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The Dark Crystal(1982)
The last of the Gelfings, Jen and Kira join forces and embark on a dangerous journey to "heal" a precious Dark Crystal and restore order to their planet.
For more about The Dark Crystal and the The Dark Crystal Blu-ray release, see the The Dark Crystal Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on September 16, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Kathryn Mullen, Dave Goelz, Louise Gold, Billie Whitelaw
Directors: Jim Henson, Frank Oz
» See full cast & crew
The Dark Crystal Blu-ray Review
'The Dark Crystal' shines brightly on Blu-ray.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, September 16, 2009
Before there was CGI, there was Jim Henson. The master puppeteer, best known as the creator of "The Muppets" and for his work on "Sesame Street," would in 1982 turn to a darker, more fantastical project, The Dark Crystal. Henson co-directed alongside fellow puppeteer Frank Oz and created a splendid world quite unlike anything audiences had ever seen before. Dark and foreboding on one side, bright and hopeful on another, the world nevertheless shared a common bond of death and decay, of slaughter and greed, of danger and distress, of heroes and villainy, a far cry from the happy-go-lucky Muppets or the educational Sesame Street characters. Telling a classic tale of good versus evil with the appropriately stereotyped characters and locations on either side, The Dark Crystal nevertheless earned acclaim for its mystical storytelling ability, richly developed characters, wonderful puppet work, and fantastic set and character design.
One thousand years ago, a world divided at the crack of a crystal. Reshaping the landscape, two species emerged: the cruel Skeksis and the gentle Mystics. The Skeksis seized control of the crystal's castle, but now their emperor lays dying. Their one fear is the reunification of the crystal with its single missing shard, a prophesy that spells the end of their kind and to be fulfilled by a Gelfling, a peace-loving, elf-like creature. Fearful of the prophesy, the Skeksis and their warlike companions, the Garthim, wiped out the Gelflings. Nevertheless, one survived. Raised by the Mystics, the Gelfling Jen is tasked by the Mystics' own dying emperor with reuniting the shard with the crystal and restoring peace and harmony to the world. His only clue that the shard is held by a hermitic creature named Aughra, Jen sets out to find the crystal, save the world, and fulfill his destiny.
The Dark Crystal, as with any great movie, works first and foremost thanks to the quality of its story. It's a basic tale, one seemingly as old as time, but one that nevertheless feels fresh even today thanks to its ability to so clearly define the classic clash between good and evil. Despite a plot that asks of its audience to accept a brand new world with a complex past, a decaying present, characters of both good and ill repute, and an overreaching mystical quality that all together distinguishes its world from anything ever before committed to film, The Dark Crystal almost effortlessly draws its audience in despite what seems like a complex and far-fetched set-up. It works within the realm of Fantasy, and The Dark Crystal's serene storytelling style -- one that gently takes the audience by the hand and guides them through the past and into the present -- is easily its greatest asset.
Within the story lies several characters, each in their own way equally fantastical and memorable. Of the film's primary grouping of heroes and villains -- Jen and Kira on one side, Chamberlain and SkekUng on the other -- each enjoys wonderful development thanks to the quality of the script that affords them believable personalities and classic yet plausible motivations as they maneuver for either power or peace. Still, it's the first-class puppeteering and voice acting that completes each character and makes it easy to cheer on the heroes and loathe the villains as the story unfolds. Character designs are first-class all the way, too. Staying within the confines of the simplistic approach of the story, the characters appear intricately detailed but nevertheless easy to distinguish insofar as their proclivity towards good or evil. The Skeksis appear ragged, dark, and even frightening; the Garthim, too -- the Skekis' evildoing servants of terror -- appear as hulking, hardened, and hateful, black as night and clearly ready to reign chaos on the world. On the other hand, the Mystics take on a lighter, cleaner, more uniform appearance that signifies peace and harmony. Their champion, the Gelfling Jen, and his eventual companion Kira, appear as gentle souls with an elfish appearance, rugged perhaps but also clearly not prone to violence but prepared to defend themselves and restore their world to its proper, peace-loving condition at all costs.
The Dark Crystal, for all it has going for it, nevertheless seems like a movie that still has yet to take its rightful place as one of the best movies of the 1980s. Perhaps it's the film's seemingly oddball concoction of standard storytelling motifs of good and evil and dressed as a children's production yet containing decidedly adult themes, situations, and characters that may be enough to frighten off younger viewers or play with just enough of a scary edge so as to leave parents unwilling to permit their children to view it. There's no denying that the film succeeds at painting its world as a terrifying place and populated with grotesque characters. Despite the clear-cut dichotomy between good and evil that's to be found -- in the look of the characters and their habitats in particular -- there's just no denying that The Dark Crystal can be a downright creepy movie. It's not that the material is too scary -- bedtime stories and fairy tales can be equally, if not more, frightening -- it's that the characters are the "there's something under the bed and in the closet" sort that might just be a bit too frightening for their own good. Even analyzing the film through the experiences of an adult but recalling the characters through the eyes of a child, the Skeksis and Garthim remain the stuff of nightmares, and that's what makes them -- and the film as a whole -- so memorable.
The Dark Crystal Blu-ray, Video Quality
The Dark Crystal debuts on Blu-ray with the expectedly solid 1080p, 2.35:1-framed transfer from Sony. As with its dichotomy of light versus dark characters, the film features drastically differing visual tones that set the mood for each species and locale. The film takes on a decidedly dark and dreary tone inside the home of the Skeksis where the dark creatures appear dressed in varied shades of gray, black, and purple. The castle itself is of limited color; it's not dark by any stretch, but certainly devoid of life. On the other hand, the Mystics live in a somewhat more serene location that's dominated by tans and browns. It's not the most cheerful location but it does add a much-needed lift for the eyes. Later, on Jen's quest to retrieve the crystal shard, he traverses some lush terrain that's marked by green grasses and flowers of varied bright, primary colors. The transfer never falters in any of these locations; it's not the most intricately detailed or handsome transfer out there, but for a movie that debuted in the early 1980s, it looks about as good as can be expected of it. Fine detail never overly impresses, nor does it completely disappoint. Viewers will certainly note many of the intricacies that make up the puppets, and the 1080p resolution even allows for many of the puppeteering strings to be clearly visible throughout the film. Occasionally, the movie looks somewhat soft and the transfer exhibits some assorted dirt and debris. The Dark Crystal does feature a subtle layer of grain. Black levels vary, appearing strong and inky in some scenes and a bit too bright in others. Overall, however, The Dark Crystal looks very good on Blu-ray, and despite a few flaws -- many that seem inherent to the production rather than a fault of this transfer -- fans should be immensely satisfied with this effort from Sony.
The Dark Crystal Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The Dark Crystal features a good Dolby TrueHD 5.1 lossless soundtrack. Listeners shouldn't expect a surround-sound extravaganza with this one. The sound design seems a bit limited but the lossless presentation certainly represents the best the film is ever likely to sound. The film's score doesn't have the same absolute clarity and lifelike feel of the best Blu-ray soundtracks; it's a bit limited in range and clarity, but works well in conjunction with the overall Blu-ray presentation. As alluded to earlier, there's little in the way of back channel activity, leaving the listener feeling somewhat detached from the proceedings. Even noisy outdoor scenes -- for instance an establishing shot in chapter nine -- does well to bring the locale alive but doesn't wholly engulf the listener in the concoction of natural sounds that make up the environment. The track does pick up somewhat in the final act, taking on a more aggressive posture and featuring a strong low-end presence. Dialogue reproduction is uniformly good throughout; Jen's gentle voice, Chamberlain's whimpering, and Aughra's grizzled and aging vocalizations all come across with superb definition. The Dark Crystal may not feature a truly awe-inspiring soundtrack, but like the video presentation, it certainly represents a substantial upgrade from any other format.
The Dark Crystal Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
This Blu-ray release of The Dark Crystal features a host of informative and interactive supplements, the package headlined by a commentary track with British Fantasy Artist Brian Froud, Conceptual Designer for the film. In this more technically-oriented track, Froud recalls his work on the film, his inspirations and influences, the evolution of the characters, technique, and more. Storyboard Track -- Picture-in-Picture showcases via a large secondary video window over the main feature a collection of The Dark Crystal conceptual artwork, most by Brian Froud but with contributions from Storyboard Artist Bill Stallion, Set Designer Harry Lange, Production Painter Roy Carnon, and Sketch Artists Mike Ploog and Denis Rich. Each section of artwork arrives with an introductory title card that allows viewers to better understand and appreciate what it is they are looking at. The Book of Thra -- Dark Crystal Collector is a piece "designed to enhance your knowledge of the world of The Dark Crystal." When a subject of interest appears on-screen, a blue crystal icon will appear. Pressing "enter" on the remote places information on the subject in a book, which is accessible in-film through a click of the red crystal. A guide identifying the purpose of the colored crystals remains over the bottom right-hand corner of the screen.
SkekTek's Crystal Challenge is a multiple choice trivia game that challenges players (Gelflings) to answer a series of questions and save themselves from having their living essence drained. The game plays over the movie and questions appear regularly. Original Skeksis Language -- Test Scenes (480p, 22:56) showcases a selection of scenes featuring characters speaking in different languages, an early plot point that was devised to reinforce the schism between the races. Deleted Funeral Scenes (480p, 3:50) showcases a cut sequence featuring the Skeksis laying their recently departed Emperor to rest. The World of 'The Dark Crystal' (480p, 57:26) is a vintage documentary that takes an extensive behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film, including the process of shooting the film, designing the characters, creating the puppets, and much more. Reflections of 'The Dark Crystal' is a two=part piece. Part one, Light on the Path of Creation (480p, 20:25) is a retrospective piece that looks back at the film's legacy, its themes, design, and more. Shard of Illusion (480p, 16:18) looks at the film's use of puppets, the challenges of such an endeavor, and building a story around them. Also included is BD-Live functionality and 1080p trailers for The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep, Open Season, Open Season 2, Monster House, Surf's Up, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
The Dark Crystal Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
A classic film from the 1980s that features what is arguably Jim Henson and Frank Oz's best work, The Dark Crystal represents a timeless depiction of good versus evil in every imaginable way. From the hero of simple origins to the film's obvious light and dark motifs, there's never any doubt as to what the film represents and what it sets out to accomplish. With a strong story, great puppet work, wonderful voice acting, and a richly-developed world, The Dark Crystal makes for essential viewing, though it's characters may be a bit too scary for younger audiences. Sony's Blu-ray release of this fan favorite doesn't disappoint. Although the video and audio offerings aren't the most beautiful ever to grace the format, they do well to represent the film's intended presentation, which is all one can ask of any Blu-ray disc. Combined with a strong selection of bonus materials, it's easy to give The Dark Crystal a hearty recommendation.
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