1982 was a great year for genre film, and I remember seeing Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal in the theatre, and being totally in awe of it. The story for me was ok, but it was the realm I found myself in, Thra as portrayed on the big screen (though I didn’t know the name of the world at the time) was a completely realised environment, there was a biosphere at work, there was a whole history to this world that I had no idea about.
That fascinated me. Just as much as the Chamberlain Skeksis freaked me out. Him and the crustacean like Garthim. The puppetry at work in this film is nothing short of masterful, and it’s almost hard to believe that the muppets were from the same creator (little Fizzgig makes it totally believable).
The film is high fantasy, as we join young Jen on a quest to restore a giant crystal to its former glory by retrieving a shard, and making it whole again. Along the way he is introduced to another of his gelfling kind, Kira, and the adventure takes them from the valley of the Mystics to the castle of the Dark Crystal where the Skeksis rule as living embodiments of evil.
Designer Brian Froud created the entire look of the film, and Henson and his team brought them to life, transforming painted and hand drawn images into three dimensional puppets and sets… and it remains a stunning creation.
But it is not a totally engaging tale for younger viewers, though the puppet work may keep them enthralled, It’s a smarter story than what Henson treated us to with the Muppets and Sesame Street, as the story unravels in fairy tale fashion.
Still, the film had enough of an effect on me that I would imagine riding a landstrider, or eluding garthim on my romps outside. And of course, I’ve devoured the novels, the comics, and the prequel series that we got from Netflix.
With a score by Trevor Jones, the film has endured, and become a cult favourite, and is a great introduction to the realm of fantasy for those who may not yet be ready for Tolkien – I wasn’t at 10, and I ate this one up and it has stayed with me ever since.
It’s not for everyone, but just for the sheer masterful puppetry this one will always have a place in my heart. It was a rousing adventure for me then, it’s a rousing adventure for me now, and I love when I get a chance to revisit Thra and encounter old friends.