Thursday, February 14, 2013

Movie Review: The Dark Crystal (1982)

The Dark Crystal (1982) directed by Jim Henson and Frank Oz

Watching The Dark Crystal is one of those happy memories from my childhood. I remember seeing it in the theater and we rented it once on VHS tape and watched it a few times over a weekend. I recently had a chance to watch it again. Did it hold up 30 years later?

The story follows the adventure of the Gelfling Jen, the last of his race. The Gelflings vanished because the Skeksis have wiped them out. A thousand years ago, the Dark Crystal was broken and a prophecy was made that a Gelfling would repair the crystal and end the rule of the Skeksis. At the same time as the Skeksis appeared, the Mystics also appeared. They lived peaceably and humbly far from the Skeksis. They too know of the prophecy, and one of them saved Jen when his village was attacked. Now that the three suns are about to come in alignment again, the leader of the Mystics sends Jen on a mission to get the missing shard and fulfill the prophecy.

The story follows Jen through the amazing world that Henson and Oz (creators of The Muppets) have created. And, to be honest, the real charm of the film is exploring their creativity rather than unpacking their mythology. Jen wanders through swamps, forests, and hillsides, finding amazing flora and fauna. He arrives at the home of Aughra, a Keeper of Secrets. She has a gigantic clock-work universe in her lab, showing the motion of stars, planets, and moons. It is still amazing to see 30 years later, as is the wide variety and sizes of puppets they use. The mythology is interesting enough but not particularly profound or original. It has the standard good-versus-evil elements along with the hero's journey to save the world.

The storytelling suffers a little bit from too many voice-overs, especially hearing Jen's thoughts, which seem obvious from what we see on the screen. Maybe the voice-overs were added for the children in the audience to help them interpret what's going on. The movie might be too scary for younger children. I was eleven when I saw it in the theater and was okay, but I don't think we'll be showing it to J or L (5- and 3-years old as I write) for a couple of years.

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