Frank Oz did not puppet (Sir) Didymus in Labyrinth, that credit split between three Davids: Goelz, Alan Barclay, and Shaughnessy. It’s strange because watching Didymus in action you can be assured that Oz is handling the work in bringing the strange rat-like creature to life. As he pounds on the door to enter Goblin City, cane in tow, you half expect to see R2-D2 to show up.
The motion is exact to Yoda from Empire Strikes Back, after the meddling droid steals Yoda’s things. Sure, there’s not much you can do with a puppet arm, but it’s almost like a tribute in a way, whichever David was behind/underneath/above the puppet giving Frank Oz due credit.
Didymus is not the only puppet in Labyrinth, sadly the final feature film project for the great Jim Henson. The film blends live action starring a young Jennifer Connelly and David Bowie with the puppets, a slight deviation from Dark Crystal four years prior, that one comprised of nothing but puppetry.
It is the height of fantasy and fairy tale, creating an entire world of goblins, ghouls, and other “things” that defy typical fantasy description. It’s fully realized with friendly mythology, including the dreaded Bog of Eternal Stench, disgusting enough to get a kid’s attention without terrifying them. Touch the Bog and you will stink forever, the perfect out for the smelly kid who sits in the back of the class. He may stink, but he made it out the Labyrinth alive.
The whole film has a child’s mindset, Sarah (Connelly) tired of her parents, taking to the realm of make believe when her infant brother finally causes her to snap. It’s the most basic of premises, warping quickly into the fantastical world to ensure any short attention spans are kept focused on the screen. Connelly’s stiff performance is salvaged by the wonder of the creatures, the gentle giant Ludo, the adorable little worm, and the head swapping Firey singing… things.
Labyrinth is a product of the ’80s, saddled with two David Bowie tunes, only one of which does anything for the story. The other purely feels placed to kill some time and market the soundtrack. As pointless as it may be, the first song sequence contains an astonishing array of goblins, each with their own briefly displayed personality, an array of puppetry techniques bringing them to life flawlessly. Who cares if they have a point?
Sony’s AVC encode is generally pleasing for this minor ’80s classic, truly bringing out the detail of the puppets in full. The fur of Didymus is well defined and clear, while the rough skin of Hoggle is also distinct. Ludo’s thick coat of hair also is given the hi-def treatment, wonderfully handled in close, and while it’s not perfect in the mid-range, it is never diluted into a generic blob either.
It’s that mid-range that gives this transfer some trouble. It tends to lose its definition with distance, resulting is a slightly muddy, even a bit digital appearance. It remains clean enough that the split between matte paintings and sets remain visible, while the complexity of the puppet costumes breaks down slightly as well. Grain is well resolved, the codec certainly adequate to handle such a load, so why it appears slightly processed is a mystery.
That said, close-ups are crisp. Sharpness is firm, and while little human facial detail is resolved, the highlights of the film are always presented in their exquisite texture. Environments are equally defined, from the sand pathway that leads into the Labyrinth at 15:57 to the cave walls after she defeats the Four Guards are exceptional. The hedges before the rescue of Ludo at 42:08 are superlative as well.
The source is generally pristine, the minimal amount of damage appearing on screen barely noticeable. Even multi-pass effects appear clean, although noticeably softer by design. Colors are slightly elevated and richer compared to previous editions, the red lipstick worn by Connelly early quite vibrant. The Goblins that corner Didymus during the finale (1:23:44), each with a different color armor, look superb as well. Black levels are deep enough to deliver a sense of depth while keeping shadow detail consistent.
Immediately striking for this TrueHD track is the music. David Bowie’s presence is felt early, the opening credits theme filling the room with incredible fidelity, the clarity of the music actually modern. It catches in the surrounds, bleeding nicely into all channels. Each of the musical numbers to follow carry this same hallmark, a full, rich musical experience, complete with a competent, natural low-end to go along.
As far as the surrounds go, that’s about it though. There are a few minor moments, the Bog of Eternal Stench bubbling up in the rears distinctively, while the large-scale battle in Goblin City stays in the front three channels.
That’s not necessarily a problem, the audio coming through naturally. A small stereo split is enough to get by, while the problem-free dialogue sits squarely in the center. Balance is fine, bass well managed as Ludo begins summoning rocks to our heroine’s aid.
A detailed commentary from Brian Froud is followed by a picture-in-picture effort with numerous tidbits of information while the film plays. These are not available through any other means. Inside the Labyrinth is an older, hour-long documentary on the making of the film, possibly (?) included on the Laserdisc. Journey Through the Labyrinth is two more making-of pieces, totaling around another hour. One is on the characters, the second is on the project’s origins. BD-Live access and trailers are left.