Zach Woliner – Recently, I got to attend this year’s New York Comic-Con. Having missed out on the experience for the past two years, it was a thrill to get to return. Having not much time to do my usual preparation of finding who I wanted to try to meet, or pull from storage comics to get signed, I went into the experience fairly laid back, with not many specific goals in mind. Perhaps the best thing I got out of it was an advance copy of the new Labyrinth: The Ultimate Visual History book, released for the 30th anniversary of the film.
Simply put, the book is fantastic! And not just because it covers a film with plenty of elements of the fantasy genre. It covers everything you could want to know about Labyrinth, from its very earliest conceptual discussions to the present day. I was actually surprised when I saw David Bowie’s recent passing come up, as well as the surge in fandom and appreciation for the film that followed. Additionally, mention is made of the new permanent Henson exhibition at Astoria’s Museum Of The Moving Image, “which opened in 2016”, but there are still a few months left in the year, so fingers crossed on that.
Additionally, even as a Labyrinth super-fan, the book was filled with tidbits and trivia beyond my knowledge. Sure, most know that Sting and Michael Jackson were early contenders for the role of Jareth, but would you ever have imaged a Goblin King who’d sooner hunt a barn owl with a bow than have one be their alternate manifestation? I also found it fascinating to learn of some concepts that never made it to the screen. As someone working towards a career in puppetry of my own, it would have been an extra thrill to see Bowie’s Jareth revealed as puppeteering The Junk Lady that Sarah and Hoggle encounter, as yet another of his disguises. It’s also fun to know that Dave Goelz still enjoys pestering Frank Oz, to this day. Of course, they also cover some more commonly known things, like young Toby Froud’s initial physical reaction to meeting David Bowie, or the intentionally revealing nature of Jareth’s wardrobe.
There are plenty of quotes from all involved, including new interviews with several people at the core of it. Jennifer Connelly has nothing but nice things to say about the experience and those she worked with, which is refreshing as sometimes as they get older, child actors don’t always look back on such projects so fondly. If you’ve seen the “Inside The Labyrinth” documentary that has been included in pretty much every release since the initial DVD, all of the quotes from David Bowie will be familiar. Still, many of the surviving behind-the-scenes folks, such as designers, costumers, builders, and puppeteers all contribute a great deal of insight into how everything came together to make Labyrinth the beloved film it is.
Beyond all of the fascinating text though, including how many changes the story went through, this IS a VISUAL history. On this, the book more than delivers. There are so many wonderful photos from the production, including one of Shari Weiser (who performed all of Hoggle, aside from his face) that could be mistaken for something offensive, out of context, as well as more conceptual art than you can shake a stick at. I could be wrong, but I think there are Froud goblin drawings that weren’t even featured in the previously released book collecting them. Additionally, this includes storyboard art and drawings by Elliot Scott, the production designer.
All told, it’s a truly wonderful book. There are a few small typos, and I did catch an odd mention that seemed to indicate production of The Muppet Show during 1983, but it certainly didn’t take away from the whole thing. I read through the whole thing in about two days, as I was so engrossed by it all. My only complaint would be how the insets are handled. My copy came in shrink wrap, as it included sketches and copies of original Henson memos, amongst other things. Because of how they are attached to the book, I could imagine them falling out. They typically have a small sticky area in their upper left corners, and as such, they often needed to be fully pulled back to read text that they covered. If you pull just slightly too hard, they can come completely off. I would have much preferred if they were attached all the way through towards the spine, as mini-pages of their own. That being said, it’s only a small drawback. The book is a must-have for Labyrinth fans, and I’d highly recommend it for any Henson/Muppet enthusiast, or even just someone who has an interest in the process of how a film is made, from start to finish. It has certainly earned its place in my Labyrinth collection, which I hope will only grow during this anniversary year, and going forward.