The Dark Crystal review today, comes from a time when the term CGI didn’t exist yet, and most of the special effects you saw in movies were actually made by hand, using skill and lots of hard work.
Most importantly, all effects employed actual physical things, that occupied actual three-dimensional space in front of the camera lens.
We’re back in the ‘80s, when practical special effects reached their apex.
The Dark Crystal was released in 1982 and it stemmed from a Jim Henson idea. Jim Henson was the guy who created The Muppets, but trust me when I say that The Dark Crystal is as far removed from anything that we associate with the Muppets as it can, well – everything except the puppeteering aspect.
Dark Crystal places us in a rather familiar world, yet a unique one. A fantastical realm governed by a magic crystal, that shattered a thousand-year ago. This event spawned two very different races of creatures, the Skeksis and the Mystics.
The Skeksis quickly took control after the event, using the remaining crystal to keep themselves alive, employing some highly immoral methods in the process – as we learn later in the film – while the gentle Mystics were exiled.
The story picks up after this thousand-year time-span when Jen, the last of a species of creatures called Gelflings, is tasked with repairing the crystal and saving the world from imminent destruction.
I’m pretty sure things are starting to sound rather familiar, but I’m not done yet. Jen receives this mission from his master, The Wisest of the Mystics, who on his deathbed tells him of this history and gives him his mission.
It turns out that the Mystics saved Jen when the Skeksis culled his entire race of people from the world. Why did it happen? Well, there’s this prophecy you see, which says that only a Gelfling can repair the Crystal and since the Skeksis aren’t the nicest creatures in fantasy writing, they’re not to keen on this happening.
So let me break this down for you: the last member of an entire race, who isn’t really the last member, got tasked with saving the world by his dying master, master who, by the way, disappears when he dies.
The story borrows concepts and ideas from all manner of places and times, and if that would’ve been all, then The Dark Crystal would’ve been lost to history amidst the multitude of sub-mediocre movies, without any of us ever hearing from it again. But the story isn’t what stands out when it comes to The Dark Crystal, the focus of the movie is the world that the movie takes place in and most importantly, the execution of the movie.
It’s pretty clear that even though the movie was meant for children, it very obviously isn’t. There’s a lot of death in the film, whether it’s implied, talked about or actually on-screen, not to mention a scene where what can only be described as torture takes place. As well as the before mentioned ethnic cleansing.
Undoubtedly The Dark Crystal, as the name implies, is pretty dark, especially for younger kids, who might be frightened even by the general appearance of the movie’s villains – the Skeksis. These are a weird hybrid of vultures and reptiles, wrapped in an amalgam of cloths and jewelry.
The interesting thing is, this seems to have been Jim Henson’s intention from the start. According to the movie’s co-director, Frank Oz, Henson’s intention was to make a story that harkened back to the original Brothers Grimm stories. He considered that it’s not good for children if they are not frightened from time to time, and I have to say, if that was indeed his true intention, he accomplished it.
Setting aside the tone and the atmosphere for a bit, I cannot overlook the technical accomplishments that made this movie possible because this is what makes the movie truly fascinating.
The Dark Crystal was the first live-action movie to not feature any people on-screen, absolutely everything that we see are practical effects and animatronics, and the result is nothing short of extraordinary.
The sheer amount of work, thoroughness, attention and dedication required for the movie to exists elicits nothing but my utmost admiration for those who made it possible.
As I was saying earlier, the movie shouldn’t really be seen by small children however, those about a certain age might find it quite interesting if not downright fascinating thanks to the effects. My minimum age suggestion would be 10-12, it’s up to the parents to decide if they think their offspring can handle it.
To sum everything up, even though the story isn’t original, the world is, and you won’t see examples of better animatronics in other movies, except maybe Labyrinth or The Thing – maybe I’ll talk about them in the future as well.