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Retro Review: Jim Henson's The Dark Crystal (1982)



The Geeky Nerfherder: Movie Poster Art: The Dark Crystal ...In preparation for the newly released "The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance" series on Netflix (may review that as well), I decided to watch the original film "Jim Henson's The Dark Crystal" for the first time.

Plot synopsis: In the fantasy world of Thra, the source of all life is The Crystal of Truth, but one day, it is suddenly cracked, losing one of its shards, and turns into the titular Dark Crystal. At the same time, two races appear: the monstrous Skeksis and the wise Mystics, with the Skeksis taking control of the Crystal and using it to drain the life force from Thra's other creatures to maintain their youth.

A thousand years later, a young Gelfling named Jen, supposedly the last of his kind, must find and return the shard before Thra's three suns align, or else the Skeksis will gain immortality and rule forever.

As someone who mainly grew up on Sesame Street and The Muppets, seeing a lesser known entry in Jim Henson's filmography was going to be both an intriguing experience and a confusing one: Henson is an undeniable staple in many people's childhoods, and he always seemed to have a lot to offer in terms of creativity and imagination. How could he go wrong?

Indeed, when I started watching the film, his magical touch was prominantly on display: Absolutely gorgeous visuals with a wide array of unique looking creatures ranging from enchanting and alien-like to appropriately ugly and vile. There is a great sense of atmosphere and mythology here; a lived in world that you want to explore more of.

Where it shines in visuals though, it unfortunately lacks in story and character. Story-wise, much of it is told in narration or exposition by the characters, sometimes with the same piece of information over and over again. Character-wise, while the main ones have a trait or unique ability that makes them stand out, there isn't really much to them personality-wise. The saving grace there, however, is in Henson and his team's expert puppetry work, bringing some genuine emotion and character reactions that I did find moving at times. While doing some research on the film, I discovered one of the inspirations was Grimm's Fairy Tales, which can definitely felt in Jen's journey. The caveat there though is that while fairy tales, myths, and legends can work well with simplistic characters on the page, they need more complexity on the screen.

Another smaller issue I had with the film, was with some of its pacing. In a number of scenes meant to be suspsenseful and action-packed, the pacing drags as the characters seem to be waiting for the bad guys to come attack, even though its a race against time. The pacing also drags a bit in quieter scenes as well, such as when it shows the Skeksis disguistingly and selfishly eating a big feast for several minutes, hammering in how unlikable the Skeksis are meant to be.

All that being said, however, I can see where both sides are coming from. I can see why a number of adults who grew up in the 80s love and cherish it (and were terrified by its darker material), but I can also see why it is more of a cult classic and not as well remembered. Ultimately I'm glad I saw it and I envy those who got to experience it as kids. Its also a good film for fantasy enthusiasts and artists to watch to get inspired for their own work. The Dark Crystal is a fun film for kids and older adults, but if you're one that prefers some deeper material, then the Muppet movies, Fraggle Rock, or The Storyteller might be more your bag.

Final Rating: 3 stars out of 5.

Onto The Age of Resistance!

Comment your thoughts on the film below.

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