When the world thinks about the Legacy of Jim Henson, it typically thinks of the glory of the Muppets. However Henson did more than just the Muppets in his career. We have looked his 1986 movie, Labyrinth which was a light-hearted adventure featuring human characters. By contrast the 1982 movie, The Dark Crystal is a much darker movie featuring all puppets.
The Dark Crystal starts with some backstory about a thousand years ago a magical crystal cracked and two races appeared, the icky Skeksis and hippie Mystics. The Skeksis seized control and used the crystal to replenish their lives. The also killed a races of elf-like creature called the Gelfling because their a prophesy about how a Gelfling will heal the shattered Dark Crystal.
Among the peaceful Mystics lives the last Gelfling, a boy named Jen. As the the leader of the Mystics lay dying, he tells Jen to find a beinging named Aughra who has the missing crystal Shard. As the Mystic leader dies, the Skeksis leader also dies. There is a power struggle among the other Skeksis. Two try to became the emperor, the Genreal wins and the Chamberlin is exile. It is then they learn about Jen and they send the Garthim, crab-like creature to get him.
Jen makes it Aughra’s, who tells him that the Dark Crystal must be healed by but the time the three suns come together, an event called The Great Conjunction which is happing very soon. Aughra gives him some crystal shards telling Jen she doesn’t know which one is the Dark Crystal. Jen figures it out as it resonates with the tune the Mystic sing, but then the Garthim attacks and destroys Aughra’s home and Jen escapes.
Jen then meets another Gelfling, a girl named Kira and her pet named Fizzgig. Kira can communicate with all number of animals. Kira takes Jen to her village where she lives with the Podling after the death of her mother. The Garthim attack again and takes many of the Podlings as the Podling are used as slaves for the Skeksis after their life essences in drained away. Jen and Kira only escape the raid as the Skeksis chamberlain saves them.
Jen and Kira find an Gelfling temple of sorts and learn about the prophesy that only a Gelfling can heal the Dark Crystal. The Chamberlain turns up and begs the Gelfling to go to the Skeksis castle so that there can be peace but Jen and Kira reject him and travel to castle on their own. The Mystics also start making their way toward the Skeksis Castle.
As Jen and Kira approach the castle the intercept the Podling Hostages and free them. They flee the Garthim due to Kira’s wings, which only female Gelflings have. They enter the castle through a subterranean window but Kira is captured by the Chamberlain. The Skeksis plan to drain her of her life essences as it will make the new Emperor young again. As Kira is being drained, Jen telepathically tells her to fight and Aughra, who is imprisoned in the same room with a host of animals tells Kira to call the animals. Kira does and she escapes and one one the Skeksis is killed when he is thrown into the Lava pit that houses the Dark Crystal and when the Skeksis dies a Mystic dies too.
As the Great Conjuncture starts the Skeksis gather in the hall of the Dark Crystal. Jen magnes to get on top of the Crystal but drops the shard. Kira picks it up and throws it to Jen and one of the Skeksis stabs her and Fizzgig is thrown into the shaft of the Dark Crystal. As Jen heals the Crystal the Mystic enter the hall and they merged into the Skeksis to reveal a new race that thousand years ago shattered the Crystal with their ignorance. They bring back Kira to life and even Fizzgig is fine as Aughra saved him. Yay.
In a perfect world, movies wouldn’t have to choose between style over substance. They two would work together to create a movie. Now a lot of movie do this but typically there a clear winner of intention, one wins over the over.
With the The Dark Crystal it would seem that the style of the puppets and the world that was created for the movie won over the substance but the substance and the style work more together to form this movie’s look and feel. The substance of the story and characters are made simple to give the style more room. If the movie had complicated the narrative it wouldn’t have allowed the world and the style to move as freely in the narrative. This was the issue with Oz the Great and powerful. Remember when the movie spent a good few minutes on the River of CGs but rushes Theodora’s evil transformation? That is what I mean, The Dark Crystal doesn’t rush the simple yet complex narrative yet still allows the the weird world to come through.
So how is the story simple yet complicated? The story is simply a chosen one(s) that has to save the world, basically a hero’s journey. You don’t get much more simple than that. What makes it complicated is that technically one could save that because there are two Gelflings that either Kira or Jen could have done and the two work together like a couplet, more of them later. The is also the whole balance of good and evil and how one needs the other for balance. The Skeksis are evil and horrible but the Mystic are descried as living in a illusion of peace. One can be either wholly good or pure evil, there is a balance. That is some complex thoughts for a children’s movie.
The characters are all really interesting, even boring Jen is fairly compelling. Jen doesn’t want to be a hero, he was asked to heal the crystal but he doesn’t whine that much. He is sheltered and somewhat naive which is a contrast to Kira who is more worldly. She knows how to speak to animals. She is the take charge one. Jen and Kira have a good balance between them, they need each other and it’s a good partnership.
The other character aren’t as develop. I wish there was more back ground on Aughra because she cool. Fizzgig is fun too has he looks like a sweet little puppy-ish thing but he has a big scary mouth. The Chamberlain is the most intresting of Skeksis as he is a schemer. He tries to trick Jen and Kira with peace to bring them to castle so he can get back in with Skeksis and when that fails he just kidnaps Kira. The other Skeksis have personalities but they are never made super clear outside their looks and moments.
Now we have come to it, the technicals. This movie was created to be a puppet movie. Would it have been nearly as cool if it was a Live action movie or an animated movie?Maybe. The 80’s were ripe with weird live action movie, so it hard to say. But the puppets and the sheer other-worldliness they create is just so wonder to watch. The design by Brain Froud are wonder, with the dragon/vulture Skeksis and the dog/dinosaurs Mystic. Everything is so cool to look at. I also love the part where Jen walks into Aughra’s home and he sees that machine of the planets, so cool. And the Landstriders, aww those poor Landstriders.
So let say you’re watching The Dark Crystal you make notice that the movie is dark and scary. One of thoughts about 80’s children movies is that it’s ok to scare children as long as there is a happy ending. So they can freak kids out with creepy Skeksis, throwing Fizzgig into a Lave pit and stabbing Kira as long as they show that Fizzgig is ok and the merged Skeksis and Mystic beings called UrSheks revive Kira.
The Dark Crystal is a masterpiece of the puppet artistry in a movie form. There isn’t like anything like it, a serious and somewhat dark puppet movie.
For more – The World of the Dark Crystal: The Collector’s EditionFollow thehunchblog
I saw this a few times when I was really young, so I don’t remember much about it. It’s been sitting in my Netflix queue forever, so I’ll eventually get around to seeing it. I remember it being similar to Labyrinth though.
As for the clues…Pan’s Labyrinth?
Correct on the clues.