Classic Cracker: The Dark Crystal (1982)
The Dark Crystal is a beautiful, magical, fantasy film. Full of fantastic design work and puppetry, it’s yet another fine work of family entertainment from Jim Henson (who co-directed with Frank Oz, and co-wrote the script with David Odell). The biggest problem it has is the fact that it is trying to sit between a few different demographics. The puppets will still amuse children, and there are one or two characters that ooze cuteness, and the simplistic quest storyline is also obviously aimed at younger viewers, but there are some interesting ideas and darker moments that feel aimed a bit over the heads of pre-teens.
The story concerns Jen, a Gelfling tasked with finding a broken shard of the dark crystal. He then has to take that broken shard, get himself deep into enemy territory populated by the dreaded Skeksis, and make the crystal whole again before the three suns become one. This will fulfil a prophecy that deprives the Skeksis of their chance to rule the world.
If you go into a viewing of The Dark Crystal expecting another muppet movie, or a film like Labyrinth (which came along 4 years after this one), then you’re going to be disappointed. This isn’t a film full of laughter and song. It’s an attempt to tell a Tolkien-esque tale that appeals to all ages. Although sometimes terrifying, for younger viewers, this is mostly a leisurely stroll through some eye-catching alien landscapes. Until the finale starts to increase the immediate threat to the main characters.
The performances are uniformly excellent, although all of the performers are hidden under the characters that they’re portraying. Henson and Oz are the biggest names, I guess, but Kathryn Mullen, Dave Goelz also bring quite a few of the creations to life, alongside a team of talented colleagues. It doesn’t take long at all to start viewing everyone onscreen as a very real lifeform, despite the obvious artificiality (that flesh and blood making up the performance serving as a reminder, once again, of what can be lost in the age when anything can be realised by CGI).
I can’t lie, there are a multitude of Jim Henson movies that I would recommend ahead of this one. But that’s no reflection on the quality of The Dark Crystal, it’s just a statement relative to how good most of those other movies are. And this is almost as good as some of those. Almost.
DIRECTOR: JIM HENSON, FRANK OZ
WRITER: DAVID ODELL, JIM HENSON
PERFORMERS: JIM HENSON, KATHRYN MULLEN, FRANK OZ, DAVE GOELZ,
RUNTIME: 93 MINS APPROX