There is always something wonderful about revisiting movies from one's youth, and finding out that they are as good as you remember. This feeling is even more thrilling when it is clear that others like the films as well and that a certain amount of care and effort has gone into re-releasing them. Happily, this is the case for two new DVD editions being put out August 14 from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment and Jim Henson Home Entertainment.
Though they have both been released before to DVD, the new editions of The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth are truly spectacular (and both remastered in high definition). The former is labeled as the “25th Anniversary Edition” which seems correct as the movie was released in 1982, while the later is simply an “Anniversary Edition,” which is moderately odd as the film was released in 1986, making this the 21st anniversary (maybe it is an anniversary edition because it is old enough to drink?).
Whatever oddities might exist in the name of this release of Labyrinth, it is the better of the two movies. Starring a young Jennifer Connelly and David Bowie, the film chronicles the quest of a girl, Sarah (Connelly), to retrieve her infant step-brother from the Goblin King Jareth(Bowie), who has kidnapped the child. Jareth only did this because Sarah, rather impetuously, asked him to, only to regret the decision moments later. Being a sporting sort of Goblin King, Jareth agrees that Sarah can have the child back if she is able to successfully negotiate his labyrinth within 13 hours.
Directed by Henson himself and executive produced by George Lucas, the film is full of wonderful creatures and has great wit and imagination. Sarah encounters numerous friends and enemies on her journey through the labyrinth to Jareth's castle, and each type of creature has a distinct look, feel, and personality. The majority are, as this is a Henson film, muppets, puppets, and various people in costumes, and voiced by the likes of Steve Whitmire (who would later become the voice of Kermit), David Goelz (The Great Gonzo), Kevin Clash (Elmo), Brian Henson, and Frank Oz. In short, it is the standard (and wonderful) assemblage of talent from Henson's stables, and a great deal of fun to watch 21 years later.
The Dark Crystal, co-directed by Jim Henson and Frank Oz, is equally impressive in production design, even if the story is moderately obtuse. The story of the film involves the evil race of Skeksis trying to consolidate their power as the good Mystics fight for the survival of the planet while a Gelfling that they helped raise named Jen tries to reunite the Dark Crystal with a shard that broke off centuries ago and led to the ruined state of the planet. The film requires an incredibly lengthy voiceover at its outset in order to set up the tale of good versus evil, and, while easy to follow, it is an awkward way to open the film. From here, happily, the film does get more engaging. Though they are muppets, in true Henson fashion they do seem alive, and, like Labyrinth, great care seems to have been given in making sure each character has a distinct personality. The puppet work is excellent and, like Labyrinth, creature design fantastic. In fact, Brian Froud, the conceptual designer for both films, provides a commentary track for each, and goes into great detail on both.
Both The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth are two-disc editions, with the second disc on each providing more bonus features than you can shake a stick at. There are numerous interviews, original footage that did not make the movie, and concept art to name a few.
Though both films are still fun to watch, it is Labyrinth, the less successful at the box office, that holds up better years later. The story is more accessible and David Bowie's songs and interactions with the various muppets are great fun. Even so, The Dark Crystal is still enjoyable, and certainly ought to be watched before the long-gestating sequel, Power of the Dark Crystal, ramps up for an alleged release next year.
I think that the world of Jim Henson's imagination might just be the best possible place to grow up. And, if you already have grown up, it is still a place to visit on a regular basis.