Color, 1986, 101 mins.

Directed by Jim Henson

Starring David Bowie, Jennifer Connelly / Written by Terry Jones / Music by Trevor Jones / Cinematography by Alex Thomson / Produced by Eric Rattray

Format: DVD - Columbia (MSRP $24.95)

Letterboxed (2.35:1) (16x9 enhanced) / Dolby Digital 2.0

Following the less than joyous reception for The Dark Crystal, Jim Henson decided to lighten things up a bit and return to charted Muppet territory. Thanks to a collaboration with George Lucas (and ILM), as well as the acting and musical input of David Bowie, Henson came up with Labyrinth, a loosely constructed fable reminiscent of such children's quest tales as Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

Sarah (Jennifer Connelly), a young preteen, is left for the evening in charge of her baby brother, Toby, who won't stop crying and go to sleep. Driven to her wit's end, Sarah wishes aloud that the Goblin King would come and take him away. Sure enough, the Goblin King (Bowie) appears and spirits the baby away. Sarah immediately regrets her words and makes a dangerous pact: if she can maneuver all the way through the Goblin King's maze and get to his castle before midnight, she can have her brother back. Along the way, Sarah encounters numerous bizarre characters, including the diminuitive Hoggle and the twisted Junk Lady. Of course, the Goblin King also appears at regular intervals to follow Sarah's progress and provide the occasional toe-tapping song.

Penned by Monty Python's Terry Jones, the sketchy script of Labyrinth mostly serves as a framework allowing Henson and company to make up events as they go along. This aimless approach has caused many critics to label the film as juvenile, and while it certainly doesn't approach Dark Crystal in terms of formal approach or technical virtuosity, Labyrinth offers plenty of modest charms of its own. Accompanied by a playful Trevor Jones electronic score, Bowie's songs keep things bubbling along, particularly during the catchy "Magic Dance" and the ethereal "As the World Falls Down." Connelly, following up on her memorable turn in Dario Argento's Phenomena, makes a beautiful heroine, and her scenes with Bowie (sporting a legendary bad wig) remain emotionally charged and tastefully sensual. Incidentally, this was perhaps the first film to feature one of those "Hey, the movie's over now so let's hop around and party!" endings, later used ad nauseum in almost every early '90s Buena Vista film (even Dangerous Minds!).

Previously issued as a soft-looking but acceptable widescreen laserdisc from Orion, Labyrinth has been given an anamorphic visual makeover from Columbia, looking about as good as it did in theaters. Impossible to appreciate in cropped form, the scope framing makes ingenious use of the inventive art direction (especially the labyrinth itself) and the elaborate ILM effects. The original stereo surround audio is fine but obviously hasn't been given quite as much attention; in what may be an irritant for many, the opening reel is a frame or two out of synch! Casual viewers probably won't notice the discrepancy, especially since most of the film doesn't involve on camera human dialogue, but it's amazing that a studio would let this casually slip through while paying so much attention to everything else. This glitch aside, the film's fans should find this edition worth the wait, particularly considering the inclusion of Inside the Labyrinth, a one hour television special containing behind the scenes footage of Bowie, conceptual artist Brian Froud (who also designed The Dark Crystal), and the ILM folks hard at work.

Color, 1982, 93 mins.

Directed by Jim Henson & Frank Oz

Written by David Odell / Music by Trevor Jones / Cinematography by Oswald Morris / Produced by Jim Henson & Gary Kurtz

Format: DVD - Columbia (MSRP $29.95)

Letterboxed (2.35:1) (16x9 enhanced) / Dolby Digital 5.1

The last thing anyone expected from the creator of The Muppets, Jim Henson's The Dark Crystal was its creator's ambitious bid for status as a serious filmmaker and a pioneer in fantasy storytelling. While the film failed to find a large audience during its theatrical release, many of those who did manage to see it never forgot the completely fresh, exciting new world created entirely through puppets and creative art design. Like most of the overlooked entries in cinema fantastique for the amazing year of 1982 (Blade Runner, The Thing, Conan the Barbarian, Videodrome, etc.), this film has found a steadily growing audience over the years more receptive to its complex, challenging attempts to depict the relationship between good and evil.

In an undefinted land and time, a race of beings use a large, purple crystal as their source of power and knowledge. When the crystal is cracked, strife and conflict appear; according to a prophecy, the crystal will one day be healed by a race called the Gelflings. Fearful, the evil Skeksis arrange to slaughter all of the Gelflings they can find, but an infant named Jen escapes and is raised by the gentle Mystics. When Jen grows older and his master dies, he accepts his mission and, much to his surprise, encounters another of his kind, Kira, to aid his quest.

Obviously indebted to the writings of Joseph Campbell, the story by Henson and script by David Odell (Cry Uncle!) has been criticized for being both too facile in its depiction of the heros and too complex and frightening for children. However, this difficult balancing act reveals exactly what this film is trying to accomplish -- present naive, childlike protagonists thrust into a bewildering and dangerous set of circumstances they don't understand. Indeed, The Dark Crystal is not really a children's film per se, though virtually anyone of any age can enjoy it. The film's greatest asset, its fascinating and realistic environment, teems with a mind-blowing array of creatures, proving once and for all how off base George Lucas was with his digital menagerie in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. The film also boasts an amazing early score from Trevor Jones (right after Excalibur), now isolated separately on the DVD to placate fans longing for a CD release.

The Dark Crystal first appeared on laserdisc from HBO/Image as a deluxe collector's edition: letterboxed, surround sound, with trailers, a brief deleted Skesis funeral scene, and a fascinating one hour television documentary, The World of the Dark Crystal. The latter extra feature, which contains extensive footage of Brian Froud and Henson at work designing the creatures, was really the piece de resistance for this set, which was excellent for its time but hampered by inaccurate 2.0:1 framing. Disney subsequently reissued the film on laserdisc with an improved, more accurate widescreen transfer but no extras. Fortunately, the best of both versions and much more has been gathered by Columbia for its special edition on DVD, boasting a sparkling new anamorphic version of the film which easily blows all of the other ones away. Perfectly letterboxed and invigorated with a spacious new 5.1 remix, this Dark Crystal finally resembles the theatrical experience and should win over plenty of new fans. The fun doesn't stop there, though; aside from the aforementioned documentary and isolated score, the DVD includes a wealth of outtakes and rough cut footage, demonstrating the process through which the characters were created. Especially amusing is an early version of Aughra's first scene, in which she is voiced by Frank Oz in Yoda mode instead of Billie Whitelaw (The Omen), who provided her voice in the final cut. Columbia has also provided optional subtitles from the final film within these sequences to demonstrate how much the dialogue changed during the dubbing and editing process. Aside from a handful of American and European trailers and TV spots, the DVD also includes the trailer for Labyrinth and a video promo for Henson's The Storyteller.

Mondo Digital Reviews Mondo Digital Links Frequently Asked Questions