out that his offer of being her slave if only she’ll do what he says is a rather icky coerced dynamic and would be a seriously unhealthy relationship long term. Not to mention the goblins. I mean, Jareth himself gets a distinct look of “I’m surrounded by idiots of my own design” before the Magic Dance number.

So despite my love of David Bowie, ultimately Sarah makes the right choice, taking Toby and going home a changed person. More thoughtful and less selfish. But still playful, as we get to see at the very end. I like that there’s a balance allowed. She doesn’t have to be An Adult right away. She can party down with her not-so-imaginary friends. That’s cool. And I say not-so-imaginary because while one can draw obvious parallels from the toys and art in her room to what she encounters in the labyrinth (Escher’s Relativity being the most awesome example, but there’s a Firey, Hoggle, Ludo, Sir Didymus, Jareth, Sarah’s ballgown and I believe some photos of David Bowie with Sarah’s mother) the goblins and Ludo and Sir Didymus and Hoggle all show up in her room themselves. It’s a blurry line.

It’s a really gorgeous movie too. The visuals are stunning in many places and the practical puppetry is fantastic. I love Hoggle’s moral development and I love how ultimately sinister and seductive Jareth is. I love the connections between the labyrinth and Sarah’s imagination. I love the Relativity scene. Like, I could watch the entire movie just for that scene and David Bowie singing Within You. I was a kid and a teen who lived deep in my imagination a lot of the time. It’s what makes The Neverending Story resonate with me so much and it goes for this movie too. More so because of the female protagonist. I might have issues with her, but she’s really a strong female character at the end, saying no firmly and brooking no argument. And that’s just one reason why I love it. Complaining and all.

September 24, 2010 - Posted by | daily reviews | , ,

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