The Dark Crystal (1982)

The Dark Crystal (1982) movie poster

directors Jim Henson, Frank Oz
viewed: 02/04/2012 at the Castro Theatre, SF, CA

Playing at the Castro Theatre as part of its 30th Anniversary, The Dark Crystal is yet another journey into the heart of 1980’s wonderful analog effects, puppeteering, and visual design.  Great as all of that is, it’s a little hard for me to consider it a “classic” as some do, certainly a number of the people in the crowd last Saturday.

I recall seeing it when it first came out, something I noted to my kids, which would have made me 13 at the time.  I remember not being particularly impressed by the film, and finding the “gelflings” the heroes of the film, bland and unexpressive.

Directed by Jim Henson and Frank Oz as the first of their more “adult” or “realistic” styled puppets (as opposed to The Muppets with whom they had risen to fame), it’s a very different style of narrative, a more traditional fantasy genre story, set in a mystical world that has three suns.  When the dark crystal became damaged in time long ago, it broke these creatures into two races, the evil, vulture-like Skeksis and the mellow, old hippy-like Mystics.  When the old ones start dying out, the leader of the Mystics tells one of the last living gelflings, Jen, to go find the missing shard of the crystal and to make things whole again.  It’s all associated with a prophecy.  The Skeksis don’t want this to happen, they just want to rule cruelly for all eternity.

The story isn’t all that strong.  I mean, an old hag had the shard in a box of crystals all along.  Outside of dodging the giant pill-bug-cum-crab creatures called Garthim, the Skeksis’ henchmen, there really isn’t a whole lot to the “quest” as it were.  And the direction of the main story arc is kind of clumsy and plodding.  So, I guess I kind of agree with my 13-year old self on this one.

Differently, though, I think I appreciate the puppet designs and performances a bit more, though.  The gelflings are still kind of lame, but the Garthim and the Skeksis are cool, as is the old hag, and lots of the little details, the strange plant life and odd creatures that make up the landscapes (and don’t necessarily get a lot of screen time) are some of the most fun and interesting.

Typically, Clara enjoyed it more than Felix, something of a theme of late in our viewings.  He’s developing a cynical sensibility toward a lot of stuff, perhaps some would say, much like his old man.  That’s too bad.  It’s more fun to find reasons to enjoy things than to find reasons not to.  Note to self.