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Dark Crystal, The (1982) Print E-mail
Friday, 09 October 2009
ImageToday we are used to the awesome power of CGI controlled animated films.  However, before there was Disney/Pixar and DreamWorks, there was Jim Henson.  As with his last film, "Labyrinth," "The Dark Crystal" is the product of an imaginative genius at work.  Fresh off the consulting work for Lucas in the production of Yoda, Henson created an all-puppet animated film.

"The Dark Crystal" is a lot creepier than its successor, "Labyrinth."  This is mainly due to the creatures that stir in the shadows.  Kids will surely have a fear of monsters after watching this film.  Monsters are not as lovable as in, say, "Monsters Inc."  Nevertheless, this is another classic tale of good versus evil.  However, it is not merely about the fight of one against the other.  There are heavy underlying tones that deal with the partnership between good and evil and the necessity of each one's opposite.

In the film, there are two races that are inevitably linked together.  The Mystics are wise creatures that wish for nothing but peace.  The Skeksis are the evil race that vow to destroy other races.  Upon the last great convergence of the three suns, the powerful crystal cracked and lost a shard, thus transforming to the dark crystal.  When the crystal fractured, the two races were born.  The Skeksis ravaged the land, forcing the Mystics away.

The Dark Crystal foretold a prophecy that said that a Gelfling would reunite the crystal and cause the destruction of the Skeksis.  The plot was fairly heavy for a child.  Growing up I did not catch a third of the things that I caught on this last watch of the film.

Jen is thought to be the only Gelfling remaining.  When his village was destroyed he was adopted by the Mystics and taught by the wisest of the all the Mystics.  When the wisest Mystic is about to die, he summons Jen and tells him of the task that lay before him.  Jen must follow the largest sun in search for the shard of crystal that has broken from the whole.  While it seems quite clear to me what he is meant to do, the film allows Jen to get the shard but then not know what he is supposed to do.  It is not until Jen meets Kira, another Gelfling that he finds the prophecy and what he must do with the shard.

There are nine remaining Mystics and nine remaining Skeksis.  The leaders of both clans have died.  While this left a power struggle among the Skeksis, the Mystics helped to prepare Jen for his journey.

While the film is fairly predictable, it is an amazing journey.  The mind of Jim Henson must have been a interesting place.  The characters that he designed and the vision that he had for the time was simply remarkable.  Frank Oz, another master puppeteer also demonstrates his presence in this film as a director and puppeteer of many of the characters.

"The Dark Crystal" is not understood by everyone, which is why there are many out there that simply scoff at the sound of the film's name.  So while it is surely generational, like "Labyrinth," the film has something to offer for those willing to give it a chance.  The film's pacing is a little slow by today's standards, but it is still intriguing.
While "The Dark Crystal" comes four years before "Labyrinth," the film still has a remarkable transfer, one that falls short but also surpasses its successor.  Black levels vary a bit throughout the film.  They can be quite rich but also reach a too bright level.  Colors are very muted in the film as to correspond with the good versus evil theme of the film.  Colors become more noticeable during the lush green sequences of Kira's home and parts of Jen's journey.  Even then however, the colors lack boldness.  Details are about what you would expect.  The details are not strong.  Fine details of the brush and costumes are not as noticeable as in the film's successor.  However, the details are still good for a lack of artificial sharpening.  The film does not suffer from artifacts.  Film grain is evenly present on the image.  Dust and Scratches appear quite often and of course puppeteer strings are also present.  Despite the lack of perfection, "The Dark Crystal" will certainly impress fans.  This is probably about as good as this film is going to look.  Enjoy the upgraded quality over the standard DVD.

Unfortunately, the audio track is not as pleasing as the video transfer.  Sony provides a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track that does not have the fine clarity that is necessary.  Dialogue is constantly buried amidst the music and sound effects.  I would say a third of the dialogue is muddy and unintelligible.  The surround dialogue is good enough that your brain can interpret what was said, but struggling to hear the precise words spoken takes the viewer out of the movie experience.  The LFE channel is not as powerful as it successor, however, it comes in nicely when certainly needed.  The dynamic range is also not as expansive as its successor.  The film is predominantly front-heavy.  The surround channels contain little in the way of discreet sound effects.  Much the sound in the rear channels is simply bleed, which is understandable.  Overall, the track is sufficient, but some better mixing of the dialogue would have been much appreciated.  Trevor Jones' music score is nicely represented in the TrueHD track.

Like "Labyrinth," "The Dark Crystal" comes with an updated bonus materials package, which is nice to see for catalog titles, inside of simply the ported over DVD contents.  Exclusive to the Blu-ray is "The Book of Thra – The Dark Crystal Collector," which is an interactive track that allows you to view special information during playback by selecting enter on your remote.  "SkekTek's Crystal Challenge " is a trivia game.  There is a picture-in-picture storyboard track.  This is secondary video track that plays along with the film and display an art gallery.  The last Blu-ray exclusive is an introduction by screenwriter David Odell.

Carried over from the previous DVD edition is an audio commentary with Brian Froud, the conceptual designer.  Like his commentary track on "Labyrinth," this commentary track is must for all fans.  "The World of 'The Dark Crystal'" is a one-hour documentary on the making of the film and is another must for fans.  "Reflections of 'The Dark Crystal'" comes in two featurettes - "Light on the Path of Creation" and "Shard of Illusion."  These two featurettes look at the importance of the film and the puppet creations.  "Original Skeksis Language" contains some test scenes for coming up with the Skeksis language.  Lastly, there are some deleted scenes.  The disc is also BD-Live enabled.

"The Dark Crystal" is powerful and has much greater underlying tones than its successor.  However, as far as films go I would have to rate this film just a bit lower than "Labyrinth."  "The Dark Crystal" just doesn't have the panache of is successor.  Nevertheless, I would also have to recommend this Blu-ray disc for fans especially, but also those that wish to give the film a chance.

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