[This is a review of the miniseries event, Labyrinth. There will be SPOILERS.]
The CW’s decision to purchase the rights to air the European import Labyrinth in the United States proves that the network is quickly becoming the playground for all genre-based programming. With shows like Arrow and their new breakout hit Reign, this fictitious historical narrative produced by Ridley Scott (Prometheus) and based off of Kate Mosse’s 2005 bestseller should fit right in.
Labyrinth, at first glance anyway, is everything a well-produced sprawling miniseries should be. The cast is top notch, featuring acting legend John Hurt (Doctor Who: The Day of the Doctor), as well as popular newcomers Sebastian Stan (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) and Jessica Brown Findlay (Downton Abbey). Even the production looks near film-like quality, with excellent set designs, costumes, and decent special effects. The question is, does all this glitz and glamor amount to anything?
Well, that’s a complicated answer. In short, Labyrinth gets it half right. Director Christopher Smith (Black Death) sets an engaging mood and tone to the story that’s difficult to look away from. He has an eye for picking the most visually striking shot; however, when that shot features characters no one cares about, then it doesn’t matter who’s behind the lens.
Character development is the half that Labyrinth fails to deliver on. Writers Adrian Hodges (My Week with Marilyn) and Kate Mosse are so obsessed with the “mysterious aura” surrounding their plot, they forget to make the players in the story interesting people for us to invest in.
Alice (Vanessa Kirby) and Alais (Jessica Brown Findlay) are two women connected by blood and time, with a destiny so great, only the legendary John Hurt could play the Obi-Wan-esque character named Audric Baillard to act as Alice’s guide in present-day France. Again, the actors do a fine job with what they are given, but Labyrinth is clearly more focused on its search for the Holy Grail.
These lovely women are caught in a centuries old war over ideals and power. As with any great epic, there are pieces to a puzzle that must be solved or collected. In this case, there are three books (numbers, potions, and words) under the protection of an ancient order, whose sole responsibility is to safeguard its whereabouts. The antagonists of this story seek to use the power of the grail for their own malevolent purposes. According to Baillard, the grail is not an actual chalice, but it can prolong one’s life for hundreds of years.
Using the grail as the central theme for Labyrinth could have been an interesting backdrop in a miniseries filled with talented actors, but the grail itself can’t be the only selling point for this story, or else it will fail.
Think about Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade. Steven Spielberg’s action-adventure flick featured Nazis and a search for the Cup of Christ, but that wasn’t what made the story so compelling. The heart of the film can be found in the relationship between Indiana (Harrison Ford) and his father (Sean Connery). Essentially, it’s a story about a father and son reuniting after years of separation. The love that the two men have for each other by the end of the film is what you come away with after seeing it.
Alice and Alais, though separated by 800 years of history, feel empty and unimportant. We are never given a reason to care about them outside of their connection to the fate of the grail.
Even with Labyrinth’s shortcomings, this reviewer applauds The CW for taking a chance on an ambitious project. While the network is still touted by many as the place where teens go to get their entertainment, that stereotype is quickly fading away as millions of fans are pledging their allegiance to their ever-expanding diverse lineup of series.
Labyrinth almost succeeded in creating an engaging world to get lost in, but forgot its most essential pieces, which are the people who populate the story. Game of Thrones cannot simply function on dragons and magic alone. Memorable characters like, Tyrion, Ayra, and Cersei are why so many people tune in each week. Who will you remember from Labyrinth?
For those of you who have read Kate Mosse’s book, does this miniseries adaptation do it justice? Also, would you like to see The CW feature more miniseries events like this one in the future? Personally, I think it would be great if they developed their own miniseries geared towards shows like Arrow and the upcoming Flash series.
Labyrinth aired May 22nd and May 23rd, 2014 on The CW.