“A thousand years ago, the crystal cracked.” You will probably either love The Dark Crystal (1983), or hate it. I haven’t found too many people who were neutral about it. I’m in the first group. In fact, this is one of my favorite films (apart from one disclaimer- see spoiler at end), and this DVD edition has just that much more to love.
The Dark Crystal is a fairy tale, created in an imaginary world by Jim Henson and Frank Oz (Muppets). The story begins in an aging world where two ancient races are dying out. The Mystics embody all things natural and good. Their counterparts are the evil Skeksis. A triple conjunction of the three suns is approaching and a dying Mystic sends an orphaned Gelfling, Jen, on a quest to find the crystal shard. Jen must replace the shard in the huge cracked crystal before the conjunction. Jen is a small, vulnerable, elf-like creature. Along the way he meets Kira, a girl Gelfling, who joins him. They each had thought they were the only Gelfling left in the world.
The Skeksis' warriors are the crab-like Garthim, but the Gelflings are aided by the Landstriders, a fast-moving animal that is quite unique. Another race that comes into the story is that of the Podlings- small potato-like creatures, with a merry lifestyle who are often enslaved by the Skeksis, having their life-essence drained to sustain the life of a Skeksis for a few more days. The other major character is the ugly, but charming, Aughra, a seer who studies the heavens and aids Jen and Kira on their quest to return the shard to the crystal.
This movie, although “animated, ” could be quite scary for small children. I’d recommend that parents pre-screen before having a family movie night.
What makes this movie a marvel is that was made before computer graphics. It makes use of puppets, costumes and animatronics to create the illusion of this alternate world, and it fully succeeds. In my opinion, those who don’t care for this movie may simply have a hard time identifying with “animated” characters.
Yet, even for those who find The Dark Crystal too slow, or the characters less than engaging, it stands as a technical marvel of a film. Five years were required to shoot this 93 minute movie.
Jim Henson stated that The Dark Crystal was the work he was most proud of. Coming from the creator of the Muppets, that’s saying something. Other famous names associated with the film include co-producer Frank Oz. Gary Kurtz, of Star Wars fame, also produced this film. The world was based on drawings by fantasy illustrator Brian Froud, who worked with Henson and Oz to bring the film to the screen. Trevor Jones wrote the haunting score.
This edition has a digitally remastered film, which is significantly better than the VHS version. It is presented in wide-screen format.
Unlike many DVDs of old movies, there are extra features that are highly desirable. First of all, the one-hour short film, The World of the Dark Crystal, is included. This is an in-depth technical look at how the film was made. Some of the creatures are puppets. Many of them have a dancer inside, working in a contorted position which creates a convincing non-human creature. All have two to four support staff operating controls for eyes, ears, hands, etc. Some are radio controlled, while others are wired to the appropriate parts with cables. Remember when we were amazed just because Yoda’s ears moved in Star Wars? These “puppets, ” have highly expressive faces.
Deleted scenes of the funerals of the Skeksis emperor and the oldest Mystic are included. These have not been remastered, but are interesting, nonetheless. From the cutting-room floor, we are shown work prints of the emperor’s deathbed, selection of the new emporer, Jen meeting Aughra, the Podling village, Aughra and the Skeksis, draining of the life-essence from a Podling, and the presentation of Kira to the emperor.
You can also scroll through Froud illustrations of each of the Mystics (urRu) and the Skeksis. Their individual names and roles within the group are given.
Three trailers for this film are included, and trailers for two other Henson products.
Why do I like this movie so much? There are several reasons.
The fantasy world is believable. Henson and Oz created an entire world before they began telling a story within it. They imagined ecosystems, structures, races, etc., and all this planning shows in the cohesiveness of the movie.
The imaginative sentient races are supported by other life forms and geology, with intricate detail. There is a depth of plant and animal life that gives substance to the reality of the world. In a play, its called set dressing, and I love it!
I’ve never seen a better depiction of pure evil than what you will see in the Skeksis. There isn’t a single shred of goodness in these creatures, based on the seven deadly sins. In my opinion, it rivals the evil Weston, in C.S. Lewis’ Perelandra.
Up until the end, this fable is a perfect picture of the Christian life. Small, weak creatures have been charged by a higher power to live in such a way that good will be accomplished, no matter how insurmountable the odds seem.
Availability: Apparently this special edition can no longer be purchased new. If you are, or think you might be, a Dark Crystal fan, then watch for a copy of this classic.
Spoiler: OK... here comes the spoiler, and the one thing I can’t handle about this film. So stop reading if you don’t want to know how it ends. Jen does heal the crystal just in time for the conjunction of the three suns. When this happens the rays focused by the crystal draw the Mystics and the Skeksis into its force. There they are joined into one unified type of being. This, of course, is counter to the Christian world view, where good and evil are intrinsically separate.