Labyrinth – 30th Anniversary Edition (Blu-ray Review)

LabyrinthSony Pictures Home Entertainment celebrates the 30th anniversary of the generation-defining fantasy: LABYRINTH, newly restored in 4K. Directed by renowned filmmaker Jim Henson, executive produced by George Lucas (Star Wars) and with a screenplay by Monty Python’s Terry Jones, LABYRINTH stars David Bowie (The Prestige) and Academy Award winner Jennifer Connelly (Best Supporting Actress, A Beautiful Mind, 2001) in the story of a girl (Connelly) who must save her little brother from the Goblin King (Bowie).  The LABYRINTH 30th ANNIVERSARY Blu-ray is loaded with all-new bonus content, which features Jennifer Connelly in one of her first on-camera interviews about the film since its release.  The new special features will take fans behind the scenes at the Center for Puppetry Arts—home to The Jim Henson Collection as well as puppets from the film—and include all-new discussions with the Henson family, and special reflections on working with David Bowie in his iconic role as the Goblin King.

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A selfish 16-year old girl is given 13 hours to solve a labyrinth and rescue her baby brother when her wish for him to be taken away is granted by the Goblin King.

Labyrinth has become a well-celebrated cult classic following the result of being a box office bomb in 1986.  The highly imaginative film wound up becoming a hit through home video, cable viewings and the far too soon death of Jim Henson, leaving as one of his few non-Muppet films in his directorial canon.  Its deserving of the following, as we are looking at a big 30th anniversary celebration with screenings and this Blu-ray.  We surely don’t get the chances to get anything like Labyrinth anymore.  Its a filmmaking chance at conjuring up a brand new fairytale, with inspirations from others, but largely original.  Back in 1986, we get Labyrinths hit or miss, today we get the remakes of Labyrinths to mixed results with rarely anything new to be seen.

Jim Henson was the head of the project, but it was also billed as a big collaboration with George Lucas who produced the film.  That’s a big merge right there.  In the 1980s, George Lucas was still a name synonymous with MUST SEE, great visual storytelling and quality.  Henson was largely successful withe the Muppets and the creature work his studio would see on other films.  Another strong voice that was touted as much, was Monty Python member Terry Jones who helped to pen the film.  Once you know that fact, it begins to stick out largely on subsequent viewings.  Many of the dialogue exchanges, cadences and execution with a lot of the puppets and rock creatures feels right out of a Python sketch.  Its not blatant or overbearing, but you can quickly take from it, what feels so very familiar.

One of the film’s greatest strengths and why we so largely remember it aside from the creature work, is David Bowie.  He’s probably why this one gets the hub bub while the fondness for The Dark Crystal isn’t as strong.  Bowie looks like your trashy, single aunt in her mid 40s that tans too much, hanging around the pool a lot, smoking a carton of Camels a day and hits on all your high school friends.  However, he’s devious, evil…but you still kinda wanna hang and be friend with the guy.  Bowie also wrote and performed all the songs in the film.  And they really give the film a sort of attitude of its own that allows it to be free of becoming dated over time.  If anything the score reminds of the sort of prog rock horror anthems that people like Goblin and Fabio Frizzi used to do for the Italians in the early 80s.  While friendly, Bowie does know how to turn on the creep and evil in the finale as well as some other moments. Labyrinth truly lives and dies by his hand and the film is at its strongest every time he even peeks in for a frame.

Speaking of peeking in, I can’t go without dedicating some of this review to the bulge in David Bowie’s pants once he swaps over to the gray tights.  I mean, c’mon, that thing is massive!  There is debate over whether its real or not, but I think I’m gonna come down on the side of it being fabricated.  Its too cup-like and consistent from shot to shot and scene to scene to just be the real thing.  Its a bit of an odd choice as this is a kids movie and the size and protrusion of the thing is just absolutely ridiculous.  Head cheese of Why So Blu, Brian, had never seen Labyrinth before and I told him to look for it, and he said once he saw what he saw, he just was not able to unsee the damn thing.

Aside from Bowie, we really only have one other human in the film and its a young Jennifer Connelly.  This was her follow up to working with Dario Argento on Phenomena.  Connelly definitely isn’t the refined and outstanding actress we’ve come to know her as.  One that boasts an Academy Award.  Its rough for her, and she’s not perfect, but I find her to be acceptable.  There are rough spots, but the challenge for a kid actor to be taking on this role interacting with puppets and guys in costumes for the majority of the film can’t be an ideal situation.  It also seems like some of her performance may get lost in translation due to some ADR moments.  If you’re a person that thinks she’s bad her, I can’t disagree with some of that, but as someone who has an expectation for a child actor, I tolerate more of it and give her credit in the spots where its due.

Most of all when it comes to Labyrinth, its Jim Henson’s “magic” and craft that bring us back and have us finding a deeper appreciation in the digital era.  Of course, this is a film that was ushering it in, featuring the first rendered creature on the screen with the owl during the opening credits.  But, the meat of this film is all the individual and unique creature work on the film.  And the puppeteering isn’t just limited to the walking talking ones, there are walls, rocks and environments that are full formed with great characteristics and personalities as well.  The look of the Labyrinth also impresses and feels very elseworld/another dimension-like with its landscape, geography and overall look.  One thing I always geek out for are some good matte paintings, and Labyrinth brings itself a few to the table.  The overarching look of the place is just a lovely painting and evokes thoughts, ideas and memories of great fantasy storybooks and pictures of my own nostalgia from the 70s and 80s.  Overall, Labyrinth may have Bowie as its secret weapon, but in order for that to work, this world has to rock and I would say it more than does so.  Why else are we still here after 30 years?

Three decades, still talking, enjoying and celebrating Labyrinth.  One cool aspect of the film is that I think this one has been more of a fantasy, coming of age type fairy tale and geek film for girls moreso than boys.  And I get that, as there are a lot allusions to growing up, coming into womanhood, mothering and some other feminine tid bits that the boys may recognize but not connect with on a deeper or more personal level to have that fond sense of nostalgia. Its a fun film, one that might have some pacing issues in the final third, but overall works.  The creature work on the film is reason enough to give it a chance, but also the magnificence of David Bowie (and his bulge) give it more to take it past just that one hump.  If anything, you’re going to be humming, singing or moving to Dance, Baby Dance long after you’ve seen the film has ended (30 years even).

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Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1

Layers: BD-50

Clarity/Detail:  Labyrinth‘s new 4K remaster is an improvement over the already terrific looking Blu-ray that came out before.  Details are abundant with good craftsman work showing one the puppets and the sets looking as textured and detailed as they ever have.  This new transfer deals better with the colors, but also gives a sharper and clearer image than it was before.  Its a marked improvement and worth the upgrade for anyone who is curious.

Depth:  Some solid 3 dimensional work that does get highlighted in some of the sweeping camera movements.  The end with the staircases is in particular a highlight.  Movements prove smooth and cinematic.

Black Levels:  Blacks are rich and deep.  Shading is terrific with a minimal amount of detail lost to account for.  No crushing witnessed.

Color Reproduction:  There are a nice array of natural and sandy palettes on display in the film.  Reds and greens do present themselves during times that allow with a solid pop. Blues look really good, but never burst out.  There are also a good variation on browns.

Flesh Tones:  Skin tones are natural and consistent with some moments featuring a red or orange filter that has an effect on the skin.  Make-up, wrinkles, dimples, freckles and a mole all show through.

Noise/Artifacts: A very fine layer of grain, but it appears the film has been corrected of any specs/dirt or scratches from the previous release.

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Audio Format(s): English Dolby Atmos, English 7.1 Dolby TrueHD, French 5.1 Dolby Digital, German 5.1 Dolby Digital, Italian 5.1 Dolby Digital, Portuguese 5.1 Dolby Digital, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital

Subtitles: English, English SDH, Chinese Simplified, Chinese Traditional, Dutch, French, German, Indonesian, Italian, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish, Thai

Dynamics:  Labyrinth’s 30th Anniversary release goes to back to the well and brings a new and improved Atmos (And default 7.1 mix) to replace the 5.1 Dolby TrueHD found on the original Blu-ray release.  This mix is a bit of a marked improvement, with natural branching out and utilizing the participation of 3 other speakers.  The music sounds even better here and the action effects more well rounded and better placed.  It features a good, balanced blend of effects, music and scoring that all can take the lead and then hang back to let another shine without every stepping on one another’s toes.

Height: By incorporating Dolby Atmos, this new mix on Labyrinth has the ability now for some overhead involvement.  Henson’s film isn’t overdone with ceiling sounds, but does play its hand in some.  Which is good, as its nowhere near approaching being overdone and everything is quite natural.  Early on, some noticeable rainfall pours down from the sky.  Other moments to utilize the top speaker are echoing voices and loud doors slowly dragging and closing.

Low Frequency Extension:  Your subwoofer gets plenty of action in different areas.  Whether its bobbing along with the cod piece to Dance, Baby Dance, vibrating as a gigantic castle door is scooting closed or a creature is roaring, the LFE gets to have a nice variety of sounds, beats and rhythms to bring a lush, deep and full sound to this Henson classic.

Surround Sound Presentation:  Previously, Labyrinth was a TrueHD 5.1 presentation, so this one is not only given the ceiling to add, but 2 side speakers.  Its also been remixed and has a lot more freeness and involvement. Musical numbers come even more alive and fill your room in a concert-like atmosphere. Like the ceiling, involvement of the rear and side speakers aren’t overdone and keep their participation to natural circumstances.  Motion and placement of the action is well documented.  You’ll feel the extent and environment of the exteriors and interiors of the Labyrinth very well here in this Atmos mix.

Dialogue Reproduction: Dialogue is crisp and clear.  It was never an issue in the previous blend.  Vocals feels at a natural level and manage to impressive keep to a consistent sound when the musical numbers take over.  Whereas on other musical films you feel some sort of switch to a different mix, this track has a bit of a seamless transition. 

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Labyrinth – 3oth Anniversary Edition Blu-ray comes with an UltraViolet digital copy of the film.  It is also a digipack featuring a booklet (see picture down below for contents).

Audio Commentary

  • With Brian Froud – Same commentary as found on the previous Blu-ray release.

Reordering Time: Looking Back At Labyrinth (HD, 9:31) – A retrospective look back at the film with Jennifer Connelly and a few Henson’s.  Its sweet, swift, covering many areas of the film from its style, craft, performances and more.  It even has some archived Jim Henson clips to add his input as well.

The Henson Legacy (HD, 10:36) – A companion to the previous featurette, involving the same people (Including old Henson interviews) that cover the life, career and legacy of the footprint Jim Henson left.

Remembering The Goblin King (HD, 4:48) – This one features the same collective of people going over David Bowie’s presence, performance and music contributions to the film.

Anniversary Q&A (HD, 41:24) – A Q&A featuring puppeteers (Or Muppeteers) Brian Henson, Karen Prell, Dave Goelz and actress Shari Weiser following a screening of the film.

“Inside The Labyrinth” Making of Documentary (SD, 56:28) – The making of doc that appeared on the previous release of the film.

Journey Through The Labyrinth: “Kingdom Of Characters” (SD, 27:57) – A character focused doc from the previous Blu-ray release.

Journey Through The Labyrinth: “The Quest For The Goblin City” (SD, 30:03) – Another mini-doc that carries over from the previous release.

The Storytellers: Picture In Picture (HD, ) – A PIP commentary for the film found on the previous release.

Theatrical Trailers (HD, 4:08) 

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Labyrinth makes its return to Blu-ray for a worthwhile 30th Anniversary edition. Despite not being 4K UHD, it is still pretty damn impressive and takes the Blu-ray image to its highest of heights.  It also features a great new Atmos track as well as worthwhile extras that more than confirm this to be the most definitive edition to ever hit home video.  It is unforseeable whether they could top this edition on the Blu-ray format as this truly is where its at.  Fans shouldn’t hesitate to pick this up (But if they are ever thinking about going 4K UHD, that edition does come with this disc).

Labyrinth Digipack


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