Labyrinth is a 1986 British-American fantasy film directed by Jim Henson, produced by George Lucas, and based off concept designs by Brian Froud. The film stars David Bowie as Jareth and Jennifer Connelly as Sarah. The plot revolves around Sarah’s quest to reach the center of an enormous otherworldly maze to rescue her infant brother Toby, who has been kidnapped by Jareth, the Goblin King. With the exception of Bowie and Connelly, most of the significant characters in the film are played by puppets produced by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop.
Labyrinth started as a collaboration between Jim Henson and Brian Froud, with ideas for the film first being discussed between them following a screening of their previous collaboration, The Dark Crystal. Terry Jones from Monty Python wrote the first draft of the film’s script early in 1984, drawing on Brian Froud’s sketches for inspiration. Various other script-writers, including Laura Phillips (who had previously written several episodes of Fraggle Rock), George Lucas, and Elaine May, subsequently re-wrote and made additions to the screenplay, although Jones received the film’s sole screen-writing credit. Labyrinth was shot on location in Upper Nyack, Piermont and Haverstraw in New York, and at Elstree Studios and West Wycombe Park in the United Kingdom.
The New York Times reported that Labyrinth had a budget of $25 million. Labyrinth was a box office disappointment and only grossed $12,729,917 during its U.S theatrical run. The commercial failure of the film demoralized Henson to the extent that his son Brian Henson remembered the time of the film’s release as one of the most difficult periods of his father’s career. It would be the last feature film directed by Henson before his death in 1990.
Although it was met with a mixed critical response upon its original release in the summer of 1986, Labyrinth has since gone on to become a cult film and tributes to it have been featured in magazines such as Empire and Total Film. A four-volume manga sequel to the film, entitled Return to Labyrinth, was published by Tokyopop between 2006 and 2010. In 2012 Archaia Studios Press announced they were developing a graphic novel prequel to the film.
The film opens with a barn owl watching a teenager, Sarah (Jennifer Connelly), reciting lines from a play called Labyrinth in a park. As Sarah struggles to remember the final line of her monologue, the town clock chimes seven o’ clock and Sarah remembers she has to babysit her brother Toby. She rushes home and has a confrontation with her impatient stepmother.
Following her parents’ departure Sarah realizes that her teddy bear, Lancelot, is missing from her room. She finds the toy in Toby’s room and resentfully declares a wish that the goblins would take the baby away. Abruptly, Toby vanishes and a barn owl flies into the room, transforming into Jareth, King of the Goblins (David Bowie). Jareth tells Sarah that he will return her brother if she can solve his Labyrinth within thirteen hours. He transports Sarah and himself to the Labyrinth, then leaves Sarah to start her quest.
At the entrance of the Labyrinth, Sarah meets Hoggle, a grumpy and obstinate dwarf who refuses to help her. She advances through the labyrinth alone and overcomes a series of obstacles during her journey, including a Knights and Knaves logic puzzle, before eventually trapping herself in an oubliette. Jareth sends Hoggle into the oubliette to free Sarah and misdirect her back to the beginning of the labyrinth.
As they travel Sarah and Hoggle encounter a group of goblins tormenting a gentle beast named Ludo, whose roars frighten Hoggle and lead him to flee. Sarah saves Ludo and travels with him but the two become separated. A group of revelers with detachable limbs called the Fire Gang harass Sarah until Hoggle reappears to rescue her. Shortly afterward they pass through the Bog of Eternal Stench where they are reunited with Ludo and add another to their party: Sir Didymus, a chivalrous, fox-like knight who guards the bridge that leads away from the bog.
Hoggle offers Sarah a peach that Jareth had ordered him to give her. Upon biting the peach, Sarah slips into a trance and finds herself in a dream-like ballroom where Jareth attempts to seduce her. The sound of a striking clock reminds Sarah that she needs to save her brother and she frees herself from the vision to restart her quest. She rejoins Ludo and Sir Didymus, and the three of them approach the Goblin City that surrounds Jareth’s castle. Hoggle appears and disables a giant robot that guards the city gate. Sarah forgives Hoggle for his earlier betrayal and continues with all her friends through the city, successfully defeating the soldiers of the goblin army who have been sent to stop them.
Upon reaching Jareth’s throne room, Sarah decides to go forward alone. She finds Jareth and Toby in a vast, stair-filled room inspired by M. C. Escher’s Relativity and attempts unsuccessfully to find a path to reach her brother. She is interrupted by Jareth, who confronts her face-to-face and asks her to abandon her quest in order to stay with him forever. Sarah recites the complete monologue from the beginning of the film, concluding with the formerly elusive line, “You have no power over me.”
Jareth, acknowledging defeat, returns Sarah and Toby to their home. Sarah discovers she can see Hoggle and the rest of her friends in her bedroom mirror. Sarah tells her friends she needs them, summoning them into her room. The film closes as Sarah and the creatures celebrate her victory. Outside the bedroom window, a barn owl briefly watches the party before flying away.
Learn more about the concepts, principles and symbolism behind the subliminals found in this film:
First Published: Apr 8, 2012 – Last Updated: Apr 5, 2014