Believe it or not, but Jim Henson’s classic fantasy film Labyrinth, starring a young Jennifer Connelly and the legendary David Bowie, turns 30 years old this year. As part of the celebration, Sony Home Video is releasing the Labyrinth 3oth Anniversary Special Edition this week on Blu-ray and 4K HD Blu-ray. The new release comes with a ton of new special features, including a tour of the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta, Georgia. The venue has just opened its Labyrinth exhibit, called Jim Henson’s Labyrinth: Journey to the Goblin City. You can see a preview image of the special collector’s edition below, and for a sample of what to expect from the exhibit, please also check out our gallery below.
Recently at DragonCon in Atlanta, the folks who brought this exhibit to life were present at a special panel. Featured were the curators, designers, conservators, and archivists as they discuss the research and conservation work behind the new exhibit, which will remain open until September 3 of next year. The panel was moderated by Kelsey Fritz, and featured the Center for Puppetry Arts’ Ryan Sbaratta, Russ Vick, and Bradford Clarke, and Jim Henson Company archivist Karen Falk.
The panel began with the Center’s Bradford Clark, curator of collections, telling the audience how the exhibit came about in the first place. He told the crowd, “From the very beginning, we knew Labyrinth was a possibility for a special exhibit. What was interesting was that at the beginning, we didn’t think that it would be exclusively dedicated to Labyrinth. We were looking at both The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth. We knew the anniversary was coming, as well as a brand new book, so we got to work from the manuscript of that. From then on, it was like a ball rolling downhill… It just seemed like the logical thing to do.”
He continued: “The challenge was that there were so many stories to tell, and a limited amount of space to tell it. Do you approach it from the standpoint of the story of the film, and just tell the story of the movie itself? Or do you approach it from the story of only the puppets? Or do you tell it from the story of the whole ‘behind-the-scenes’ aspects of it? Of course, we integrated all three. But once we began to focus on Labyrinth, there became a logic to following the chronology of the film, and we had the idea that you actually enter into the Labyrinth. But it became a combination of taking you through the film and meeting the characters along the way.”
The Center’s Ryan Sbaratta spoke next, telling the audience, “Instead of telling our story across time, you’re trying to tell it across space. As you look at everything as an audience member, what does it feel like when you come across the next corner. As far as creating a world, I feel every detail you put in it should matter. It should all be a conscious choice. You’re not following a main character when you go in the exhibit—you are the main character. There’s a lot in our collection that doesn’t stand alone as a single item that represents Labyrinth, but when you start putting them together with other objects along with original artwork, you can start to see the design all the way throughout.”
Karen Falk, archivist for the Jim Henson Company, was also crucial in getting this exhibit going. “I do everything from collecting items for basic archival work, cataloging, and I get to also do the really fun projects, like this new Labyrinth book from Insight Editions. It has a lot of things from the archives reproduced in it. Not just art—memos from Jim, faxes, and things like that. It’s cool to allow people to have access to these things, whether it’s a book or an exhibit.” She continued, “The Henson family donated items that were sitting in crates for 25 years, that was in a facility outside of London. They got shipped in a boat, in these crates, and we were so happy that somebody was going to care for them.”
Russ Vick, whose main job it is to restore the puppets to their original splendor (or as much as possible) added, “These puppets were never designed to last longer than the span of the production. Some of them were just meant for a single shot. It doesn’t matter how well kept the thing is, it’s going to disintegrate. Most of this stuff is made from very porous foam, which has a lot of surface area for elements to get in there and break down very quickly. So that’s what I’m dealing with.” He adds, “The majority of the puppets are in good shape, but I hesitated even opening the boxes, trying to figure out removing the fabric around the puppet, thinking I might break this thing that I absolutely idolized as a kid. So it’s a scary and daunting process.”
Towards the end of the panel, curator Bradford Clark summed it up best, saying, “I think this all ties in philosophically to the idea of ‘the original object.’ Yes, a lot of restoration has taken place, but it was on film. But there’s just something about going to a museum, and seeing an object that you have an association with [and] that is the original thing. To me, that is very exciting. Because as complicated as it is to restore… it’s not a picture on the internet or in a book. It is the actual thing.”
The Labyrinth 30th Anniversary Special Edition DVD, Blu-ray and 4K Blu-ray is available now everywhere. Jim Henson’s Labyrinth: Journey to the Goblin City is now open, and will be open to the public until September 3rd 2017.
Images: Sony Pictures / The Jim Henson Company