So the other night it came up in conversation that my wife had never seen Labyrinth. Tch, those crazy Japanese, eh? We rented it from the local Tsutaya (google it) forthwith, and watched it over beer and sushi.
The last time I'd seen Labyrinth, I must have been about 10 or 11 years old, so my memories were hazy, like when you try to recall the details of a dream you once had. I kept saying, "Oh yeah...." at inopportune moments. I'd even forgotten Jennifer Connelly was in it, for instance. The film has definitely aged in the 16 or so years since I last watched it, but it is still highly entertaining and deliciously eerie.
In particular, I love the fairy-tale skew to the plot, characters and atmosphere, and there are a couple of things I want to take from it and incorporate into a game (probably Changeling: The Dreaming or an especially fairy-tale-esque Basic D&D campaign:
1. Non-humans are literal.
This is a trope in Brothers Grimm tales too: the way mythical beings take what people say utterly seriously. Thus even though the Jennifer Connelly character does not really mean that she wants the goblin king to take her baby half-brother away from her, the fact that she says she wants it is enough for the goblins. "What's said is said," as David Bowie points out when he comes to collect. This message - that once something is spoken, even if you don't really mean it, it cannot be undone - is quite profound as a caution to children, but it's also a great fantasy trope in itself, with the potential for causing lots of problems.
2. There can be deadly danger in innocent play.
When Jennifer Connelly encounters the Fire Gang in the forest, they seem playful and ready to incorporate her into the game. But it turns out that her participation would involve them removing her head from her body - and they won't take 'no' for an answer. Suddenly the entire episode turns very sinister. It's like certain scenes in Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, where "let's play" is an invitation to either death or entrapment, or at the very least a perhaps permanent distraction from the mission at hand. Again, a profound about having to leave childhood and childish things behind, but also a great way to cause problems for a band of adventurers.
3. M. C. Escher was brilliant.
When I was a kid I was a huge fan of Escher - I had lots of books of his art, and often tried to emulate his weirder pieces. I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that he was as much an influence on my liking for the fantastic as Tolkien was. What I hadn't remembered at all was how much Labyrinth was directly influenced by him also: from the design of the Labyrinth to the faded delicate vistas to the layout of the goblin king's castle, Escher's mark is everywhere. I definitely think that as well as monstrous Things That Should Not Be, unlikely Buildings That Should Not Be should also make more appearances in fantasy gaming.