Film Review: ‘The Dark Crystal’

Starring the Performer Talents of: Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Kathryn Mullen, Dave Goelz, , Brian Meehl, Steve Whitmire

Starring the Voice Talents of: Stephen Garlick, Lisa Maxwell, Billie Whitelaw, Barry Dennen, Brian Meehl, Steve Whitmire

Directed by Jim Henson & Frank Oz

Original Release Date: 1982

Review by Miriam Atkinson

Set in the fantasy world of Thra The Dark Crystal follows Jen and Kyra, the last of the Gelfling, as they race to reunite a crystal shard with the main crystal. If they do not heal the crystal before the Great Conjunction occurs then the evil Skeksis will rule Thra forever…

I was eight years old when my Dad suggested I watch The Dark Crystal for the first time. I’d seen Labyrinth a couple of weeks before, enjoyed it, and was assured that The Dark Crystal was like Labyrinth but with more puppets. One scene in and upon watching the skeletal Skeksis Emperor disintegrate, my naïve younger self knew immediately that this film was most definitely not going to be anything like she first thought.

Fast-forward to years later and both The Dark Crystal and the world Jim Henson and Brian Froud created is something I have grown the love and appreciate as an adult.

Of course the thing that sets The Dark Crystal apart from so many other films is its use of puppetry and practical sets. While it may have been a risk to tell a story entirely with puppet characters I believe it is one that definitely paid off.

One benefit is that, as the film does not rely on CGI which can often look dated by today’s standards, visually The Dark Crystal will always look as good as did to those first audiences in 1982.

Another benefit is that all of the puppets and sets created by The Henson Company give the film a very distinctive and unique look. This in turn helps it to stand out within the fantasy film genre. I believe there are a great many of us who could be shown any still from the film and immediately be able to recognise it as The Dark Crystal.

An original poster for the video and DVD release

It occurred to me that the film actually has quite a straightforward plot, certainly compared to many modern films. Essentially Jen is journeying from Point A in the Mystics valley to Point B at the Castle of the Crystal. The film also leaves its viewers in no doubt about which characters are the heroes and which are the villains.

In this case I believe a simpler plot is beneficial as it gives greater emphasis to the incredible world building and the characters and creatures that exist in Thra.

This is a film that, even multiple viewings later, you can still spot new little details in the background such as a plant’s head turning to follow Jen or a tiny creature scurrying across the corner of the screen. The Dark Crystal is packed with many small details that make the world of Thra feel authentic and alive.

From left to right: Fizzgig, Kira and Jen

There are so many memorable characters in the film. Jen and Kira are immediately likable as heroes and as a viewer you are willing them to succeed. To me Aughra is the most enigmatic of all the characters. She can be both aloof and caring and is quite unafraid to tell other characters off like an exasperated parent.

There is also the intriguing concept of the urSkeks and their physical, mental and emotional division into the races of the Mystics (or urRu) and the Skeksis. With the exception of the Mystic Elder, we don’t get to see as much of the Mystics as individual characters compared to their Skeksis counterparts. I wish we could have learnt more about them within the film.

From left to right: The Chamberlain and The General

Arguably the most terrifying puppets ever created, for me it the Skeksis who are the standout characters in the film, with my favourite being the Chamberlain. As villains they are evil and revolting yet utterly compelling to watch. It’s fascinating to see the specific roles the Skeksis all have within their small social structure, such as the Scientist and the General. I was very pleased when the 2019 series The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance delved more into their world.

The Dark Crystal has endured due to a combination of nostalgia and the magic that Jim Henson brought when he created a fantasy world that was utterly unique and filled with iconic characters. Whether in film, TV or book format I hope this film’s legacy and the creativity it inspires continues into the future.

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