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Labyrinth: David Bowie's 'Perv Pants' Are More Important Than You Likely Thought

The 1986 Jim Henson/George Lucas fantasy adventure "Labyrinth" is a Generation X touchstone that still holds up nearly four decades after its release. It stars Jennifer Connelly as a 16-year-old girl named Sarah who goes on a coming-of-age hero's journey to recover her baby brother from his kidnapper, the goblin king Jareth (David Bowie). The film's world is inhabited by a bevy of characters straight out of the books that line the shelves of Sarah's room, including Grimm fairy tales and Maurice Sendak's "Where the Wild Things Are." Jareth's look is similarly wild, with a flowing, punkish blond hairdo, a leather vest, winged eyeliner, and tight grey pantaloons that leave little to the imagination in the crotch region.

Sarah's magical journey takes her through the titular stone maze, a flatulent swamp, and an impossibly constructed array of staircases and landings that mirror the M.C. Esher poster that hangs on her bedroom wall. Brian Froud, the conceptual artist for the film, told Empire magazine in 2012 that Bowie's revealing pants were meant to be a reflection of Sarah's transition from girlhood into womanhood, a phase her stepmother (Shelley Thompson) references in the film's opening scenes.

"We're not looking at reality, we're inside this girl's head," Froud said. "... There's the danger of a leather boy in his leather jacket ... and the tight trousers are a reference to ballet dancers. He's an amalgam of the inner fantasies of this girl. Everyone always talks about Bowie's perv pants, but there was a reason for it all! It has a surface that's fairly light, but then every so often you go, 'Oh, my God! How did we get away with that?!'"

Jareth was almost played by Michael Jackson

Most of the characters in "Labyrinth," including Jareth, were manifestations of Sarah's teenage brain, which had been filled with years of the influence of Sendak, Grimm, and highly sexualized glam rock stars of the era. Screenwriter Terry Jones said his initial draft kept Jareth hidden for most of the film, only to be revealed near the end, Wizard of Oz style. Director Jim Henson nixed that idea and suggested Bowie or another '80s musical powerhouse be brought on to play Jareth. "Jim wanted to approach Michael Jackson or David Bowie to play Jareth, and have him sing and appear all the way through," Jones said. "I had to re-write it to fit in with that." 

Imagining Jackson's impish boyishness in place of Bowie's menacing creepiness as Jareth makes for an entirely different film, and it would have brought "Labyrinth" much closer to the "Wizard of Oz"-type story that Jones initially envisioned. But although Bowie's Jareth is the crystal-cold heart of the film, Henson's puppets are its soul. The world of films like "Labyrinth" and its close cousin "The Dark Crystal" truly belongs to Henson, and we are all fortunate to just have been able to dip into them for a couple of hours at a time.