32 years after its original release, Jim Henson’s Labyrinth is heading back to movie theaters for three days only.
The nationwide fan celebration is the latest collaboration between Fathom Events, The Jim Henson Company and Sony Pictures Entertainment.
Released in 1986, Labyrinth was met with a mixed critical response but it has gained a massive following and is now considered a classic. Opening in only eighth place at the U.S. box office, it actually dropped out of the top ten in its second week of release. By the end of its domestic run, Labyrinth had only grossed $12.73 million - that’s just over half of its $25 million budget.
I caught up with Brian Henson, director, producer and Chairman of the Jim Henson Company, to talk about the rerelease, working with his father and David Bowie, the movie’s legacy and his future plans for Labyrinth.
Simon Thompson: What's it like seeing Labyrinth back on the big screen?
Brian Henson: I think it's fabulous. We've remastered it and it looks absolutely beautiful. My dad did two giant worldbuilding movies, one was The Dark Crystal and the other was Labyrinth. The only way to fully appreciate those worlds is to see them on the big screen.
ST: How much work did you put into cleaning this up for the rerelease?
BH: We went all the way back to the original print. Every time you remaster it, it just gets better and better. When it was remastered for Blu-ray that was just 1080i resolution. I don't know what theaters will be playing for this version, but it'll be 2K to 4K. It really looks stunning.
ST: Labyrinth wasn't particularly successful when it was first released in movie theaters but it has become hugely popular and is considered to be a classic. Did you or your father, Jim, have any idea that it would become a pop culture phenomenon?
BH: Was I aware of it at the time? Not at all. I'm not even sure that my father was thinking that. I think it was something a little bit simpler that was going on. He had done The Dark Crystal, which was very dark and dramatic, and I think that when he went to do Labyrinth, he wanted to try to bring some of the humor back that he was known for. He also wanted to bring back some of the music and make a film that was more fun and yet was still fantasy and world creation. Honestly, I think what you intend to happen is rarely what happens. Coming off The Dark Crystal, I think my dad thought he was making a film that was more commercially viable and in the end, he was kind of wrong. With The Dark Crystal, it was so original that when people saw trailers they had no idea what to expect, they were intrigued. With Labyrinth, it looked like it was a little bit closer to the tone of things like Monty Python so the audience kind of thought they knew what they were going to get. Both movies have done tremendously well in the decades since they were released.
ST: Let's talk about David Bowie coming on board. Had he and your father worked together previously?
BH: No, never. I remember when my father was talking about David Bowie, who I was a huge fan of, being involved we went and saw him in The Elephant Man in New York. I believe that was one of the first times my dad had met David and Labyrinth was the first time they worked together in any way.
ST: How excited were they about working together?
BH: This was a collaboration and those were always tricky for my dad, meeting new people and going all in with them. I just remember him being so impressed with David. I remember when David brought his demos, his first passes at the songs, and they were so beautiful. We were used to demos that would be a singer and a piano or a singer and a guitar but David had someone like the Harlem Boys Choir singing backup. He had these beautifully produced tracks and I remember my dad was very impressed and was like, "Well, there you go! There's a guy who's kind of like me." My father couldn't do something kind of halfway, he had to do it as big and as good as he could make it and David was very similar. They both had a very similar, powerful artistic drive.
ST: What happened to those demos? I’m sure I’m not the only person who’d love to hear them. Are they in a vault somewhere?
BH: I don’t know. You’d have to go to David’s estate to find those. The songs were really his part of the film, he made adjustments with my father but that was really what he was bringing to the movie and, of course, his performance as Jareth.
ST: How much of Jareth was what your father brought to the table and how much was what David brought?
BH: The character really came out of the minds of three people. It was Brian Froud who had the image of what a Goblin King human being would look like, the big codpieces, the hair and so on, those were all Brian. My father just had the idea of an adult who really never really matured, a little bit of a Peter Pan type of character who was locked in a sort of teenage sensibility. Labyrinthis both a coming of age for Sarah and a coming of age, in a way, for Jareth as he learns his lesson about what he is. He’s a little petulant and unpredictable and he’s spoiled rotten and David, the third mind, took that on board and made it his own with his interpretation of all that together.
ST: How much of what was filmed have we seen and how much ended up on the cutting room floor? Was there a lot of additional material that didn’t make the movie that we might get to see one day?
BH: I know it’s disappointing but there’s very little that’s not in the movie. These were the old days and my Dad was a really responsible guy. This was not a studio movie, it was an independent film. If you shot 20% more than you needed, you spent 20% more and we didn't have that option. In those days working in England, you wrote a script and then you shot the script and then you edited the movie and then you released it. The idea of having a movie where the first cut would be four or five hours long was just something we would never have been able to wrap our heads around. It was so complicated making Labyrinth anyway that really he just had the script, he worked off that and once he’d shot a scene then that's pretty much what ended up in the movie. There will be lines here and there that were dropped but I don't think there's even an entire scene that didn't make the final movie.
ST: As an experience, was working on Labyrinth something that is particularly memorable for you?
BH: Absolutely. It's mostly because of how I was working with my father. It took a long time to make, probably over a year, and we were very short on puppeteers in Britain. It started with my dad asking me to train up a whole new corps of puppeteers and so I had to train a couple of hundred to find 40 that we could use. The world of Labyrinth, every scene, had to be filled in the back and that was what I had to do. I had to just make sure those characters were there and had something to do and the little goblins are flying, make sure those little guys are running over there and that was a lot of work. That basically meant my dad got to concentrate on what was immediately around the camera, what was in the script and so on. It was a big film for me. I was very young, maybe 20 or something, and I had done a couple of movies with a smaller role but this was the first one where I was in a much bigger capacity as part of the production. Working with my dad, it was nice for me and it was like we were working together as two adults, two independent adults, but we were also father and son and it was fun. It was fun for him to have a trusting working relationship with me and it was very rewarding. For any son, it's really nice to feel that moment where you really move to having an adult relationship with your father. I guess Labyrinth, to a large degree, was that for me.
ST: People have been asking for a sequel for many years. Apparently, there is one in production. Is there any update on that?
BH: There isn't really an update. I can say we are still excited about it but the process moves very slowly and very carefully. We're still excited about the idea of a sequel, we are working on something but nothing that's close enough to say it's about to be in pre-production or anything like that. We are working on a theatrical adaptation of the original movie for the stage. Those are the two areas of excitement for the Labyrinth property that we have. We are working on both of those but I certainly don't have a timeline for them.
ST: Would that be a Broadway musical?
BH: Not necessarily Broadway, it could be for London's West End, but it will be a stage show, a big theatrical version. It’s very exciting.
Labyrinth will play in movie theaters nationwide on Sunday, April 29, 2018, on Tuesday, May 1, 2018, and Wednesday, May 2, 2018. For tickets and more information, visit the Fathom Events website.