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The Development of Labyrinth - A Potted History

Discussion in 'Fantasy Worlds' started by Rachael, Oct 8, 2011.

  1. Rachael

    Rachael Well-Known Member

    The following is material I wrote for the Labyrinth wiki. You can access the article here, where it is fully referenced (and illustrated!)-


    I really hope you find it interesting. If you have anything you think should be added/needs correction, let me know!

    According to the film's conceptual designer Brian Froud, Labyrinth was first discussed between himself and director Jim Henson during a limousine ride on the way back from a special screening of their 1982 fantasy film The Dark Crystal. Both agreed to work on another project together, and Froud suggested that the film should feature goblins. On the same journey, Froud "pictured a baby surrounded by goblins" and this strong visual image - along with Froud's insight that goblins traditionally steal baby's - provided the basis for the film's plot. According to Henson, Froud made the suggestion that the film should feature a Labyrinth.

    Froud produced a range of concept paintings and sketches that informed the overall look and feel of the finished film. Several of these feature a young girl journeying through the Labyrinth with Hoggle and other assorted goblins, and this girl appears to be an early version of Sarah.

    Discussing the film’s origins, Henson explained that he and Froud “Wanted to do a lighter weight picture, with more of a sense of comedy sinceDark Crystalgot kind of heavy - heavier than we had intended. Now I wanted to do a film with the characters having more personality, and interacting more.”

    Labyrinthwas being seriously discussed as early as March 1983, when Henson held a meeting with Froud and children's author Dennis Lee.Lee was tasked with writing a 90-page novella that would become the basis for Terry Jones’ script of the film, turning it in at the end of 1983.

    One of several early ideas being discussed in the early stages of the film's development was that the lead would be a King whose baby had been stolen and placed under an enchantment. Alan Lee - Froud’s collaborator on the illustrated bookFaeries– observed that this plot seemed similar to that of Ridley Scott’sLegend, and Henson and his creative team went back to the drawing board. Ultimately the decision was taken for the film’s lead character to be a young girl, as according to Henson “That hadn't been done very much.”

    The protagonist went through several different incarnations before it was decided that she should be a teenage girl from contemporary America. Henson noted that he wished to “make the idea of taking responsibility for one's life - which is one of the neat realizations a teenager experiences - a central thought of the film." With this in mind, 14 year old actress Jennifer Connelly was cast in the role. According to Henson, Connelly "could act that kind of dawn-twilight time between childhood and womanhood."

    The character of Jareth also underwent some significant developments during the early stages of pre-production. According to Henson he was originally meant to be another creature in the same vein as his subjects. Henson eventually decided he wanted a big, charismatic star to the play the Goblin King, and developed the role with David Bowie in mind. Henson met David Bowie in the summer of 1983 to seek his involvement, as Bowie was in the U.S for his Serious Moonlight tour at the time. Henson continued to pursue Bowie for the role of Jareth, and sent him each revised draft of the script of the film. Bowie only formally agreed to take part a few weeks prior to the start of filming.

    While Terry Jones is credited with writing the screenplay the shooting script was actually a collaborative effort that featured contributions from Henson, George Lucas, Laura Phillips, Dennis Lee and Elaine May. Jones himself has said that the finished film is very different from his version of the script. According to Jones, “I didn’t feel that it was very much mine. I always felt it fell between two stories, Jim wanted it to be one thing and I wanted it to be about something else.”

    According to Jones, his version of the script was “about the world, and about people who are more interested in manipulating the world than actually baring themselves at all.” Jones script had Sarah realize there is no true solution to the Labyrinth, and featured a Jareth who used the Labyrinth to “keep people from getting to his heart.”

    Jones has said that Bowie’s involvement in the project had a significant impact on the direction taken with the film. Jones had originally intended for the audience not to see the centre of the Labyrinth prior to Sarah’s reaching it, as he felt that doing so robbed the film of a significant ‘hook.’ With the thought of Bowie starring in the film in mind, Henson decided he wanted Jareth to sing and appear throughout the film, something Jones considered to be a ‘wrong’ decision.

    An early version of the script attributed to Jones and Phillips varies in several notable ways from the shooting script. The early script has Jareth enter Sarah's house in the guise of Robin Zakar, the author of a play she is due to perform in. Sarah does not wish for her brother to be taken, and Jareth does not set an ultimatum until Sarah has already made some head-way through the Labyrinth. The early script ends with Jareth transforming into a powerless, snivelling Goblin, an outcome that was ultimately abandoned in favour of that found in the finished film.

    After much tweaking and re-writing, the script was ready for filming. The Jim Henson Creature Shop in London had been producing puppets and costumes for the film since 1984, and filming finally started in April 1985 at Elstree Studios.
  2. RedPiggy

    RedPiggy Well-Known Member

    And the funny thing is, this concept is offered back up in RTL.
  3. Rachael

    Rachael Well-Known Member

    It's interesting, isn't it? I can't help bu think that Jake T Forbes must have read an interview with Jones somewhere about his plans for the film, if not it's quite the coincidence!
  4. RedPiggy

    RedPiggy Well-Known Member

    Or, since Forbes' talked over and over on his site about how involved the Henson company was, maybe it was kinda like an apology :p
  5. Rachael

    Rachael Well-Known Member

    That's certainly true. Jones does come across as slightly burned by the experience in interviews, although he clearly had fond memories of working with Jim despite their disagreements.
  6. MrBloogarFoobly

    MrBloogarFoobly Well-Known Member

    Honestly, I like Jones' idea better than the one in the finished film.
  7. Laszlo

    Laszlo Well-Known Member

    Great info!
    "The early script ends with Jareth transforming into a powerless, snivelling Goblin."
    I think I would have liked that!
  8. Rachael

    Rachael Well-Known Member

    MrBloogarFoobly - I think the idea has more genuine depth and intrigue to it than the main themes that appear in the finished film, however I think it would have taken a lot to pull it off well. And while I think that idea's a great one, I love every second of screen-time where Jareth appears and wouldn't have and would hate to have seen any of his scenes cut.

    Laszlo - thanks! I'm glad you liked the article. I'm less of a fan of the idea of Jareth transforming into a goblin, as he is somewhat sympathetic in the film and I like speculating as to why on earth a race of foot-high goblins would have a human (or, at least, human-like) man as their King.

    While I'm here, I'll share another article I've written for the site, this time on Jareth's character. You can find a fully illustrated and referenced version of the article here-


    The character was significantly different in the early script produced by Terry Jones and Laura Phillips. In the early script, Jareth first arrives at Sarah's house in the guise of Robin Zakar, the playwright who wrote the play Meander's Queen which Sarah is shown reading from at the start of the script. He spirits Toby (known in the early script as Freddie) away to his castle, and does not present Sarah with any sort of ultimatum until she has already made some headway through the Labyrinth with Hoggle. Jareth is shown spying on Sarah through the cut-out eyes of his own portrait in a gallery and is generally far more sinister than he is in the finished film, telling Hoggle that what he does to Sarah is inevitable and only for him to know. In the ballroom scene Jareth refers to Sarah as 'my Queen' and attempts to kiss her, a detail that is retained in the film's novelization. The end scene of the script has Sarah land in a 'magnificent huge' bed and Jareth directly proposition her to be his Queen. Sarah defeats Jareth by refusing his advances, and watches as he shrinks, transforming into a powerless, snivelling Goblin.

    According to director Jim Henson, Jareth was originally envisioned as another creature in the same vein as his Goblin subjects. Henson said, "The Goblin King was originally planned to be another creature, until it occurred to us to make it an actor. While we were considering various and sundry actors, we thought to make Jareth a music person, someone who could change the film's whole musical style."

    Michael Jackson and Sting were both considered for the part, however David Bowie was eventually cast in the role after a series of meetings with Henson in the early 1980s convinced him to sign on to the project. According to Bowie himself, "Jim gave me the script, which I found very amusing. It's by Terry Jones, of Monty Python, and it has that kind of slightly inane insanity running through it. When I read the script and saw that Jim wanted to put music to it, it just felt as though it could be a really nice, funny thing to do."

    In an interview with French magazine Ecran Fantastique, Henson explained the logic behind choosing Bowie for the role. "I wanted to put two characters of flesh and bone in the middle of all these artificial creatures," Henson told the magazine "And David Bowie embodies a certain maturity, with his sexuality, his disturbing aspect, all sorts of things that characterize the adult world."

    Conceptual designer Brian Froud felt that Bowie was perfect for the role, describing how his "protean persona" made him well-fitted to the role of Jareth. Froud described how Jareth is "Sarah's inner fantasy, a character made up of her dreams and nightmares... He is seen, through her eyes, as part dangerous goblin, part glamorous rock star." Summing up his view of the character, Froud states that "Jareth needed to be a mecurial figure who would continually throw Sarah off balance emotionally."

    Although he enjoyed the shoot for the most part Bowie found certain aspects of the role challenging, in particular interacting with the puppet characters proved difficult. According to Henson, "His first couple of scenes were with Hoggle, and David kept wanting to look off the stage to where the voice was coming from." Additionally it was sometimes difficult to perform scenes that featured Jareth contact juggling, as the actual juggling was performed by professional juggler Michael Moschen who would kneel behind Bowie and perform blind.

    Bowie enjoyed working with co-star Jennifer Connelly saying that "Apart from being quite beautiful, she's a really good actress. And she's a pleasure to work with. One forgets that she's just fourteen years old." He also admired Henson's work ethic, remarking that "Jim is undoubtedly the most unflappable guy I’ve ever encountered in any profession! I just can’t believe his capacity for work."

    In a 1987 interview with Kay Rush, Bowie stated that the film was "fun to do" although it wasn't his favourite experience of acting. He also remarked that "Jim had a lot of ideas going in that movie, I think maybe one too many."
  9. MrBloogarFoobly

    MrBloogarFoobly Well-Known Member

    No question - I love the Labyrinth we got from Mr. Henson and company. It's one of my favorite films! But I would've liked a deeper story. I think Jim Henson was probably still reeling over the negative response on "The Dark Crystal" - which did have a deeper storyline - and wanted to do something simpler.
  10. RedPiggy

    RedPiggy Well-Known Member

    The weird thing is, though, that it only seems shallow based on the presentation. You could actually sit there for hours or days analyzing everything that happened (or didn't). The fact it seems simpler can be a commentary on how shallow Sarah was. The oft-repeated "nothing is what it seems" just invites poring over every detail or lack thereof. In my view, Labyrinth simply failed to help audiences experience the depth it was trying to go for.
  11. Laszlo

    Laszlo Well-Known Member

    Yes, thats true too. But this leads to another question: Why on earth would someone like Jareth would want to live with a whole folk of stupid goblins?
    After all it is all about this fairy tale/magic feeling. It doesnt have to be logic.
    Jim Henson once said it is all a dream, very much like Alice in Wonderland or Oz.
  12. Rachael

    Rachael Well-Known Member

    That's a good point, and the question of why Jareth would want to become Goblin King in the first place is an interesting one. RTL says that he found them amusing to begin with and that’s why he took them as his subjects, and although it’s not a particularly compelling explanation it’s the closest thing to an explanation we have.

    Jim is on record as saying the entire film was Sarah's dream, in an interview with Ecran Fantastique he said-

    The heroine [Sarah] lives in her own little imaginary and fantasy-laden world. Dreams are very important to her. The Wizard of Oz means a lot to her. When she goes into the dream world, which makes up the whole film, she plays a role that recalls the way she feels about the real world. At the end, when she emerges from the dream, from the fantasy, she starts to renounce the foolishness of her childhood, and what the characters say is simply we’re here; we’re part of you, all of us as we are. You don’t have to give up your fantasies because you grow up; they’re part of you all your life.

    Of course, this is backed up by hints in the film, such as Bowie appearing as the boyfriend of Sarah's mother in photographs, the toys in Sarah's room that resemble characters from the Labyrinth and so on.

    In light of that, it's interesting that the JHC has officially sanctioned the view that everything that happened in the film is real with the Return to Labyrinth series. I imagine that must be for two reasons, a.) there aren’t many narrative possibilities if you’re starting from the view-point that Sarah dreamed the events of the film b.) the majority of the fan-base adopted the view that everything that happened in the film is real.
  13. RedPiggy

    RedPiggy Well-Known Member

    Well, here's the problem: there are hints in the movie and in RTL that it's "kinda-sorta the way it happened," to borrow from Kermit. :)

    It may be that the Underground is another dimension, much like Fraggle Rock and the lands connected to it (hence why I consider those lands part of a much bigger universal concept in my fics, with some justification if anyone's interested, LOL). Yes, there are hints that the Labyrinth is fueled by your imagination/heart/dreams/whatever ... but the Labyrinth isn't the entire area. Jareth/Owl is there way before Sarah even gets home. The rain only starts when Sarah feels irritable that her playtime is over? When she conquers the Labyrinth, she is in another room four hours after the start of the stuff happening in the house (IIRC). Even if she were sleep walking, that's a lot of travel and a lot of time spent wandering around. And how did the owl get in the house? If the dream started as she flopped onto her bed (which is what the junkyard version of the room wants to imply), she never went into her parents' room and she never wished Toby away and the owl never broke through the door. There's also no storm, not even a hint of one.

    With the Labyrinth being made of Jareth's heart (more or less), it seems more likely that the dimension is real but the Labyrinth is a specific structure geared towards one's own psychological issues. As Skub notes in RTL, there is no "right" path, only the path you're on. If Jareth created the Labyrinth to keep Mizumi (or others) out, perhaps Sarah solved it precisely because she sympathizes with the idea that she just wants to be alone in her dreams. It resonated with her on an unconsious level and she managed to break free once she realized (kinda) she needed others as well, something Jareth secretly wants but has had a hard time finding.

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