REVIEWED : THE Dark Crystal (1982, Jim Henson and Frank Oz)

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Delivering a high fantasy premise – filled with otherworldly characters and nightmarish scenarios – “The Dark Crystal” is a masterclass of what can be achieved within the confines of puppeteering. Continuing his foray into feature-length puppet-driven films, Jim Henson collaborates brilliantly with Frank Oz on what is easily the most ambitious film within this genre.

Dreamlike in aesthetic yet nightmarish in concept “The Dark Crystal” is set on a distant and very different planet, 1000 years ago. In hindsight, this locale is perfect in allowing the filmmaking freedom to explore various different concepts in its convoluted – yet magical – plot line. With some of the best character designs to come out of film, “The Dark crystal” explores an impressive amount of scale, with its creatures and sets able to transport the viewer into the beautifully realised cinematic landscape of Henson’s imagination. Whether its the climatic crystal chamber or the ruined Gelfling city, each location adds wonderment to the onscreen proceedings and further cements the high fantasy world in which the film takes place. It is this aspect, along with the character depictions, that push this low budget fantasy film into the standard delivered by higher budget genre staples.

Jen is the last remaining Gelfling, a young male who is raised by the wizened race of Mystic’s after the eradication of his entire species by the malicious hands of the Skeksis – birdlike monsters that rule the planet under the power of the dark crystal.
Born into a prophecy, Jen is tasked with traversing the harsh planet and restoring balance to the crystal – which would save the inhabitants of the world from a certain doom. Hunted by the Skeksis for the threat that he poses, Jen meets a wide variety of supporting characters while also conflicting with the Garthim – who serve as the minions of the planets overlord’s.

Made as a film for children, “The Dark crystal” does not entirely fit its target demographic due to the overly complicated manner in which the plot progresses and the dark nature of the films principle antagonists. The Skeksis are chilling to observe in every scene they feature and whether it is the high pitch sound of the Chamberlain, or the death of the emperor the film does not glance over the nightmarish tendencies of these cinematic creations, instead revelling in the disgusting nature of the alien race. However, this revelling brings about a very adult style that could detract enjoyment from a lot of the child demographic – this places “The Dark Crystal” within an identity conundrum of itself.

Although Henson manages to create a magically realised world with many great designs, the dark undertone of the entire film places this production into a state of lost identity. The Skeksis are brilliantly brought to life onscreen, but also consistently push the film into a darker context throughout. Made for children, but not entirely suitable, “ The Dark Crystal” is a brilliantly envisioned high fantasy film full of imagination and unique characters that will entertain older audiences with its simple spectacle and mature context.

Plot – 3
Acting – 4
Direction – 4
Special Effects – 4
Retrospect – 3
Overall – 4

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