UK Release Date: 5th March 2018
Runtime: 93 minutes
Director: Jim Henson, Frank Oz
Writer: David Odell
Starring: Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Kathryn Mullen
Synopsis: An innocent, naive creature whose race has been purged from existence by the ruling class of reptilian bird monsters must go on an unusual quest to restore the final shard to the eponymous crystal in order to restore balance to the world.
Nothing ages as quickly on the big screen as bad CGI. Even perfect CGI begins to look outdated within just a few years of its position as the pinnacle of what the industry can provide. Conversely, the best practical effects are utterly timeless. For clear proof of that axiom, simply turn to Jim Henson‘s wildly ambitious puppet fantasy adventure The Dark Crystal, which is back on UK Blu-ray and, for the first time, it’s available in 4K Ultra HD after a new restoration. More than 30 years after its release, every frame of the movie still feels like a work of ground-breaking vision.
The Dark Crystal is, quite simply, a headlong plunge into the mind of its creator. It feels like a pure evocation of the vision of Henson, co-director Frank Oz and creature concept artist Brian Froud. The notion of a film populated entirely by puppets is a ridiculous one even now, but Henson and his team somehow managed to pull it off in a fashion that is awe-inspiring in its believable physicality even today.
The story is set on a faraway planet during “the age of wonder”, with much of the world’s power deriving from the eponymous gemstone, controlled by the malevolent part-bird, part-reptile Skeksis, while the zen-like Mystics watch their rule from afar. As a crucial celestial event draws closer, the last remaining elf-like Gelfling must take a treacherous journey through the world to return a missing shard to the crystal, restoring a sense of balance to the world. Along the way, he must repeatedly evade the Skeksis and also discovers that he is not the last of the Gelflings.
Every inch of the world created in The Dark Crystal feels lived-in and real, populated by hundreds of meticulously designed creatures, many of whom only appear on screen for a couple of seconds. There’s a texture and intrigue to the world that papers over some of the cracks in its rather simplistic narrative. This is a movie that’s about the intricacy of its world and the fascinating absurdity of its visual style, rather than dozens of plot twists and turns.
That’s not to say that The Dark Crystal lacks a story worth buying into. It’s a basic hero quest, but one enlivened by the richness of the world and the touching relationship between Gelfling adventurers Jen and Kira. Their bond is tender and pure, realised initially in a richly emotional scene in which the touch of their hands allows them to share the memories of their respective tragic, isolated existences. They are the voice of the good against the grotesque Skeksis, who are crumbly, decrepit beings seemingly representative of entrenched ruling classes – particularly in one scene that sees them horrifically stuffing their faces at a feast.
However, it’s the duality of good and evil that intrigues Henson throughout The Dark Crystal and, indeed, the finale speaks to the Newtonian idea that both sides of the moral coin have to be present in order for a balanced and successful society to exist. It’s a stunning adventure that’s a feat of cinematic ambition, as well as a tribute to the virtuosic ability of creatives united behind the vision of their leader. Kermit the Frog is great, but this might be Henson’s most significant achievement.
There are some previously released featurettes about the intricate world-building of the movie, deleted scenes, a commentary and a brand new featurette about the legacy of Jim Henson. A decent selection befitting how interesting the creative process behind the film is.
Pop or Poop?
From the feathers and earth of the Skeksis to the serene contentment of the Mystics, The Dark Crystal is a visually striking adventure through the macabre and the beautiful, marshalled by the genius of Jim Henson. It’s not the most compelling of storylines on the face of it, but it proves to be the perfect vessel for the ground-breaking visual storytelling.
This isn’t a film you will forget in a hurry and it deserves to terrify a whole new generation of children via this new restoration.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.
The Dark Crystal: Anniversay Edition is available on Blu-ray and 4K Ultra HD in the UK from Monday, courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.