The Dark Crystal: 25th Anniversary Edition – DVD Review

Available at Amazon.com

Directed by
Jim Henson and Frank Oz

Cast
Jim Henson ………. Jen, A Gelfling (performer)/High Priest (Ritual Master) (performer)/Podling (performer)
Kathryn Mullen ………. Kira, A Gelfling (performer)/Jen, A Gelfling (assistant)
Frank Oz ………. Aughra, A Keeper Of Secrets (performer)/Chamberlain (performer)/Podling (performer)
Dave Goelz ………. Fizzgig, A Friendly Monster (performer)/General (Garthin Master) (performer)/Dying Emperor (performer)/Podling (performer)
Stephen Garlick ………. Jen (voice)
Lisa Maxwell ………. Kira (voice)
Billie Whitelaw ………. Aughra (voice)
Percy Edwards ………. Fizzgig (voice)
Barry Dennen ………. Chamberlain/Podling (voice)
Michael Kilgarriff ………. General (voice)
Jerry Nelson ………. High Priest/Dying Emperor (voice)
Joseph O’Conor ………. Narrator/Urskeks (voice)

Run Time: 93 minutes
Rated PG
DVD Release date: August 14, 2007

Somewhere in that mysitcal land of Labyrinth and The Last Unicorn, one finds The Dark Crystal. Often overshadowed by that other fantasy film of 1982 (hint: starts with “E” ends with “T”), one would be hard pressed to find a movie more ambitious than this, a five year labor of love by Jim Henson and company. At the very least, it can be said that one won’t find government agents brandishing maniacal walkie-talkies at children here. Indeed, one won’t find any humans at all.

The Dark Crystal tells the story of Jen, a Gelfling, who must fulfill a vague ancient prophesy in order to save his world, Thra, from something to do with the alignment of the planet’s three suns (no Fred MacMurray to be found). All of this somehow involves the Mystics, Apatosaurus-looking monks, and their evil counterparts the Skeksis, buzzard-looking fops. Just how evil are the Skeksis? Well, they live in a big castle, have poor table manners, and extract life juice out of muppets.

Jen, himself, doesn’t really know what he is supposed to be doing apart from obtaining a crystal shard. Jen does have the sense to team up with Kira, a beast mistress and the only other Gelfling alive, and to run away from the giant cockroach crabs sent by the Skeksis to capture them. Aiding them on their ill-defined quest is a Aughra: a goat sorceress, Fizzgig: a rabid tribble, and a naked ostracized Skeksis.

Aside from the occasional midget in a longshot, every character in The Dark Crystal is a puppet. These are old school puppets, mind you, before most of the developments in animatronics technology. This thing can be the source of great ambivalence. It allows the film to work in ways that other fantasy films don’t. All manner of creatures physically inhabit this world, but nothing is passably human. (Would normal humans even evolve on a world maggoty with dragons and elves?) The nigh exclusive use of puppetry affords Thra a true otherworldliness. At the same time, however, puppets are more difficult to work with than Val Kilmer. It is hard to do a fantasy film where none of your actors can credibly walk or run. Even with master puppeteers the illusion of life is tricky. Creatures tend to shake like Parkinson’s sufferers. Movements tend to betray their external impetus. As such, the action sequences are about as believable as Cookie Monster’s mastication abilities.

All puppetry aside, the film is not without its problems. The story is nebulous; the plot meanders. The first act contains clunky, mostly redundant narration. Jen has some awkward moments of inner monologue. Also, the movie is unbelievably creepy, phenomenally, scar your kids for life, creepy. Not many adults are going to want to watch a mythic and somber puppet flick.

But in the end, it is hard not to admire The Dark Crystal. One has to respect the level of work that went into making this picture, and the film-makers’ commitment to telling the story they wanted to tell.

Really, it is the anti-Shrek. Shrek is all about the familiar; it’s about familiar stories and familiar characters referencing familiar pop culture notions. Shrek is the frenetic remix of the familiar carefully constructed so as not to limit its audience. The Dark Crystal is about the alien, told seriously, and it doesn’t really give a damn if you understand it.

It’s more integrity than one expects from a puppet film.

The DVD

Audio and Visual
The movie looks an sounds fantastic. This high-definition transfer business is, as the kids say, for serious. Aside from 1 or 2 antiquated blue-screen techniques, this could pass as a new release.

The Extras
The first disc offers us:

Available Subtitles: English, French, Japanese
Available Audio Tracks: English, Japanese (Dolby Digital 5.1)
New Commentary from Brian Froud

With Henson dead and Frank Oz tremendously busy, concept designer Froud is probably the best man for this job. At least, in theory, this is true. The commentary track tends to be dry and pretentious, redeemed somewhat by its informativeness.

Disc 2 affords us:

The Vintage Making of Documentary “The World of the Dark Crystal – this runs an hour long and is fairly comprehensive.

Deleted Scenes – The home video version of the Funeral Scenes is all we get here.

Work Print Scenes – This entails a handful of unrestored scenes from the film with the original language track, meaning Frank Oz does the voice of Aughra and the Skeksis don’t speak English.

Character Drawings – This is a collection of designs of the Skeksis and the Mystics (labeled by their original name, the Ur-Ru).

Reflections of the Dark Crystal: “Light on the Path of Creation” & Shard of Illusion” – described as “Two All-New behind the scenes documentaries that include rediscovered footage from the Henson archives and newly recorded interviews with the people who created The Dark Crystal.” The former is 40 minutes long, and the later is about 15. Most of the information given is redundant given the commentary track and “The World of the Dark Crystal“.

Disc two only contains about 2 1/2 hours worth of extras, a large portion of which are redundant. The first disc just has the movie and the commentary track; it doesn’t even have trailers.

For a two disc collection, this is fairly light.

The DVD Lounge’s Rating for The Dark Crystal
CATEGORY
RATING
(OUT OF 10)
THE MOVIE

7.5
THE VIDEO

9
THE AUDIO

9
THE EXTRAS

6
REPLAY VALUE

6
OVERALL
7.5
(NOT AN AVERAGE)

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