Despite the success of the recent prequel series: ‘The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance’ on Netflix, most audiences still seem relatively unaware of the original: ‘Dark Crystal’s existence, which unfortunately, received mostly lukewarm reviews and massively underperformed at the box-office upon its initial release. Yet regardless of its age, ‘The Dark Crystal’ is still in my opinion, an extraordinary family adventure. Creating an intriguing and developed fantasy world brimming with plenty of memorable characters, spectacular locations and terrifying creatures, all flawlessly brought-to-life by the film’s enormous array of brilliant practical effects and detailed puppets.
Plot Summary: Centuries-ago on the world of: ‘Thra’, the mysterious: ‘Dark Crystal’ was cracked and brought-forth two races. One, the villainous bird-like creatures known as the ‘Skeksis’, who now rule over the planet with an iron-fist, and the other, a peaceful race known as the ‘Mystics’. But after a young ‘Gelfling’s ‘Mystic’ master passes-on, ‘Jen’ is sent-on a quest to locate the missing shard of: ‘The Dark Crystal’ and save his homeworld.
Directed by legendary puppeteers Jim Henson and Frank Oz, most known for their creation of the beloved ‘Muppets’ franchise. ‘The Dark Crystal’ is known by many for being rather frighting for younger viewers, as the film always explores its fantasy world without ever shying away from any of its darker elements. Resulting in many who experienced the film at a young age only recalling it due to being ‘traumatised’ by the film’s menacing antagonists, the ‘Skeksis’. However, despite ‘The Dark Crystal’ giving this ghastly depth to the world it’s narrative takes-place within, the film still suffers from the occasional story cliché. As while I’m sure these ideas were less-familiar in the early 1980s, the concept of: ‘Jen’ being the last of his kind and having to undertake an epic journey does feel fairly overdone by today’s standards.
Stephen Garlick and Lisa Maxwell lend their voices well to the two protagonists of the film: ‘Jen’ and ‘Kira’, alongside the voice of Billie Whitelaw and the late Jim Henson and Frank Oz themselves as puppeteers, and while Jim Henson and Frank Oz both do a fantastic job as usual when it comes to their work with puppeteered-characters. It’s the late Barry Dennen as the most devious of the ‘Skeksis’, ‘The Chamberlain’, who is truly superb. As ‘The Chamberlain’ soon becomes a very memorable antagonist heavily in-part because of his obnoxious high-pitched voice and now-iconic whimper.
Whilst the cinematography by the late Oswald Morris does serve the film’s story effectively, many shots throughout ‘The Dark Crystal’ are a little restricted due to the focus primarily being placed-on the puppets themselves (especially when there is a large number of characters on-screen). That being said, the cinematography does still manage to provide plenty of beautiful wide-shots to establish the story’s various locations, the majority of which are elevated through some incredibly impressive matte paintings and miniature sculptures.
Although I do prefer the original score by Daniel Pemberton for the Netflix prequel series, the score for the original film by Trevor Jones is still terrific. Feeling like a mixture between a classic fantasy score along with some sinister undertones to help build tension. From the film’s signature track: ‘Overture’, through the track that plays-over one of the film’s final moments: ‘The Great Conjunction’, the film’s original score is still an enjoyable piece to hear even if it seems many viewers prefer the soundtrack of Henson’s other 80s fantasy flick: ‘Labyrinth’.
Of course, the main draw of: ‘The Dark Crystal’ is (and will always be) the puppets themselves, as while the idea of not a single human appearing within a live-action film may sound daunting to some, the film’s huge variety of practical effects from the different creatures that prowl the forests/swamps to each one of the detailed and intricate sets for: ‘The Castle of the Crystal’. Every single creative aspect of the film in regards to its designs constantly feels as if great talent and effort has been put-into each of them, with much of the film’s visuals actually being inspired by the illustrations of Brian Froud, who would eventually join the production as a conceptual designer.
To conclude, ‘The Dark Crystal’ is truly a film of its time, as despite the new prequel series helping the unique fantasy series reach a wider-audience, I’m not too surprised this ambitious film has been largely forgotten in modern pop-culture. As the film’s fascinating and fleshed-out world alongside its entertaining story and huge number of amazing practical effects sadly weren’t enough to save it from its eventual neglected fate. Still, an 8/10 for: ‘The Dark Crystal’. Even if this fantastical family adventure didn’t receive the praise it deserved when it was released in 1982, I feel it certainly can now from modern viewers, if just for its painstaking puppeteering work and great character designs alone.