The Dark Crystal (1982)
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Jim Henson and crew spent much to much time creating this movie, and the depth of their effort shows. However, some adults might find the story simplistic, and it is in the same manner that Labyrinth is. However, like Labyrinth, Dark Crystal succeeds in taking you to another place and immersing you in another world.
If you are a viewer interested in fantasy worlds, Dark Crystal will please you well. If you haven't seen it in years, get the DVD. It has a wonderful "making of" section, deleted funeral scenes, and isolated musical score.
It was also good for it's symbolism as well. The Dark Crystal like many classic children's shows and movies of its time did not talk down to kids nor underestimate their intelligence for that matter. In fact, the morals and symbolism appeals to non-discriminating adults as well.
P.S. I think the Skeksis are awesome! Especially the General, Chamberlain and the Mad Scientist Skeksis!
I must comment on Brian Froud for his conceptual art for each race in the film. And also Trevor Jones' excellent music score too. Very good job, guys, you are AWESOME! My favorite scenes are when Jen visits Aughra to retrieve the crystal shard, and also when he meets Kira his main squeeze (*giggles*). I also love the scene when Jen & Kira are at the old Gelfling ruins.
The film is set in another world, in another time in an age of wonder. It has been 999 years and 1 year since the powerful, life-giving crystal cracked and stopping shining. Since then the land has become barren and the Urskeks (a race of God-like beings) have split into two separate races, the peaceful Uru 'Mystics' and the evil Skeksis-a horrific cross between bird and reptile. The three suns that shine upon the land are about to line up in a great conjunction that only happens once every 1000 years. If the crystal is not repaired before then the cruel Skeksis will rule the land forever.
Jen is a Gelfling (a sort of fairy creature), believed to be the last of his race. A prophecy tells of a single Gelfling defeating the Skeksis and restoring peace to the land. Raised by the Uru, Jen begins a journey to repair the crystal when the Skeksis Emperor dies (in a truly disturbing scene). On his way he meets Aughra, a sort of witch creature and Kira, another Gelfling and her race of Podling people (sort of like Fraggles). Though there is no specific love scene between them, there is a very nice romance developing through-out the story.
Filmed in gorgeous locations across England and Scotland (with the use of a lot of matte paintings of course) the film really, really does take you to another world. There's not a single human in sight (a perfect world or what) and, with exception to the awful Skeksis, almost every creature is cute and fluffy (such as Kira's Fizzgig). The production design, in particular the genius contributions by Brian Froud, is so immense and impressive that you wish you could jump through the screen and actually be there in order to appreciate it more.
Trevor Jones' breathtaking, beautiful score is among his best work (tying with Merlin in 1998) and is surely some of the best film music you are ever likely to hear. Ever! There was a limited edition of the score put on CD a few years ago but only 5000 were ever printed. It's sure to be quite expensive now but it's so goddamn worth it! Henson, Oz and Froud teamed up again a few years later to make Labyrinth which seems to be more fondly remembered as it's not as sinister as The Dark Crystal and has human actors in it to make it more accessible to those with narrower minds. I prefer this one though (no fruity songs, no David Bowie!) as it has a certain edge to it that Labyrinth lacks.
An epic. A masterpiece. An unforgettable classic. The Dark Crystal is magical, mystical timeless classic. I can't recommend it enough. If only we still had movies like this. I'll take risk-taking The Dark Crystal over PC drek like The Shaggy Dog any day.
But I *love* it.
This is a dark, ponderous, elegant, film. The emotional tones are murky, sometimes quiet, sometimes startlingly loud, always alien and dreamlike and only ever vaguely comprehensible. The design is just drop-dead gorgeous, and entire alien WORLD brought to life. It's mesmerising, and more details can be found buried deep within it on every viewing. Thick layers of meaning were woven into this movie, revealed only when reading the accompanying coffee-table book, which records in a painstaking watchmaker's manner every tiny bit of "iceberg" under the surface of this story.
There ought to be a word for the feelings aroused by this film, a word that means "alien yet hauntingly familiar". I still get the same dreamy mood as I did when I first saw this film many years ago when this movie begins, the first crash of the cymbal and the first recital of the theme of the Skekses sounding as if from terribly far away, a high, yearning phrase on a single horn, lonely and beautiful, calling from another time. The Age of Wonder.
It's what this film's all about, Wonder. There's no explaining it to people who don't like that sort of right-brain thing, they just won't like it.
Why does it make sense that staring into the reflection of a cracked crystal from deep within the bowels of a tortured castle will, with the aid of some ugly machinery, suck out your very soul? That the Trial Stone glows when it's cleaved completely in two by the General? That the shard responds to the notes of Jen's pipe? It doesn't, of course, but it DOES.
I also love the pace and the mechanical plot. This is the one film whose mechanical plot I must forgive, and even love, as it's supposed to be mechanical. The sand painting diagram at the beginning of the movie is a representation of the history of the entire world, including the events to come. The whole world is one huge piece of metaphysical clockwork, and so the film is as well, the tension building clearly and slowly towards the extraordinary climax, which still gives me the shivers... Prophecies are stupid things to have in films, except this film, in which the prophecy is the entire point of the movie instead of an unnecessary condiment. The slow machinery of this movie lends a great weight to it, the feeling that vast, invisible forces are at work intensifies pace by implacable Mystic pace...
I also approve of the ending's inherent mysticism, taken straight from Jung, the key to transcendence being the joining of the Ego with the Shadow, the Skekses and Mystics representing these structures respectively. It's true, and this film says so, pretty much in so many words.
It's not at all surprising that it's not very popular with people who don't particularly buy into the things I've outlined above. It's geologically slow. It's inhuman. It's VERY weird. But it does all these things *deliberately* with an artistry rarely seen these days.
And I just love the music...
WHY, is this movie so hard to find ?!! I´m fortunate enough to have a copy of it, but it isn´t a very good copy at all, because it was taped about 10 years ago, from a movie channel, and it´s got tons and tons of satelite interferences and "rain" in the image. At least i get to own the movie. I guess...
The first time i´ve seen anything about DARK CRYSTAL, was back in 1982 when i was 12 years old. I wento to see Spielberg´s - ET, and before it, the presentation movie trailer for DARK CRYSTAL came on the screen. I remember that i was much more impressed by it, than by ET. By the end, all i wanted to know was when DARK CRYSTAL would be on the theater. I was so impressed by it, that those 2 minutes from the presentation stayed in my mind ever since, and all that i remember from the day i went to see ET, was that i watched 2 minutes of something that i never thought it existed or would be possible. Remember it was 1982, and in those days, children´s programs on tv didn´t included the amount of fantasy stuff that it is showned today, so watching that was somehow a revelation for me.
Anyway 6 year later i got to finaly see it, on a forgotten childrens matinee, and i loved every minute of it, altough i felt even then that it had some dull parts in it. Somehow there is something diferent with the pace this story is told. Even now i feel this, each time i watch DARK CRYSTAL.
But this is just a minor thing. Maybe i´m being just picky. Because DARK CRYSTAL is a masterpiece, it might have its flaws, but that doesn´t prevent it from being one of the greatest fantasy movies ever. Even though is so forgotten by everyone. Even i forget i have it. In a way, this is an Historical movie, because to my knowledge this was the first time that the atmosphere from the now common fantasy novels was portraited in a movie. And what a begining !!! Jim Henson got it right, right at the first try !
Every time i watch this i only wished he had lived enough time to adapt TOLKIEN´s - LORD OF THE RINGS to the movies. He would make a fantastic job for sure.
With DARK CRYSTAL ,Jim Henson achieved a perfect balance between a kids movie and a fantasy movie for adult viewers. This only added credibility to the world he created for this story. Just for this alone he should be praised. He showed the way, a fantasy movie should be made, but nobody in Hollywood seem to have learned anything from it.
I have read that DARK CRYSTAL, was a comercial flop, because it was released during the ET days, and not many people went to see it. Wich is a sad thing, because a masterpiece like this deserved to have filled the theaters. Maybe adults thought it was just for kids and the kids wanted to see ET, so it flopped. I read that even american reviews attacked DARK CRYSTAL. Maybe it was the usual in america, when a movie can´t be put in a category, nobody makes many efforts to publicize it. And i bet this was a nightmare to some people who had to publicize it. How would they present it ?
So if, you can find it, you have to see this movie ! I f you like fantasy, you´ll go nuts with it. Only the landscapes are enough to make anyone drool. The story is very,very good and much more adult oriented than it might seem at first, the pecial effects are pefect for it, the soundtrack is excelent, and the characters are very lifelike and believable. I only don´t like very much of the hero, it feels to much like a pupet. Compared to the others is a bit strange.
It´s time DARK CRYSTAL gets the atention it desrerves, this is a brilliant movie.
This is one of the very best fantasy films ever.
I cannot think of another film with more interesting effects than this one. This is not just working, it is a pleasure to see it work. You have all this living creatures, that wonderful nature, that realistic but yet fantastic mood.
The writing seem to be minimalistic, and is heavily compensated with all the beautiful elements in the picture. Fantastic landscapes, mystic creatures and a great mix of colors all over the screen, though the film remains minimalistic.
Terry Jones music contributes with a lot of emotions and mood, maybe one of my favorite-soundtracks.
Much more can be said about the film. Most of it should be good things. It is a pity that some seems to unlike with, whatever the reasons are. I highly recommend it for any lover of the cinema.
Rating: 10 of 10.
Our world is a dimmer place without Jim Henson.
I would like to comment more on the plot, but I was too busy waiting in terror for the next horrific creature to take much notice. From what I could gather, it was a fairly typical fantasy story of good and evil. What makes the film stand out from the norm is the fact that both the skeksis and the mystics were once as one, all powerful beings of great wisdom and benevolence. This is an obvious yet stunningly powerful metaphor for the eternal battle between good and evil in the human conscience. The immense evil of the skeksis is so brilliantly portrayed that it affects the viewer in an unforgettable way.
The film deserves a high score just for the fear it strikes into the heart of its audience. It is one of the most effectively scary films ever made, and the shadows of those horrific skeksis will haunt you for many dark nights to follow. I give 'The Dark Crystal' a 9.
Whenever I associate Jim Henson I associate him with innovation to the genre he did direct two great Fantasy films in the decade. I say they were both great. Labyrinth wasn't as visually stunning as Dark Crystal had been.
The first I gazed on this movie I was awed the next time I saw it I said "Dang". This movie continued to be good in motion picture artistry.
Jim Henson was successful in conjuring up good movie magic with characters that were designed greatly. I liked this movie because at the end I screamed, "This is Fantasy!!!!!"
Made me feel like I was in another mystical world.
I give it a 10!
So in closeing i would recommend this movie to any family lookin for a fun ride and a great story.
If you haven't seen 'The Dark Crystal', then basically the story is set on an alternate universe where peace was shattered one thousand years ago by the fragmentation of a white crystal. It created two races from a pure one; the good gentle Mystics, and the evil reptile-like Skeksis! Only ten of each race exists presently, and each one has a corresponding other in the opposing race! This world has a prophecy, where a small elf human-like creature called the Gelf-ling will mend the now Dark Crystal! The Skeksis wipe out all the Gelf-ling, except one called Jen, who is protected by the Mystics. Anyway, Jen is our hero, and he must go on a quest to find the lost shard, and repair the crystals before the three sons eclipse. Along the way there is a few surprises, as Jen find out more about his race and himself, as well as the Skeksis's attempts to thwart him.
You get the general idea.
When I was younger, I guess I was so wowed by the world that was created; I really didn't pay attention to how simplistic the story really is. In my recent viewing, I was very aware of the contrived nature of the story and script. Jen was really going through the motions, and everything does seem to fall easily into place (i.e. Kira's wings, the calling of the Land Striders), and it seems to go to too fast. 'The Dark Crystal' really doesn't seem epic enough, and you'd think Jen would have been better prepared for the endeavour, from day one by his Master. But no, his Master tells at the very last minute before he bites the big one. Jen's thoughts are used as the narrative, and for the most part, that works, especially during a clever sequence that displays Jen's and Kira's histories through mind melding! Convenient but cleverly done, and even now, I liked that moment a lot. However, to me, 'The Dark Crystal' seems to really lack a good nemesis, as The Chamberlain's motives are simply to get into the Skeksis's favour, and The General is more concerned about eating than doing any major evil acts!
I remember The Slave Master draining the Podling of its essence, and finding that scene quite scary when I was younger. Now, I was more aware of how the Podlings closely resembled Jim Henson's Muppets (especially during their first appearance). Also, now, I noticed the stilts for the Land Striders! I don't know if I noticed the technical presence of the Land Strider in earlier viewings, but it seemed obvious now how they did it (and that was before I watched the making-of too!). Still, I did think the incest bug creatures were awesomely effective even by today's standards, and they certainly sent shivers down my spine on my first viewing! Regardless, of the issues I have with the story now, or with being able to see some of the techniques in how it was done easier, I still can't get past the sheer genius of Jim Henson and Frank Oz. The puppets are simply superb creations for its time and the art direction brings the viewer into another world. While a film like 'Lord of the Rings' uses its "world" as a backdrop to the complexities of the story and characters, 'The Dark Crystal' draws you into its universe by showing you what its "world" is made up of- a perfect example of this, is the dissolves shots of the very alive jungle before Jen meets Kira! Things are happening in that Jungle that gives the viewer an idea of the creatures that inhabit that world- even if they aren't relevant to the story! 'The Dark Crystal' works as simple fantasy and escapist fare, and while the story and characters may not be as complex as 'Star Wars' or 'Lord of the Rings', it must be noted that this entirely puppet orientated film is smaller in narrative scope and not as epic considering its only one film, and not three films. 'The Dark Crystal's' scope belongs in the world we see on screen, and the creatures that inhabit it! For a stand-alone film, I think 'The Dark Crystal' holds up even now, if not for the sheer effort into creating these puppets and bringing them into life convincingly.
Personally, 'The Dark Crystal' will always hold a special place for me, considering I thought highly of it when I was younger. Don't get me wrong, I still preferred 'Star Wars' as the pinnacle back then, but 'The Dark Crystal' was always unique in my mind, both visually, and in its creature f/x! One thing is certain, Jim Henson and Frank Oz had created a memorable film with a sense of aura about it. As well as 'Labyrinth' and many of the famous Muppets that have become icons, 'The Dark Crystal' will always be one of the unique and treasured film contributions from Jim Henson's legacy! And for my two cents, 'The Dark Crystal' is a great film for the kids and adults alike! **** out of *****!
So I'll try to point out the positive side of this movie first. It's the puppetry that makes this movie worth a look. Jim Henson created a whole world here, and everything from the actors and the animals down to the smallest critters and plants are fluffy animated puppets. My favourite was the dog creature, although or maybe just because it was a rip off of Animal from the Muppet Show. Oh, and the Mystics are cute, too.
Now on the flip side, the story was just shallow. The evil is truly evil and repugnant in every way and the good Mystics are a dying race of indigenous shamans. Very new agey. The black and white moral here made me angry actually. A main character who lacks any depth gets sent on a mission to repair the dark crystal and **SPOILERS** succeeds in doing so. No character development or twist whatsoever. Hey, a film can have levels and still be understood by children.
The simpleness of the story and the beauty of animation makes it in fact ideal for small children to watch BUT I can see how some of the scenes are very scary. Getting your life energy sucked out? Stabbing? A horse-bunny eaten by gargantuan roaches? I wouldn't recommend Dark Crystal for children under 5. Children older than 14 might find it boring again. (Obviously some don't as the rave reviews here on the board suggest)
With a more critical adult eye, the problems with this film are sadly obvious. Start right off the bat with about three minutes of exposition droning on and on about the crystal, the Skeksis and the Mystics. This is a movie, not a book. Show me, don't tell me.
The color palette seems borrowed from Star Trek The Motion Picture: bland pastels and khakis as far as the eye can see except for the bad guys who are all black from top to bottom so as to be indistinct and muddy looking. That being said, a lot of effort went into making the landscape seem alien and in that area the film makers succeeded greatly.
The story is strictly by the numbers. Small but doughty innocent must take the ring to Mount Doom to get rid of Sauron, no wait, I mean he must take the crystal shard to the evil castle to get rid of the Skeksis. Along the way he meets strange and wonderful, sometimes dangerous creatures and also picks up a sidekick. Been there. Done that.
Character development is non-existent, although that is fairly common in this genre. The main characters are particularly dull and without nuance. The bad guys are all bad and nearly indistinguishable. The counterpart good guys have zero personality. With little to no information about character backgrounds, there's no real motivations here and as such it's just plain hard to care about anybody. Again this isn't a fatal flaw, it's just too bad that the guy who created Kermit, Miss Piggy and Big Bird couldn't be bothered with injecting some actual character traits into his characters.
I must say that the puppetry in this movie is simply amazing - the best I've ever seen. That's both the movie's saving grace and its fatal flaw. While the puppeteers certainly push the envelope, it's painfully obvious that the envelope is ultimately too constricting. Simply put: the limitations on what one can do with puppets get in the way making the movie work in a believable fashion. The classic problem with any puppet is its hands. Puppet hands can't pick up, grasp or manipulate anything in a realistic way. And that's too bad because it detracts from what actions are possible for the characters. The screen writer and director must always work around this limitation. The most obvious example of this is the big evil insect creatures. Their pincers seem clumsy and fake, not menacing like they should. Still, I must admit that great strides were made to overcome these problems, but in the end I don't think the film makers succeeded in overcoming enough.
And that leads to my last issue. Seeing the movie again, it's obvious that The Dark Crystal didn't age too well. What may have been pretty neat special effects and cool puppet tricks back in 1982 are decidedly ho-hum now in this age of CGI wonders. I'm left wondering why one would bother to expend so much effort to make a puppet world look real. It's akin to trying to breed the fastest horse for transportation in an age when even the cheapest automobile will always be faster. I admire the effort spent, I just question the wisdom of it.
The Dark Crystal takes place in a fantasy land that has fallen out of balance and turned evil because "the dark crystal" has lost a shard. Then comes Jen, a "gelfling", a small creature with a sweet face and long hair. Jen has has been raised by the "mystics" large, peaceful creatures that tell him he is the last of his kind. He is the last of his kind because the "skeksies" have killed all the gelflings due to a prophesy that a gelfling will overthrow their reign. The skeksies are evil, bird/reptile like creatures that are the complete opposite of the mystics. Simultaneously, the leader of the skeksies and leader of the mystics die, and Jen goes on a quest to find the missing shard in the Dark Crystal. On his journey Jen finds Kira, a female gelfling raised by "podlings", who also believed she was the last of her kind. Together, Kira and Jen must find a way to restore the shard to the dark crystal, therefore creating balance in their world once more.
This movie is a visual feast. It is absolutely amazing what Henson managed to do with the muppets and the worlds he created. As many have said it is even more amazing to see it in comparison to today's CGI and advanced special effects, and appear superior. The plot is also solid, with lots of meaning and spirit. However I personally always found the film difficult to enjoy. As a child this movie gave me horrible nightmares, as it did for many other people. This is probably high on the list of traumatizing children's movies! So parents be forewarned, this shouldn't be shown to children under age 8, or even those a bit older who scare easily. In fact, adults can still find many aspects of this film disturbing, including scary characters, music, voices, and actions. One of the most disturbing aspects is how the skeksies would suck the "essence" (soul) out of podlings, drink it to prolong their own youth, and then make the podlings into slaves. As an adult I can look past the scary parts to recognize how well the film is made and written, but I still find it difficult to enjoy. That aside, it's definitely worth a watch.
There is no other way to describe this film other than those two words. It's about a fictional land where these weird vulture creatures called the Skekses rule the land and do as they please. There is an almost extinct race of creatures called the Gelflings that can stop the Skekses. The film follows our main character Jen as he travels to stop these horrible creatures. The movie is done with puppets and it looks amazing especially for the time. I highly recommend this mixture of fantasy with black humor.
My rating: *** 1/2 out of ****. 92 mins. PG for some violence.