Jim Henson was perhaps one of the greatest story tellers, creative geniuses and an all round good person of the modern era. If you disagree, go watch the footage of his memorial, and I dare you not to shed a tear as Big Bird sings “It’s not easy being green.” Excuse me. I got something in my eye…
Oh yes…flashback to the early 80s, and a little of the 70s. With the Muppets and Sesame Street being a huge success, Jim turned his sights to a new story. A fantasy story inspired by the art work of Leonard B. Lubin, and the desire to get back to the idea that the Grimm fairy tales are meant to foster growth, even if they get a little scary from time to time. In 1982, The Dark Crystal went from idea, to reality.
Dark Crystal is a fantasy film about a young Gelfling named Jen, who is tasked with a mission by his wise foster father, to restore their world and save it from the darkness that has overtaken it. Sounds familiar, right? Henson pulls his inspiration from many great archetypal sources, and the connections to Tolkein, Campbell and the monomyth of the Journey abound in this film. What makes it such a powerful movie is that our hero is very young and naive. Watching the film as a seven year-old, it was very easy for me to be absorbed into the world and stakes of the story. Here was a role model, not much older than I was, being asked to rise to the challenge. I was hooked.
Thra, the fictitious fantasy world where the story is set, is gorgeous. Filmed in Scotland, the sweeping vistas and landscapes are breath taking. However, it is the creature and concept designs by Brian Froud that breath such life into the movie. While the Gelflings may have a typical “elfish” look to them, the rest of the characters, flora and fauna are so unique and amazing that they truly feel like living things, rather than animatronic hybrids of Jim Henson’s Muppets. While the movie effects may feel a little dated, the scope and size of such practical effects, especially in the creature design is something to behold, especially since this was done pre CGI era effects.
Also, a movie needs a superior score to highlight such a heartfelt story. Trevor Jones’ soundtrack to the movie is inspiring, welcoming, warm, frightening and haunting all at the same time. He moves effortlessly from happiness and safety one moment, into utter fear and terror the next.
On the whole, this movie I feel is one of my life long favourites, and for good reason beyond the nostalgia factor. And it is easy to see that The Dark Crystal is still important to many others as well. It has inspired video games, musicians, an English Manga series, toys, trading cards and now has spawned a series of books, and a new comic book series that follows the sequel to the original movie.
One of the most poignant things I take away from the movie is a line of dialogue between Jen, and his companion, Kira. I never noticed it at first, but it struck me like lightening years later. Kira sees some pictograms of some sort on a wall of an ancient Gelfling building. She asks Jen, “What are these strange things?” Jen replies, “Well…it’s writing.” Never seeing writing before she asks, “What’s writing?” Jen thinks about it then replies as best he can.
“Words that stay.”
And for me, this is why the movie rocks. Thanks Jim. Not just for this, but for everything. Here are some YouTube clips to show you a little bit more about the film. Thoughts and feedback are welcome! Cheers!
Soundtrack – By Trevor Jones
A behind the scenes clip of the special effects and concept designs by Brian Froud
And Big Bird…Just because I am cold and heartless…no I am not…! WAHHHHHH! (Sniff!)