Synopsis: Enjoy incredible footage from the Henson archives in The Dark Crystal. Travel back in time to the faraway planet of Thra. Cheer on the Mystics as they fight to overthrow the evil Skeksis and take back control of their planet! When Jen, a member of the Gelfling tribe, sets out to find the crystal’s missing shard, his dangerous journey brings him face to face with monsters at every turn. Determined to restore peace to their planet, Jen will not back down! From the brilliant imagination of Jim Henson, this masterpiece of animation recounts the timeless tale of good vs. evil and has become a cult favorite of children and grown-ups alike!
The Dark Crystal 8.0
In his sadly aborted run as the creator of some of the world’s most beloved television and film characters, Jim Henson showed us quite the human being. His worlds were always inhabited by personages with good (if sometimes misguided) intentions, aspirations for a better world, empathy for others and humour even in the face of fading hopes. As a human being he exuded ’60s-style idealism and a vibrancy that was infectious.
I hate to be a darkling, but I wonder if how he would fit in today’s social landscape. And would he recognize his creations, now owned by Disney? After watching ‘The Dark Crystal’, one has to wonder if he didn’t see it all coming… if he wasn’t a little prescient as well as visionary.
In ‘The Dark Crystal’, one discovers a world that has been fragmented into two parts between the Skeksis and the Mystics. The Skeksis have since had a run of the land and, in their growing corruption, have enslaved many of its inhabitants. Meanwhile, the Mystics keep to themselves, letting things unfold unchallenged as they await the day when a chosen one will bring the two parts together – by restoring the shattered Dark Crystal.
Personally, I see quite the parallel with our deficient democratic institutions, replete with power-driven, corrupt officials running our lands without due concern for its population, with only their own gains -both political and financial- in mind. Meanwhile, here we are distracted, barely showing up to vote, doing other things while we wait for someone else to take care of business for us, waiting for the day when things are magically brought back to balance.
Of course, in the fairytale, it is quite clear how close to oblivion the Mystics let things develop. Conversely, I’m not sure how cognizant we are of our own fate, of how aware we are of the perils our society is facing right now. And I don’t claim to know either – it all seems beyond what I can grasp.
Be that as it may, in this respect, ‘The Dark Crystal’ is still a relevant work – even though the puppetry has now been supplanted by CGI and the special effects have been eclipsed by… uh… more CGI. I think that was the strength of most of Henson’s creations: while some of it has become dated stylistically, the ideas he imbued them with remain fresh well beyond his passing.
But ‘The Dark Crystal’ is not a film that flows very easily. Every single time I watched it I have marvelled at this whole world that was created out of scratch, but found that the film just slogged onward in a less-than-exciting way. Every. Single. Time. Unfailingly.
I can’t quite pinpoint what doesn’t draw me in, because the story and the script are, frankly, pretty good. Maybe it’s that the main character, Jem, isn’t really given life, and is much like Pinocchio would be had he never encountered the Blue Fairy. Or maybe the world he inhabits is only amazing to look at from a technical standpoint, but doesn’t actually awe – it is, after all, a relatively bleak reality. I don’t really know what it is, but something has always kept me at bay, emotionally.
It IS, however, a grandiose piece of visual art: the character designs are très cool indeed, the set designs are top-notch, the attention to detail is impressive, and the puppetry is (mostly) very good. Even the voice work is excellent (although the Chamberlain made me think of Grover a bit too much!). From a purely creative perspective, this film is aces – not only a lot went into it, but it was almost all handmade (no CGI! ). Hence the rating I feel compelled to give it.
It’s strange but, as I watched this yesterday, I started seeing parallels between ‘The Dark Crystal’ and ‘Return of The Jedi’ (as well as ‘The Empire Strikes Back’). Perhaps it’s because Frank Oz worked on both, but there were little moments such as when Jem’s master and mentor dies (he simply disappears and the blanket he was covered with floated down on his resting place), that were… um… somewhat familiar.
Perhaps it can just be chalked up to the clichés of the genre; maybe these elements are common to many fantasy stories. I’m no expert. But I was at least reassured to see that this film came out a full year before ‘ROTJ’ (most of the similarities are with that film, not ‘ESB’) did; at least, if someone ripped anyone off, it was good ol’ George Lucas who had sticky fingers – not Jim Henson or Frank Oz.
Anyway, as the film wound down, I got the impression that I wouldn’t be seeing it again for a long while. I’ve only seen it a handful of times since my first time, about a decade ago, but I still think I’m saturated. The key problem is that the story is good, but not engrossing. And watching it for the visuals alone isn’t enough incentive at this point.
But if the film had engaged me emotionally, if it had really grabbed hold of me, I would have given the film a 9.0 – there’s so much breathtaking craft in ‘The Dark Crystal’ that it deserves high marks irrespective of how you feel about the rest of it.