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Episode #91: LABYRINTH

  

161 members have voted

  1. 1. Is LABYRINTH Canon?

    • Yes!
      74
    • Throw it in the Bog of Eternal Stench
      87


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Jim Henson brings his Muppets to a coming of age story, creating a cult classic. But is it cut or classic enough for the Canon?

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Pretty much agree with all the criticisms made in the show. Amazing technically, but so flawed in terms of story and tone. A definite no vote from me.

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If there is one part that should be included in the absolute of all film canonology it would be the riddle of the twin gatekeepers. It's like a million times harder than the riddle of the Sphinx.

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I agree with a lot about what was said in the podcast. There are lots of flaws. I saw this in the theater when I was 10 and liked it fine, but had no particular nostalgia for it. Revisiting it this week, I was astonished at how much of this film still works, and the sheer brilliance of the design aesthetic. There is no way that Guillermo Del Toro wasn't inspired by all that is going on here. It's a fun fantasy film, and there is a reason that there are still raving girl fans of it 30 years on. Soft YES for me.

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Haven't gotten around to watching this to vote yet, but I just wanted to say that I appreciate Devin's mention of Sliders. It's always the first things I think of when I think of Jerry O'Connell.

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i can't vote this one in - it's just not a terribly good story - interesting performances, sure, interesting themes, definitely? but the story itself is a bit muddled and generic.

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I had never seen this movie before so it was a pleasant surprise, both for its practical effects and for Bowie's acting (I like his music but never really got around to seeing his movies). The message of "life's not fair, but you'll learn to deal with it" and the surrealism of the plot are also strong, especially since that randomness of narrative reflects quite a bit of what it actually means to become an adult.

 

However, there are just too many flaws to make this movie canon-worthy. The pacing is awkward, the characters not terribly memorable and the whole movie is about 20 minutes too long. And while some of the scenes were clever (I particularly enjoyed Hoggle's introduction being him peeing into a pool and then gassing little faeries), most seem stuck somewhere between nonsense and obvious metaphor (which Lewis Carroll was able to handle far better). Moralistic fantasy is tough to pull off, especially when that moral of "Grow Up" is being offered by a studio and producer whose whole business model is built around their viewers/customers not growing up.

 

I can appreciate the place this film holds for some people, and I wouldn't mind watching it again, but it seems to me the flaws outweigh the strengths to a significant point.

 

Soft no.

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I'm going no on this one.

 

I feel like if I saw this as a kid I would adore this movie to this day. But as it stands, I only first saw it in my mid-twenties, and this movie doesn't do much for me. It's cute and fun, but it doesn't really feel like anything special to me. Yeah, it's technically impressive, and I'm always for great practical effects, but it's otherwise just an okay movie. Bowie notwithstanding there's not much in this that makes me think it's a great film.

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I didn't see this one until I was in my 20s, but I still thought it was terrific! The Henson creatures alone are utterly fantastic, and then there's Bowie doing awesome songs! Yes, the plot is maybe not the greatest thing ever, but it's still a YES for me.

 

I actually like it a lot more than The Dark Crystal, which I saw around the same time and mostly failed to connect to. Technically, it's similarly impressive as Labyrinth, but the story feels like the most generic "chosen one" fantasy drivel, and the lack of facial expressions on the puppets made it hard for me to care about the characters.

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I voted yes. While the movie does have issues with tone and a few scenes fall flat, the technical brilliance of the production and the performance by David Bowie push it into the level of greatness.

 

I haven't listened to the episode yet but I imagine the screenplay of the movie was shredded. I feel that critics (who are writers), tend to put too much focus on the writing of movies and not enough on the acting or visual elements.

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This is the hardest 'no' I've ever given (a film), but it's a no for me. I'm probably in the camp who holds this movie as an important part of my childhood. I didn't watch it again and again like Neverending Story, but I saw it enough times that it was one of the films that informed my sense of wonder and magic about life and the world. I've also been a massive Bowie fan for most of my life, and was pretty destroyed when he died. Now I didn't go back and re-watch it this week, but I own the DVD and I think I've seen it recently enough as an adult to have a reasonably objective opinion about it; and I agree with most of what you guys said. Going back to it as an adult, I was struck my how it dragged. It just feels a lot longer than it actually is. Devin mentioned the Dark Crystal (a film I didn't see until I was an adult) and how it is similarly boring, but I think in that case the pace works for the movie well enough because of the general otherworldliness of the entire movie and the pseudo-spiritual content. It takes on an almost mystical quality. With Labyrinth, it's essentially more of a kids' movie but one that gets bogged down by poor pacing. I still love it and will no doubt watch it (probably stoned) many more times, but it's not a great film.

Edit: Jennifer Connelly was in Argento's Phenomena right before this one. Also not a great film, but one of my favorites all the same.

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This movie has flaws, a lot of them but the awkwardness has always appealed to me and part of that is definitely linked to loving this movie so much when I was younger(which is not that long ago since I definitely fall on the younger end of people who love this movie). I don't know if I'm capable of separating objectively my intellect and my nostalgia but, my vote is still going to be a yes for this one, even if it's not the resounding yes I would like to give. The themes of femininity and coming of age, however muddled feel like they fill an important gap in the canon. I think somewhere in this mess of a movie is a message that is powerful and coherent. I think Devin and Amy hit on it exactly when they discussed the Junk Lady scene. Yes it is ironic coming from the fathers of nostalgia and maybe that's why it feels like it's pulling some of its punches but I still can't help but connect to this meandering mess.

 

I think the scenes between Bowie and Connelly have a definite charge and are the strength of the movie. My two favorite scenes in this movie are the ballroom scene and the finale. I love Connelly's journey from fantasizing about what she wants, to understanding her power to decide what is actually right for her. There are not a lot of movies for young girls that represent their power to end a relationship that is manipulative or unhealthy for them and most princess tales would encourage them to marry the guy. Connelly is annoying and flat but at least she is a female protagonist who has agency and unlike most of the male archetypes is not endowed with some sort of chosen one jedi mission. She gets things wrong, she is consistently denied help and learns that the universe is not actively against her it's just randomly unfair. Maybe this is the female goonies but for all it's flaws at least it's trying to be something empowering.

 

Yes to Labyrinth may it be an inspiration and someday spawn something un-arguably canon.

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A hardy "No," for Labyrinth despite its post-Bowie fervor that has so many people looking back fondly on his lesser work. Given a choice of something in this genre, a more persuasive argument could probably made for one of the Muppet films. Especially since the songs here are just terrible.

 

And Prince definitely wouldn't have worked as the Goblin King. Bowie was always passable onscreen, but Prince...RIP...was a terrible actor.

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I enjoy a lot of things about this film, but without the childhood-nostalgia factor I'm not seeing how it's anywhere near the Canon. Just because it had a great impact on a lot of children isn't enough, same as for Goonies (though this is a better movie than Goonies).

 

I'd much more readily vote for The Neverending Story over this. Neverending Story actually builds to an interesting thematic point in its final scenes, in that it becomes about the importance of storytelling and the audience keeping the storybook world alive by believing in it. It's trying to be ABOUT childhood imagination rather than just trafficking in it.

 

Labyrinth has some terrific visuals, great puppetry, an iconic Bowie role, and some fun/funny scenes, but as a story it doesn't add up to much. I like the idea of a coming-of-age fantasy for a young girl, but (1) Devin lays out why this one doesn't have a strong arc for the lead character, and (2) we already have one of those in the Canon (Pan's Labyrinth).

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Yes!

 

My day has come to defend "Labryinth" as a Canon-worthy film... Here it goes:

 

To start, I think there's a strong argument to be made for the film's Canon-status if only because more people have learned about Bowie through "Labryinth" than probably any other piece of media since its release. I think that will continue to be the case for generations to come. It's the gateway to turning people on the greatness of his music, and while the soundtrack is certainly not among his finest works (although I do like it a lot-- I'm a weirdo who loves 80's Bowie more than most), I think there's significance in recognizing that many, many people who only know a handful of Bowie songs are very likely to include "Magic Dance" next to "Space Oddity" and "Ziggy Stardust."

 

Next, I think the film works wonderfully on several thematic levels that can resonate for people of all ages and walks of life. It's a lovely feminist fable and one of the rare, great coming-of-age films starring a female character (more on that in a second), but I also love what it says about the nature of that broken thing called fandom and our relationship to the fiction we love.

 

I really like that Sarah is a geek; her room filled with fantasy books and games and action figures and dolls and paintings. I can imagine her being into D&D. But when she is thrust into the world of her story (whether this is literal or metaphorical, it makes no difference) she's confronted with not just the reality of the environment, but the reality of the *themes* and ideas that her stories represent ("You have no power over me").

 

Consider how modern fandoms operate now— here we live in a world where people who allegedly love Batman, Superman, Captain America, or whoever are the very same people threatening violence over trivial, inane reasons; people that supposedly adore and admire characters and stories who espouse virtues that they have zero consideration or understanding of.

 

And in some small way, that's what we have in Sarah; a character who has to learn the value of what being a hero in an adventure story really means, learning to not just love these things for the childish escapist fantasy they offer her, but for the ways they can shape her into a more responsible, emotionally-mature adult. Near the end, she’s even given the literal option of choosing between the worldly representations of her fandom, or rejecting the physical in order to accomplish the greater act of saving her brother (this moment, in particular, was mind-blowing for my 5 year old nephew when we watched "Labyrinth" awhile back; he really grappled with that, fearing for Toby's life and knowing it was the right thing for Sarah to save him, but at the cost of giving up EVERYTHING you own?! It was pretty cool to see that running through his head— This is a GREAT movie for kids, and it still works 30 years later).

 

So in the end, when Sarah has become a woman in her own right, I love that the little coda acknowledges that growing up and no longer being childish doesn't mean you need to reject "kids stuff" entirely— because having fiction, fantasy, and fandom in your life, even as an adult, is a worthwhile, lovely thing... even if it’s only needed "every once in a while.”

 

Now, I’m going to turn it over to my pal fursa saida from BMD; this is lifted from a discussion we had months back about the film, with her take on the film’s coming-of-age thematics:

 

 

[in “Labyrinth”] Sarah is her own villain. Jareth is simply a representation of her problem, which is a kind of childish selfishness: she doesn't understand others as real people, only as obstacles or annoyances or obligations. (This isn't an insult to Sarah; everyone goes through it. That's why it's a coming of age story.) This fact of her consciousness means that every one of the villains--the stepmother, the inconvenient baby, and eventually Jareth--isn't really A Villain; they're just a projection of a person as she understands them. The villains are all inside her; it's she who makes them villains. Her whole arc with Hoggle is literally about learning empathy and give-and-take so that she can overcome Jareth, which is to say herself, in the end. This maps onto the larger geographic framing because it's about learning to value the world around her as much as her interior one--not just in the sense of fantasy but in the sense of giving weight to people as they are, not just as you imagine them.

 

[You also have to view the film] as a fairy tale. Alice in Wonderland is not at all the first reference point, since that story too is a reference to fairy tales. Those become necessary here for two reasons: 1) they are mostly associated with liminal life moments (like coming of age), and 2) they foreground the interplay of consent when dealing with a catalytic otherworldly antagonist (in those stories, usually some kind of fairy, often the Queen; here, of course, Jareth). As Jareth himself points out, he did what he did because she asked him to. Even in the final showdown, he can't do anything without her consent. (This doesn't mean he can't make navigating that consent very tricky.)

 

[such] stories aren't about the fairies but about what happens after, or rather what the encounter with fairies makes possible. If you understand both my points then a few things happen. First, the consent part underlines the degree to which the whole issue is Sarah's understanding of herself, the world, and her place in it. She is not nearly so oppressed as she imagines, and she has the power to change her life by changing how she understands her life. In order to see people as people and not as villains, Sarah has to realize that she has power over herself, her actions, her choices, her perceptions. Second, much of the journey along the way makes more sense, because as I said re: Hoggle, it's about learning to look past the end of her own nose—hence all the emphasis on manners, and on observing the beings she encounters so as to interact with them most usefully. Third, Jareth comes off much more sensical, because his only motivation is to allow Sarah not to grow. He's only a projection of this childishness of hers. His weird romantic fixation with her is the fantasy of a teenage girl more than the predation of an ageless being; of course Sarah's literal excuse for a villain is also fascinated with her and does everything he does for and because of her. He doesn't have to function as a proper agent because in fact all the agency is Sarah's.

 

The line "Fear me, love me, do as I say, and I will be your slave" makes its best sense in this context: he's saying, don't grow, and I'll still do whatever you want. Don't grow and I'll help you not grow. So when Sarah says, "You have no power over me," it's a grasping of agency, but also--and the two are of course intimately connected--an acceptance of responsibility. In freeing herself of Jareth she binds herself into the social and familial web of responsibility, which is of course still a kind of freeing: she is freeing herself from the petulant cage of imagined oppression, to enter a more mature way of being that can navigate that web.

 

This is also why in the end Hoggle and the gang are still there when she needs them, but Jareth is not. There's no need for a paper villain anymore. He doesn't represent the healthy, beloved parts of childhood we all need to revisit from time to time; he's just literally the emotional constipation of a fourteen-year-old, and there's no need for him now.

 

Finally, I’d like to close with a few quotes from one of my favorite critics, Tim Brayton, who reviewed the film earlier this year:

 

 

On Bowie:

 

It's hard to imagine a better piece of casting for [Jareth] in this configuration: Henson apparently wanted Sting at first, and Michael Jackson was considered, but no-one, actor or singer or otherwise, could embody both sexuality and otherworldliness, as separate categories and as a single force, the way that Bowie did simply by virtue of being Bowie. His frame, his facial structure, the baggage about his career that the adults watching the film carry with them, and his uncomfortably probing examination of Connelly's face in their scenes together - all these things combine to present a perfect vision of sexual desire and sexual fear mingling. That's not even bothering to consider the extraordinary design of the Goblin King's costume and makeup, the latter giving him a leonine quality that only adds to the sense of watching a predator, sexual or otherwise. Nor the fact that Bowie's performance is pretty great in and of itself: most of the role is just standing there, but in the scenes where acting is necessary, he nailed everything required of him. Late in the film, he sings a fragment of a song, "Within You", expressing his disappointment at knowing that he'll never have Sarah as his consort, and the hauntingly sad look on his face injects an unexpected level of melancholy and sympathy for the villain. Particularly in a beautiful close-up that cinematographer Alex Thomson lights to leave Bowie's blue eye in light, his black eye in shadow, the shading wrapping perfectly around his downturned mouth.

 

On the visuals:

 

[The film] benefits immensely from a protagonist with exceptional screen presence and a villain thick with subtext, and beyond those things exists primarily to serve as a spine upon which visual conceits are supported. Ah, but what conceits! [The] film represents the physical manifestation of rich picture-book artwork to a massively impressive degree. From the moment Sarah leaves the grounding normalcy of her large suburban home, there's not one scene, and there's barely a single frame, that isn't a mesmerizing expression of impossible fantasy landscapes given tactile form, with the best-looking puppets and suits Henson's people had ever put together at that point in time populating them. For that matter, they never really would surpass the wide range of expressions seen on some of these characters, like the morally-grey dwarf Hoggle or the briefly-seen but insidiously thoughtful-looking Junk Lady, operated by Karen Prell.

 

On the film’s legacy:

 

Labyrinth creates an exceptional world to fall into, more confidently executed and ambitiously shot than anything in The Dark Crystal (there's an overhead shot during the "Magic Dance" musical number that's pretty much everybody's major point of reference for this movie, and it doesn't seem like much until you think of the engineering required to get every moving object in its right place), and perhaps more effective in its emotional appeal: though I am thinking less of the openly sweet moments than the legitimately distressing shifts into pretty straightforward horror (such as a pit of disembodied hands that form grotesque faces), It’s stuff that's hard to forget once it's been seen, and I can name no other fantasy movie from the genre-soaked '80s that matches it, for either quantity or quality of these primordially effective moments. What it can't do with clear or insightful storytelling, it enthusiastically does with stabs of dream imagery right in the heart… it’s one of the undeniable triumphs of pure fantasy in live-action cinema.

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I kinda wish we could have done a versus between this and The Goonies, if we had to do some 80's coming-of-age showdown--though I also love The Never-Ending Story. That said, I have no love, nor any enthusiasm for this film. This is still a hard no. When we get Nicolas Roeg up to bat, I'll be happy to give Bowie another shot. When we do Requiem for a Dream, I'll be glad to get Connelly in the canon. As it stands, I'm not convinced.

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I have to vote no. While the technical work and practical effects were great, the film itself was boring and desperately needed editing.

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I love Bowie and the puppets, and there are a couple of scenes I really like, but like Devin said it's just so airless. No tension at all. I feel like this movie deserves a do-over because there was some great potential here. For a film that drags this much I have to say "no".

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Wow, this one is much more contentious than I'd expected. I didn't watch this movie until a few months ago (at age 27), so I didn't have the same connection to it that some of the other women I know do. However, I still liked it quite a bit. I see everything Devin and Amy are saying about the pace being slow and the tone being a little all over the place, but I think they're both underestimating how influential this movie is.

 

Nick makes a nice point above about Del Toro's style and I can't even count the number of times I've seen a comic book creator lovingly refer to this movie. That's part of why I finally decided to watch this, because I suspected I was missing something in the art I was consuming. I'd venture to guess that its influence is based more on artists' (of all types) general approach to fantasy/fiction or even production design/costuming and perhaps more difficult to point out, but maybe I'm just covering because I can't think of a specific example. I also think it's difficult to ignore how important this film is to so many women, so, I'm voting yes.

 

Regardless of the cultural value, though, I also think there's a lot to like in the film. I'll add my voice to those praising the effects and the overall look. It's incredibly imaginative. I hate the big orange puppet dance sequence and think it's the film's biggest waste of time, but I find just about everything else to be totally worth watching. That said, I appreciate the way the film swings wildly from dark to light from one moment to the next because it adds to the film's overall point: that becoming an adult is often scary, exciting and confusing in equal measure. That's particularly true of the sexuality Bowie represents.

 

Speaking of, I think what's under the tights is 100% real.

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I've watched, re-watched, and re-watched this film time an time again. I would've loved to have this movie square off against Ridley Scott's 'Legend", which i think is a much better an much more sexual and kinky movie, but I'm throwing my hat in the ring with a hearty 'Yes". I've been in love with Jennifer Connelly my entire life- whether it's this or in Dario Argento's little seen 'Phenomena' (I'm surprised Devin didn't mention that, which I believe *is* her first feature) and I adore her in this film, alongside David Bowie's soundtrack, which isn't exactly "Young Americans", but is still wonderful. As well as to just have a Jim Henson movie in the Canon....

 

Oh, and because 'Pennies From Heaven' and 'Working Girl' are in The Canon. So fuck it.

 

PS I would so love to watch a version of this movie designed by Luis Royo, rather than Brian Froud. I've never been a yuge fan of Froud's artwork honestly.

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Speaking of Legend the podcast Stuff Mom Never Told You just did a really interesting episode on Sexuality and Unicorn myths.

 

P.S. I fucking love Tim Curry so hard in that movie.

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This film has brought more joy to my life than half the canon entries combined so I can't bring myself to vote "no" despite its obvious flaws. It's just a really creative film with a female protagonist that learns some lessons about growing up that don't revolve around her falling for some boring dip-shit dude, a fatal flaw in a lot of other female coming of age stories.

 

I really dig genre films that are made for a female audience in mind, particularly for young girls who tend to get stuck with princess films and not a lot else (not that there's anything wrong with enjoying princess films or that girls don't frequently like things that are "for boys", but you get my point). I also liked what was mentioned about Jareth being modeled to be attractive to women-it's totally true, a lot of women my age and older are still totally into him and joke about Sarah making the wrong choice at the end. Really sucks this most likely won't be voted in, and next week's episode, one of the ultimate guy coming of age stories, almost certainly will.

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In an alternate universe, one of those twenty-odd scripts was made into a movie that, coupled with the technical achievements, transcended both story and effects and there's no argument that this film should be in the Canon.

 

But we have to live in this universe, so I'm voting "no".

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Y'know, Damn you both, Devin and Amy.

 

With love, but still.

 

I've been such a stick-in-the-mud, fuddy-duddy, gatekeeper, whatever over the last year or so. Bitter that fully 3/4ths of all films put up should be so easily put into the Moste Vauntede Canone. But **** it, I wanted Pennies From Heaven put in, and I want Labyrinth put in. Have I been possessed by a poltergeist? Or have I been hypnotized by A) nostalgia B ) Bowie (I won't say what part of him), C) Very positive memories of later Jennifer Connelly films, D) the Python connection, or E) the Henson connection. Who cares? I'm not so much a critic this....month....I'm just a fan. I have no limits to my lack-of-objectivity. I'm running wild on something!

 

Why Labyrinth? Because I want more films like it. Sure, it doesn't quite work. But it's EXACTLY the type of film I'd want young, hungry (probably well-connected) filmmakers today to look to for inspiration. I want young Hollywood execs saying "I want to make this generation's Labyrinth!". Not re-make (though that wouldn't be the worst idea given recent trends), but to make a new film based on what Labyrinth was trying to be, and the approach the filmmakers took to making it. Fury Road beat out Road Warrior, despite 30 years of riDICulously out-sized influence, because Amy really wanted to push it, not just as "the better film", but as a movie to inspire others. And so with Labyrinth. Inspire. And improve. I can't think of a better flawed film to base your own filmmaking dreams on.

 

The world needs more Labyrinths. Faulty productions. Rough-around-the-edges. Editing....problems. But nonetheless a film that brought tons and oodles of good people together to make something they hoped would be special to a generation. And which succeeded, even if not exactly as they had intended.

 

It's a cult film. It's a film that should inspire more filmmakers. It's well-worth watching, if only to better understand what wonderful things the Jim Henson workshops and Greater Muppetsylvania has meant over the years. No amount of $100 million CGI can fully replace this kind of simple inspiration.

 

Damn the faults, full speed ahead! YES, YES, YEEEEEEEEEEEEESSSSSS on inclusion to The Canon!!!

 

P.S. I will, almost certainly, revert to form with the next movie. "Stand By Me", while a competent film, just doesn't strike me, in any way, shape or form, as a movie that really means anything, except maybe to the people who grew up watching it. Which I didn't. Sorry. River Phoenix? Corey Feldman? Guy from Sliders? Wesley Crusher? Jack Bauer? Meh.....the film is OK. I don't feel the feels. I suspect part of my vote (not the result, just this post), is partly based on how bored I suspect I'll be next Monday. I'll listen all the same. But I just don't connect with this film, and I doubt I ever will.

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