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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
"Turn back, Sarah. Turn back, before it's too late."
DVD ReviewWith the release of this collector's edition, Columbia TriStar has now officially triple-dipped the late Jim Henson's 1986 Muppet-heavy fantasy film. There was a relatively bare-bones disc in 2002 (though it did only have 2.0 surround, it did have the wonderful Inside the Labyrinth making-of documentary that is found on the collector's edition), a 2003 Superbit version (with DTS), and now this morphed-out fancy-pants edition that mistakenly forsakes the DTS track for 5.1 Dolby Digital surround, collectible cards, and a high MSRP ($49.95!).
Whatever release you choose, the film, of course, remains the same. The Tina Turner-fright-wigged Jareth, aka The Goblin King (David Bowie) steps out of the underworld and into the real world to snatch up the baby brother of frustrated teen Sarah (Jennifer Connelly), giving her just 13 hours to maneuver her way through a twisting labyrinth of fantasy-world weirdness, or he will turn the tiny tot into a goblin. What follows is a typical quest adventure, as Sarah teams up with a disparate collection of fantasy characters who help her (sometimes reluctantly) to find her way to the Goblin King's castle to rescue her brother before time runs out.
With the exception of a brief scene with Sarah's parents, the entire film is populated with just three human actors, and the rest of the make-believe world is made up of the fanciful puppet creations of Jim Henson and his team. With the advent of CG animation, a film like Labyrinth, that relies so heavily on in-camera puppetry, does have a slightly dated look, and at times it even resembles an expanded version of The Muppet Show, which may or may not be a good thing, depending on your tastes or expectations. That may or may not work to its advantage as a fantasy story, but like Henson's semi-serious fantasy classic The Dark Crystal (which was entirely puppet-driven), it was sometimes difficult in Labyrinth to see certain characters as anything but hand-operated puppets (The Return of the Jedi, anyone?).
The teenaged Connelly does a fine job as Sarah, but the whole dramatic punch in a film like this always rests on the treachery of the main villain, and Bowie's Goblin King is not only largely ineffectual, but he never offers up much in the way of any real nastiness. Other than a magical peach that gives Sarah some ballroom hallucinations (wow, scary), all he really does is strut around in a spiky-haired wig and high collar, uttering trite warnings and looking like he wandered in from a bad 1980s music video. His singing (yes, he warbles three forgettable songs) seem more out of place than his bad wig, and even as a longtime Bowie fan, I would rather have had a more menacing villain and significantly less vocalizing.
The good news about Labyrinth is that the screenplay by Monty Python's Terry Jones contributes some Holy Grail-lite banter, and it was easy to feel Jones' touch as the story unfolds, and that works to its credit in making it far less brooding than most traditional fantasy films. The distinctive (or is it dated?) visual appeal of the film is actually more surreal and timeless than one might expect from such a Muppet-populated endeavor, and as I watched Labyrinth with my 12-year-old daughter, Sammie, I found that her high level of enjoyment and fascination with the characters and surroundings (except when Bowie sang—I'm with you on that one, Sam) would indicate that there is probably a whole new audience of CG-weaned children out who might find a fantasy like this refreshingly different.
The question is whether or not this $49.95 collector's edition is the way to go.
Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: C+
Image Transfer Review: Issued in a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, this release of Labyrinth appears doesn't appear to look that much different than the previous two DVD incarnations (including the 2003 SuperBit). The detail of the remarkably clean transfer here is an impressive one, with colors appearing exceptionally bright, complimented by spot-on, natural flesh tones. A bit of minor haloing is evident, but no major compression issues were evident.
Very nice, especially considering the age of Labyrinth.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: It's odd that for something called a collector's edition, one that comes just a few short months after the Superbit release, that Columbia TriStar would drop the previous DTS track in favor of a solitary 5.1 Dolby Digital mix.
That fact alone will irk most diehard DVD buffs, but that's what we're left with on this release. Other than the lack of a DTS mix, there are no real major flaws this time around, though the general lack of any real deep rumble is disconcerting. A few sequences, such as the towering Ludo's soulful wail or a bit of thunder provide some sub-related bottom end, but by and large the 5.1 track is missing some much-needed dominant bass; likewise, the rear channels are used far too sparingly. The good news is that character voices are clear (except, perhaps, during the Fire Gang song), and the slightly dated noodlings of the Trevor Jones score does sound pleasing, though a tad compressed.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring Dark Crystal Collector's Edition Boxed Set
Packaging: Keep Case
The best part, however, is something that has already appeared on the first DVD release of the film, which is Inside the Labyrinth (56m:23s). This is not just a "so-and-so was great to work with" piece, but instead offers an informative look at puppet design and testing, story origins and the various technical obstacles encountered during production. In between some wonderfully revealing behind-the-scenes footage, Jim Henson, Terry Jones, David Bowie, Jennifer Connelly, Brian Froud, Shari Weiser, Brian Henson, among others, get to talk about their experiences, and the result is one of the stronger making-of pieces I've seen in quite some time. But, you can find this same piece on the less expensive initial DVD release of Labyrinth, so purchasing this fancy-pants one isn't a requirement to enjoy it.
Storyboards, bios and a couple of trailers are also included. The disc is cut into 28 chapters, and features optional subtitles in English or Spanish.
This is a nicely packaged edition, albeit with a prohibitively steep MSRP, whose best extra can already be had on an earlier release. But, looking at this one on its own merits (and pretending for a moment those others don't exist), this one has a very fine set of supplements and collectible goodies.
Extras Grade: A-
Final CommentsStorywise, Labyrinth comes up a little short, but this one holds up as a visually imaginative family-friendly fantasy that will likely find a whole new audience of viewers who weren't even glimmers in their parents eyes when this first hit theaters in 1986. Jim Henson's creations are clever and funny, and serve as a reminder to what things were like just before the CG animation explosion reinvented the possibilities of the genre.
The downside is that Columbia TriStar has really milked Labyrinth in every possible way (this is the third DVD release of the title) and this collector's edition sports a rather hefty price tag, as well as a noticeably absent DTS track. The Inside the Labyrinth making-of is excellent and worth watching, but it can be found on the $15 first release, so you need to decide whether you want to upgrade a nicer case, 5.1 Dolby Digital and some collectible cards.
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