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Fairy tale fun at its finest; UPDATED REVIEW FOR BLU-RAY
on July 30, 2007
In the early 80's Jim Henson created one of the most ambitious fantasy films ever: The Dark Crystal. It was a movie that had a completely realized world with its own creatures and flora... and it was performed entirely by puppets. Not the Muppet kind that Henson is famous for, mind you. These were serious creations that involved serious innovations in animatronics. While many loved the movie and it was critically acclaimed many others didn't "get it". There was no human interaction in the movie whatsoever and that put off people. Also the movie was serious with none of that Muppet mayhem Henson fans are so used to. That put off a few more people.
The next evolutionary step in Jim's grand scheme of fantasy puppetry was Labyrinth, and they filled in the gaps that The Dark Crystal left for those who couldn't (or wouldn't) "get" the concept of a fully realized fantasy setting that is outside of our own. How does he do it? Let me tell you...
Step One - Human actors. Labyrinth included the young, yet already talented Jennifer Connelly as their heroine and well-established musician and actor David Bowie as her nemesis. Now you get the fun of a complete puppet world while at the same time you have human characters that interact in that same environment. Thus giving the viewer a better connection to the puppet characters.
Step Two - Better puppets. The Dark Crystal is a masterpiece in of itself, however the technology used to animate the puppets was in its infancy and if you had to be picky about it you can pick away at the limitations of the puppets in that movie. With Labyrinth you get updated technology, which gives you puppets who can show emotions better. Case in point is the goblin Hoggle, who is the starring puppet. So much attention to detail went into his facial expressions that you can actually see the fear, disgust, anger, and joy in his eyes. Add to that other puppetry innovations and you have a world of cool puppets.
Step Three - Keep it fun. The Dark Crystal was a grandiose and serious film that included some funny moments now and then. Labyrinth is the opposite. Is a fun film where the characters meet up with unexpected and often times crazy situations. Makes this fantasy adventure feel more comical in the same way it would reading a fun bedtime story.
Step Four - Keep the original concept. Jim Henson did The Dark Crystal with the thought that he wanted to create a whole different world inhabited by beings and creatures portrayed entirely by puppets. Labyrinth is essentially the same thing, but done in a different way. Walking through the movie's namesake (the maze that leads to the goblin city) is definitely like being in another world that's both fascinating and fun. Much of what you see is visually impressive and essentially relish in the fact your eyes can play tricks on you. Brian Froud is again signed on as the conceptual designer and his work shines just as well in this iteration as it did with Dark Crystal.
Labyrinth also has the destinction of having songs specially written for the movie by David Bowie. Keep in mind this movie was in the 80's so what you get is 80's Bowie, and there are a couple scenes that flow more like music videos (or musical numbers) than standard scenes.
You might get the impression I am dogging on Dark Crystal in order to lift up Labyrinth. Can't be farther from the truth. However I do know the differences between the two films and how the other was made in response to the first. Labyrinth is the folk tale while Dark Crystal is the fantasy book. I believe both are fantastic movies.
The original DVD for Labyrinth was a good compilation right from the start, and was superseded with the Anniversary Edition having remastered visuals and a couple new featurettes. Now we have the movie on Blu-Ray, and boy I thought the Anniversay Edition looked good. I was worried when this movie went high definition that a lot of the original film grain was going to be lost in the digital cleaning that's popular with some companies with older films. Luckily what you end up with is the best looking picture to date. I'm not going to say this movie is presented in supersharp crystal clarity, but then again that would ruin it. The movie look as true to the original theatrical release as you can get. Details really pop out without looking antiseptic. Visually the Blu-Ray does breath new life into this classic. The extras are pretty much identical to what was offered on the Anniversary Edition with one exception. Here's what you get:
Documentary Making of the Labyrinth - Has interviews with actors, puppet performers and production staff including Jim Henson, Brian Henson, David Bowie (who gives us some insight on his character) and Jennifer Connelly as well as lots of details on design and production of the movie. This documentary is a gem for those of you want solid behind-the-scenes details and was in the original DVD and is included on the Anniversary Edition.
Journey Through the Labyrinth: Kingdom of Characters and The Quest for Golden City - These two featurettes from the Anniversary Edition include updated interviews with the cast and crew and never before seen footage from the Jim Henson archives. Kingdom of Characters focuses on... you guessed it... the main characters in the movie including conceptual design for the puppets (although Hoggle seems to be mostly left out, likely because there is so much of him in the original documentary) and background info on the actors. The Quest for the Golden City is mostly design details on the labyrinth, Goblin City and castle itself. These featurettes do well to fill in the gaps left by the original documentary. The extra footage is test footage of the puppets and such, with some production footage as well. I noticed some of the production footage was a rehash of what's on Making of the Labyrinth, but the crosstalk is few and far between.
The Storytellers Picture-in-Picture: This is the Blu-Ray exclusive featurette. When you turn it on while watching the movie occasionally a window pops up with an interview with one of the crew members speaking some interesting anecdote about the film. There isn't a whole lot of these that pop up in the movie, but when they do you get some rather interesting and entertaining production and behind the scenes information. Hearing about the casting call for the Helping Hands scene and the interview with Warwick Davis are alone worth checking out the feature.
Commentary by Brian Froud
You also get Dolby True HD Surround in English, French, Portugese with a Dolby Digigal Spanish track (how many movies have a Portugese dub?) with subtitles in all. Kind of strange they left out the Japanese audio that the Anniversary Edition had. I recall hearing improvements from the previous release's Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, but nothing groundbreaking.
Every release of Labyrinth has been impressive from the very first DVD, and with each new release it gets even better. So is it worth the double/triple dip? Well just like how the Anniversary Edition gave you a better picture with more extras the Blu-Ray ups the ante. I say if you want to enjoy this movie in the best way visually then yes. The new extras are nice, but to be honest as long as they original making of documentary is in there everything else will always come in second.
Labyrinth is a wonderful movie for all ages. The visuals will impress and the hijinks will entertain. If you are a Muppet fan this movie will be much more accessable than the Dark Crystal, and if you like The Storyteller then you have abolustely no choice but to get this (it's like a full length Storyteller movie sans John Hurt).