Journey through the ‘Labyrinth’ at the spring CPC Film Series

Smiling man with dark-blue shirt collar showing

By Paul Miller

Knightly News Co-Adviser

The CPC Film Series returned to the Capital Blue Cross Theatre for its quarterly event on Friday, this time offering Knightly News Reporter Nik Hogan the opportunity to present on one of his favorite films, 1986’s “Labyrinth.”

Hogan, the CPC Film Series correspondent since February 2023, finally had his time to shine on the event’s stage. In a recent Knightly News Podcast about the event, Hogan shared why he selected this picture, mainly centering on the nostalgia he feels toward the Jim Henson film.

Henson, of Muppet fame, had a $25 million budget for the film, and an iconic star of the 1980s, David Bowie. It almost seemed like it couldn’t miss. But much to the dismay of Henson (and the film’s executive producer, George Lucas), the film did very poorly at the box office, bringing in under $15 million worldwide that summer.

Still, when thinking about the film today, it is easy to associate memories with the film due to its cult status. In fact, the film is still in regular rotation on cable and premium movie channels and still resonates with popular culture nearly 40 years after its release.

Hogan delivers his presentation at the CPC Film Series. Photo by Paul Miller

Let’s be practical

Part of the love of the film from the perspective of Hogan was how it illustrated a different side of Henson’s work. The film itself was Henson’s final feature film, and Hogan argues, “it works as a cornerstone to the 1980s dark fantasy trend and shows a more mature side of Henson’s puppetry expertise.”

In addition, Hogan talked about the mastery of effects in the film, noting how most modern films rely on CGI to create effects, “Labyrinth” illustrated practical effects or techniques where scenes are created physically on set, using methods such as animatronics, scale models, makeup, and controlled explosions, instead of digital or computer-generated imagery.

Even with the practical effects, the film also displayed some of the first instances of CGI in film, which, according to Hogan, was very impressive for its time.

While Henson gets much of the credit for the visuals of the film as the director, according to Hogan, he believes that Lucas should also receive much of the praise, as the film was one of the first major films after the initial “Star Wars” trilogy was released from 1979 – 1983.

Even with the stunning (for the time) visual effects, the film was wrought with issues from its inception. The film was in development from 1983 to 1985 and endured over 25 script rewrites. In fact, several drafts had Michael Jackson, Prince, and even Mick Jagger in mind for the Goblin King, the part that eventually went to Bowie.

The Puppetmaster

After Hogan’s discussion about the effects of the film, he went on to talk more about Henson and his impact on a wide variety of generational groups with “The Muppets” and “Sesame Street.” Still, as Hogan claimed, despite his more child-friendly persona, Henson has an impressive range with his puppetry. He has crafted incredibly detailed and intricate puppets and animatronics for films like “Labyrinth” and “The Dark Crystal” and television shows like “The Storyteller.”

Hogan went on to discuss how “Labyrinth” came to be, noting that, in many ways, “The Dark Crystal” can be seen as a prototype of what would eventually become the final film. It was the first case of mixing dark fantasy with the imagination of Henson’s Creature Shop.

Hogan claimed, “This film isn’t what it is without Henson’s incredible work on practical effects. Henson’s work heavily contributes to the charm it maintains nearly four decades later.”

In fact, as Hogan shared with the crowd, the film has had an enduring legacy with audiences of all types and is still highly regarded as a classic ’80s film. While it met initial negative critic reviews, the film now holds a respectable 86% “Audience Score” and 77% “Critic Score” on Rotten Tomatoes. Critics have praised the film for its usage of practical effects and creative workarounds while featuring elaborate set design and a creative story.

In the end

In hindsight, it is truly a wonder that the viewing public was able to see work from two of the most creative geniuses the film industry has ever known in Henson and Lucas. Responsible for many of our childhood (and adulthood) memories, these two men helped to create some of the most iconic characters in television and film history. From Big Bird to C-3PO and everything in between, this film gave us an opportunity to see something unique that could never be duplicated.

Hogan, who has been critical of the film industry post-COVID in his reviews for the Knightly News, left an important point at the end of his presentation. He said, “To me, this film stands out as a gem in an often repetitive and stale industry.” Which, in a way, speaks to why this film has been able to withstand the test of time. Because of its unique storyline, iconic star, and geniuses behind the camera, this film is what the movie industry is all about. And even though the film was not successful at the box office, it ultimately left a lasting impression on viewers and the industry alike.

The CPC Film Series will return on July 26 with “Summer Shorts.” More details will be released in the coming weeks.