The Dark Crystal was 1982’s hidden sci-fi gem. Jim Henson and Frank Oz pushed conventions to deliver a film and a world longing to be returned to.
The Dark Crystal (1982) was not poised for widespread appreciation when it was originally released. Over its many years of production, it was bought and sold several times over by studios that had little faith in its marketability. It was a dark and violent children’s movie made by Jim Henson and Frank Oz of Muppets and Sesame Street fame. The ensuing confusion over the movie’s appropriateness for children drove parents instead towards the safer bet, E.T, which was playing again by Christmas when The Dark Crystal was released. Meanwhile, the adults who may otherwise have been engrossed by the beautifully imaginative world of The Dark Crystal were too busy being captivated by Tootsie, which released the same day.
It was by the passion of Jim Henson alone that The Dark Crystal has endured and gone on to cult classicism. He personally funded the final marketing of the film to ensure it would not be completely buried by the production morass it had muddled through for so long. Now, heralded as one of Henson’s favorite films he ever made, the Skeksis, the Mystics, and all of Thras’ inhabitants are bound to make a much-deserved return in 2019. Netflix and the Henson Company are delivering a prequel series: The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance.
A Hero’s Journey
The Dark Crystal is rather archetypal. Not that this detracts from its creativity or value. Jen (Jim Henson/Kiran Shah/Stephen Garlick), the film’s main character, is very reminiscent of Frodo Baggins from The Lord of the Rings. He is a small creature in a world far larger than he could ever have imagined. Whether he is ready or not though, Jen must fulfill a prophecy and restore a broken shard from the all-powerful Dark Crystal. If he does not, darkness will reign for at least another 1000 years. Jen makes unexpected friends along the way and suffers horrible betrayal at the hands of greedy and power hungry forces.
Much like the work of George Lucas in Star Wars which Oz and Henson greatly admired, The Dark Crystal was infused with more than just the typical elements of Western Fantasy and the Hero’s Journey that the individual plot points of the film followed. Seth Material and various Eastern religions gave The Dark Crystal its unique and delectable flavor. Most Western Fantasies fixate on destroying an object, like The Lord of the Rings’ One Ring, or felling a foe, like The Emperor in Star Wars. The Dark Crystal had a singular mission: restoring the Dark Crystal.
Jen was not instructed to slay the Skeksis’ Emperor or destroy the Dark Crystal or any of the Skeksis’ material possessions. He was simply tasked with finding the Dark Crystal’s missing shard and reuniting it with the larger body. Being sent on a purely restorative mission with a purely peaceful and pacifistic completely changed an otherwise mundane concept for a film into an adventure unlike any other.
Age Of Wonder
Pure wonder would be the first emotion that The Dark Crystal even the word was never uttered during the opening monologue. The Dark Crystal was the first live-action film to ever not feature a single human actor. Under any other directors, a concept like this may have easily fallen flat, mired by a drab and unrealistic setting and static, unrelatable characters. As one of the foremost innovative puppeteers, Jim Henson would not abide by that though. The puppets, especially Jen and his other Gelfling counterpart Kira (Kathryn Mullen/Kiran Shah/Lisa Maxwell), were so incredibly articulate. Every creature moved so naturally, as if they were real, with a deep level of particularity in each opposable component.
Not only were the characters and creatures immaculate and unique, but the world they inhabited was also full, lush, and diverse. Every new scene took the heroes to an entirely new biome laden with fauna and flora so unlike any other scene. None of this was necessary. The Dark Crystal could have existed on an arid and decrepit planet devoid of other life. It would have made producing the film easier and cheaper. Fortunately, Thra was designed as a fully realized world. Its creatures and environments are what made The Dark Cyrstal full of so much wonder. What was Thra like before the crystal shattered? Will the world continue to breed new beautiful life as it once did after the Dark Crystal is restored? It is no wonder The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance is getting a full Netlifx treatment.
The Two Made One
The beautiful theme of two being remade into one is what really made The Dark Crystal so touching. Learning that the Mystics and Skeksis were once single creatures separated upon the shattering of the Dark Crystal at their own greedy hands is just so elegant. The theme is also reflected in the Gelflings. Jen and Kira’s dreamfasting melds their memories together as one. In fact, the theme of oneness is encapsulated perfectly when UngIm (Joseph O’Conor) the urSkek tells Jen to hold Kira close to himself, for “She is part of you, as we all are part of each other.”
The splendor if this theme is not so just because of a universal acceptance that every human shares. It is carefully formulated over the course of the movie. This process begins with leaning heavily into the assumptions audiences would make of a Western Fantasy film and then completely subverting them. Sacrifices are often necessary before the heroes can ultimately succeed, whether they are individual character deaths or entire armies. Sometimes they are willing while other times those sacrifices are by people who never asked to become martyrs. The Dark Crystal lulls its audience into believing numerous sacrifices had been made on Jen and Kira’s behalves: namely Augrha (Frank Oz/Kiran Shah/Lisa Maxwell), Fizzgig (Dave Goelz/Percy Edwards), and even Kira herself. Each of these feigned deaths is shocking and tragic. Their “resurrections;” however, are each more impactful than the next. Nothing feels ambiguous about the future of Thra with each of these characters still alive at The Dark Crystal’s conclusion. The future will truly be shaped in their brightness.
The other major subversion is the fate of the Mystics and Skeksis. While the clues may seem obvious in retrospect, the grand reveal that the two creatures were actually one singular being is just flabbergasting. At first, when the Mystics begin making their sudden trek towards the Skeksis’ castle, there is no indication as to why. Their journey is reminiscent of a departure to do battle against the Skeksis when the Gelflings arrive with the crystal shard. Of course, neither was the case. So, as the intimate like between the Skeksis and the Mystics became more and more clear, something entirely unpredictable and unique was gifted to audiences in perpetuity.
The sheer wonder and beauty is comically captured in the moment when Kira saves her and Jen with her wings. The audiences can feel this moment through Jen’s experience. It is magestic, unexpected, and just simply wonderful. To Kira though, it is so simple. “Of course not, you’re a boy,” may be the sassiest line in The Dark Crystal, but it also encompasses everything the movie tried to do. All of the beauty and splendor of The Dark Crystal was just natural and without trying to oversell anything. It is all just wonderful.
Jason wants to tell you about his current job, but he’s afraid that it might be more trouble than it’s worth. When not writing, Jason works on food justice and sharing music with communities throughout the region. Or he’s unlocking Xbox achievements.