I love Labyrinth for the sheer strangeness of everything that happens. A lot of fantasy worlds seem to be copying one another over and over again, which means that it can be kind of hard to surprise fans of fantasy. Labyrinth has a truly bizarre concept and a truly bizarre world, which would make it at least somewhat interesting even if it had nothing else going for it at all. However, Labyrinth actually has a fascinating theme that should be relevant to a lot of fantasy fans.
Almost all of the fans of Labyrinth that I talk to are women, which shouldn’t surprise anyone. We’re also not just there for David Bowie. I’m actually not all that into David Bowie, personally, as a musician or as anything else. I do think that he did a great job in this movie, though. He was perfect in the role of the villainous goblin king. There aren’t too many films in general that have female protagonists going on complicated journeys in order to save people or grow and change themselves, and that’s what we have here.
Our protagonist, Sarah, is a teenage girl who seems to be stuck in childhood fantasies and seems to be having a difficult time managing her hobbies and her responsibilities. I think that’s a situation that a lot of us geeks can relate to, regardless of gender. I like the way this film explores that message by actually transporting Sarah into the fantasy world of her dreams. We all have fun hanging out in certain fictional universes, even if they’re full of curses and violence and all sorts of other things we would never want to encounter in real life. Well, Sarah does encounter them in her real life now, which completely changes the context of everything.
A comforting fantasy becomes frightening and horrifying. She risks losing her baby brother to the Goblin King, and possibly losing her own life in the process. The setup allows Sarah to realize the importance of her real life and all of the people in it, as well as the importance of the fantasy. What I liked though is that the movie didn’t end on a note about adults having to give up fantasy fiction or geeky things, which is what you would expect from a movie like this, especially given the time period.
At the end, when Sarah has triumphed over the Goblin King, all of the fantasy friends that she made while in the Labyrinth talk about how they’ll always be there for her when they’re needed. As such, the message is more about balancing one’s fantasy life with one’s real life, as opposed to giving up one’s fantasy life entirely. I think that’s a good message, and one that will appeal more to modern geeks than a lot of the other stuff about geeks from the films of the 1980s. Geek culture was very much stigmatized in the 1980s, which can be hard for us younger Gen-Y people to remember. We got to live in the world in which the nerds won, and we missed out on most of the battle. Lots of 1980s movies look like sad relics as a result. Labyrinth avoided falling into that trap, which helps make it one of my favorite movies.
Some people have criticized Jennifer Connelly’s acting in the movie. She definitely has improved over the years, and she does have some pretty weak moments as Sarah here and there. However, it isn’t anywhere near enough to really damage the movie. Sarah is still a protagonist that you can relate to, even if some of her mannerisms seem a little artificial at times. Jim Henson’s puppetry is just fantastic in this movie, and it really helps to show off all of his talents. Some people would say that the puppetry dates the movie, but personally, I really think that a lot of the puppets look more realistic than a lot of the CGI that people use today. CGI from the 1990s often already looks dated, and I think Jim Henson’s puppets hold up better. I think modern fantasy fans would still love Labyrinth.