Brian Henson Talks Rerelease, David Bowie, & Its Legacy


ComingSoon Senior Editor Spencer Legacy spoke with director, puppeteer, and chairman of The Jim Henson Company Brian Henson about Labyrinth to celebrate its new digital rerelease. Henson discussed working with David Bowie and how the film has remained a staple in op culture for nearly 40 years. The new Labyrinth 4K rerelease is now available to purchase or rent through all major digital entertainment platforms.

“The film is an unforgettable fantasy adventure that follows Sarah Williams as she makes her way through the labyrinth of the Goblin King Jaret in search of her little brother Toby,” reads Labyrinth‘s synopsis.

Spencer Legacy: Labyrinth has remained such an iconic movie since it came out in 1986. What made this the right time to rerelease it?

Brian Henson: I don’t know that we’re pegging it to any sort of anniversary … no, we’re not. Shout is a fabulous distribution company that we’ve really enjoyed working with, so we’re really excited about what they can do. The two 4K masters are really beautiful. There’s a real cultural swing back to some of the tone and morality of the ’80s and ’90s that are actually more resonant now than they were when we made those movies. It’s timely and both movies [Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal have a huge fanbase, and this is an opportunity to be able to download both of them with the 4K masters, which, again, look beautiful.

And now, more and more people actually have 4K televisions, so they can actually start watching it like it’s in a theater. There are also tons of great extras that have been built up over the years for both movies, so it’s really both for our dedicated fanbase to be able to get the quintessential version of those two movies. But it’s also for the new people, finding the movies, and feeling the resonance of those stories as they resonate today, as I said, even better than when we made them.

What do you think it is about Labyrinth and that story that has resonated for so long and has kept these fans so dedicated for almost 40 years now?

Well, in a lot of ways, it’s the artistry. CGI is amazing and it’s wonderful, but it’s almost such a perfect illusion that you forget it’s art. You actually just think you’re watching these creatures and animals, and, interestingly, it makes you, as an audience, kind of less inspired. One thing about The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth is they’re incredibly inspiring to young artists because you are very aware of the artistry. There are hundreds and hundreds of artists putting all of their time into every shot of both of those movies.

At the time, we were creating cutting-edge illusions. It was technologically the cutting edge for fantasy, but now, it’s more retro because their puppets are creations that were created by artists. So that is very inspiring. These are great, mythic stories about self-empowerment and dealing with the tough worlds … it’s hard to say exactly why the stories resonate. I’m not going to be great at answering that question. [Laughs].

It’s also impossible to talk about Labyrinth without David Bowie. All these years later, how do you look back on working with him in this movie and the legacy that he left with that?

Well, It was fun working with him. I was a huge fan because I was right at the right age group. I was probably 19 when “Modern Love” came out. I was 22 when we made the movie, so for me, he was my favorite musical artist in the world and I thought he was the coolest guy, and I thought he was bigger than life. I thought he was an uber human. I’d say the very first day he showed up, it was completely disarming. He’s just a lovely, lovely guy — soft-spoken, but quick to laugh. Loves to tell a goofy story. And he’s an East End London boy.

He was just lovely and gracious and generous to work with. You have to be patient when you’re working with animatronics, because, inevitably, something goes wrong, you know? [Laughs]. Take after take after take, so it’s a lot of work and he was just lovely and embraced it fully and his approach to it was just that he was going to have as much fun as he could every time he was on camera. And he did. And he was brilliant.

Speaking of animatronics and puppeteering, how did your work with Hoggle in this movie prepare you for later projects? What did you learn from that?

Well, we were at the early stages of making animatronics wireless. So up until then, animatronics were almost always cables. The Dark Crystal was mostly cables, so people pulling cables that were working eyes and features and stuff like that. But it meant there was a lot of people that had to work each character. So with Hoggle, we wanted to make it wireless, but it was still four performers working the face. It was the other three performers and me who were all working the face. We’d done a lot of work together, so we’re really good at almost reading each other’s minds so we could perform as a team.

But coming off of Labyrinth is … when we started developing systems where one performer could work a lot of motors as opposed to one controller’s one motor. It was the kickoff of development that allowed us to make The Storyteller, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Dinosaurs … I mean, by the time we got to Dinosaurs, if we were doing it the way we had done Hoggle, it would’ve been impossible, because at that point, we were down to one performer working each face. We were in the development of our animatronic track that started with The Dark Crystal and I would say peaked with Dinosaurs and Farscape.

One of those projects that you would go on to do was The Muppet Christmas Carol, which is my favorite holiday movie. Now that “When Love has Gone” has been back in the film for a year now on Disney+, how do you feel about the full version of the film being so readily accessible for everybody?

I’m thrilled, because I was furious that it was gone. I had an arrangement with Disney that it would only be removed from the initial theatrical release. Their argument was, “Young kids don’t relate to a love ballad and it just makes them bored. So, for the theatrical release, let’s remove it.” Then I said, “Okay, as long as it goes back in forever from then on, because [when] people are watching it at home, it’s okay if the kids get a little bit distracted at home.” Because it’s so much better a movie structurally for adults with the song in.

Scrooge’s emotional arc — beautifully played by Michael Caine — really requires that moment to be expanded into a song for his emotional arc. The movie is a much more powerful story to adults when the song is in, and maybe not so with three-year-olds, but for adults, definitely. The problem was Disney had lost the negatives for years and years and years, and we only found it … whatever it was, a couple of years ago by me poking them three times a year, and they they did find it. It’s lovely to have it back in. I would like it to be now the main version in all their languages. I’d like it not to be an added extra that you can watch it. The intention was to have the song in. When the song is in, it’s a better, more powerful story.



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