Turn Back the Clock
The Dark Crystal
Distributed by: Universal Studios
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
When I was a kid, I loved shows like Sesame Street and The Muppet Show that featured puppets as main characters and conversed with humans as though they were equals. Jim Henson is the man responsible for bringing one of my favorite Muppets to life - Kermit the Frog. Another favorite, Miss Piggy, would become the responsibility of Frank Oz (you may know him as the voice of Yoda). Over the years, when these two creative geniuses got together, magic was created. In 1982, that magic came in the form of a fantasy adventure movie with an all puppet cast known as The Dark Crystal.
The Dark Crystal takes place in another universe on a planet known as Thra. Thra, featuring numerous creatures of diverse biological make-up, is lit by three suns. Long ago, at a time now known as the Great Conjunction, these suns glowed as one and caused a great disturbance on Thra. The great urSkeks, guardians of the Crystal of Truth, were shocked to see their great life-giving crystal become splintered, losing some of its light and become a Dark Crystal. The urSkeks themselves became a splintered group, dividing from one species into two vastly different species: the peaceful Mystics and the war-monging Skeksis.
A prophecy stated that a member of the Gelfling species would eventually make the crystal whole again, creating balance to the universe once more. Fearful that this Gelfling could mean the destruction of the Skeksis race, the Skeksis begin the process of wiping out the Gelflings, thus ensuring that the prophecy can never come to pass. Unfortunately for them, a Gelfling has survived. Jen, raised and protected by the Mystics, is the last of the Gelflings. Upon the death of one of the elders of the Mystics, Jen is sent out on a quest to achieve his destiny and heal the Dark Crystal. Along the way he learns the importance of his journey and the infinite possibilities involved in healing the Dark Crystal. No one really knows what healing the crystal will do and it is that uncertain fate that makes the Skeksis so fearful.
While Jen sets off on his journey, the Skeksis, their emperor now dead, fight amongst themselves to chose a new emperor. Meanwhile, Jen finds the crystal at the home of scholar Aughra, where he learns about the Great Conjuntion and the Crystal of Truth. However, the new emperor of the Skeksis has learned that a Gelfling has survived their purge. They send out their beetle-like destroyers, the Garthim, to handle their problem. Jen must escape the grasp of the Garthim and find the Skeksis castle in order to complete his destiny and heal the crystal. The journey will be treacherous, filled with quite a few interesting and surprising revelations. Can Jen remain strong and fulfill his destiny or will the suns join once again before he can complete his mission, dooming Thra to eternal rule under the evil Skeksis?
I never actually saw the full version of this film until I got my hands on the DVD version of The Dark Crystal. I had read the book to my brother when we were kids, but had only saw parts of the edited for TV version of the film. Thus, it was nice to finally see the entire film from start to finish and marvel at the epic adventure acted out entirely by puppeteers. When the film first hit theaters, people thought it might be too dark for children, and, indeed, the film is dark, but not scary enough that a child wouldn’t enjoy it. In fact, this is exactly the type of fantasy adventure I would have loved seeing in the theater as a kid.
The plot of the movie is crystal (pardon the pun) clear. This is a good versus evil type of film and Jen is the one character that can bring balance to the world he lives in. As we eventually learn in the film, the Mystics and the Skeksis are just halves of the same whole. They represent the good and evil sides of humanity that alone are intense in their sides of the spectrum, but as a whole represent a balanced and extraordinary creature capable of many wonderful things. The urSkeks are an enlightened species made up of a healthy balance of good and evil. Jen is the one being in the world who possesses the power and steadfastness to bring that balance back to the urSkeks once more.
I loved the story of The Dark Crystal, but loved watching it unfold even more thanks to the puppeteering genius of Jim Henson and Frank Oz. To imagine that most of this film was created simply through the use of camera angles, amazing set creation and puppets is simply amazing. The amount of work that went into creating this wonderfully alive world filled with amazing species is unimaginable. I couldn’t wait to watch The World of The Dark Crystal making-of documentary which explained all of the effects quite nicely. I couldn’t help but laugh as Jim Henson explained how the concept came to life - it was like listening to Kermit the Frog explaining the wonders of the world.
The DVD version of the film features the making-of documentary as well as Deleted Scenes from the funerals of the elder Mystic and the emperor of the Skeksis, the isolated musical score created by Trevor Jones, the Theatrical Trailer and more.
Nowadays, a movie like The Dark Crystal would be made in digital computerized format, so it will probably come as a shock to the younger generation that this film was all done in live action puppetry. That being said, I think it’s important for the younger generation to see a film like The Dark Crystal. Not only is the film enchanting to watch, but it will show this new generation that amazing fantasy films were being created long before the advent of digital special effects. A great story with a visually enchanting style, The Dark Crystal is a classic that can still be enjoyed by members of any generation.
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