|The Dark Crystal|
film poster by Richard Amsel
|Directed by||Jim Henson
|Produced by||Jim Henson
|Written by||Jim Henson
|Music by||Trevor Jones|
|Editing by||Ralph Kemplen|
|Distributed by||Universal Studios|
|Release date(s)||December 17, 1982 (U.S.)|
|Running time||93 minutes|
|Gross revenue||$40,577,001 (Domestic)|
The Dark Crystal is a 1982 fantasy film directed by puppeteers Jim Henson and Frank Oz, creators of The Muppet Show. Although still marketed as a family film, it was notably darker than previous material created by them. Characters for which they are famous do not appear, but some of the same performers are used. The animatronics used in the film were considered groundbreaking at the time. The primary concept artist was the fantasy illustrator Brian Froud, famous for his distinctive faerie and dwarf designs. Froud also collaborated with Jim Henson and Frank Oz for their next project, the 1986 film, Labyrinth which was notably more light-hearted than The Dark Crystal.
The Dark Crystal was produced by Gary Kurtz, whose list of credits includes American Graffiti, Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, Return to Oz, and Slipstream. The screenplay was written by David Odell, who had worked with Henson as a staff writer on The Muppet Show. Trevor Jones provided the film's atmospheric music. The movie makes an attempt to study the nature of good and evil in terms of conscience, destiny, and the triune nature of harmony. The film was produced by ITC Entertainment, the British production company responsible for producing The Muppet Show.
The narrator explains in a voice over at the beginning of the prologue that the film takes place on "another world, another time... in the age of wonder". The setting is Thra, a biodiverse planet featuring creatures, environments, and magic inspired by common folklore. Thra has three suns; the Great Sun, the Rose Sun, and the Dying Sun. Many creatures and races inhabit the planet, but the dominant race is the urSkeks, who came from another world and are the guardians of the Crystal of Truth. The Crystal harnesses the forces of nature, especially the light of the three suns, for the benefit of all inhabitants of Thra.
One thousand years before the beginning of the movie, during the Great Conjunction of the three suns, the urSkeks cracked the Crystal of Truth, and split into two races; the hunchbacked, gentle beings known as the Mystics and the vulture-like tyrants known as Skeksis. In that moment the Crystal became the Dark Crystal. The Skeksis then drove the Mystics from the castle where the cracked crystal resided and instituted a reign of terror over their world. Their wrath was particularly directed toward the elf-like Gelflings, due to a prophecy that promised the restoration of the crystal and the end of the Skeksis' power. The prophecy, rediscovered in an ancient Gelfling city, read:
|“||When single shines the triple sun,
What was sundered and undone
Shall be whole, the two made one,
By Gelfling hand, or else by none.
Protagonist Jen believes he is the last of the Gelflings. After his parents were killed by the crustacean-like "Garthim" (soldiers conjured by the Skeksis), he was raised in a lush valley in which the Mystics reside. When Jen's master is on his deathbed, he calls Jen to his side and reveals that Jen's destiny is to "heal" the Dark Crystal by finding the shard, which may be found at Aughra's observatory. As Jen's master dies, the Skeksis emperor dies as well, resulting in a confrontation between the Chamberlain and the General, who both desire to succeed him. The matter is settled with a "trial by stone" (Haaksheekaah in an earlier conceptualization), in which the General is victorious. He immediately becomes emperor and the Chamberlain is stripped of his clothes and exiled from the palace in rags. Moments later, the Crystal summons the Skeksis and informs them of Jen's existence - one of their many Crystal Bat spies has spotted him, relaying his image to a facet of the Crystal.
Jen reaches Aughra, a scholar of an unknown race, who takes him to her observatory. There he discovers the crystal shard, which is hidden among others like it, by playing music on his flute to which it resonates. In the process, Jen learns of the upcoming Great Conjunction by means of Aughra's orrery-assisted predictions, but learns little of its connection to the shard before the Garthim arrive and destroy Aughra's observatory. Aughra is captured, but Jen escapes into the jungle. Jen spends the night in a swamp, while Aughra is taken to the castle of the crystal, where she indignantly rebukes and mocks the Skeksis, scoffing at their blustery claims of power and promising Jen's arrival to destroy them. Meanwhile, the Mystics hear the calls of the Crystal and leave their valley to travel to the Castle.
The next day, Jen awakens in marshes, where he is frightened by a dog-like pet known as Fizzgig and meets another Gelfling, Kira. They stay for a night amongst the Podlings who raised Kira after the death of her parents. Their rest is short-lived, as a Garthim raiding party attacks the village. Kira, Jen, and Fizzgig escape the attack when the Chamberlain appears and mysteriously calls off the Garthim, but many Podlings are captured and taken as slaves. Blaming himself for the Garthim raid, Jen throws away the crystal shard, whereupon Kira reassures him that he is not to blame.
In the morning, they discover a ruined Gelfling City. The discarded shard lies outside, almost as if it were pointing the way in. Kira takes the shard, and as they explore the city, they find a fresco where Jen reads the prophecy of the Crystal. They learn that it is part of the Dark Crystal and must be reinserted to restore integrity. The Chamberlain suddenly appears, and attempts to convince them that he wishes to help, but they refuse and escape. Riding on furry, long-legged 'Landstriders', the Gelflings arrive at the Castle of the Crystal, where they see the Garthim that attacked Kira's village. Kira and Jen ride in to free the captured Podlings while the Landstriders fight the Garthim to distract them from the rescue effort.
The Gelflings fail to rescue the Podlings and find the Garthim, who have slain the Landstriders, closing in on them at the edge of the deep moat that encircles the castle. Sweeping Jen and Fizzgig into her arms, Kira jumps off the cliff and floats gently to the bottom, revealing that female Gelflings have wings. At the bottom of the gully, Jen and Kira enter the castle via an undefended sewer entrance to the lower parts of the castle. The Chamberlain meets them again and attempts to convince them to offer peace to the Skeksis. As Jen and Kira attempt to escape, the Chamberlain seizes Kira. Fearing for Kira's safety, Jen strikes the Chamberlain, using the crystal shard as a dagger and wounding the Chamberlain's arm. Concurrently, a Mystic suffers a spontaneous wound on his arm in the corresponding location. Enraged, the Chamberlain pulls a support beam from the ceiling, causing a cave-in on Jen. The Chamberlain then takes Kira prisoner, believing Jen to be dead.
For capturing Kira, the General restores the Chamberlain to his office. On the suggestion of a Skeksis scientist, the General decides to regain his youth by draining Kira's life essence, recalling that its potency allows a Skeksis emperor to maintain his youth for longer periods than did that of the Podlings on whom emperors have been forced to rely since the Gelfling genocide. Kira maintains a telepathic connection with Jen, who is still conscious. Only a few drops of the "everlasting essence" are drawn from Kira before she, urged by the telepathic voice of Jen and by the captured Aughra, calls out to the animals imprisoned in the laboratory. They break free and attack the Skeksis scientist, who falls into the pit of lava beneath the Crystal. At the same moment, far across the land, a Mystic bursts into flames and vanishes. Kira escapes as her bond with Jen gives him the strength to escape the cave-in, but he is separated from Fizzgig during a confrontation with the Garthim. Aughra escapes her prison while the Mystics enter the castle.
The three suns begin to align as the two Gelflings meet back up at the Crystal chamber. The Skeksis arrive to prepare for the immortality that they will gain from the Conjunction if the Crystal is not restored. Jen leaps onto the Crystal, but the shard falls from his hands; Kira grabs it, but is surrounded by the Skeksis. She throws the shard to Jen, whereupon the Ritual Master kills her. When the Conjunction begins, Jen places the shard in its appropriate place, unifying the crystal as the Mystics arrive. When the Garthim shatter and the Skeksis' influence on the castle crumbles, the Mystics and Skeksis reunite into their original incarnation as the urSkeks, a mystical amalgam of both races. The leader speaks to Jen of their history, and restores Kira to life. Then he and his brethren depart the current plane of existence, leaving the Crystal and an injunction to "make your world in its light" to the Gelflings. Outside, the devastated world has been restored to its former beauty and harmony.
All characters in the movie are elaborate puppets, and none are based on humans or any other specific Earth creature. At the time of the movie's release, it was billed as the first live-action film without any human beings on screen.
Originally, Jim Henson wanted the Skeksis to speak in their own constructed language, their dialogue subtitled in English. This was dropped after screen test audiences found the subtitling too distracting, but the original effect can be observed for selected scenes on the various DVD releases.
The hands and facial features of the groundbreaking animatronic puppets in the film were controlled with relatively primitive rods and cables, although radio control later took over many of the subtler movements. Human performers inside the puppets supplied basic movement for the larger creatures, which in some cases was dangerous or exhausting: for example, the Garthim costumes were so heavy that the performers had to be hung up on a rack every few minutes to rest (while still inside the costumes).
The Dark Crystal made slightly over $40 million in theaters, with an estimated budget of $15 million. Its limited appeal at the time was partly due to parental concerns about its dark nature, and partly because it was overshadowed by E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, which was released the same year. It was more of a critical success, winning a Saturn Award for Best Fantasy Film and earning the grand prize at the Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival. The film was also nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation and a BAFTA Award for Best Special Visual Effects. Other critics, however, panned the film as "watered down J.R.R. Tolkien… without charm as well as interest". In both France and Japan, The Dark Crystal was the highest-grossing box office release for the year (1983) and outgrossed E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial as the most successful foreign film in Japan until Titanic took over the spot 14 years later. Since its success, the film has gained a cult following over the years since its release.
The Dark Crystal was first released on DVD on October 5th, 1999, and has had multiple re-releases since then including a Collector's Edition on November 25th, 2003, and a 25th Anniversary Edition on August 14th, 2007. It was released on Blu-ray on September 29th, 2009.
A sequel titled Power of the Dark Crystal, has been in pre-production for several years, and is estimated to be released sometime in 2011. Genndy Tartakovsky agreed to direct on two conditions: that the film would utilize live-action puppets as well as computer animation, and that Brian Froud would return to design the characters.
...[The film] is deep in development here, and we are as committed to it as ever. We are still planning our original vision of a film, which is a theatrical release... We are anticipating a beautiful blend of puppetry and animatronics with CG animation backgrounds as we've said all along... We're all very excited to see the film come together, and we'll be sure to update the fans to the progress as we have those updates confirmed. So stay tuned for more information on Power of the Dark Crystal!