Wednesday, June 15, 2016


“You remind me of the babe…”

This month marks the 30th anniversary of Jim Henson’s LABYRINTH.

In the early 1980’s, there were no two bigger names in entertainment than Jim Henson and George Lucas. Henson was known as the creator of TV’s beloved SESAME STREET and for advancing the art of puppetry, and Lucas had altered the film industry with STAR WARS and then thrilled the world with INDIANA JONES. The meeting of these two creative minds would eventually result in LABYRINTH.

In 1983, Jim Henson was coming off his successful film THE DARK CRYSTAL, and was eager to begin a new film with a lighter tone than what CRYSTAL had. Together with Brian Froud, the two conceived a story in which a spoiled girl, burdened with babysitting, wishes her baby brother away…only to have the wish come true and the baby is kidnapped by goblins. Around this time, Henson approached George Lucas with the idea of collaborating on the film, and Lucas, who had been a great admirer of Henson’s sense of optimism, happily accepted.

Over the next two years the script would go through 25 treatments and drafts, with contributions from Henson, Lucas, and Terry Jones. When casting began, candidates for the role of the young girl included Sarah Jessica Parker, Marisa Tomei, Laura Dern, and Mia Sara. The role would eventually go to a 14 year-old Jennifer Connelly. The role of the leader of the goblins, known as the Goblin King, would go to superstar musician David Bowie, who was chosen over Sting, Prince, Mick Jagger, and Michael Jackson.

Filming began in early April of 1985 using a crew mostly assembled from various other Jim Henson projects, including Frank Oz, who had brought Yoda to life in STAR WARS, and Kevin Clash; best known for voicing Elmo on SESAME STREET. It took five months to film and was a complicated production due to the mass amount of puppets and animatronic creatures. Connelly and Bowie, who were the only human characters in the film, initially found it difficult to act against the puppets, but eventually found their way through repetition and rehearsing…while Bowie would later credit the realism of the puppets which made them actual characters on-set. All visual effects would be done on-camera, with the exception of a computer-generated owl which appears in the beginning of the movie, marking the first use of a CGI animal on film. Editing was performed by Henson and Lucas, while Trevor Jones contributed the score. Bowie would record five songs for the film.

Upon release, LABYRINTH would be met with mixed to positive reviews, and would open at No. 8 at the box office; well behind competition such as THE KARATE KID II, BACK TO SCHOOL, TOP GUN, and FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF. Henson would take the criticism hard, and his son would later recall it as one of the most difficult periods of his father’s career. However, LABYRINTH would gain a cult following, and actors Bowie and Connelly would be often recognized for their roles.


LABYRINTH would not win any awards or break any box office records, but today it is looked back at fondly thanks to its remarkable craftsmanship in its sets, environments, and puppet-wizardry. It also has a strong cling to classic storytelling, a Lucas trademark, which is familiar in a good way. There are good, sensible morals at work in LABYRINTH, such as being careful what you wish for and being patient with our younger siblings who don’t know any better. The film would get Connelly’s career going, and would add another level to Bowie’s growing legend. Today, LABYRINTH is an expression of old-school filmmaking craftsmanship, pure imagination, classic storytelling, and one of Jim Henson’s most iconic creations.

“For my will is as strong as yours, and my kingdom is great...”

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