“The Dark Crystal” stars Stephen Garlick, Lisa Maxwell, Billie Whitelaw, Percy Edwards, and Barry Dennen. Released on December 17, 1982, the film is about an elf-like creature who journeys to restore balance to his home world.
The film is directed by Jim Henson and Frank Oz. Over 35 years ago, famous Muppet creator Jim Henson decided to take his creative puppetry skills in a new direction by crafting an original film that’s far different than his beloved Muppet franchise. While it received a mixed response from critics and audiences when it was first released, it later became a fan favorite for Henson followers as well as fantasy enthusiasts. This year sees the latest re-release of the film in a new 4K resolution, and to celebrate, Fathom Events took the chance to screen the new restored version in cinemas nationwide for a limited time. This is one of those films that I haven’t watched too many times. I do remember having it on VHS, but that was because my mother thought that I would like it due to my interest in the Muppets. Since I’m planning on reviewing some more classic films this year, I figured that I would start with this puppetry gem from the 1980s. It has actually been a long time since I last saw this movie, mostly because I was more drawn into the world of 2D and CGI animation during my childhood. Now that I saw it for the first time on the big screen, how well does it affect me as a grown adult?
The story takes place a thousand years ago on an alien planet known as Thra, where a powerful, yet broken, crystal formed two new types of alien races: the Skeksis, who uses the crystal’s power to restore their youth, and the Mystics, wizard-like beings with long necks. The main character in the film is Jen (Garlick), the last remaining survivor of the Gelflings who is raised by the Mystics. He is tasked by his Mystic master to search for the missing shard and reinsert it into the crystal before the three suns align with one another. Along the way, he is joined by Kira (Maxwell), another surviving Gelfling, and her pet, Fizzgig. The film is mostly known for having creature-like puppets as the characters without a single human being interacting with them. So, clearly, it depicts moving puppets ruling the universe a long time ago. The world of “The Dark Crystal” is simply imaginative and full of creativity in terms of its setting and creatures, although the story itself is nothing for me to write home about. It follows the basic prophecy formula that we’ve seen multiple times in other films, and the characters themselves, while superbly designed and well-portrayed by the puppeteers, were unable to provide anything special to their one-note personalities. Even the dialogue didn’t help that much, either, especially during some scenes where someone is talking, but their mouths didn’t move. However, I can fully understand why it was so beloved by many people. The film was made during the time where the filmmakers had to use practical effects and a huge amount of imagination to create a fantasy world filled with danger and wonder without computers. They also had to rely on costumes and animatronics to bring the film’s variety of creatures to life, not just puppetry. It really amazes me that they put a lot of effort in making the characters and this world both scary and inventive, most notably the Skeksis. Man, were these guys ugly-looking or what? The cinematography and the music also helped in creating a visionary, fairy-tale-like experience, especially the latter, and the visuals effects still looked good while viewing it on the big screen, even though some of them were a bit dated.
Overall, while it boasts more on style rather than substance, “The Dark Crystal” proves that the amount of imagination and hard work can provide some very pleasing results. It’s not the best puppet-involved film in history due to its formulaic plot and the lack of character depth, but its fantastic designs and technical achievements are what made it a unique and enjoyable treat for both puppet lovers and fantasy lovers alike. Is it something that I would recommend to the kids? Well, it will have to depend on how much scary imagery they can handle. Otherwise, just wait until they’re around seven or ten years of age. As for me, I wouldn’t mind watching it again at some point in the future. Sure, the story and the characters fell a bit flat, but as a guy who likes the Muppets growing up, I found it to be a well-crafted piece of puppet filmmaking that should be appreciated by anyone for many generations to come.