Labyrinth (Blu-ray) (1986)

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Released 7-Oct-2009

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Fantasy Main Menu Audio & Animation
Featurette-Inside The Labyrinth
Featurette-Kingdom Of Characters
Featurette-The Quest For Goblin City
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 1986
Running Time 101:03
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Jim Henson
Studio
Distributor

Sony Pictures Home Entertain
Starring David Bowie
Jennifer Connelly
Case Amaray Variant
RPI $34.95 Music David Bowie
Trevor Jones


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby TrueHD 5.1
French Dolby TrueHD 5.1
German Dolby TrueHD 5.1
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 1080p
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
French
German
Arabic
Danish
Dutch
Finnish
Hindi
Norwegian
Swedish
Turkish
English
French
German
Dutch
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    1986 was a great year for films I would remember if I lived to be 250. RoboCop was entering principal photography, Big Trouble In Little China would slowly begin to exert its craftmanship and influence, and Labyrinth was just released to theatres. Being a child myself at that time, I had no idea what sort of dismal world lay ahead for me, or how the state of what is called children's entertainment today would devolve to the point of being more about sedation than anything I would call entertainment then or now. And now, more than ever, great men like Jim Henson are missed. How badly missed? Well, let me put it this way: Labyrinth has the distinction (along with several other Jim Henson films) of being one of the few G-rated films available on any medium, digital or otherwise, that I would willingly subject any son of mine to.

    Labyrinth is a story with several layers, depending on how metaphorical one wishes to get. Being that this is a family-oriented film and most of the metaphorical layers fans of my generation have speculated about are a bit more adult in nature, I will stick with the surface plot. Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) is a fairly ordinary girl in her mid-teens. A bit spoiled, perhaps, but that is partly the point of the story. We never get much establishment of the fact because Henson dispenses with the real-world-based things as quickly as he possibly can and goes straight into the fantasy. An understandable decision from a directorial point of view, since fantastic and particularly puppet-based things are where he excelled. Anyway, after some terse words with her father and stepmother, Sarah wishes that the goblins would come and take away the baby brother, Toby (Toby Froud) that is the focus of her frustration. So when Jareth (David Bowie), the Goblin King, comes and does exactly that, she begs and pleads with him for Toby's safe return.

    Instead of returning Toby, which would make this an incredibly short film, Jareth poses a challenge to Sarah. She must navigate the titular labyrinth and get to the castle at the centre of it to retrieve Toby within a thirteen hour period, or Toby will be turned into a Goblin. Along the way, Sarah is ably assisted and hindered by a myriad of odd characters. The most important of which are a Dwarf called Hoggle (Shari Weiser, Brian Henson), a dog who calls himself Sir Didymus (Dave Goelz, David Alan Barclay, David Shaugnessy), and by a long road my favourite, a hairy roaring giant called Ludo (Ron Mueck, Rob Mills). Along the way to the castle, Sarah makes her way through a series of set pieces designed to exhibit both Jim Henson's opulence of imagination and the incredible skill of the production team he had in many cases been working with for the best part of a decade. Where Labyrinth really shines, however, is the story and script written by Dennis Lee, Jim Henson, Terry Jones, and an uncredited Elaine May.

    But more than anything, the film serves as a great fable about how lost we are when we judge one another by appearances or first impressions. Indeed, although it is not really saying much when David Bowie is the most normal-looking principal cast member aside from the heroine, watching Sarah and Ludo interact never fails to stir something deep within the imaginative centres of my brain. Put simply, Labyrinth is one of the things that make me happy to be a Child Of The '80s, and to see it as a Blu-ray Disc is a delight that even great poetic languages such as Latin or Norwegian lack the words to properly describe.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The video transfer on this disc shows the age of the film very clearly, but it is still better than I was really expecting.

    The video transfer is presented in the aspect ratio of 2.35:1 within a 1920 by 1080 progressive window.

    The sharpness of the transfer varies slightly at times. For a good nine tenths of the running time, the transfer is so sharp one can see such things as the uneven dilation of David Bowie's eyes with a clarity I never would have imagined from home video. Occasionally, at points such as when Jennifer Connelly is crossing the Bog Of Eternal Stench set, there is a moderate drop-off in sharpness that is suggestive of deterioration to the negatives or the source material. Some drop-offs in sharpness can be traced back to the use of optical composition effects. Others are a little harder to explain. Lest this qualification put you off, however, the vast majority of the time, this transfer is excellent.

    The colours in the film are generally somewhat muted and drab, a definite creative decision on Henson's part. The transfer renders the colours of the film faithfully, with no oversaturation, undersaturation, misregistration, or bleeds. Flesh tones are rendered with extreme accuracy, an especially important point with the different skins on all the puppets.

    Compression artefacts were not in evidence during this transfer. The transfer has been compressed with the AVCHD codec and generally ranges from the mid twenties to mid thirties in bitrate. Film to video artefacts were either non-existent or limited to a slight wobble that I am currently inclined to blame on a slightly imperfect camera mechanism rather than the telecine. And again, this problem, when it did show up, was limited to the blink-and-miss-it range. Film artefacts consisted of the occasional small black or white mark on the picture. These were will within acceptable limits given the age of the picture, and much improved compared to what I remember of the DVD.

    Subtitles are offered in English and English for the Hearing Impaired. The latter are very faithful to the spoken dialogue, but omit the lyrics of the songs to my major disappointment.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    The audio transfer on this disc can be described as a message from the Blu-ray Disc Assocation to DVD-Video. That message is simplicity itself: you are finished.

    A total of four soundtracks are offered on this disc. The first, and default, is the original English dialogue in Dolby TrueHD 5.1, a definite upgrade over the Dolby Digital 2.0 that was offered on the DVD I have floating in my junk boxes somewhere. Dubs are also offered in Dolby TrueHD 5.1, in French and German. These are quite limited in their fidelity compared to the English soundtrack. A good example occurs during the Magic Dance number, where the dub actor's voice is a good decibel or three louder than David Bowie's singing voice. Finally, an audio commentary is offered in Dolby Digital 2.0, which apart from some very limited reflections of the original soundtrack that my receiver redirected to the surrounds, is basically stereo.

    The dialogue is clear and easy to understand at all times, even from Ludo. That separation between dialogue, sound effects, and music that I crave like so much substance is very profound here. Had you come to me in 1988 and told me that this film would one day sound like this, I just flat out would not have believed you. No problems with audio sync were especially evident beyond the usual slight sense I normally get from watching puppets "speak".

    The real star of this film, however, is David Bowie, and the music provided by him. A score by Trevor Jones is integrated with Bowie's numbers, and the two work together beautifully. Surprisingly for a children's film, a lot of the score music is based around minor arpeggios on what sounds like a synethesiser imitating a guitar that would not sound out of place at all on a Black Sabbath record. But it is the songs by David Bowie that have remained in my memory long after I stopped watching the film on analogue formats. At 22:40, Bowie begins a song called Magic Dance that not only teleports me to a childhood I never really got to have, it demonstrates very clearly that lossy audio formats are living on borrowed time. If the rumours about bringing out a new high resolution audio format based on the Blu-ray structure turn out to be true, then I urge the powers that be to get David Bowie onto that format at launch. I can barely stand to listen to him on CD anymore after this transfer, such is the improvement in fidelity offered here.

    The surround channels are variably used to support sound effects, music, and the occasional reverberated dialogue. During set pieces such as the Bog Of Eternal Stench, flatulence noises for example are directed around the surrounds and create some atmosphere. However, these sequences also reveal the age of the film and the limitations of the media on which it has been archived all this time. During musical sequences, however, the surrounds literally roar into life, echoing Bowie and his backing vocalists along with ambient instruments. During the quiet dialogue sequences that keep the groundwork for the plot solid, unfortunately, the sound field does become a very two-channel affair. This is a reflection of the original sound design, so it is not too disappointing.

    The subwoofer is gently used to support the music, the sound of Ludo roaring, the occasional cannon shot, and other such bass-heavy effects. It was not worked especially hard, but it did the job without calling undue attention to itself.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    A small selection of extras are on this disc. None of them are high definition. Their historical value, on the other hand, is incalcuable.

Menu

    The good: both a Top Menu and Pop-Up Menu are offered on this disc. They are straightforward to navigate. The Top Menu features Linear PCM 2.0 audio taken from the song As The World Falls Down. The bad: not enough Chapter Stops. Come on Sony. If Fox can do it, so can you.

Audio Commentary: Brian Froud

The sole commentary on this disc is by Brian Froud, a designer on the film and father of the infant boy who played Toby. It is informative enough, although it might have been better with another participant or two. Still, it is well worth checking out.

Picture-In-Picture

    Referred to as The Storytellers Picture In Picture in the menu, this presents a small 16:9-shaped window in the lower right corner, with captions to the left of said windows to keep the viewer appraised of who is speaking and what they do. Included are comments from such figures as Cheryl Henson, who begins by saying it is hard to know exactly what influenced or inspired her father to create this story. This is definitely worth a look.

Featurette - Inside The Labyrinth

    Presented in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio, this featurette is clearly incredibly old. But it is worthy of inclusion for the footage of David Bowie and his backing vocalists performing in the studio. It looks like they had a lot of fun in spite of the early hour cited. It is also worth having for a comparison between the film in its proper aspect ratio and the Cut And Shut that was presented on VHS. Fifty-six minutes, twenty-seven seconds.

Featurette - Kingdom Of Characters

    Presented in the aspect ratios of 2.35:1 and 1.78:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. Standard definition, but 16:9 Enhanced. George Lucas is carrying that extra chin very nicely. The quality is somewhat naff, but the historical curiosity aspect makes it well worthwhile. Twenty-seven minutes, fifty-eight seconds.

Featurette - The Quest For Goblin City

    Also presented in the aspect ratios of 2.35:1 and 1.78:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. Also standard definition, but 16:9 Enhanced. The video quality is slightly better in this featurette. Thirty minutes and four seconds.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region A and Region B versions of this disc are almost identical. The Region A disc has better cover art, no dubs, and less subtitle options. However, I see no compelling reason to favour one over the other.

Summary

    Labyrinth is a great film. No, let me say that again with the proper emphasis. Labyrinth is a film that claims to be for audiences of all ages, and actually fulfils that promise.

    The video transfer is very good.

    The audio transfer is excellent.

    The extras are minimal but interesting.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Dean McIntosh (Don't talk about my bio. We don't wanna know.)
Saturday, October 10, 2009
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S350, using HDMI output
DisplayPanasonic Viera TH-42PZ700A. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-SR606
SpeakersYamaha NS-45 Front Speakers, Yamaha NS-90 Rear Speakers, Wharfedale Xarus 1000 Rear Speakers, Yamaha NSC-120 Centre Speaker, Wharfedale Diamond SW150 Subwoofer

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
Region 1 - Anniversary Edition Commentary - REPLY POSTED
Commentaries on this Blu-Ray - MickJT (Have a look at my biography) REPLY POSTED