Okay Cineplex, I've seen so LITTLE promotion going on about this, I'm gonna do your advertising for you - the people need to know!
Cineplex's annual Great Digital Film Fest has a great lineup this year, but there are two films, screening back to back, that should have every fantasy film geek out there heading to the theatres: Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal.
These two cinematic masterpieces, from the genius imaginations of Jim Henson and fantasy artist Brian Froud, both received luke-warm receptions when they were released in theatres in the 1980's but have grown to become cult favourite films with time. It's tragic that Jim died never knowing how cherished and appreciated these films would become.
I grew up watching both these films but have never seen either of them on a screen bigger than 36 inches! I am so thrilled these two adventures are in the festival line up for different reasons.
The Dark Crystal is a remarkable artistic feat. It was always intended to be a visual feast for the eyes enjoyed on the big screen. Unfortunately, audiences didn't flock to the theaters, and those that did go to see it didn't know what to think of it. The film was a complete departure from anything the public expected from Jim Henson, the only famous name attached to the film. Mythical creatures speaking alien languages (English dialogue was dubbed in over top after the original version, which featured no English and no subtitles, left test audiences baffled about the story), bizarre creatures and amazing landscapes just didn't translate into commercial success the creators had hoped for at the time. When I saw it as a child on VHS a few years after it was released, I was mesmerized. Jenn, Kira, and Fizzgig were the perfect team for a child's imagination to latch on to (the Gelflings themselves seem somewhat childlike in their innocence and optimism) and follow into the heart of the Skeksis castle. And it had a remarkable theological/spiritual message to it, very different from the typical Good vs. Evil story presented in western cinema. The planet's oldest and most powerful races are actually two sides of the same creatures? What a fascinating idea!
Dark Crystal, in my mind, was one of the first 'moving pictures' I saw as a kid that was really 'moving art'. It was like walking into a fantasy painting and exploring it (Thank you, Brian Froud!). It's not hard to say 'Yes' to seeing this visual masterpiece on the big screen, more than 30 years after it was presented for the first time.
Labyrinth was Jim Henson's second attempt at bringing fantasy to the masses, 4 years after being crushed by the reception American audiences gave The Dark Crystal. The story for Labyrinth had been in the works for some time, and the creative team hoped that by including a human protagonist and music, the mythical world of the Labyrinth and the Goblin City would fill more seats. When David Bowie joined the cast, the creators were even more optimistic that their vision could translate into box office success - the kind that Jim needed in order to get film studios to continue to back his daring, creative visions. But the film didn't do well in theaters and was greeted with lukewarm reviews. Roger Ebert gave it 2 stars, and while acknowledging the films' beauty and Bowie's performance, said "It never really comes alive." (full review here).
Never really comes alive?! I'm sure if you love this film as I do, you can hardly imagine how anyone could say such a thing about this adventure fantasy. But then again, Roger Ebert wasn't a child in the 1980's and maybe his imagination wasn't lit on fire by what he saw on the screen, as mine was. Labyrinth was an adventure unlike anything I'd ever seen before. It constantly subverts expectations (the fairies are mean, the giant horned monsters are kind), it puts a girl up against a ruler and she defeats him by denying his authority, it has humour, it has suspense, it has catchy pop tunes! The final showdown between Sarah and Jareth is so remarkable, I'll have to give it's own blog entry because I can't even right now.
David Bowie's passing on January 10th, 2016 will make viewing Labyrinth a more bitter sweet event than I'd expected, but it feels even more obligatory to see the film on a proper screen with a proper sound system now. If Henson was the soul of this film, David was it's beating heart. It's hard to believe how much they both influenced me as a child by joining together to make this film.
I've been giddily awaiting February 7th ever since I learned about Labyrinth being in Cineplex's Festival line up back in December. Imagine the thrill I felt learning that it's predecessor is literally PRECEDING it on the big screen too! It's heartbreaking to imagine what incredible things Henson and Froud could have gone on to create had Jim not died tragically in 1991. Their limitless imaginations could have easily secured support for sequels and companion films with the grassroots cult following Dark Crystal and Labyrinth have gathered with time (and remastered DVD releases). I'm thrilled that at the very least, I'll finally get to see these films on the big screen with a great sound system as their creators had always intended them to be seen.
And fair warning to anyone who's going with me - I'll be shamelessly singing along along to this tune when I go: