By Richard Winters
My Rating: 7 out of 10
4-Word Review: Lost in a maze.
Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) is a fifteen-year-old girl forced to stay home and babysit her fussy baby brother Toby (Toby Froud). In order to try to get him to go to sleep she starts telling him a story, but conjures up Jareth, The Goblin King (David Bowie) who kidnaps Toby and threatens to turn him into a goblin unless Sarah can rescue him in thirteen hours by getting to a castle that is in the middle of a long and winding labyrinth.
Initially I wasn’t too excited to see this film as it was produced by George Lucas, directed by Jim Henson and starring Bowie, which is three big egos too many and in most cases usually amounts to a lot of creative clashes and a disjointed, mishmash of a product that has a big budget, but no soul. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the film managed to be captivating with a good distinct atmosphere. The special effects are excellent and this is the first film to ever show a computer generated animal, which is in the form of an owl. I probably enjoyed the puppet characters the most. I was afraid they would resemble the muppets, but they are much more creative and varied than that and sometimes pop up in the most unlikely places and times.
Connelly is excellent in the lead. In fact without her presence this film wouldn’t have worked at all. Not only is she cute, but can hold her own amongst the crazy effects and weirdness while showing confidence and poise.
Bowie on the other hand seems quite stale. His songs do little to enliven anything and the film could have done just as well without them. The character has no flash or campiness. A kid’s movie always needs a memorable villain like Cruella De Ville, or the wicked queen in Snow White, but this guy doesn’t even come close to those and is never frightening or scary.
There are a couple of ill-advised song routines that do nothing, but bog the film down and take away what little tension there is. The song number that features a group of creatures with removable heads is the only time that the special effects look fake as it is clear that the characters are being digitally matted onto the backdrop. Bowie’s routine in which he dances around with a bunch of puppets and the baby look laughable and embarrassing. I also thought that the Swamp of the eternal stench, which featured noises quite similar to flatulence and formations resembling rectums, was much too explicit for a film aimed at children and preteens.
Overall though this is an imaginative variation of the ‘Alice in Wonderland’ theme, but the film could have gone a lot further with it. I would have liked a few darker elements, some genuine tension or scares (of which this film has none) and less formulaic to the kiddie crowd. The ending also leaves a lot to be desired, but for most children as well as those that are young-at-heart it is an agreeable time-filler.
My Rating: 7 out of 10
Released: June 27, 1986
Runtime: 1Hour 41Minutes
Director: Jim Henson
Studio: Tri-Star Pictures
Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video