Fifteen-year-old Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) is so resentful of her baby brother Toby that she hopes he will just disappear. Her dream becomes reality when goblins kidnap the boy--but Sarah unexpectedly finds herself horrified by the loss. So she sets forth to retrieve him, and finds herself on the adventure of a lifetime. To accomplish her task, she will somehow have to reach the center of the fantastical labyrinth where the wicked Goblin King (David Bowie, who performs two songs) has imprisoned the lad. But the task is easier said than done, for the maze is filled with strange creatures and mind-bending puzzles that confuse the girl. Directed by Jim Henson and penned by Monty Python's Terry Jones, 'Labyrinth' is a distinctive, beautifully designed dark fantasy for all ages.
I'm aging myself by saying this, but I'm also proud to admit that I was one of the few sitting alone in the dark (quite literally...I think maybe there were four other people there) in my local movie theater on a weekend in late June of 1986 watching Jim Henson's 'Labyrinth'. I remember it well because all my high school friends (I was 16 at the time...about to start my senior year) were sneaking in to see Running Scared that weekend, while I got poked fun at for deciding to see this 'movie for little kids' instead. Sadly, that's what people thought of 'Labyrinth' back in the 80s, and it took a long, long time for perceptions about the film to change.
Granted, 'Labyrinth's is a film for kids...but for kids of all ages, much like The Wizard of Oz. While it's obviously not quite up to the quality of that movie, it's no less imaginative of a film – perhaps one of the reasons it's gone from a small cult following to much bigger mainstream acceptance over the last 30 years. For me, it's always been my favorite Jim Henson film. Not as kiddie-oriented as his Muppet movies, but not quite as dark as the aptly named The Dark Crystal.
But let's be perfectly honest here. The real appeal of 'Labyrinth' and one of the big reasons it has gotten a 30th Anniversary release at all is not because of the magic of Jim Henson but because of the magic of star David Bowie. What he lacks in acting chops (and, honestly, he's not that bad of a performer) he more than makes up for in the musical tunes performed for this film – all of them also written by Bowie himself. When word came earlier this year of Bowie's passing, my first thought wasn't of his vast library of great music or even some of his memorable appearances in other films. My first thought was of his show-stopping performance of 'Magic Dance' in this movie, which is so full of fun and energy, it's still the highlight of the whole affair, despite coming rather early on in the story.
Jennifer Connelly, essentially the only other human actor in the movie (aside from baby Toby and her father and stepmother – the latter two who only make brief appearances), was only 14 when she shot this film and her acting skills hadn't quite evolved to her current Oscar-winning abilities. She's not particularly great here, but she at least comes off as 'real' – meaning her performance is one that at least doesn't seem like a young actor trying to emote every line and emotion. Also, the fact that she doesn't scream and cringe like most female leads in similar 80s-themed movies but is a genuine heroine here shows how 'Labyrinth' was a little ahead of its time. It was then and continues to be a movie that plays to young females just as well as it does to young males. (In fact, most of the adults that I know that list 'Labyrinth' among their favorite childhood films are indeed women.)
Is Labyrinth a great movie? No, but it's a good one, and certainly one that deserved a better fate than it got at the box office back in 1986. The upside, of course, is that it's finally gotten the fate that it deserved and is now widely considered one of the better fantasy films of its era. It's nice to see Sony take the time and money to treat fans to this 30th Anniversary release, which includes a new 4K transfer of the film and a handful of new bonus materials along with some archival ones too. As for those of you who still think 'Labyrinth' is a worthless endeavor, "You have no power over me."
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Labyrinth' reveals itself on home video in this 4K Ultra HD/Blu-ray/Digital HD combo back. The 4K disc and 50GB Blu-ray come housed inside a black eco-Lite Vortex keepcase along with three inserts: one containing a code for an UltraViolet digital copy of the movie, one an advertisement for the Labyrinth board game, and one containing a note from Brian Henson about this 30th anniversary release of the movie. A slipcover with artwork matching that of the keepcase's slick slides overtop.
There are no front-loaded trailers on either the Blu-ray or the 4K disc, whose main menu is similar to other Sony 4K titles, showing still images of the main characters (in this case, artwork from the box cover) and allowing users to navigate screens up and down, left and right, to gain access to chapter selections, audio selections, a short cast and crew list (the main two stars and the director), and a section that will play the best "moments" of certain characters in the movie...in this case, Sarah, The Goblin King, Hoggle, and the rest of the creatures. For those curious, the Blu-ray menu is basically a still of the box cover image, with menu selections running across the bottom of the screen.
The Blu-ray in this release is region-free and, of course, 4K Ultra HD discs are not region coded.
'Labyrinth' was originally shot on 35mm film and is presented here in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1. As noted on the Brian Henson insert included inside the keepcase, this 30th Anniversary release features a new 4K scan of the movie taken from the original 35mm camera negative.
Now here's where I'm going to get myself in trouble with some 4K aficionados, as I actually think a good argument can be made that not only isn't the 4K version much of visual improvement over the accompanied Blu-ray disc, but that the Blu-ray version is actually more aesthetically pleasing to the eye, despite the lower resolution.
Before I talk about what looks bad on the 4K version, let's talk about what's noticeably better. Yes, the Ultra HD disc does provide more detail in the imagery, and viewers should particularly enjoy making out details in the designs of both creatures and their surrounding environments that really can't be seen on the Blu-ray. The HDR on the 4K disc also provides a burst of color to the proceedings that really seem to fit this film well, although I'm guessing just as many of you may thing the deeper colors make many scenes look much darker than originally intended.
Also true of both the 4K and 1080p versions of this movie is the fact that virtually all instances of dirt, debris, and other defects in the print have been removed, with the only evident remaining issues being a bit of stabilization problems in a few shots here and there (the picture jitters ever so slightly).
Now, here's the problem. 'Labyrinth' has always been a somewhat soft-looking, grainy movie. And rest assured both the Blu-ray and 4K retain that often soft and almost always very grainy look. But while the grain on the Blu-ray looks very film-like and natural, the grain on the 4K disc probably due to the improved resolution – is so defined that it often looks more like digital noise than it does grain. Now, I know what you're saying..."grain is good". And that's almost always true, except when it's distracting in the way that it is on this 4K version. Those of you who already own Ghostbusters on 4K will have some slight idea what I'm referring to (ironically, also a Sony 4K title), except it's even more obtrusive here. While it doesn't take away from the appeal of seeing those beautiful colors and additional details, it does distract to the point where I actually think the Blu-ray version in this set is the more 'filmlike' presentation between the two discs.
Therefore, the debate will now begin on what's the better version: one that offers more details and a deeper range of color/contrast (the 4K version), or one that gives off a more 'filmlike' appearance overall (the Blu-ray version). This is one of those rare instances where I think more resolution doesn't equal a better experience.
The featured audio here is a Dolby Atmos track, which down-converts into a core Dolby TrueHD 7.1 track for those without Atmos capabilities. As tracks like this go, 'Labyrinth' comes off as perhaps a little less than impressive, since the movie's original sound design obviously didn't have Atmos in mind. But the good news is the audio sounds very nice and comes off great where you hope it would: particularly during the Bowie tunes. In terms of surround use, there's a nice quality to the audio during the rain and thunderstorm that takes place early in the movie, and low-end LFE gets a good workout when Sarah and Hoggle are pursued by the 'Cleaners' mechanism around the mid-point of the movie. Other than those and a few other instances, the track here is fairly non-aggressive.
Dialogue is clear and distinct throughout most of the movie, and neither muddiness or dropouts are an issue. So while the sound is never fully immersive, there are no major complaints to be had. Furthermore, those who don't think the 4K version may be worth the extra money (although, honestly, it's one of the few 4K releases right now that's pretty reasonably priced), the good news is that the Blu-ray in this release (and in the stand-alone 30th Anniversary release) also features the Atmos track.
In addition to the Atmos audio, the 4K disc is loaded with other options, consisting of 5.1 Dolby Digital tracks in Czech, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish (Castilian), and Spanish (Latin America). Subtitles are available in English, English SDH, Chinese (Traditional), Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, German, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish (Castilian), Spanish (Latin America), Swedish, and Turkish.
4K Ultra HD Disc
The biggest decision for potential purchasers isn't going to be whether or not to get this release, but what version of it to get. While the 4K transfer offers some additional detail and a burst of HDR color, the grain is much more obtrusive and my eyes actually preferred the slightly less-detailed but more filmlike Blu-ray transfer in this set. Regardless of which version you decide on (and, of course, you'll get both discs with this 4K version), this 30th Anniversary release is certainly recommended for both longtime fans and newcomers to the movie alike.