The Dark Crystal
|The Dark Crystal|
Theatrical release poster by Richard Amsel
|Directed by||Jim Henson
|Produced by||Jim Henson
|Screenplay by||David Odell|
|Story by||Jim Henson|
|Narrated by||Joseph O'Conor|
|Music by||Trevor Jones|
|Editing by||Ralph Kemplen|
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
|Running time||93 minutes|
The Dark Crystal is a 1982 American-British fantasy film directed by Jim Henson and Frank Oz. It tells the story of Jen, an elflike 'Gelfling' on a quest to restore balance to his alien world by returning a lost shard to a powerful but broken gem. Although marketed as a family film, it was notably darker than the creators' previous material. The animatronics used in the film were considered groundbreaking. The primary concept artist was the fantasy illustrator Brian Froud, famous for his distinctive faerie and dwarf designs. Froud also collaborated with Henson and Oz for their next project, the 1986 film Labyrinth, which was notably more light-hearted than The Dark Crystal. The film stars the voices of Stephen Garlick, Lisa Maxwell and Billie Whitelaw.
The Dark Crystal was produced by Gary Kurtz, whose list of credits includes American Graffiti, Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, Return to Oz, and Slipstream. The screenplay was written by David Odell, who had previously worked with Henson as a staff writer on The Muppet Show. The film's score was composed by Trevor Jones. The film was produced by ITC Entertainment, the British production company responsible for producing The Muppet Show.
A thousand years ago on "another world", a magical crystal cracked, and two new races appeared: the tyrannical, reptilian Skeksis, who use the power of the "Dark Crystal" to continually replenish themselves, and hunchbacked natural wizards called Mystics.
Jen, an elf-like Gelfling taken in by the Mystics after his clan was killed, is told by his Mystic master that he must find the crystal shard, and that it can be found in the home of Aughra. If he fails to do so before the three suns meet, the Skeksis will rule forever. The Skeksis' emperor and Jen's master die simultaneously. A duel ensues between the Skeksis Chamberlain and General, who both desire the throne. The General becomes emperor and the Chamberlain is exiled. Learning of Jen's existence, the Skeksis send large crab-like creatures called Garthim to track him.
Jen reaches Aughra and is taken to her home, which contains an enormous orrery she uses to predict the motions of the heavens. Jen discovers the crystal shard by playing music on his flute to which it resonates. Jen is told of the upcoming Great Conjunction when the three suns will align, but he learns little of its connection to the shard. The Garthim destroy Aughra's home and take her prisoner as Jen flees. Hearing the calls of the crystal, the Mystics leave their valley to travel to the Skeksis' castle. Jen meets Kira, another surviving Gelfling who can communicate with animals, and her pet Fizzgig. They discover that they have a telepathic connection, which Kira calls "dreamfasting". They stay for a night with the Podlings who raised Kira after the death of her parents. However, the Garthim attack the village and Kira, Jen, and Fizzgig flee when the Chamberlain prevents one of the Garthim from attacking them. Most of the Podlings are enslaved.
Jen and Kira discover a ruined Gelfling city. Finding a relief with prophetic writing, Jen discovers that the shard, a part of the Dark Crystal, must be reinserted to restore the Crystal's integrity. The Chamberlain tells Jen and Kira that he wishes to bring them to the Skeksis to make peace, but they refuse. Riding on Landstriders, the Gelflings arrive at the Castle of the Crystal, where they see the Garthim that attacked Kira's village. Kira and Jen unsuccessfully attempt to free the captured Podlings. Kira, Jen and Fizzgig infiltrate the lower parts of the Castle. The Chamberlain confronts them again and tries to convince them to make peace; however, the Chamberlain wounds Jen and takes Kira to the Castle. The General restores the Chamberlain to his former position. On the suggestion of the Skeksis' resident scientist, the General decides to regain his youth by draining Kira's life essence, recalling that its potency allows a Skeksis emperor to maintain his youth for longer periods than that of the Podlings on whom they have been forced to rely since the Gelfling genocide. Kira maintains a telepathic connection with Jen, who tells her to call out to the animals imprisoned in the laboratory. They break free from their cages and the Skeksis scientist falls to his death, upon which his Mystic counterpart simultaneously vanishes.
The three suns begin to align as the two Gelflings reconvene in the Crystal chamber. The Skeksis arrive to prepare for the immortality that they will gain from the Conjunction if the Crystal is not restored. Jen is discovered and drops the shard, but Kira throws it back to him and is stabbed to death by the Skeksis' high priest. Jen inserts the shard into the Crystal, unifying it as the Mystics enter the chamber. As Aughra, Jen and Fizzgig watch, the Mystics and Skeksis merge into tall glowing beings, one of whom says "we are again one", speaks to Jen of their history, and revives Kira. After leaving the Crystal for the two Gelflings to "make [their] world in its light," the beings depart, and the land is shown rejuvenated and the Castle transformed into a palace of crystal.
- Kiran Shah as the body of Jen
- Stephen Garlick as the voice of Jen
- Kiran Shah as the body of Kira
- Lisa Maxwell as the voice of Kira
- Frank Oz and David Greenaway as Aughra
- Kiran Shah as the body of Aughra
- Billie Whitelaw as the voice of Aughra
- Dave Goelz and Rollie Krewson as Fizzgig
- Percy Edwards as the voice of Fizzgig
- Frank Oz as SkekSil/The Chamberlain
- Barry Dennen as the voice of SkekSil/The Chamberlain
- Dave Goelz and Rollie Krewson as SkekUng/The Garthim Master
- Michael Kilgarriff as the voice of SkekUng/The Garthim Master
- Jim Henson as SkekZok/The Ritual Master and SkekSo/The Emperor
- Jerry Nelson as SkekZok/The Ritual Master and SkekSo/The Emperor
- Louise Gold as SkekAyuk/The Gourmand
- Thick Wilson as the voice of SkekAyuk/The Gourmand
- Brian Muehl as SkekEkt/The Ornamentalist
- Bob Payne as SkekOk/The Scroll Keeper
- John Baddeley as the voice of SkekOk/The Scroll Keeper
- Mike Quinn as SkekNa/The Slave Master
- David Buck as the voice of SkekNa/The Slave Master
- Tim Rose as SkekShod/The Treasurer
- Charles Collingwood as the voice of SkekShod/The Treasurer
- Steve Whitmire as SkekTek/The Scientist
- Brian Muehl as UrSu/The Master and UrZah/The Ritual Guardian
- Sean Barrett as the voice of UrZah/The Ritual Guardian
- Toby Philpott as UrTih/The Alchemist
- Joseph O'Conor as the narrator and UngIm
- Dave Goelz, Jim Henson, and Frank Oz as the Podlings
- Barry Dennen, Patrick Monckton, and Sue Weatherby as the voices of the Podlings
- Robbie Barnett and Hugh Spight as the Landstriders
|“||The spiritual kernel of The Dark Crystal is heavily influenced by Seth. I've always felt that the idea of perfect beings split into a good mystic part and an evil materialistic part which are reunited after a long separation is Jim's response to the teachings of that book. Jim admitted that he didn't understand the book himself, and that everyone would understand it -- or not understand it -- in their own way. But he thought it opened up a whole different way of looking at reality, which I think was one of his goals in the making of The Dark Crystal.||”|
—Screenwriter David Odell
Henson's inspiration for the visual aspects of the film came around 1975-76, after he saw an illustration in a children's book showing crocodiles living in a palace and wearing elaborate robes and jewelry. According to co-director Frank Oz, Henson's intention was to "get back to the darkness of the original Grimms' Fairy Tales", as he believed that it was unhealthy for children to never be afraid. Henson formulated his ideas into a 25-page story he entitled The Crystal, which he wrote whilst snowed in at an airport hotel. Henson's original concept was set in a world called Mithra, a wooded land with talking mountains, walking boulders and animal-plant hybrids. The original plot involved a malevolent race called the Reptus group, which took power in a coup against the peaceful Eunaze, lead by Malcolm the Wise. The last survivor of the Eunaze was Malcolm's son Brian, who was adopted by the Bada, Mithra's mystical wizards. This draft contained elements in the final product, including the three races, the two funerals, the quest, a female secondary character, the crystal, and the reunification of the two races during the Great Conjunction. "Mithra" was later abbreviated to "Thra", due to similarities the original name had with an ancient Persian deity. The character Kira was also at that point called Dee.
Most of the philosophical undertones of the film were inspired from Jane Roberts' "Seth Material". Henson kept multiple copies of the book Seth Speaks, and insisted that Froud and screenwriter David Odell read it prior to collaborating for the film. Odell later wrote that Aughra's line "He could be anywhere then," upon being told by Jen that his Master was dead, couldn't have been written without having first read Roberts' material.
The Bada were renamed "Ooo-urrrs", which Henson would pronounce "very slowly and with a deep resonant voice". Odell simplified the spelling urRu, though they were ultimately named Mystics in the theatrical cut. The word "Skeksis" was initially meant to be the plural, with "Skesis" being singular, though this was dropped early in the filming process. Originally, Henson wanted the Skeksis to speak their own constructed language, with the dialogue subtitled in English. Accounts differ as to who constructed the language, and what it was based on. Gary Kurtz stated that the Skeksis language was conceived by author Alan Garner, who based it on Ancient Egyptian, while Odell stated it was he who created it, and that it was formed from Indo-European roots. This idea was dropped after test screening audiences found the captions too distracting, but the original effect can be observed in selected scenes on the various DVD releases. The language of the Podlings was based on Serbo-Croatian, with Kurtz noting that audience members fluent in Polish, Russian and other Slavic languages could understand individual words, but not whole sentences.
Once filming was completed, the film's release was delayed after Lew Grade sold ITC Entertainment to Robert Holmes à Court, who was skeptical of the film's potential, due to the bad reactions at the preview and the need to revoice the film's soundtrack. The film was afforded minimal advertisement and release, until Henson bought it off Holmes à Court, and funded its release with his own money.
Brian Froud was chosen as concept artist after Henson saw one of his paintings in the book Once upon a time. The characters in the film are elaborate puppets, and none are based on humans or any other specific Earth creature. Before its release, The Dark Crystal was billed as the first live-action film without any human beings on screen, and "a showcase for cutting-edge animatronics". The hands and facial features of the groundbreaking animatronic puppets in the film were controlled with relatively primitive rods and cables, although radio control later took over many of the subtler movements. Human performers inside the puppets supplied basic movement for the larger creatures, which in some cases was dangerous or exhausting; for example, the Garthim costumes were so heavy that the performers had to be hung up on a rack every few minutes to rest while still inside the costumes. A mime from Switzerland was hired to help choreograph the movements of the puppeteers.
When conceptualizing the Skeksis, Henson had in mind the Seven Deadly Sins, though because there were 10 Skeksis, some sins had to be invented or used twice. Froud originally designed them to resemble deep sea fish, but later designed them as "part reptile, part predatory bird, part dragon", with an emphasis on giving them a "penetrating stare." Each Skeksis was conceived as having a different "job" or function, thus each puppet was draped in multicolored robes meant to reflect their personalities and thought processes. Each Skeksis suit required a main performer, whose arm would be extended over his/her head in order to operate the creature's facial movements, while the other arm operated its left hand. Another performer would operate the Skeksis' right arm. The Skeksis performers compensated for their lack of vision by having a monitor tied to their chests.
In designing the Mystics, Froud portrayed them as being more connected to the natural world than their Skeksis counterparts. Henson intended to convey the idea that they were purged of all materialistic urges, yet were incapable of acting in the real world. Froud also incorporated geometric symbolism throughout the film in order to hint at the implied unity of the two races.
The Gelflings were the hardest characters to perform, as they were meant to be the most human creatures in the film, and thus their movements, particularly their gait, had to be as realistic as possible. During scenes when the Gelflings' legs were off-camera, the performers walked on their knees in order to make the character's movements more lifelike. According to Odell, the character Jen was Henson's way of projecting himself into the film.
Aughra was originally envisioned as a "busy, curious little creature" called Habeetabat, though the name was rejected by Froud, who found the name too similar to Habitat, a retailer he despised. The character was re-envisioned as a seer or prophetess, and renamed Aughra. In selecting a voice actor for Aughra, Henson was inspired by Zero Mostel's performance as a "kind of insane bird trying to overcome Tourettes syndrome" on Watership Down. Although originally voiced by Frank Oz, Henson wanted a female voice, and subsequently selected Billie Whitelaw.
The character Fizzgig was invented by Frank Oz, who wanted a character who served the same function as the Muppet poodle Foo-Foo, feeling that, like Miss Piggy, the character Kira needed an outlet for her caring, nurturing side. The character's design was meant to convey the idea of a "boyfriend-repellant", to contrast the popular idea that it is easier to form a bond with a member of the opposite sex with the assistance of a cute dog.
The Podlings were envisioned as people in complete harmony with their natural surroundings, thus Froud based their design on that of potatoes. Their village was modeled on the Henson family home.
The film's soundtrack was composed by Trevor Jones, who became involved before shooting had started. Jones initially wanted to compose a score which reflected the settings' oddness by using acoustical instruments, electronics and building structures. This was scrapped in favor of an orchestral score once Gary Kurtz became involved, as it was felt that an unusual score would alienate audiences. The main theme of the film is a composite of the Skeksis' and Mystic's themes.
The Dark Crystal was released in 858 theaters in North America on December 17, 1982. In its initial weekends, it had a limited appeal with audiences for various reasons including parental concerns about its dark nature, creative connections with Henson's family-friendly Muppet franchise and because it was overshadowed by the film's competition over the Christmas of that year, including Tootsie and the already massively successful E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. By the end of its box office run, it made $40,577,001 and became the 16th highest grossing film of 1982 within North America.
The film received a mixed response upon its original release though has gained more positive notices in later years. It currently holds a 71% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Vincent Canby of The New York Times negatively reviewed the film in the New York Times, describing it as a "watered down J. R. R. Tolkien ... without charm as well as interest." Kevin Thomas gave it a more positive assessment in the Los Angeles Times: "Unlike many screen fantasies, The Dark Crystal casts its spell from its very first frames and proceeds so briskly that it's over before you realize it. You're left with the feeling that you have just awakened from a dream." The film won a Saturn Award for Best Fantasy Film and earned the grand prize at the Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival, and was also nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation and a BAFTA Award for Best Special Visual Effects.
Home media release
The Dark Crystal was first released by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment on DVD on October 5, 1999, and has had multiple re-releases since including a Collector's Edition on November 25, 2003, and a 25th Anniversary Edition on August 14, 2007. It was released on Blu-ray on September 29, 2009. Reviews following these releases have been mostly positive, with the film holding a 71% rating at Rotten Tomatoes.
In other media
- A book entitled The World of The Dark Crystal, written by J. J. Llewellyn and illustrated by Brian Froud, was released at the same time as the film. The book expands greatly on the world of "Thra", detailing its conditions and history, as well as providing some additional story background.
- A tie-in novelization of the film was written by A.C.H. Smith. Henson took a keen interest in the novelisation, as he considered it as a legitimate part of the film's world rather than an advertisement. He originally asked Alan Garner to write it, but he declined on account of prior engagements. Henson and Smith met several times over meals to discuss the progress of the manuscript. According to Smith, the only major disagreement they had arose over his dislike of the Podlings, which he considered "boring". He included a scene in which a Garthim carrying a sackful of Podlings fell down a cliff and crushed them. Henson considered this scene to be an element of "gratuitous cruelty" which did not fit well into the scope of the story. In order to assist Smith in his visualising the world of The Dark Crystal, Henson invited him to visit Elstree Studios during the filming of the movie.
- An illustrated children's storybook version, The Tale of the Dark Crystal, written by Donna Bass and illustrated by Bruce McNally.
- A board game called "The Dark Crystal Game" was also released in 1982 (see List of Milton Bradley Company products).
- A book-and-cassette adaptation was released in 1983 by Disneyland Records as part of its Read-Along Adventures series.
- In 1983, a video game based on the movie was released for the Apple II and Atari 8-bit in the format of a text adventure.
- Marvel Comics published a comic book adaptation of the film by writer David Anthony Kraft and artists Bret Blevins, Vince Colletta, Rick Bryant, and Richard Howell in Marvel Super Special #24.
- Vogue commissioned six of the film's costume designers to fashion clothes based on the characters of the film.
- Music duo The Crystal Method used samples from the film in the song "Trip Like I Do", released on their 1997 album Vegas.
- Legends of the Dark Crystal, an original English-language manga written by Barbara Kesel with art by Heidi Arnhold, Jessica Feinberg, and Max Kim, was published by TokyoPop. Its story is set hundreds of years before the events of The Dark Crystal, after the Great Conjunction which saw the splitting of the UrSkeks into the Mystics and the Skeksis, but before the Great Extermination of the Gelflings. The first volume of the series came out November 2007, followed some time later by the second in August 2010. A third installment had been originally planned but was cancelled and subsequently merged into the second volume.
- Another comic book prequel, The Dark Crystal: Creation Myths, is currently being published by Archaia Entertainment as a series of three graphic novels. The Henson Company and Archaia began collaborating on this project in late 2009. A brief preview was made available on Free Comic Book Day in May 2011, and the first installment was released January 2012, shortly thereafter spending two weeks on The New York Times Best Seller list of hardcover graphic books.
- In February 2011, Sandstorm Productions – a firm that partnered with various design studios to facilitate the development and distribution of board games and collectible card games – revealed that it had acquired the license to produce games based on various Henson properties, including The Dark Crystal. Before any definitive plans were made, however, Sandstorm went out of business in June 2012.
- Archaia announced plans for a role-playing game based on The Dark Crystal at the August 2011 Gen Con gaming convention, intending to publish it later the following year. Like its Origins Award-winning Mouse Guard game, The Dark Crystal will be designed by Luke Crane and utilize mechanics similar to that of The Burning Wheel. As of September 2012, it remains in active development, with more details forthcoming in 2013.
During the development phase of The Dark Crystal, director Jim Henson and writer David Odell discussed ideas for a possible sequel. Almost 25 years later, Odell and his wife Annette Duffy pieced together what Odell could recall from these discussions to draft a script for The Power of the Dark Crystal. Genndy Tartakovsky was initially hired in January 2006 to direct and produce the film through The Orphanage animation studios in California. However, faced with considerable delays, the Jim Henson Company announced a number of significant changes in a May 2010 press release: It was going to partner with Australia-based Omnilab Media to produce the sequel, screenwriter Craig Pearce had reworked Odell and Duffy's script, and directing team Michael and Peter Spierig were replacing Tartakovsky. In addition, the film would be released in stereoscopic 3D. During a panel held at the Museum of the Moving Image on September 18, 2011 to commemorate the legacy of Jim Henson, his daughter Cheryl revealed that the project was yet again on hiatus. More recently, it was reported in February 2012 that Omnilab Media and the Spierig brothers had parted ways with the Henson Company due to budgetary concerns; production on the film has been suspended indefinitely.
- David Odell (2012), "Reflections on Making The Dark Crystal and Working with Jim Henson". In: Froud, B., Dysart, J., Sheikman, A. & John, L. The Dark Crystal: Creation Myths, Vol. II. Archaia. ISBN 978-1-936393-80-0
- Fantastic Films #32 ,February, 1983
- Brian Froud (2003), "A Journey into The Dark Crystal". In: Froud, B. & Llewellyn, J. J., The World of the Dark Crystal. Pavilion Books. ISBN 1-86205-624-2
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