"The Dark Crystal" Movie Review--ReFocus

4/24/2010 Posted by Admin

Movie Review: Refocus

"The Dark Crystal"

By our guest blogger, John Shannon

Editor's note: With new movies coming out every Friday, new DVDs every Tuesday, and nearly a hundred years worth of film history to draw from, it’s easy for some titles to get lost in the shuffle. “ReFocus” is a weekly column detailing a film that for one reason or another deserves revisiting. Whether it’s simply providing further context or taking a second look at a misplaced classic, we’re here to continue the conversation and give films their proper view.

This week…

"The Dark Crystal"

The summer of 1982 was a great summer for genre fans. Not only did major hits such as “ET” and “Poltergeist” open to considerable acclaim, but cult favorites “Blade Runner,” “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan,” and “The Secret of NIMH” were released as well. Also opening that summer was “The Dark Crystal,” Jim Henson's first foray into all-out fantasy adventure.

Set in an alternate world and an alternate time, this exotic land is filled with bizarre beasts. The most powerful and sophisticated of these creatures are the evil Skeksis, a race or reptilian-like monarchs, and the wise and just Mystics.

The two races once lived in harmony, but the Skeksis gained control of the Dark Crystal, a god-like life force that maintains the balance of the world. When evil gains hold of it, the world lost its balance, and the Mystics were cast out to the far-off mountains. But not before breaking off a piece of the Crystal for themselves. A prophecy exists declaring peace will return once a Chosen One brings the shard to its larger body. The film opens as a young Gelfling by the name of Jen is given this quest. Jen, who's family was slaughtered by Skeksis, is chosen to bring back the balance of good and evil to his world, and the film unfolds as he goes on his journey.

The movie is filled to the brim with flights of fancy. With no humans in sight, all the various creatures are brought to life with puppetry and animatronics. The entire movie is essentially one massive special effect, and all the puppets and animatronics work is done spectacularly, with fantastic technique and beautiful detail brought to each and every creature. It isn't long before you forget your watching felt and cloth and plastic and start seeing it all as outlandish yet intriguing beings and characters. Imagine the Cantina scene from “Star Wars” or the Troll Market sequence from “Hellboy II,” but for an entire movie. It really is a sight to behold.

If the movie has a fault, it's that it sometimes gets too involved with it's own world, and we the audience find all the background info and secondary characters so interesting that we don't ever really get the chance to care much for Jen, our hero. His personality isn't very well defined, and he ends up being mostly nothing more then an avatar through which we can explore this new world. Most of his dialogue involves "Who, What, When, Where and Why?" While we find out all about the world around him we don't find much out about HIM, save for the fact that his parents were killed and Mystics raised him, things told to us from the very beginning. On the one hand, this makes for an uninteresting hero, but on the other, it lets us project enough of ourselves into him that we feel like him, encountering this strange world for the first time.

The most interesting characters by far are SkekSil, the Skeksi who makes a power play for the throne and is exiled as a result, and Aughra, a wise-woman character that acts as more then just a signpost pointing Jen in the right direction. Both have intriguing back-stories and when they're onscreen, we can't help but hope the next scene follows them as opposed to Jen. Along the way, Jen meets a fellow Gelfling, Kira, who also is a better credit to her race then Jen is. She is smart, resourceful, graceful and, unlike Jen, has the ability to fly. Apparently, male Gelflings don't have such a luxury. Supporting characters such as these don't just maintain our interest but also broaden the world and give incentive for repeat viewings.

“The Dark Crystal” has been further explored in manga, American comics, novelizations and a sequel has been languishing in development hell for years. Without a doubt, it captures your imagination, it is filled to the brim with so many ideas and concepts, you could probably fill three movies with it all.

At this point, one must recognize the vision of Jim Henson. Most known for “The Muppets” and “Sesame Street,” Henson approached this project as his first foray not just into all-out fantasy, but a slightly more adult form of entertainment. He wanted to prove that puppetry could be used effectively not only in children's entertainment but for adult fare as well. Henson pushed puppetry beyond its limits, insisting every creature be created practically and without animated or computer-generated enhancement. His techniques drew many accolades and followers, and this film, while not a huge hit, is certainly a benchmark for the medium. Henson would go on to mix puppetry and actors once more in “Labyrinth,” but to many this is seen as his purest work.

The film is a must for imaginative kids and fantasy nuts. And for those who tire of excessive CGI in current filmmaking, this is a movie I can wholeheartedly recommend. It isn't perfect, and it's certainly an oddball of a movie, but it entertains and intrigues, oozing atmosphere and taking you to a completely new world. It gets your mind whirling and your imagination running. If you haven't already seen it, I can guarantee you haven't seen anything like it.

Next Week on ReFocus: “Speed Racer”

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