April 19, 2013

Adaptation Contemplation: Labyrinth

I love books.  I also love movies.  So I'm going to talk about movie/book adaptations, some of which have failed miserably, but also some surprisingly good ones.  Since everyone and their Uncle Vernon have discussed the Harry Potter adaptations to death, I might or might not add my two Sickles later on, but I don't know what else I can say that hasn't been said.

Naturally, the first movie I'm going to discuss is Labyrinth.  You'll find a lot of this movie here, seeing as how it's my all-time favorite movie, so fair warning.

I am also enamored with the book as well, and believe it or not, the book actually didn't come first!  The book is based on the screenplay and eventual movie, expanded upon by A.C.H. Smith.  Finding a tangible copy used to be nearly impossible, but the anniversary edition came out, and it's a wonderful purchase if you're inclined. It's got actual scanned pages from Henson's journal when he was still planning out the story.  Also, .txt files do exist, so I really think fans of this movie or similar movies should think about reading it.  You can see the actual book in the movie - it's Sarah's beloved copy she keeps quoting from.

Most of the content only found in the book was probably not possible to pull off in the '80s. It would have made the movie too long for kids. It's too bad, because they're interesting concepts.  Only a few scenes are really that important, and I'll touch on those as I come to them.

Nobody saw the owl, white in the moonlight, black against the stars.


Aside from being vaguely British, (instantly identified by the word "privet") the book and the movie follow the same path.   What's different is that Sarah's "wicked stepmother" actually shows a bit more concern and isn't as harsh as the movie lets on.   It's Sarah that interprets every action and word as bitchy.  Her father, Robert* is distant and doesn't seem to see that his daughter is acting out her own fairy tale without him. Sarah herself is constantly analyzing and interpreting everyone's actions to her own benefit, obsessed with her absent mother's worldly boyfriend and trying to emulate him.  She admits to herself that she does occasionally love Toby and realizes that he's an innocent victim in her story - sometimes.

A Henson film is going to attract younger audiences who don't get subtle nuances, so right away the parents have to be obvious obstacles in the few short scenes that they have.  While the worst thing we see in both mediums is Stepmom going into Sarah's room and taking Lancelot without asking, to a child this is a felonious act, and so we hate the parents.  We hate Toby for screaming his head off.  We like Sarah for just trying to have a little fun because babysitting sucks, even when you live in a manor house with your very own room full of things that you're pretty OCD about and the house all to yourself until midnight.  But who cares that Sarah has little to complain about?  Bitch took your bear!  Send her kid away!  Who didn't want to get rid of an annoying younger sibling, especially a baby that needed all the attention you were used to.  I guess I should have sold Sarah the Baby-Go-Away button I designed and installed in our armchair when my brother was born.  I only regret having to patent the Baby-Come-Back button to go with it.  But that's another story... Although it was a fairly bitchy thing to do, taking a doll off the shelf it was purposely placed on, when there were other dolls strewn around the room, and Ol' Lance is pretty tattered, is that safe for a baby? He also looks like a Steiff bear, way too valuable to be tossed to the floor!  So Stepmom is thoughtless and Robert is clueless.  Personally, I think Toby is the real victim here.  He's too young to have his own fantasy world to escape from these people.

Jareth, meanwhile, is obsessed with aging and laments the fact that giving your baby to the goblins is so 1800's.   Like Sarah, he's bored and tired of his life, disdainful of everyone around him.  One wonders if he even wanted to be a Goblin King in the first place.  His feelings for Sarah are also plainer; he laments that she's "too old to be a goblin, but too young to be kept by him, damn her innocent eyes.", and flat-out attempts to kiss her at the Bubble Ball. It's not something you'd pick up on watching the movie as a kid, but as I read the book now, it's much easier to feel sympathy for a guy trapped in a dead-end job...which just so happens to be kidnapping.  As the story goes on, he is subtly but quickly aging, and by the end, his hair has begun to gray and his clothes show signs of wear.  He's trapped in his own bubble and desperately trying to escape before it closes in on him - which it does when Sarah tells him he's powerless.  Who hasn't felt powerless in their lives?

If you look close enough, most of the characters are either Sarah or members of her family.  Ludo is so much like Merlin the dog that Sarah even remarks that he has Merlin's eyes - although Ambrosius is the spitting image of her dog, he's pretty much a coward. Sir Didymus himself is probably the one character closest to Sarah, believe it or not.  He's so intent on living out his dream of being a gallant knight that he doesn't notice he's surrounded by stench!  Everyone is an enemy to be fought.  Nothing ruins his fairy tale. Sound like anyone we know? In fact, when the bridge collapses, Didymus is seen struggling with the fact that "the role he had always played so devoutly had now been abolished."  Hoggle is a bit harder to connect to Toby.  He's annoying at first, throws epic tantrums, and gradually Sarah realizes that she considers him a friend and genuinely feels sorry for him.

So does this mean it's all a dream?  Well, yes...and no.  One of the best things about The Labyrinth is that it constantly plays with you.  As a fan of stories like these, Sarah would naturally expect to wake up in her bed, finding that it was all a dream and you were there, and you were there...and then just when she thinks she's got it all figured out, the door opens and it's not a dream after all.  Or it's not ended yet. Or is this a new dream?  The fact that you can't actually tell where Sarah would have fallen asleep almost leads you to believe it actually happened.  The gate has just shut on the labyrinth for now.  That's the conclusion Sarah comes to at the end of the book - it's a nice place to visit, but she doesn't want to live there.




-  Sarah is 15.
- *Her father's name is Robert, and the boyfriend/inspiration for Jareth is named Jeremy.
- When Toby gets taken by the goblins, the furniture in the bedroom comes to life and dances around.  Sarah grabs a broom to swat goblins, but it also animates itself.
- Hoggle...adding to the lake is actually NOT in the book.  Somebody just liked showing off their animatronics here.
 - Hoggle and Sarah are also more openly hostile to each other before they part ways.  You can see more of this with book lines in Jennifer's audition.  (She finds it British, too)
 - Most of the characters actually have names. (the pairs of door guards are actually named Alph/Jim and Ralph/Tim, the big robot goblin is Humongous.)  Their names are in the end credits.
- Before Sarah and Hoggle talk to the Wise Man with his sarcastic hat, they try running through a hedge maze that keeps spitting them back out where they started from.  After he falls asleep, they decide to walk backwards, and this gets them going again.
 - Ludo does not call for the rocks Sarah uses to rescue him...unless they happen to have shown up right before she does.  This is clarified in the movie so that kids will remember Ludo can call rocks in an emergency.  What he does appear to have done, though, is improve her aim.  He realizes this while summoning rocks in the Bog.
- When Sarah and Ludo reach the doorknockers, she initially picks what looks like the "right" door from the deaf knocker and ends up in a forest that causes you to laugh yourself to death.  She manages to crawl back out of the doorway and then takes Ludo through the door with the knocker with the ring in his mouth.
- The Fireys are initially helpful - in their own braindead way - to Sarah before they start dismembering.  They lead her around looking for the castle, but have no clue what a "castle" is.  This little exchange goes on a bit too long in my opinion, I think it would have bogged the film down.
- Speaking of bogs, while Jareth makes it pretty clear that it was affection that sends Sarah and Hoggle down to the Bog of Eternal Stench...what happened to Ludo?  In the book, Sarah doesn't take his hand, although she does pet him on several occasions.  Did he just find a trap door?  He seems to have taken an entire section of forest down with him in the book.
- Sir Didymus hides in the house with the rest of the heroes until he overhears two goblins talking about eating Sarah's brains (is this Legend all of a sudden? I'll get to that later.) and charges out to smite them. Everyone else escapes with the old bedsheet trick.
- Sarah calls Jareth out in the Escher maze before making it to the abandoned area for the final showdown.


Well, that's that.  My next post will be about BAD adaptations, God help us all.  I haven't indulged in a rant for weeks now.  It should be fun.

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