‘Labyrinth’ 35th Anniversary Edition 4K UHD Blu-Ray Review – Jim Henson’s Cult Favorite Gets The Deluxe Treatment It Deserves

The movie critique portion of this review was written by my colleague Ishmael Hurst

In June of 1986, David Bowie and a codpiece changed the face of high fantasy rock opera forever… but not all at once. Upon release, Jim Henson’s Labyrinth was a critical and commercial failure, earning only half of its budget in domestic revenue and suffering Gene Siskel’s designation as “quite awful.” If you haven’t seen the film before, don’t worry, I’m about to tell you why it’s a masterpiece- but what was the problem in 1986? Like Rocky Horror before it, Labyrinth hadn’t found its audience yet.

In 1986, Jim Henson was synonymous with The Muppets, and people want what they expect. Nobody expected Labyrinth, an adventure-fantasy morality tale that blends David Bowie, new wave pop bops and ballads, whimsical and often grotesque creatures, and significantly darker imagery and circumstances than the director was associated with at the time. But since then, this strange fever dream of a film has found a home in the hearts and minds of artistic weirdos around the world.

Labyrinth is about Sarah (a fifteen-year old Jennifer Connelly giving it her all), the kind of teenager the movie appeals to: a lonely theater dork, performing dramatic soliloquies opposite her dog in the park. But Sarah has a problem: her drag of a dad and overly reasonable stepmother insist that she watch her baby (literally a baby) brother, Toby (played with impeccably infantile manner by Toby Froud- son of Brian Froud, Labyrinth’s concept designer, and Mary Froud, who famously fabricated a little green alien named Yoda). When babysitting quickly becomes too much of a drag, Sarah calls upon the dark forces of her imagination to summon the Goblin King and his horde to steal her brother away, and is horrified when he (David Bowie, featuring a scandalously prominent codpiece) actually shows up and does just that. The Goblin King, Jareth, owns every scene he’s in with a sense of bombastic authority and demanding charisma, and it’s clear from the start that he has a sort of thrall over the young girl he intimidates and manipulates. Filled with immediate dread and regret at the consequences of her fleeting wrath, Sarah makes a deal with the proverbial devil: to reach the center of his enchanted maze (or Labyrinth) and reclaim her brother, or allow him to be magically transformed into the latest recruit in Jareth’s goblin army. Trudging onward past whimsical challenges, dangers, puppets and puzzles, Sarah summons a newfound sense of duty and determination and befriends an increasingly odd series of maze dwellers. Among them is Hoggle, a gnomish coward who is torn between his dedication to her and a deep-seeded fear of Jareth’s fury; Ludo, a big, sweet, hairy beast who speaks to rocks; and Sir Didymus, a brave knight errant who happens to be a small fox astride a skittish sheepdog.

Labyrinth’s executive producer, George Lucas, brought the hero’s journey to modern cinema with A New Hope, so perhaps it’s no surprise that Labyrinth follows the formula. However, despite its tried and true approach, the film is pure, one-of-a-kind magic. David Bowie brewed up the soundtrack alongside composer Trevor Jones, and its dance magic ballads have incredible staying power, while its instrumental pieces accentuate the fantasy/fun elements. Jim Henson’s company is at its finest, immersing us deeply in a world ruled by abstract logic and improbable creatures that are often funny and unsettling in equal measure. David Bowie as Jareth is right at home among these creatures, looking all-too-comfortable in the garishly extravagant makeup and costumes, and ensuring the character’s lasting popularity. Labyrinth knows its for oddballs. It reaches out to the outsider within you, inviting you to come and find something to love in its strange dreamspace. It asks you to see some of yourself, for all the follies and strengths of youth, in Sarah. Most importantly, by its conclusion, Labyrinth pats you on the back and says it’s okay to get lost in escapist fantasy, so long as you uphold a responsibility to yourself and the people you love; namely, don’t let goblins steal them.

Get this film, watch it, then come back and tell me your favorite song from it. We’ll be friends forever.

Video Quality

The 4K UHD Blu-Ray of Labyrinth offers a noticeable uptick in quality over the already strong accompanying Blu-Ray, itself derived from the same 4K remaster of the original 35mm camera negative as the 4K UHD Blu-Ray. The film was already released on 4K UHD Blu-Ray five years ago for the 30th anniversary, but I do not have access to that release. From my understanding, the only noticeable difference on the video side of things is the inclusion of Dolby Vision. This transfer sports a picture that has glorious film grain that resolves perfectly without being clumpy or unnatural. There has been no digital tinkering on this transfer, so this disc is free of DNR, compression artifacts and other encode issues. Skin tones appear way more natural than the Blu-Ray with healthy doses of fine detail apparent on faces such as pores. The production design that is a signature of Henson films is presented with immense depth and perfect clarity. Take a look at any background to see a wide array of minute details that are visible thanks to the 4K resolution. The costumes and textural output of the scenery is simply marvelous to behold with everything rendering without any issues. 

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The greatest gain is in the employment of the color spectrum. The Dolby Vision/HDR really harnesses the visual wonder that Henson has on display and features it to its full potential. Colors are more rich, natural and accurate to what was intended by the creative team. Even the more drab colors such as the shades of brown and grey offer a glorious stability. The highlights in the film are more defined with whites more pure and balanced with no instances of blooming to be found. The black levels are especially awe-inspiring in this presentation, staying deep and inky with great detail. This is a very natural looking transfer that offers up a nearly flawless presentation that should please fans of the film. 

Audio Quality

This 4K UHD Blu-Ray ports over the previous Dolby Atmos track that gives the film a dynamic soundscape with a real vitality and immersive quality. More importantly, though, is that this new 35th anniversary 4K UHD Blu-Ray provides the original soundtrack in glorious lossless DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio. Both of these tracks are wonderful in their own ways, but it is fantastic news that Sony realized the original audio should be a choice for fans who want it. Those who choose to embark with the original track may not utilize every speaker you have, but you will be granted a deep, natural sound without any age-related flaws. 

With the Atmos track, there is an emphasis on the front channels for a good portion of the sounds, but activity extends to the surrounds, rears and overhead speakers to make the world feel more robust and all-encompassing. The sounds up above are not constant, but they are  present enough to keep the listening experience quite engaging. The film really satisfies when it comes to the music, as the magical, memorable songs wash over you in a really satisfying, enveloping way. Dialogue is crisp and clear without ever getting lost amongst the music or sound effects. The low end effects from the subwoofer give certain moments that much-needed extra weight to enrich the world. Atmospheric sound effects are rendered appropriately within the mix so that directionality is never an issue. Labyrinth is not an action-packed film by any stretch of the imagination, but the expanded audio track allows the film to feel more three dimensional and precise. 

Special Features

Sony has provided Labyrinth with a sleek, stunning new Limited Edition Digibook package featuring rare artwork, photography and early script pages, all from deep within the Henson Archives—styled to resemble Sarah’s book of The Labyrinth from the film. Photos of the set can be found at the end of this review.

  • NEW Deleted & Alternate Scenes: Fourteen scenes totaling 26 minutes of unused material is provided here with optional audio commentary from Brian Henson. These scenes are all in rough form with many unfinished special effects, but it includes some very interesting material such as a longer intro to the Goblin King, an extended dance sequence, a silly joke about a chicken and more. The commentary from Henson is invaluable for fans. 
  • NEW Lost Auditions: 55 minutes of unseen auditions with Trini Alvarado (14:04), Maddie Corman (14:57), Tracey Gold (2:43), Molly Ringwald (3:02), Jill Schoelen (14:15), Danielle von Zerneck (3:11) and Claudia Wells (3:37). 
  • Audio Commentary: Conceptual Designer Brian Froud has a boatload of fascinating insights into the film from both an aesthetic viewpoint and as the father of the baby they used in the film. You really get some valuable anecdotes that are a joy to listen to about the production as a whole. 
  • Reordering Time – Looking Back At Labyrinth: A ten-minute recent featurette in which Jennifer Connelly, Brian Henson, Lisa Henson, Cheryl Henson, The Center for Puppetry Arts’ Vincent Anthony, and Jim Henson in vintage clips look back on the production and legacy of the film, the experiences they had on set, the joy that Jim Henson had from working on a completely original idea, the great performance from Connelly and more wonderful anecdotes. 
  • The Henson Legacy: A nearly eleven-minute featurette with many of the same participants in which they delve into the creativity of Henson, the fun he brought to his work, what it felt like to be a “Henson” family member, preserving the collection of puppets and props that remain and more. This piece really makes you want to explore The Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta. 
  • Remembering The Goblin King: A five-minute piece in which the participants share their memories of David Bowie, the character that he plays in the film, what he brought to the role in the film along with his presence on set, and much more that makes you miss the iconic performer all the more. 
  • Anniversary Q&A: A nearly 42-minute featurette in which moderator Adam Savage interviews Muppeteers Brian Henson (who departs early), Karen Prell, Dave Goelz, and later, Labyrinth Actress Shari Weiser, in which they discuss the artistry behind puppetry, the differences between this movie and The Dark Crystal, the ability to ad-lib within the film, rehearsing the movements, the teamwork on the film and more. There are also various audience questions such as the process of becoming Hoggle, things they were not able to accomplish as puppeteers, the personal impact the film has had on their lives and much more. 
  • Inside The Labyrinth Making Of Documentary: A nearly 57-minute vintage documentary that delves into various aspects of the film including the performances from Bowie and Connelly, the design and creation of the puppets, the danger of shooting some of the scenes, the intricate set design, and much more that is quite enlightening. 
  • Journey Through The Labyrinth – Kingdom Of Characters: A 28-minute piece which explores the various characters we meet throughout the film and what went into bringing the creatures to life for the feature both in terms of shaping a personality and capturing them on film. 
  • Journey Through The Labyrinth – The Quest For Goblin City: A 30-minute piece which takes you through the initial idea for the tale to the process of bringing it to vivid life. 
  • The Storytellers – Picture In Picture: This gives you the option to watch the film with a tiny secondary window that pops up with additional information about the film. 
  • Theatrical Trailers: Four minutes worth of trailers are provided for the film. 
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Final Thoughts

Labyrinth is a really special film that was misunderstood upon its release, but has since found the dedicated audience it was always meant to have. Jennifer Connelly is captivating and sweet in this early performance, but it is the amazing David Bowie who truly embraces the high fantasy of the situation. Jim Henson really pulled out all of his creative tricks for this iconic film. Sony Pictures has released a truly stunning new Limited Edition 4K UHD Blu-Ray in celebration of the film’s 35th anniversary featuring a miraculous A/V presentation, including newly-implemented Dolby Vision and the original theatrical audio, as well as a plethora of special features both new and old. Even if you have the previous 4K UHD Blu-Ray, there are many compelling reasons to pick up this new set. If you only own this one on Blu-Ray or not at all, this package is a no-brainer for anyone looking to add the best version to their collection. Highly Recommended 

Labyrinth: 35th Anniversary Edition is currently available to purchase on 4K UHD Blu-Ray and Digital. 

Note: Images presented in this review are not reflective of the image quality of the 4K UHD Blu-Ray.

Disclaimer: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has supplied a copy of this disc free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.

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