Labyrinth review

For part B of my Arts Award I had hoped to go an exhibition at a local gallery but due to closures I wasn't able to. I decided to review the film Labyrinth instead. 

Labyrinth is a film that was released in 1986. Written by Terry Jones, and produced by Lucasfilm and Henson Studios, it tells the story of Sarah, a teenager who wishes for the goblins to take her baby brother away while she is babysitting him, and spends the rest of the film trying to get him back! 

There are many different types of art included in the film - costume design, set design, choreography, scriptwriting, music (both composition and performance), acting, and puppetry. I decided to focus on the puppetry as it is a defining feature of the film. 

There are three main types of puppets in this film. Hand puppets, worn (costume) puppets, and puppets using robotics and machinery. Each type presents different challenges for the puppeteers. Hand puppets leaves the puppeteer "blind" (they can't see what they're doing and have to rely on instructions from the director). Robotic puppets and puppets operated by other forms of machinery create technical issues of control as well as the need for their movement to look natural (except for "humungous", the robotic gatekeeper of the Goblin City!). Puppets that are worn by puppeteers mean that they have to act and control the puppet while inside a bulky and hard to control costume. Ludo is such a big, heavy costume, two men (Ron Mueck and Rob Mills) had to take it in turns to play him, which means they also had to make sure they were both playing him the same way. 

The original artwork for the puppet characters was created by Brian Froud, and these influenced both Terry Jones' character development and Henson Studios development of the final puppets. His artwork is unique and distinctive, and really carries the feel of a fantasy world in each drawing. You can see how his work is carried through into the film by the detail on the goblin puppets and the sets in the Goblin City. 

I really enjoyed this film. Although the basic storyline is quite common in fairytales (goblin does a horrible thing, person has to escape/fix it/rescue someone) the way it was told in the film made it more interesting than the average fairy story. The use of puppets to get caught up in the imagined world created by Terry Jones, Jim Henson, and the rest of the crew. The incredibly skilled puppeteers meant it was easy to forget the creatures are nothing more than a mix of latex, paint, and synthetic hair! The interaction between the live characters such as Sarah, played by Jennifer Connelly, and Jareth the Goblin King, played by David Bowie, and the various types of puppets is very natural and seemed to be effortless as playing alongside other humans! The set is extremely detailed and well designed, with the further use of puppets being "extras", with when Sarah first enters the labyrinth, to enhance the effect of this unfamiliar world. Having the main characters played by a mix of humans and puppets is an effective technique, and the fact that the only humans in the city are Sarah, her brother Toby, and the Goblin King, Jareth, leads the viewer to wonder whether Jareth himself was once a snatched baby who wasn't rescued and is in fact just trying to build a family of sorts. 

Having watched the film, I have been inspired to make a replica of the ballgown worn by Sarah in the masquerade ball scene as it was my favourite scene and I enjoy making costumes, clothes, and accessories. 

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  • Charlotte Ralph

    On 6 January 2021, 16:44 Charlotte Ralph commented:

    Thanks for this great review Charlotte! It was fantastic to see how much research you have undertaken into the puppetry skills, creation and concept of this film. It makes me want to watch it again! Well done!

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