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Jim Henson
David Bowie, Jennifer Connelly, Toby Froud, Shelley Thompson, Christopher Malcolm, Natalie Finland
Writing Credits:
Dennis Lee, Jim Henson

Where everything seems possible and nothing is what it seems.
Rated PG.

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English DTS 5.1
English, Spanish

Runtime: 106 min.
Price: $26.95
Release Date: 3/4/2003

• None


Superbit DVD
Special Edition DVD
Score soundtrack

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Labyrinth: Superbit (1986)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 24, 2003)

Unlike the Roger Eberts of the world who do this for a living, we Internet critics pretty much have free rein over what DVDs we review. As such, I sometimes like to convey why I chose to screen a particular title, especially if I give the film itself a bad review; I think it's helpful to explain why I subjected myself to an unpleasant experience. I don't want people to think I'm a masochist, after all.

I have no trouble whatsoever explaining why I picked up a copy of Labyrinth, for it's historically rooted. Why did I see the film during its theatrical run in 1986? Bowie. Why did I buy a copy of the soundtrack LP? Bowie. Why did I later spend too much money for an import CD of the soundtrack back when no US release of the CD existed? Bowie. Why did I acquire the laserdisc of the picture? Bowie. So please use your deductive reasoning skills to figure out why I got the DVD release of Labyrinth. Hint - it starts with a "B" and rhymes with "snowy"...

(Have I pointed out that I'm a big Bowie fan?)

Despite such apparent devotion to the film, I have to admit that it really is just the Bowie connection that's attached me so strongly to Labyrinth. If you put literally any other actor into the role of the Goblin King, then I not only don't purchase multiple copies of it over the years, but I also probably never see it in the first place. (Okay, I suppose if Jagger or someone had done the role, I'd have given it a look, but Bowie takes the movie to a whole different level for me.)

This attitude should not convey an opinion that Labyrinth is a bad film, because it's not. However, it's not a terribly good film, either. I think it's much more interesting than Jim Henson's previous fantasy film, 1982's The Dark Crystal, but I find much of Labyrinth to seem pedestrian and fall flat.

Essentially, Labyrinth is just another rehash bastardization of The Wizard of Oz. The newer film's special effects are much better, and it's a given I like the songs more, though I won't get into an argument over which film has the superior music. Labyrinth, like The Dark Crystal, benefits from strong craft and attention to detail but it lacks a crucial spark that would have made it truly come alive. At no point during this film was in danger of feeling enchanted by the proceedings.

Some of the blame for that lies at the feet of the human actors involved. Yes, I do love Bowie, and unlike most other rock stars, he really can act. You wouldn't know that from his work here, though. His performance as Jareth is pretty much a dud. You'd think that Bowie'd be able to step into a part as a "Goblin King" and vividly inhabit it, but that's not the case here. He seems awkward and vaguely uncomfortable in the role and he shows no signs that he was willing or able to really open himself up and let himself go in the film.

The only other prominent human actor in Labyrinth is Jennifer Connelly as our protagonist Sarah. Conceptual designer Brian Froud's infant son Toby plays Sarah's infant brother Toby - poor kid, getting typecast at such a tender age! - and a couple of nobodies are seen as Sarah's father and stepmother early in the film, but their collective screen time is pretty minimal, especially in the case of the parents. Connelly showed us that she soon was going to be an exceptionally attractive woman, but she displayed no signs that she would be much of an actress. For certain, no one predicted her future Oscar glory based on her efforts here. She's not terrible, but Sarah seems to be something of a nonentity in her own film. Like the movie itself, there's little spark behind Connelly's performance and Sarah never develops into much of an interesting or compelling character.

At the risk of sounding like I hate everything, I must acknowledge that I intensely disliked the main non-human character in Labyrinth. That'd be Hoggle (acted by Shari Weiser, voiced by Brian Henson), a gnome who starts as a nasty little flunky of Jareth's but eventually does a Grinch on us. I've always found the little bastard annoying and unpleasant, and that attitude has not mellowed over the years. Why does Sarah develop an affection for him? I have no idea - I kept hoping Jareth would blow him up.

Ironically, one of the strongest aspects of Labyrinth stems from its remaining characters. While its main participants are either dull or annoying, the smaller supporting roles showcase a wide variety of delightful, entertaining and amusing misfits. From the Cockney worm to the "Helping Hands" to the crusty old doorknobs to about a hundred other clever characters, it's these bit parts that make Labyrinth a watchable movie. They can't quite lift it above that level, but without all the creativity that went into them, this picture would have been absolutely abysmal.

Interestingly, as I watched the antics of these creatures, I was struck by the fact that they seemed to reflect a Monty Python kind of attitude. This made sense when I discovered that Python alumnus Terry Jones penned the screenplay. (Actually, that should be rediscovered; I'd known this fact, but had forgotten it.) Director Henson made a good choice with Jones, since his wit and flair definitely add a level of entertainment to what otherwise could have been a dull and ponderous affair like The Dark Crystal.

As with that film, I definitely respected all the work and artistry that went into creating the puppet-universe of Labyrinth, but craft and creative designwork don't necessarily mean you'll end up with a good movie. Ultimately, Labyrinth is a mildly entertaining diversion that offers many solid fantasy components but it never quite gels into a truly magical experience.

Interesting footnote: throughout the movie, Sarah and Jareth constantly mispronounce Hoggleís name. At one point she calls his ďHogwartĒ. Did J.K. Rowling steal that name for her Harry Potter series? I donít know, but if not, itís any interesting coincidence.

The DVD Grades: Picture A- / Audio B / Bonus F

Labyrinth appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Despite a few small problems, the picture consistently looked excellent.

Sharpness appeared terrific. Virtually the entire movie came across as nicely distinct and accurate. I noticed no issues related to softness or fuzziness during this tight, well-defined presentation. Jagged edges and moirť effects also created no concerns, and I detected no signs of edge enhancement either. As for print flaws, some light grain cropped up at times, and I also noticed the occasional speckle, but the movie generally looked quite clean and fresh.

The settings in Labyrinth tended to use fairly flat and plain hues - earth tones abounded - so the film didnít exhibit an abundance of vivid colors. When those did appear, they most came via costumes donned by the various characters. The garb worn by participants such as Sir Didymus and the Worm showed tremendously bold and bright colors. This strong reproduction continued into more subdued hues such as the tinted armor of the Goblin warriors toward the end of the film and the leathery clothes of Hoggle; these colors looked absolutely brilliant. Black levels seemed nicely deep and rich, while shadow detail was appropriately heavy but didnít appear overly dense. Ultimately, Labyrinth exhibited a very strong visual presentation.

So how did the picture quality of the Superbit Labyrinth compare to that of the original DVD that came out in 1999? The pair seemed very similar. Overall, the Superbit edition looked a little smoother and tighter, but not to a tremendous degree. If I had to pick the better-looking disc of the two, Iíd go with the Superbit one, but the old DVD still presented a very solid image.

On the other hand, the audio of the Superbit Labyrinth seemed noticeable stronger than that heard on the original disc. Whereas the prior release only included Dolby Surround 2.0 sound, the Superbit featured both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 audio. The pair seemed fairly similar. The DTS track came across as slightly more dynamic and rich, but as a whole, I felt the two were close enough to merit the same ďBĒ grade.

The soundfield presented a fairly active affair. The forward spectrum dominated the mix and offered a good sense of presence. Music showed nice stereo imaging, while effects meshed together well and made the environment come to life pretty solidly. Elements meshed together well, though they seemed a little speaker-specific at times.

The Superbit Labyrinth outdid the original in the activity of the soundfield, especially in regard to the surround channels. These seemed noticeably more involving and distinct. They always came across as somewhat weak and indistinct during the old 2.0 track, but here they became more equal partners. These added to the experience and created a nice feeling of ambience.

Audio quality was somewhat erratic but usually remained solid. Speech mostly came across as reasonably natural and distinct, but some poor dubbing caused a few distractions. That seemed particularly noticeable early in the film, as the shots between Sarah and her family looked badly looped. A little edginess crept into some of the lines as well, particularly those spoken by Hoggle.

Effects showed a little distortion on a few occasions, but usually those elements came across as nicely detailed and accurate. The effects boasted fairly good clarity as well as decent depth; Ludoís voice and other loud pieces demonstrated nice bass response. Music varied a bit, and some of the Bowie songs were a little dense. However, they usually sounded pretty good, and the score appeared fairly rich and vibrant. Overall, the audio of Labyrinth didnít dazzle me but it seemed good for a film from 1986.

When I compared the Superbit DVD and the old release, the formerís 5.1 audio clearly seemed superior. The old 2.0 track from the original DVD appeared somewhat thin and flat, whereas the 5.1 mixes presented noticeably greater depth and vivacity. The difference didnít seem like night and day, but I thought the 5.1 versions gave Labyrinth more life and seemed more involving.

So far the Superbit DVD of Labyrinth appeared to offer stronger picture and sound. Unfortunately, it loses all of the old discís old supplements. The original included a documentary along with a few other minor pieces. I donít miss the latter, but the former was a very solid piece, so its absence creates a definite void.

Labyrinth will never be one of my favorite films, and if it didnít star my all-time favorite performer, Iíd probably never have bothered with it. Still, it has enough going for it that kids should enjoy it. The DVD presents a very solid picture along with fairly good audio, but it omits any supplements.

And thereís the rub when it comes to a recommendation. If you want a copy of Labyrinth on DVD and donít care about extras, go for the Superbit version. It seemed a little stronger in regard to picture, and its audio came across as noticeably superior. If you do worry about supplements, Iíd probably steer you toward the original disc. Yes, I preferred the sound heard on the Superbit, but the difference wasnít quite radical enough to make me want to skip that excellent documentary.

That means that folks who already own the original DVD should probably just stick with it. Of course, if youíre a huge Labyrinth fan, it might be worth your while to possess both releases. But for the supplement fan who only wants one of them, Iíd recommend the old disc. Still, at least the Superbit version marks a nice improvement over the original, which makes it worth your consideration.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.4285 Stars Number of Votes: 35
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