My rating: ****
I first saw this Jim Henson directed film a couple of years ago and for all its faults I loved it. The acting from the two non puppet principles – David Bowie and Jennifer Connolly is a little stiff and wooden (ironically far more so than the puppets who are excellent!) – but the dialogue they have to work with is pretty stilted. The plot, which is a standard quest plot, is also paper thin.
But David Bowie in the full glory of his 80s glam rock outfits looks superb and is suitably ambiguous as an almost evil goblin king. He also composed all the songs (but not the incidental music) for the film and there are a couple of really good ones. ‘Magic Dance’, in which he dances in the middle of dozens of puppets and costumed little people, is wonderful. The puppets and little people bring an anarchic and highly enjoyable energy to proceedings and towards the end of the song a human baby (obviously a dummy in long shot) is tossed high into the air by the goblin king (Bowie) and is caught by an adjacent goblin little person.
The puppets and costumed little people are definitely the best actors in this film with the best lines and are wonderfully inventive in their appearance and performance. The excellent ‘making of’ documentary included in the extras on the DVD release details the technical problems in achieving the desired effects with the puppetry and the sheer inventiveness of the designers and puppeteers. It is good to see special effects that rely on models and mechanics rather than the ubiquitous contemporary CGI. It adds a solidity and refinement to the outcome, born of dealing with the limitations of actual physical objects rather than pixels.
Also of note is that if the story of the film was devised by Jim Henson, it was scripted by ex Python Terry Jones.