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Labyrinth (1986)

Labyrinth‘s one of those movies that I’m reasonably certain everybody likes more than I do. I’ve seen chunks of it several times over the years, but today might be the first time I’ve watched the entire movie since it was released. It’s not a bad movie by any means, but it doesn’t spark my imagination very much. I kept paying attention to the technical tricks and the way that sheepdog dashes across the rocks in the Bog of Eternal Stench. That must have been the best trained dog to ever tread the boards at Elstree Studios.

This is a movie for kids and ours just adored it, as his mother predicted. We often try to take him into a new film a little blind, so he doesn’t know what to expect, and so the first appearance of all the goblins waiting for Jennifer Connelly to word her wish correctly surprised the heck out of him. He smiled and laughed all the way through the film, loving the wonderful battle between the goblin army and all the rocks that Ludo summons the best.

David Bowie never appeared on The Muppet Show, but his performance of “Magic Dance” is a pretty good imitation of how such an event might have appeared. Labyrinth was made during what I might charitably call Bowie’s Crap Period, with five new songs strung between the tentpoles of his two weakest LPs not really providing a lot of reason to go check these out. “As the World Falls Down” is the best of the five by miles, and I’m kind of annoyed that I’ll have “Underground” stuck in my head for the next month.

But while musically, it’s a weak set of songs, it’s impossible to dislike Bowie’s performance as the Goblin King, Jareth. He may not be one of the screen’s great villains, but he’s a fun, mischievous character who plays by rules and logic that our heroine doesn’t find fair. I wonder about all the goblins in his kingdom. Were these all children that Jareth has stolen from other worlds?

Apparently Terry Jones rewrote his script sixty-eleven times to please Bowie and Jim Henson, and he later expressed some frustration that the final draft didn’t have a lot of what he enjoyed creating left in it. But a lot of it works, especially Jennifer Connelly’s believably heroic-but-overwhelmed character. I like how her bedroom contains posters of musicals, Escher prints, and the Judge Dredd role-playing game. Speaking of Escher, we got to remind our son of “Castrovalva” before the climactic scene in the “Relativity” staircase room. It must be said that Henson pulled off that illusion rather better than Doctor Who did. There’s also a repeat of the classic riddle about the two guards, one truthful and one a liar, that Who had done in “Pyramids of Mars.”

Incidentally, I’ve actually seen more of Hoggle in real life than in this movie. He lives just about an hour from here. The Hoggle puppet was lost in transit when Henson was doing a lecture tour, and the insurance paid off. Many years later, Hoggle, badly decaying from water damage, was found in a trunk that had been purchased in a big job lot by Unclaimed Baggage in Scottsboro AL. The puppet was restored by an expert in Wisconsin, Gary Sowatzka, in 2006, and he now occupies a place of pride in the giant store’s front lobby.

This kind of reminded us that we should head back to Scottsboro to shop and eat sometime soon, and say hello to Hoggle. We just won’t take any peaches from him.

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The Dark Crystal (1982)

I only saw The Dark Crystal once, about thirty-five years ago. It’s safe to assume that everybody enjoys this movie more than I do. Our son certainly does, and that’s just fine with me. He asked me last night what it’s about, and I had no idea. I remembered what most of the creatures looked like – and who doesn’t love the Fizzgig – and I remembered that the Mystics spend pretty much the entire movie just walking across endless fields, but I couldn’t have told you one blessed thing about the plot.

Strangely enough, I didn’t remember the creatures that our son enjoyed the most, the Garthim. These are big insect-lobster things, or, as our son put it, “giant hermit crabs.” Six-going-on-seven is a great age for this movie. It’s full of mild frights and genuinely weird designs. Jim Henson and Frank Oz worked with an amazingly talented team, including Brian Froud as the lead concept artist. There’s so much to look at in this movie, and shot after shot after shot that will leave you asking how in the world they did that. Visually, the film’s a triumph.

Other than the visuals, though, this is just fantasy by the numbers, and Diet Tolkien’s even more bitter when you can’t stand Tolkien in the first place. Nothing happens in this movie that’s in any way surprising, and it’s oddly humorless. Barry Dennan did the voice of one of the villains, and he’s entertainingly pitiful. The scene I enjoyed the most has the evil Skeksis, a gang of vulgar vulture-crocodile beasts, having the worst table manners you’ve ever seen as they belch, burp, throw food around, and chase still-living snacks across their plates. Our son enjoyed pretty much everything, but was happiest when the one-eyed astronomer rescues Fizzgig. He says he’d like to see it again, one day. It’s always nice to pick a winner.

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