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The Dark Crystal (1982)

Today’s film is a beloved cult classic…that I just wasn’t connecting with.  I love Jim Henson’s work to a point.  I LOVE Labyrinth (although most girls my age do…Bowie) and I liked Fraggle Rock more than The Muppets (I know…sacrelige).  So I’m not sure if that pre-determines my enjoyment of The Dark Crystal or not.  To me it felt like Lord of the Rings and Dune smushed together and watered down for children.  The story was far too dense, the characters meandered for the majority of the runtime, and the ending seemed anticlimactic.  The puppetry is great and the sets are beautiful, but I don’t think this movie is for me.

A group of evil warlords Skeksis are beholden to a dark crystal that gives them immortality.  In an age of chaos a young man of a peace-loving tribe known as the Mystics, comes to learn a prophecy foresees him returning the final shard to the dark crystal and restoring peace.  With the help of another of his kind named Kira (voiced by Kathryn Mullen), the two will have to defeat the Skeksis and restore the dark crystal.

In 1982 Jim Henson and his gang wanted to make a long-form movie and came out with The Dark Crystal, four years before Labyrinth.  Having seen both these two films can’t be anymore different.  While both are fantasy based, Labyrinth deals more with a coming-of-age story via magic, goblins, and one all-powerful character.  The quest of the heroine in the film is straight-forward, and while the plot does meander and goes off the rails, the movie is fairly focused.  The Dark Crystal has a twisting and intricate history that takes over six minutes of voice-over narration to be told and I still had to focus intently and remember certain points.

The aforementioned narration is the first hurdle you’ll get to in discovering if you’ll make it through this film.  We learn of two tribes, the Skeksis and the Mystics and how both are dying.  Every line in this narration seems important but you wouldn’t know that unless it’s one of a handful of things we hear repeated at least ten times in that six minutes.  We know everyone is dying, the groups are pretty much the same and both leaders are dying…did I mention the earth is dying too…there’s a lot of dying to be established!  The intro is embedded below.  Tell me you couldn’t play a drinking game with all the repetition.

So both leaders are dying (okay I’m done with the death imagery) and while one group sucks the power from various species and the crystal, the Mystics are a peaceful group.  We then meet Frodo Jen (voiced by Jim Henson himself), a mild-mannered Gelfing and the star of our story.  Jen brings me to the second question I had in this film.  I know Henson’s group is predominantly puppets but are Jen and Kira marionettes?  They seemed very stilted in their movements almost like a puppet with strings from the top.  It was either marionettes or robotics but I’m not sure.  I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if I got a comment saying they were traditional puppets which I guess shows how amazing the work was.

The movie is definitely not the go-to kids film you’re expecting.  I wouldn’t say Labyrinth is a good kids film either (unless you’re a 13-year-old girl and then it’s pretty much a right of passage).  The Dark Crystal is bleak at times.  The opening scenes with the Skeksis involve the emperor, who looks and sounds like the Crypt Keeper dying and then crumbling.  The movie is incredibly dark in certain spots and characters have their essence sucked out in a pretty cool sequence which I’ve included if you’d like to scare your kids.

The sets are all sumptuous and detailed.  The Skeksis lair is dank, subterranean and it’s easily an inspiration for Fraggle Rock.  The puppets all convey grandiosity next to the tiny Podlings, Jen and Kira.  The outside, open-air areas are also beautiful and ethereal.

My problems mostly lie with the story.  If I had to sum up The Dark Crystal I’d say it’s a tween version of Lord of the Rings or Dune.  There’s just so much packed into a small runtime and the script seems very separated until almost an hour into the movie.  The stories are firmly divided between the Skeksis and Jen/Kira for over 25 minutes and those first twenty minutes are heavily in favor of the Skeksis.  I wondered a few times where Jen was and if he was our hero, why wasn’t I seeing him?  Jen is a pretty weak hero as well.  I rooted more for Kira than him.  He seemed to just go around saying the most obvious things like “What is this?”  “Where are we?”  and “This is weird” (thank you for voicing my thoughts Jen).

The voice over acting between Jen and Kira is veeery slowww and delibberate.  They convey their lines like they’re super important or, in Jen’s case, like he might bust into a British accent at some point.  The dialogue just sounded like a high school production or something out of a B-movie Medieval fantasy.  Other characters like Aughra just shout their lines or there’s the annoying Skeksis who makes this mmh-hmmm sound that annoyed the shit out of me.

I will give the movie credit for being incredibly dark towards the climax, but at the end Jen saves things and everyone’s all….okay.  I just didn’t connect with this movie.  Maybe it’s one of those films you had to see at a certain age (I know that many of my friends in their 20s hate The Witches which I love because I saw it as a kid).  Maybe because I’m not a big fan of epic fantasy.  Either way, I’ll stick to Labyrinth.

Grade: C-

ANNOUNCEMENTS: So I have a few more questions for our upcoming tourney.  I’m thinking of looking at the 30s-90s but does anything think there are enough leading men from the 2000s to include them as well?  Since this is my first tourney I’m going to limit the choices to five per decade (I know the more ambitious blogs break it down to certain genres within the decade but let’s start small). Also, I’m assuming we’re encompassing all forms of what makes an actor/actress great so in picking our nominees I’ll be looking at the whole body of work and not just looks (hard I know).  With that if you have any actors (let’s face it with a 5-0 lead it’s going to be actors) from any decade you think HAVE to be nominated comment away!  Till tomorrow!  BTW…Cabin in the Woods….SEE IT NOW!

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Kristen Lopez View All

A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.

9 thoughts on “The Dark Crystal (1982) Leave a comment

  1. I think you covered a lot of the bad points of the movie, I’m someone who watched it as a kid so I still greatly enjoy the movie. Funnily enough the one scene that stands out in my head as an odd decision is when Aughra is showing Jen the three different crystals, he asks which one it is and she says “don’t know” and then takes a huge, loud effort to crouch down to take a closer look at the crystals, yet all she does is repeat “don’t know”. I always wondered why she bothered to crouch down to repeat herself.

    Anyway, welcome to the LAMB!

    • It’s interesting you bring up that scene because she also lays out the three crystals and Jen says “Which one is it….” Well A) obviously one of those three and B) thanks for stating the obvious! Happy to officially be a LAMB, thanks for reading!!

  2. I don’t remember loving this film, but I wonder if my 4 year-old would dig it. He is into what he calls scary moives so it might be worth giving it a shot.

    going to see Cabin In the Woods tomorrow 🙂

    • I would recommend it for kids if they don’t scare easily (although I had a fear of Edward Scissorhands till I was 14 so go figure). Hope you love Cabin as much as I did! Look forward to hearing your thoughts on it!!

  3. I would have to agree with your assessment on this. It’s an interesting spectacle, a unique piece of art, but not a very good movie.During the last day of the school year in grade school we watched a movie on a big screen in the gym, all the classes were there. One year it was decided that we would be watching The Dark Crystal. So many kids cried, that the school sent out apology letters to the parents.
    Having a Dark Crystal metal lunch box is one my to do list.

    • Oh schools and the movies they don’t know are inappropriate. I had a similar experience only it involved the movie Clueless (which I could have told them was not good for all 11-year-olds).

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