Experiencing Labyrinth for the first time as a seven-year-old kid, the fantasy was of the very highest order, Tolkienic in scope. I’d yet to discover Lord of the Rings. The doorstop novel, I mean.
Living vicariously through the eyes of precocious 15-year-old thespian-wannabe brat, Sarah, we’re whisked away on an ethereal odyssey through the meandering convolutions of the eponymous maze.
Every stride is steeped with gravitas beyond our comprehension. A fairy tale pilgrimage to reach Jareth’s inauspiciously looming castle beyond the Goblin City in order to rescue baby brother, Toby, who we recklessly wished away in a desperate moment of fugue.
You can see the chord holding Toby Froud in place if you watch the remastered Blu-ray disc. Curse you HD.
Sarah: I can bear it no longer! Goblin King! Goblin King! Wherever you may be take this child of mine far away from me!
Goblin: That’s not it! Where did she get that rubbish? It doesn’t even start with “I wish!”
I have a theory to explain these creatures: I suspect they’re miniature humans! Radical I know.
I had no qualms over assuming the role of a girl, I was that absorbed. It’s only like a typical Friday night in Manchester anyway. For all 13 hours of the epic chronicle. That’s Goblin hours you understand, closer to an hour and three quarters in human time.
Jareth: You have thirteen hours in which to solve the labyrinth, before your baby brother becomes one of us… forever.
No time to waste then. Put on your red shoes and let’s dance! We’re not in West Wycombe anymore. With some classic movies, it’s possible to pinpoint one single element that makes them enduringly special. No chance with Labyrinth! It has it all! Even if much of the magic is borrowed from Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, and Maurice Sendak’s ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ and ‘Outside Over There’. Consider the allusions an endearing tribute and revel in the phantasmagorical fusion. There are no detractors, I’ve thrown all the insolent Philistines into one of Jareth’s myriad oubliettes. I pity the fool who has no place in their hearts for the marvel of Muppetry.
Despite being targeted towards kids/teenagers, Labyrinth is blessed with a witty, intelligent script partially penned by Monty Python royalty, Terry Jones (his first draft was meddled with then he was asked to fix the rewrite!). It’s alternately hilarious, dramatic, touching, bizarre, ridiculous, and bewitching. Rarely has adolescent cinema been lavished with such gifted screenwriting talent.
It’s PG rating – it could be argued – does it a disservice. Labyrinth – beyond its surface coming-of-age sentimentality – is teeming with complex allegorical themes that take time and careful scrutiny to unravel.
Most engaging is the overarching debate pertaining to the likelihood that Sarah’s entire experience is a surreal dream sequence. All the clues are there from the outset; she recites her own destiny from a novel appropriately entitled ‘Labyrinth’, while displayed in her room there’s a soft toy, figurine or poster counterpart for many of the characters and scenarios Sarah encounters on the ‘other side’.
Where Are We Now? the cast may well ask. In the final scene, safely nestled in the sanctuary of her family home bedroom, a farrago of friends and foes return to wish Sarah well. It’s the freakiest sho-ho-ho-how.
Even Jareth – following his miraculous, Lazarus-like reawakening – stops by to observe the impromptu party from a distance… embodying an owl, as in the introductory title sequence featuring the world’s first cinematic CGI animal.
Ludo: (in the mirror) Goodbye, Sarah.
Didymus: And remember fair maiden, should you need us…
Hoggle: Yes, should you need us, for any reason at all…
Sarah: I need you, Hoggle.
Hoggle: You do?
Sarah: (nods) I don’t know why, but every now and again in my life – for no reason at all – I need you. All of you.
Hoggle: You do? Well… WHY DIDN’T YOU SAY SO?
(she spins around and sees them all in her room, including the goblins. She hugs them all, and a huge party begins)
In the process Sarah has learned to sort-of-kind-of concede the responsibilities of growing up, to turn and face the change. Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes. Time may change her, but she can’t trace time.
Even so, blurring the lines between reality and fantasia, we’re left wondering if the whole saga manifested from wild imagination. Did Sarah fabricate a new reality through wish fulfilment, or was it purely a vivid daydream? Perhaps both worlds are corporeal and it’s possible to travel between them at will. We could probably learn a lot by studying Neverending Story, it does share a fair few principles in common.
It’s hard to imagine anyone more perfect for the wonderfully eccentric role of Goblin King, Jareth. Although Michael Jackson, Sting, Mick Jagger and Prince were also under consideration at one point. Bowie is so enigmatically charming we’re never quite sure if he’s a force for good, evil, or even whether he’s human or not. Could he be a Martian, a Space Oddity or simply a Man Who Fell to Earth?
Had he passed on from liver cancer at the grand old age of 109 rather than 69, we’d still call the loss an untimely demise. That said, it’s staggering he survived well into his ’60s considering his strained relationship with cocaine and alcohol.
Sarah: Give me the child.
Jareth: Sarah, beware. I have been generous up ’til now. I can be cruel.
Sarah: Generous? What have you done that’s generous?
Jareth: Everything! Everything that you wanted I have done. You asked that the child be taken. I took him. You cowered before me, I was frightening. I have reordered time. I have turned the world upside down, and I have done it all for you! I am exhausted from living up to your expectations. Isn’t that generous?
And once the Jean Genie is released from the magic lamp, no amount of cramming with a plunger will squish him back into it. You can joke that he’s no more than a predatory paedophile – as many take great delight in doing – but is this too primitive an interpretation? In the movie, Jareth’s manipulation of Sarah is mostly driven by a desire for control and power. It’s a convoluted game orchestrated for his amusement. Plus, if this all occurs in her mind, it’s Sarah who is in the driving seat. Sarah is stalking and objectifying Jareth. He has no impulses independent of her whims.
Jareth: Just fear me, love me, do as I say and I’ll be your slave.
He’d almost be in the clear if it wasn’t for the novelisation by A.C.H. Smith that expounds the romantic essence of Jareth’s motivation.
Somehow, it’s still nowhere near as creepy as it could have been because at the same time the seemingly androgynous Jareth is portrayed as a mentor and nurturing father figure, of sorts. Maybe I’ve just succumbed to his enchanting sorcery. He’s David ‘Starman’ Bowie, he’s something else, it happens. An inspired casting decision since Bowie was as idiosyncratic and perplexing as Jareth.
Because of the gaping age disparity apparent in this unconventional ‘relationship’ people get hung up on exactly how old Sarah is supposed to be in the movie and how old Jennifer Connelly was when she played her part. Rather than spending 30 seconds to look it up, they’ll debate the issue for ten minutes and still not reach a definitive answer. So let me break it down…
Sarah is 15 in the movie, although because her mum deserted the family to start a new life with a mystery man she’s been having an affair with (stay tuned!), turning her life upside down at such a tender stage in her development, it stagnated, causing her to become fixated on more childish paraphernalia. That’s why Sarah surrounds herself with soft toys and other barriers, shielding her from reality.
Speaking of which, Jennifer would have been 14 years, 4 months and 3 days old when principal photography commenced on 15th April 1985. There we go, you don’t need to get nerdy about it. It’s simply 172 months 3 days, or 748 weeks 2 days, or 5,238 days, or 125,712 hours, or 7,542,720 minutes, or 452,563,200 seconds. I mean come on, get over it and move on will ya.
Filming wrapped up five months later, by which time she would have been five months older and still a ‘juvenile success’. I think that’s how it works anyway. Five months, come to think of it, seems like very little time to fabricate such a spectacular production. Obviously many months of preparation was ploughed into the pre-production phase.
There are several elephants in this room. Another one is Bowie’s… erm, package. As many hours seem to have been channelled into debating and mocking the infamous ‘Bowie Bulge’ as the movie itself, which is why I plan to address it, then discretely sweep it under the rug ASAP, never to be mentioned again.
Granted, it was an odd wardrobe decision for a kid’s movie, but then it’s not the existence of his tackle that gets people so enthused, it’s the – how should I put this? – volume? Have they never attended the theatre or watched acrobats at the circus? Performers tend to wear tights and assuming they’re male and possess the typical anatomy that goes with the territory, there will be a visible mound.
What I’d love to know is what the men amongst these critics have down there if they find this so startling? If you listen to the Great Debate before watching the movie you’d think he was harbouring a warring coyote-roadrunner dust cloud in his pants!
Moving swiftly on.
Jareth: Turn back, Sarah. Turn back before it’s too late.
Sarah: I can’t. Don’t you understand I can’t?
Jareth: What a pity.
Every moment he’s on-screen Bowie is hypnotic, electric (he did go on to play Nikola Tesla!). Then he pulls another magic rabbit out of the hat; five unique songs personally written and performed for the movie. He felt that passionately about the inimitable project.
I can listen to Magic Dance, Underground, and Within You three times in a row and then replay them in my head for the rest of the day. I do my best to keep my lips still so I don’t get funny looks. You’re doing it now, I know. As the World Falls Down doesn’t quite have the same appeal, and Chilli Down is only worth your time as a novelty YouTube video hard-cut insert.
These musical numbers could easily have been backing tracks, playing second fiddle to the dialogue and puppetry. Instead, they were pushed to the forefront, becoming integral to the plot and Jareth’s alluring persona. Each musical number is as memorable today as Jim Henson’s animatronic marionette cast, a technological leap forward from the Muppets who made him a household name.
That’s something else we shouldn’t take for granted; Labyrinth is largely carried by a non-human roll-call of core and supporting characters. Essentially we’re investing our hopes, fears and emotions in inanimate puppets. That it’s effortless to ascribe genuine personality to synthetic constructions, let our guard down, suspending disbelief to allow these creatures to fool us, is a supreme testament to the genius of Henson’s craft.
At the time of release, 1986, Labyrinth was certainly a failure, at least in fiscal terms. It wasn’t until more recently that it became a cherished cult favourite, watched, rewatched and dissected innumerable times by kids and adults alike.
It’s not true that Jim died thinking his efforts were unappreciated. Four years had passed since his tragically premature demise by then, during which time people had started to come to their senses and enjoy the reruns. What leads people to assume this is the fact that he turned his back on directing major budget feature films in the wake of Labyrinth’s mixed and misunderstood reception. Fate or blind bad luck determined that Jim would subsequently be given little opportunity to get back in the saddle.
He passed away in 1990, aged just 53. A New York Times article published on May 29th of the same year entitled ‘Henson Death Shows Danger of Pneumonia’ reported…
“Dr David Gelmont, who headed the intensive care team that treated Mr Henson at New York Hospital, believes he died from toxic shock syndrome produced by the streptococcal bacteria.”
His doctor confirmed that basic antibiotic medication might have saved Jim’s life had he been treated earlier. Naturally, an outpouring of grief hit the globe like a tsunami.
I recognised Labyrinth’s brilliance from day one; I saw it in the local cinema to celebrate a friend’s birthday. It’s everyone else who’s to blame and should be kicked into the Bog of Eternal Stench. Roger Ebert – who thought Hoggle was called Toby – would have been the first to walk the plank…
“I have a problem with almost all nightmare movies: They aren’t as suspenseful as they should be because they don’t have to follow any logic. Anything can happen, nothing needs to happen, nothing is as it seems and the rules keep changing. Consider, for example, the scene in ‘Labyrinth’ where Sarah thinks she is waking up from her horrible dream and opens the door of her bedroom. Anything could be outside that door.
Therefore, we’re wasting our psychic energy by caring. In a completely arbitrary world, what difference does anything make?”
His pal, Gene Siskel, proved equally clueless in his ranting one-star review, professing that Jim Henson is…
“…completely at sea when he tries to create more mature entertainment in the form of such adventure films as The Dark Crystal and now Labyrinth.
Both films are really quite awful, sharing a much too complicated plot and visually ugly style supplied by artist Brian Froud, best known as the illustrator of the best-seller Faeries.
Froud’s drawings may be attractive on the printed page, but his creations in Labyrinth look like the grotesque Garbage Pail Kids dolls.”
Search Google today for reviews of Labyrinth and it returns 2,560,000 results! A sizeable proportion of these hits relate to podcast discussions and YouTube videos, some of them ‘video essays’ analysing the symbolism of every last prop seen on screen. Now that’s dedication. It makes me wonder why I’m bothering to chuck my two pennies worth on Scrooge McDuck’s golden coin mountain, but then it’s a bit late now.
Labyrinth wasn’t an abysmal flop, it simply struggled to recoup its $25m budget, clawing back just over half this lavish outlay. As hard as it is to believe, according to former Activision producer, Brenda Laurel, “The game, although not a blockbuster, was a greater hit than the movie in the United States, although I will never understand why the movie was pulled early from theatres.” (Computers as Theatre, 1991, updated 2014).
‘Labyrinth: the computer game’, as the officially licenced accompaniment is sometimes known, was Lucasfilm’s first adventure game, predating even Maniac Mansion. It makes sense since the interface shows signs of ushering in what ultimately evolved into the renowned SCUMM engine, employed between 1987 and 1998.
“Games based on film titles I can take or leave – so often a licence is a guarantee of sales, not necessarily of quality. But here is a superb game, and although it is not quite 100% adventure, I am prepared to accept it as such, just to have an excuse to play it!”
Commodore User (January 1987)
“Text input is limited to two words, selectable from two scrollable lists by the cursor keys. This is a rather tedious process for true adventurers.”
Commodore User (January 1987)
There’s a salute of acknowledgement to this interactive fiction heritage in the opening sequence wherein the game tricks us into believing that it comprises a basic interactive fiction style text adventure.
Passing a cigar store to get there (a joke alluding to White Owl cigars), we commence our journey in the cinema. “You’ve got your mother in a whirl ’cause she’s not sure if you’re a boy or a girl”. Having settled on one or the other, we input our name and hue preference.
“The picture of your character (dressed in your favourite colour) is as you would expect from Lucasfilm – large and well defined. It gets bigger and smaller as you move in and out of the screen, giving the graphics a degree of perspective, which along with the animation of the character, makes it look as though it were an actual film.”
C&VG (9/10, March 1987)
There’s then the option to watch a fictional elephant movie or Labyrinth, with only the latter choice triggering progression. This was the brainchild of illustrious fantasy author, Douglas Adams, as explained in his biography written by M.J. Simpson.
In spite of what it says below, his involvement was documented in the manual from the outset. Come on, research! It wasn’t top secret. Douglas was also mentioned in some of the original game reviews and previews back in 1986.
What has remained unknown till now is that Douglas worked on another computer game in between Hitchhiker’s and Bureaucracy, and it wasn’t for Infocom. It was called Labyrinth and it was an Activision/LucasArts co-production based on the 1986 film of the same name. Douglas knew three people connected with the film: screenwriter Terry Jones, director Jim Henson, and Henson’s associate Christopher Cerf.
‘It was decided that a group of us would all fly to London for a week of brainstorming on the design with Douglas Adams,’ remembers Lucasfilm games designer/project leader David Fox. ‘The sessions were very stimulating and Douglas had a good many ideas, many of which made their way into the final game. It was Douglas’ suggestion that the game open as a typical text adventure and then, when the player gets into the movie theatre playing the film Labyrinth, the screen fills with David Bowie’s image, and from that point on, it’s a graphic adventure.’
In the opening text portion of the game, the player has a choice of two films: Labyrinth starring David Bowie, or The Elephant Movie starring Adam Braite. Assuming one doesn’t choose the latter (‘A herd of elephants sweep majestically across the plain’), the player finds themself in a cinema watching Labyrinth and trying to chat up a cute girl (or boy – the game asks what sex you are at the start) while being pestered by a geek (or geekette for female players). Rather than typing, the player could make commands by picking a verb and a noun from two menus. ‘Adam Braite’ turns out to be a pun. ‘Douglas really liked the word “adumbrate”, meaning “to prefigure indistinctly or foreshadow”, so it ended up on the verb list,’ remembers Fox. ‘If I remember right, this obscure word was used in an even more obscure puzzle at one point in the game. You had to “adumbrate the elephant” when you were stuck in a prison, and an elephant would come and break a hole in the wall, freeing you. Definitely one of those things that was far funnier in the brainstorming session than in the game.’
‘While we were in London, Douglas had a great party to which he invited Jim Henson,’ recalls Brenda Laurel, another member of the creative team. ‘As Jim was leaving, he presented Douglas with a very large smoked salmon. Douglas just stared at it. Finally Jim said, “Say it, Douglas.” Getting it at last. Douglas said, “So long, and thanks for all the fish.”‘
Hitchhiker: a biography of Douglas Adams by M.J. Simpson (2005)
Coder David Fox has since also shared in interviews his regret over the decision to blend adventure genres; he felt it was a joke that outstayed its welcome, turning off graphic adventure fans.
David is still a significant figure in the industry and can often be heard airing his views in written and audio format. In discussion with Matt Barton of MattChat fame he covers Labyrinth’s opening challenge and explains how it materialised. A short footnote in a retrospective focusing mostly on Maniac Mansion.
Also of relevance is the interview he conducted with C64.com, although there too Labyrinth is seen as a forerunning stepping stone to more impressive and popular titles. It stands to reason I suppose – David has had a long and varied career, and he’s not ready to say thanks for the fish just yet.
Setting it apart from perhaps all other licenced adventure games, in Labyrinth we don’t get to play as Sarah. I know, crazy! Instead, we embody ourselves, which shouldn’t be too much of a stretch. It’s an interesting design choice with certain pros and cons.
Jareth speaks to us directly, by name, dragging us out of reality and into the mythical (?) world of his playground. We’re also the appropriate gender, or whichever we identify with, if you want to be pedantic. I’m not convinced any of this is really necessary to be honest. People like to jump into the shoes of the real protagonist they see on the silver screen. Names, ages and genders don’t really matter, that’s the nature of gaming. It’s all about immersion, losing oneself in make-believe.
“I don’t recall any requirement to stick to the script, but we all felt obligated to do so. We did have a crazy text adventure intro to the game (Douglas’ idea), it was analogous to the black-and-white opening in the Wizard of Oz film, before Dorothy arrives in Oz. For us, it was all text until you, the player, enter the world of the film and find yourself in the graphical environment of the Labyrinth. I guess that was also inspired by the film’s opening, which is set in our universe, before Sarah (a young Jennifer Connelly) gets transported to the Labyrinth.”
Interview with David Fox, conducted by C64.com (28th December 2013)
Dropping the movie’s protagonist wasn’t the only deviation Lucasarts’ game takes from the movie. Sarah’s sole motivation for embarking on her expedition to track down Jareth is revised. In fact, Toby was cut from the plot entirely. Jareth just wants us to go back to our room. Play with our toys and costumes. Forget about the bay-bie.
Well, I don’t care if it’s irrelevant, I’m going to do this anyway…
Jareth: You remind me of the babe.
Goblin: What babe?
Jareth: The babe with the power.
Goblin: What power?
Jareth: The power of voodoo.
Goblin: Who do?
Jareth: You do.
Goblin: Do what?
Jareth: Remind me of the babe.
Maybe it was felt that kids wouldn’t care about rescuing a screaming sproglet? Personally I found him less annoying than Sarah what with her constant whining about the unfairness of Life, the Universe and Everything.
Sarah: That’s not fair!
Jareth: You say that so often, I wonder what your basis for comparison is?
Sarah doesn’t need one. She’s a Rebel Rebel, her life is a mess.
I’ll let the Thin White Duke himself fill you in on the finer details…
You! You there! Yes, you. The one getting dirty fingerprints all over this nice, clean book.
I am Jareth, the Goblin King, and you are mine. From the moment you began reading this, my grip upon your soul has tightened. Test me. Try to stop reading. You can’t, can you? You are my subject, and you are destined to bow to my will for the rest of your days. The only way you can escape is to find me in the center of my Labyrinth and destroy me. Ha! Not only will you be unable to navigate the Labyrinth, I doubt if you’ll even be able to find your way in!
And if by some chance you do manage to get inside, I will easily defeat you. I have many ways to do this. There are rules in my Labyrinth, and woe to those who do not follow them.
I will give you only thirteen hours to solve the Labyrinth. And I can assure you… it isn’t enough time.
I will set my army of goblins upon you. Each of my goblins was once in the same position you are in now… and each failed to solve the many puzzles of my Labyrinth. Now they work for me. They will throw you into dark, dank prisons I like to call my oubliettes… and forget about you. You will never find your way out.
I will lead you into untold dangers. The Bog of Stench alone will easily defeat you. And if you should happen to fall in – if even one drop should touch you – your smell will warn me of your presence… wherever you may try to hide.
I will recreate the Labyrinth even as you solve portions of it. It will constantly change, twisting around itself like a malevolent serpent.
A face on the front and one on the back. Are we following the metaphor?
Hoggle was lost in transit for several years before eventually surfacing at an airport’s unclaimed luggage centre in Scottsboro, Alabama. Ironic since he knew every last twist and turn of the labyrinth like the back of his lumpy, calloused hand.
Learn to love the Labyrinth, for you will be here forever. But take comfort. You will not be here alone. I rule the other poor souls as well. Hoggle might befriend you… if you pay him enough.
Maybe you’d like to spend eternity in the forest of the Fireys. They may amuse you as they toss their arms and legs about. Perhaps they can lend you a hand! (Oh, I do love a little joke… especially at your expense.)
Some of the creatures in the Labyrinth are my minions, like Sir Didymus, who guards the bridge over the bog… and always follows my rules. Some of them – like that accursed Ludo and his accursed friends, the rocks – have come close to defeating me. But never too close. My faithful goblins take care of that.
They will take care of you, too. And so will I. This is my Labyrinth, and you are mine. Forever.
Some of the biggest names in little people played the goblin corp. Peek through the eye slits of their helmets and you might find Warwick Davis, Kenny Baker, Malcolm Dixon or Jack Purvis.
Cat and R2D2 at a comic convention in 2016. Rest in peace Kenny.
Object of the Game
In the Labyrinth you must find your way through a complicated maze, solve riddles, figure out puzzles, and collect and use objects you find along the way. The object of the game is to ultimately escape through the castle at the heart of the maze after confronting Jareth, King of the Goblins – before the clock tolls thirteen. You will win the game when you vanquish his power over you. But first you must get to him.”
So that’s that then, a manual so thorough it covers the premise and all the mechanics I’d normally have to summarise. In any case, it’s an early Lucasarts graphical adventure, you know the deal by now.
While not exactly canon, the team did well to incorporate so many of our favourite characters and set pieces from the classic movie, and a flavour of the humour that made it so quotable. Those too – much of the dialogue is lifted from the genuine article to lend it an air of authenticity.
If you’re familiar with the movie you’ll have a good inkling as to the solution to many of the puzzles. Otherwise, you’d have to resort to random trial and error guesswork, which is far less fun than relying on a-ha! lightbulb moments, triggered upon recognition of pixelated scene translations.
Some are directly replicated, employing a bit of artistic licence to make the challenge more arcadey. For instance, rescuing a dangling, upside down Ludo from being tormented by goblins. In the game we must manipulate the colour of paving slabs to provoke them into falling away, ensnaring any goblins currently walking over them. Not quite what happens in the movie; there Sarah hurls rocks at the vicious, delinquent bullies as they poke poor Ludo with nasty bitey creatures mounted on sticks.
Goblin: Try this one on for size, you big hippie!
Once freed (using the shears to cut him loose), Ludo appeases Sir Didymus and summons the rocks needed to cross the Eternal Bog of Stench.
Hoggle: And you wouldn’t be so brave if you’d ever smelled the Bog of Eternal Stench. It’s, it’s…
Sarah: Is that all it does, is smell?
Hoggle: Oh, believe me, that’s enough! But the worst thing is, if you so much as set a foot in the Bog of Stench, you’ll smell bad for the rest of your life. It’ll never wash off.
Actually he lies. I listened to an interview with Jennifer recorded in 1986 during which she said it had no odour whatsoever, but was very rude in the noise department.
Ludo: SMELL BAAAAAAD!
Years later when Brian Henson (Jim’s son) covered the same ground for an anniversary Q&A he said it stunk. I’m inclined to believe Jennifer since Brian misremembers several other details in the same interview before correcting himself. It was a few years ago to be fair! I can’t remember my own name, that’s why I had to make up a new one.
50% of Alph and Ralph are onboard and correct and their puzzle is deceptively simple, though only the first time we meet them. Go through the door that’s labelled ‘to the castle’, sidestepping the alternative marked ‘to certain death’. Screw up further along the campaign and we end up right back here to try again, and next time they won’t be so generous.
Guard: Well, the only way out of here is to try one of these doors!
Guard: One of them leads to the castle at the end of the labyrinth, and the other one leads to…
Guard: Certain DEATH!
For take two they’ll remove the signs. Then start telling lies when quizzed regarding which door you should choose, or do they? Is one or both telling fibs? Watch this scene again quickly on YouTube if you’re stuck. It’ll offer you some pointers at least. You’d never know that this puzzle actually evolves if you only check out the longplay since the expert player will pass every test with flying colours.
Sarah: Would he tell me that this door leads to the castle?
Guard: (Whispers with his counterparts) Yes?
Sarah: So… the other door leads to the castle and this one leads to certain death.
Guard: (All the guards Oooh) But he could be telling the truth!
Sarah: But then you wouldn’t be. So if he told me that this door leads to the castle, the answer you should give me would be ‘No’
Guard: But I could be telling the truth!
Sarah: But then he would be lying. So then if he said this door led to the castle, I’d know the answer would still be ‘No’
Guard: Is-is that right?
Guard: (snickers) I don’t know! I’ve never understood it!
Sarah: No, no, I figured it out!
(Pushes the other door open revealing the castle’s interior)
Sarah: I could never do it before! This is a piece of cake!
(Steps through the door and falls into a trap)
Obviously, the ‘helping’ hands too had to put in an appearance. It would be criminal not to include them given how much tireless toil was poured into producing Terry Jones’ delirious set piece. Have you ever tried choreographing a hundred ‘blind’ people simultaneously?
Sarah: Help! Stop it! Help!
Helping Hand: What do you mean “help”? We are helping.
Different Helping Hand: We’re Helping Hands.
Sarah: You’re hurting!
Helping Hand: Would you like us to let go? Heh-heh…
(They loosen their grip, Sarah starts to slide downward)
(They catch hold of her again)
Helping Hand: Well then, come on, which way?
Sarah: Which way?
Helping Hand: Up, or down?
Helping Hand: Come on, come on.
Different Helping Hand: We haven’t got all day.
Different Helping Hand: Well, it’s a big decision for her.
Different Helping Hand: Which way do you want to go, hm?
Helping Hand: Yes, which way?
Sarah: Well… since I’m pointed that way, I guess I’ll go down.
Helping Hand: She chose DOOOOOWN!
Different Helping Hand: She chose down? Heh!
(they let go)
Sarah: Was that wrong?
Helping Hand: Too late now!
Other puzzles employ props from the movie in novel, yet complementary ways, demonstrating much more imagination. Rather than giving Sarah’s plastic bracelet to Hoggle to buy his advice, we find one on the ground and use it as a makeshift door knocker. Inserting it in the knocker’s mouth will prevent the talking door from yammering on as well as allowing us to pass through.
You can establish who is inside this bush trying not to be seen by detonating it from a safe distance. Honest, really. 😐
My favourite, however, has to be the way we steal the helmet of a goblin guard who is blocking access to a critical door in the stone corridor. Give him the cursed, anaesthetic peach and he’s out for the count, snoozing like a baby, allowing us to enter the door leading to a hedge maze, assuming we’ve first lured him away from his designated post. His helmet can later be used to trick other goblins into thinking we’re one of them so should be left unmolested.
Sarah: (after eating the peach) Hoggle, what’ve you done?
Hoggle: (leaves in fear) Oh, damn you, Jareth. And damn me, too.
Of course, this emulates the scene in the movie where Jareth gives the trippy fruit to Hoggle, blackmailing him into gifting it to Sarah. Perfectly understandable, though it’s a shame Hoggle isn’t more cheerful – a Laughing Gnome citation wouldn’t have gone amiss. Nevertheless, it’s the puppeteers who should have felt more harassed – all five of them required to bring the complicated, partially radio-controlled creation to life.
Upon eating the tainted titbit, Sarah floats off into another world to take part in an imaginary masquerade ball where her wildest dream comes true; she gets to be the fairy-tale princess, fluttering her eyelashes at Prince Charming, who – lo and behold – reciprocates.
Hoggle: (sadly, after Sarah broke free from the crystal) Oh, she’ll never forgive me. What have I done? I’ve lost my only friend. That’s what I’ve done.
I wonder if it’s possible for a dream projection of oneself to dream within said dream? That reminds me of a song from Les Miserables. A-ha! *an anvil is heard pounding the deck in yonder distance*
Jareth: I’ve brought you a gift.
Sarah: What is it?
Jareth: It’s a crystal. Nothing more. But if you turn it this way and look into it, it will show you your dreams. But this is not a gift for an ordinary girl who takes care of a screaming baby.
Passing through the Labyrinth’s outer wall is achieved by pushing against any area containing graffiti. We don’t get any help from a talking worm sadly.
The Worm: ‘Allo.
Sarah: Did you say… hello?
The Worm: No, I said ‘allo but that’s close enough.
Sarah: Oh… you’re a worm, aren’t you?
The Worm: Yeah, that’s right.
Sarah: You don’t by any chance know the way through this labyrinth, do you?
The Worm: Who, me? No, I’m just a worm. Say, come inside, and meet the missus.
Remember when his chums made an appearance in Simon the Sorcerer?
Nevermind. What’s a vending machine doing on the other side of the wall? Seems a bit contemporary for this medieval province, but I won’t complain, I was feeling a bit thirsty. Oh, it only serves rocks and perfume. Damn it.
Ah, it’s a running theme. Now I’ve found a camcorder and am recording a rock video! Not that kind of rock. You know who’s fond of rocks, don’t you?
Ludo began life as a board game on a shelf in Sarah’s bedroom. That’s not a joke, feel free to freeze-frame it.
Didymus: Sir Ludo, canst thou summon up the very rocks?
Ludo: Sure. Rocks friends.
You’d guess Ludo, except he can conjure all he likes with a rapturous roar. Try the Fireys instead. Give them the camcorder itself and in exchange, they’ll treat you to a selection of their disjointed limbs and head. The latter can be treated as a third eye; toss it in the air over each doorway and it’s possible to spy beyond them without risking your neck.
Fiery 1: Hey! Hey! Her head don’t come off!
Sarah: Of course it doesn’t!
Fiery 2: Hey, lady! Where are you going with a head like that?
Fiery 3: Hey, man! I know what we can do! Take off her head! Ha-ha!
Fiery 1: Hey, lady! It’s against the rules to throwing other people’s heads!
Firey 2: Yo! You’re only allowed to throw your own head!
Firey 5: Yeah, that’s right!
Whilst the hedonistic ‘Chilly Down‘ interlude has to be Labyrinth’s biggest mistake, it does spotlight the vocal talent of Danny John-Jules who played Cat in Red Dwarf. That’s some consolation for the ropey ‘in-camera’ special effects and worst of Bowie’s musical contributions. He composed the track, without performing in the routine in any way, although you will find an alternative version on YouTube in which Bowie provides the vocals himself.
It’s a shame the entire ‘black satin’ shot scene wasn’t cut since it contributes little and denigrates the rest of the sublime production. Even Jim Henson wasn’t ecstatic with it at the time, only reluctantly giving the Fireys the green light. ’80s practical special effects weren’t strictly awful, as Labyrinth aptly demonstrates elsewhere.
Jareth: So, the Labyrinth is a piece of cake, is it? Well, let’s see how you deal with this little slice…
Then there are the puzzles that have nothing to do with the movie. We place a log on the ground to deflect assault from the cleaners’ lethal drill mobile (bear with me). This shaves it down to a shape matching the ‘piano keys’ adorning a wall separating us from the Goblin City. Place this where there’s a wider than usual gap and a hidden door appears. While a log appears in the movie, it’s not used for anything like this purpose. It’s more like a solution The Goonies or Indiana Jones would hit upon.
Some of the characters we meet along the way are as amusing/irritating as their movie analogues. The ‘wise’ old crone with a talking bird sprouting from his bonce babbles a commensurate torrent of gobbledegook, that’s ironically helpful if you know how to decipher it.
The Hat: Eh. Huh? How’s that for brainpower, eh?
The Wiseman: Be quiet! So, young woman, the way forward is sometimes the way back.
The Hat: Ah, nuts.
The Wiseman: So, young woman, the way forward is sometimes the way back.
The Hat: Heh, will you listen to this crap?
The Wiseman: Will you please… be… quiet? Okay?
The Hat: All right!
The Wiseman: All right?
The Hat: Okay, okay!
Whilst this super-brain is rooted to the spot as if he’s never moved for a hundred years, at the opposite end of the spectrum is Didymus. An erratic, fencing fox who adopts Ambrosius as his trusty steed and bars passage to the opposite side of a bridge over the Bog of Eternal Stench, evoking fond memories of the knights who like to say ‘Ni!’ from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
Sarah: Okay, let’s handle this thing logically. What exactly have you sworn?
Didymus: I have sworn with my life’s blood, none shall pass this way without my permission!
Sarah: Well… May we have your permission?
Didymus: Well I, uh… I… that is, uh… hm… Yes?
Sarah’s old English sheepdog pet (think of the Dulux dog), is one of the few real actors in the movie. He’s alternately a fair dinkum, panting, tail-wagging pooch and a puppet, switched as the situation demands. Before entering the labyrinth he’s known as Merlin, later becoming Ambrosius, this being a nod towards Merlin the magician who is referred to in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s The History of the Kings of Britain as Merlin Ambrosius. Aside from serving as another hint towards all this being a figment of Sarah’s overactive imagination. I told you it’s genius.
In the game, Didymus won’t let us cross ‘his’ bridge until we rescue Ludo, whereas in the movie Ludo is already free and Sara doesn’t emancipate him as a favour for anyone. She simply empathises with his plight. As it turns out he’s not a Scary Monster or Super Creep after all.
Once able to cross the bridge it may collapse into the bog as we test its strength, leaving us impregnated with stinking gunk. We might even slide in regardless given that it’s so slippy, unless we use the Firey’s leg as a walking pole. Now you’ll understand what the perfume is for. If you don’t mask it you’ll be chased out of the goblin village later.
It’s possible to continue across the bog, wading through sludge to reach the embankment, yet if we have to repeat the process later we’ll need to rethink. With Ludo free it shouldn’t be a problem seeing as he has the power to plug the gap with stepping stones.
Hoggle: This is an oubliette, labyrinth’s full of ’em.
Sarah: Really. I didn’t know that.
Hoggle: Oh don’t act so smart. You don’t even know what an oubliette is.
Sarah: Do you?
Hoggle: Yes. It’s a place you put people… to forget about ’em!
Any Labyrinth homage worth its salt has to include a trip or seven to Jareth’s oubliette… Lucasarts’ doesn’t disappoint. Chased mercilessly by his goblin army, should one catch up with us, a trapdoor will open underfoot, plunging our Sarah substitute into the depths of a barren, pitch-dark cave. A dank dungeon contrived to waste the valuable, limited time of its unfortunate captives. Don’t worry, “It’s only forever, not long at all.”
Jareth: She’s in the oubliette.
Jareth: Shut up! She should not have gotten as far as the oubliette; she should’ve given up by now.
Goblin: She’ll never give up.
Jareth: Will she? The dwarf’s about to lead her back to the beginning. She’ll soon give up when she realizes she has to start all over again. Ha ha ha… well? laugh!
If we find ourselves swallowed up by an oubliette, we can escape using several methods. Finding another trapdoor towards the left side will transport us back to the surface.
Alternatively, we can recite the magic word provided by our beggar friend outside the cinema (you did give him a donation?). He wasn’t an arbitrary choice, little in Lucasarts’ universe is. Remember the scene in the movie where Jareth disguises himself as a goblin street urchin much like those taking part in the masquerade ball? Ambushing Sarah and Hoggle, he casts aside his cape and face mask to interrogate Hoggle regarding his intentions towards Sarah and loyalty to himself.
Jareth: Ah, what have we here?
Hoggle: Oh, uh, nothin’.
Jareth: (removing his disguise at the last second) Nothing? Nothing? NOTHING? Nothing, tra la la?
If you ignored him so you could buy more popcorn, you may like to chomp on one of the mind-altering peaches instead. These will transport us to another dimension, an hour shaved off our time limit being the trade-off.
As in the movie another option is to open a covert door built into the cave wall (although we’ll have to do it ourselves as Hoggle is pretty useless throughout). To complicate matters and ramp up the bizarro metre to Labyrinthine altitude it can only be activated by opening it from the wrong location. Stands to reason!
Of course, the ultimate Houdini gambit is to adumbrate the mighty pachyderm, who responds by charging at the wall to produce an elephant-sized cavity. If you’re wondering why an elephant was chosen, well, you might want to keep in mind that David Bowie played John Merrick in the Elephant Man play for several years prior to starring in Labyrinth.
Sarah: (during battle) Ludo, call the rocks!
Once inside Jareth’s castle we find ourselves Under Pressure, facing the gnarly cretins, armed only with rocks provided by Ludo. An action interlude similar to many target shooting games like Duck Hunt ensues. They spontaneously appear in castle turret openings, leaving us a short window in which to pelt them.
It’s even possible to chuck our helmet at them – it’s one way to get rid of it, which is essential since Jareth won’t give us the time of day while we look like one of his wretched minions. Otherwise, the bog is perfectly content to eat it for breakfast.
Once clear we deploy the Firey’s detached arm acquired earlier to open-sesame the gate. That is providing we’re standing under the hanging crystal ball. Phew, almost there now.
Didymus: (finally entering the castle) Well, come on then!
Sarah: No! I have to face him alone.
Didymus: But why?
Sarah: Because that’s the way it’s done!
Didymus: Well, if that is the way it is done, then that is the way you must do it. But, should you need us…
Muppets are for life, not heroes just for one day!
Naturally, the game concludes with a confrontation in Jareth’s upside-down M.C. Escher ‘Relativity’ room, with our remaining hours converted to minutes just to spite us, mirroring the scene in the movie where Jareth telekinetically winds forward the hands of a golden clock before invoking the cleaner’s hedge-trimming vehicle. As seen on the cover of Sarah’s ‘Slasher Machine’ LP the eagle-eyed amongst you will have spotted.
Remember the ‘impossible’ poster in Sarah’s bedroom? That wasn’t there by accident. Nor was the wooden maze game, books, polaroids, news clippings and all the other ‘Easter eggs’ you may like to hunt down. It’s all part of the rich tapestry that instructs Sarah’s subconscious.
Look closely and you’ll see that it’s David Bowie standing alongside Sarah’s birth mother in those photos. It would appear that he was the temptation that lured her away from the family home and her husband. Sarah demonises the external force that ripped her life apart, yet simultaneously is drawn helplessly to his Mephistophelian magnetism.
Jareth: How you turn my world, you precious thing.
Inside his heavily guarded fortress, we’re required to target the Goblin King with a well-timed crystal ball to the flamboyantly-wigged noggin. Other items can be leveraged just for the hell of it, although he’ll take all such projectiles in his stride.
Sarah: Give me the child. Through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered, I have fought my way here to the castle beyond the Goblin City to take back the child that you have stolen. For my will is as strong as yours, and my kingdom is as great…
Jareth: Stop! Look what I’m offering you. Your dreams.
Sarah: For my will is as strong as yours, my kingdom as great… Damn.
(pulls the Labyrinth book out of her pocket)
Sarah: My kingdom as great… my kingdom as great… damn, I can never remember that line.
Stopping Jareth in his tracks, we subsequently engage in a war of words. We need to recall the killer lines Sarah couldn’t in the movie. Reciting them aloud in the park, rehearsing for her play, she always stumbled over the mystical incantation formula, “you have no power over me”.
Piece them together now with the dialogue wheel and Jareth either turns back into an owl or his hair oscillates between various contrasting colours in quick succession, before vanishing for good. Or at least until a time comes when we should need him.
Although tightly cropping assets can help to conserve precious bytes of memory and disk space, you need to learn where to draw the line!
Jareth: I ask for so little. Just fear me. Love me. Do as I ask, and I shall be your slave.
Sarah: You have no power over me!
Sarah: (the clock chimes 13:00 at that moment. Defeated, Jareth sends Sarah and Toby back to the real world where the clock finishes chiming midnight)
How he ‘perishes’ depends on the way in which we assemble our verbal assaults. Another fine example of Lucasarts’ penchant for steering clear of linear gameplay. Even the colour we enter as our favourite has mechanical branching implications that wouldn’t become apparent unless the game is completed several times, varying our decisions to assess their impact.
Not everyone appreciated this nuance at the time of release. In March 1987, Zzap, the most vociferous dissenting voice, dismissed Labyrinth with an underwhelming 50% score, declaring it “disappointing”, “professional, but lacking any real challenge”.
A trio of staff critics went on to expound their verdict…
“Whilst superficially very flashy, there really isn’t much to Labyrinth, I should imagine that tape users would get very frustrated reloading the game every time they made a mistake.
The animation of the large central character is smooth – he (or she) is one of the first game stars who doesn’t appear to have come straight from the ministry of silly walks. Arcade freaks will soon get bored with the fairly slow pace though, and adventure fans are going to be unimpressed with the limited amount of (fairly simple) problem-solving.
Lucasfilm have done a lot of good things in the past, so it’s a pity to see them not make the grade this time.” – Paul Sumner (phoney critic, a pseudonym for whoever was available to write a third opinion!)
“To start off with, I got a good six hours’ worth of entertainment out of this. Some of the situations are amusing, and some of the problems are simple but fun to solve – I became so engrossed that I virtually completed it at one marathon sitting… but after that I got bored, and was stuck outside the Goblin’s Castle, throwing rocks for what seemed like forever.
The characters are superb, large and well animated – but then so they should be as each section is loaded individually… Which makes me wonder why Activision bothered to put Labyrinth onto cassette – the disk version is slow enough.
Recommended though – if you have no objections to paying fifteen quid for a few hours of solid entertainment.” – Gary Penn
“This is a real disappointment after such Lucasfilm classics as Ballblazer and Fractalus. Labyrinth is basically a simple arcade adventure which, although fairly original, doesn’t really offer much in the way of excitement.
Progress through the Labyrinth is quite slow, and I found myself getting frustrated with the character’s lazy pace – there seems to be too much time spent walking around, and not enough action. The graphics and sound are competent, but it simply isn’t difficult enough to keep you playing for long.
If you like the sound of the program then give it a try, but I think that you may well be disappointed.” – Julian Rignall
In none of the reviews is ‘Humongous’ mentioned, the giant, robotic Tin Man defence system employed in the Goblin City. Now that would have been a welcome addition, even if we only got to see his screen-monopolising feet!
Commodore Magazine, appraising the game in June 1987, were much more positive without actually attributing a final grade. Their review (which begins on page 30 and concludes on page 93, cutting off mid-sentence!) wraps up with…
“Hardcore adventurers will appreciate the strategic depth of play and the satisfying, tough puzzles. Newcomers will be attracted and held by the crisp clear graphics, simple play mechanics and the life-restoring save feature which will hold your progress on disk whenever a risky situation is approached.
And finally, for all you fans of the Henson flick, you’ll be happy to know that many of the movie’s more memorable characters have survived the transformation intact: Sir Didymus, Ludo, Hoggle, the Fireys, Alph and Ralph are all present and accounted for.
With Labyrinth, being helplessly lost has never been so much fun.”
Most enthusiastic of all were Commodore User who deemed Labyrinth worthy of full marks (5 stars). In January 1987 they excitedly exclaimed, “Aaargh!” I’m falling down an endless tunnel! Well, not quite endless perhaps. Suffice to say, I was trapped in the labyrinth forever! Great fun and highly addictive.”
Allotting a final summation of 9/10, it’s safe to say that C&VG concurred, having put the game through its paces in March 1987.
“This is a terrific game, only spoiled by delay whilst loading up each new scenario – a small price to pay for such a brilliant game.”
Being 1986, Labyrinth is unsurprisingly a primitive affair set within the milieu of fairly simplistic, static environments. Short musical bursts are only brought into play during the introductory and closing scene, with intermediary silence broken by sparse sound effects. Tiny voice samples are utilised, although sadly they’re too scratchy and distorted to decipher.
“The scrolling background, and character animation, is beautifully smooth.”
Commodore User (January 1987)
Animated sprite replicas of the Muppets (and Bowie) are the real highlight. Everyone Says ‘Hi’. It’s immediately obvious who they are intended to portray before they move. When they do it’s a joy to behold; with plentiful frames of animation, they appear fluid and believable, imbued with an amiable cartoon feel. Each facsimile is as delightful as Henson’s original in its own nostalgic, 8-bit way, in a sense that can only be fully appreciated should you have lived through that wonderful, trailblazing period.
The only one I’m not too enthralled with is the barefooted bloke we play should we type ‘male’ into the initial questionnaire. Knowing he’s not Sarah sabotages the otherwise effective hallucination. His female twin isn’t quite as distracting if we squint a bit and pretend she’s Jennifer.
Not that it need bother anyone today, Labyrinth is a multi-load title. Therefore, upon release, running it on physical hardware would have entailed reloading the game following each death. That would have become a tedious chore very quickly.
Apple II users would have been expected to cough up a hefty $35 for the privilege of owning a copy. Whereas Commodore 64 gamers were obliged to dig less deep, having adopted the more economical home micro route. £10 would have delivered the same game with much more polished graphics. A triumph for Tramiel’s “computing for the masses, not the classes”. Which makes no sense if you stop to think about it for a second – we all fall into one socio-economic class or another. Everyone knows what he was driving at anyway.
Labyrinth was originally also proposed to make an appearance on the Spectrum, as announced in Sinclair User (August 1986), however, a port failed to materialise.
Labyrinth, his latest movie and the inspiration for his current chart album is to be turned into a fantasy adventure by Activision. The plot is roughly based on the ancient Greek myth in which Persephone, the daughter of Demeter, is pursued by a monstrous admirer in the form of the dark lord of Hades. The dark lord of Labyrinth is the goblin king, played in the film by David Bowie.
The plot centres around a little girl who idly wishes the fairies and gnomes will take away her young brother who she is forced to look after. To her surprise they do and – after a change of heart – she has 24 hours to get him back. She descends into the Labyrinth and clashes with the Goblin King – David Bowie who wants the boy for his own.
His vast kingdom, the setting for the age-old goblin wars, stretches through an underground complex – all terrific micro game material. The Activision fantasy game, for the 48k/128k Spectrum, is likely to be launched in December at the same time as the film.
As well as Bowie the film stars Jennifer Connelly and a new generation of Jim Henson’s Muppets. It’s been produced by Star Wars man George Lucas with the screenplay by ex-Python Terry Jones.”
An alternative interpretation of the design that evolved into the C64 and Apple II game was produced by Pack-In-Video Co. Ltd and made available for MSX2 and PC-88 computers.
Released only in Japan, they feature entirely new graphics, and most crucially, all the dialogue is presented in Japanese, making it almost impossible for me to offer a worthwhile assessment.
Apparently, Labyrinth was ‘Big in Japan’ so it’s odd that so little YouTube footage of it exists. Even searching using Japanese characters reveals next to nothing.
Either Sarah’s a dwarf in this version or Hoggle’s been stretched on a torture rack.
In honour of the movie, Labyrinth: the computer game is a quest that appears vast playing for the first time as a wee whipper-snapper. It’s easy to lose your way, traipsing round and round in circles, achieving absolutely nothing. Even before entering the Labyrinth it’s possible to walk indefinitely in either direction without ever getting anywhere. How appropriate! No one could blame you for walking away. Too much rejection. No love injection. Life can’t be easy. It’s not always swell. Now, where have I heard that before?
Nevertheless, once you’re familiar with all the correct decision tree choices and requisite actions, it’s more of a brief Sunday afternoon jaunt, comfortably completable in under 25 minutes.
It’s hard to tell if Labyrinth: the computer game would have been as well-received if it hadn’t been swaddled in an existing IP. Half the fun is indulging in the parody, reliving Henson’s magnum opus in our minds. There’s no way we could ever disentwine them now, and I don’t think I’d even want to.
Complimenting the movie, its home micro reimagining is deceptively simple. Casually sidelined by many as a diluted, pre-golden era prototype, Lucasarts’ first foray into the adventure genre has more to offer than at first meets the eye. How you approach each task, what you say and the actions you perform can have a varying effect on the outcome, broadening the replay value beyond typical early point and click fare.
Often the result is no more than the delivery of a different joke, nevertheless, given that such a creative team was behind writing the script, we can be sure it will be worth experimenting with whatever bizarre trial and error ‘solutions’ to dilemmas we can concoct. Wary of reducing the unparalleled visionary to a mere collection of pixels, almost in tribute to Bowie, Labyrinth adapts to suit its audience. Just don’t call it a chameleon, it would be extremely insulted.