DIRECTORS: Jim Henson and Frank Oz
The 1980’s were something of a Golden Age for fantasy films. Although constrained by the technological limitations of the day, the makers of these films swung for the fences. Nothing encapsulates this better than The Dark Crystal.
The film takes place in a world thrown out of balance by the cracking of the titular crystal and the rise to power of the evil Skeksis who jealously guard the crystal whilst ruling the world around it with an iron fist. The brunt of Skeksis tyranny has been borne by the Gelfling, an elf-like race virtually exterminated by the Skeksis. Unbeknownst to the skeksis, one gelfling, Jen, has survived the purge and grown up sheltered by the peaceful sage-like Mystics who dispatch him on a quest to find the shard.
This does all sound familiar with elves and prophecies but any concerns one might have about the story are simply swept aside by the wondrously strange world we find ourselves in. It’s a landscape beautiful and frightening, teeming with life, atmosphere and utterly stunning imagery. The emphasis here is mood and image more so than plot. Brian Froud, credited as Conceptual Designer, produced arguably his greatest work here and his designs are a key part of why the film has endured.
All this is beautifully lensed by cinematographer Oswald Morris who gives the film a haunting dreamlike aura and set to a rich epic score by composer Trevor Jones. Taken together, these various elements combine to give The Dark Crystal a timeless quality like an enduring myth; even the relatively simple plot complements this feeling.
The origins of the film go back to the mid-seventies when Jim Henson, wanting to expand the potential of puppetry and animatronics began collaborating with artist Brian Froud. The idea was in Henson’s words, “to create the world first, then let the story grow”. Production was slow due to the phenomenally complicated task of designing and building the world and its strange denizens, and much like Star Wars the film was widely expected to be a disaster.
Finally reaching screens in 1982, The Dark Crystal was a modest success at the box office and has endured as a cult favourite ever since. Recent years have seen an expansion of the franchise with novel and comic series and a prequel series set to air on Netflix in 2019. Fan response to some of this has been somewhat mixed as the film’s core fanbase are a difficult bunch to please!
No matter what happens in the future one thing remains certain, that Henson and his collaborators created a fiercely original and creative vision that was simply unlike anything else seen before.
Jim Henson as Jen, a Gelfling, High Priest
Kathryn Mullen as Kira, a Gelfling
Frank Oz as Aughra, a Keeper of Secrets