I was a wuss when I was a kid. I would run and hide whenever the flying monkeys appeared during ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ When I was introduced to Jim Henson’s ‘The Dark Crystal’ a whole new fear was ushered into my life. There literally wasn’t one thing in the entire movie that didn’t frighten me. The character designs, the creepy looking castle, the poor Podlings getting their essence sucked out of them, everything seemed designed to personally terrify me. Needless to say I was a bit apprehensive about revisiting the film, it didn’t help that my wife is one of the movie’s biggest fans and apparently wasn’t scarred in her childhood by some of the grotesquely weird images.
After viewing ‘The Dark Crystal’ as an adult, I’ve come to one conclusion, the movie is still immensely weird, but it’s loaded with charm. Everything about it is so unusual, so “out there,” that it could have only been thought up by Jim Henson. The puppets are extremely imaginative, and still to this day contain in them such a lifelike presence that it’s hard to think they were created decades ago.
The story revolves around the planet of Thra and the different races of lifeforms that inhabit it. The Skeksis are evil creatures who take on a vulture like appearance. Greedy and power-hungry the Skeksis plot against themselves to figure out who the new emperor will be. The Skeksis are closely connected to the benevolent Mystics, gentle three-armed creatures who move slowly, but retain an immense amount of wisdom. A prophecy has been given that the Skeksis will be destroyed by a Gelfling. As such, the Gelflings have almost been eradicated from the planet by the Skeksis in order to stop the prophecy from coming true.
We follow the journey of Jen, one of the last Gelflings, as he tries to reunite a shard of the dark crystal with the crystal itself. This is supposed to foil the plot of the Skeksis and destroy their evil reign over the planet.
While the story is your basic good versus evil scenario, ‘The Dark Crystal’ employs quite elaborate puppets and set design to tell its story. There’s just something about using puppets in a live action movie that just can’t be replicated with the modern CGI. Like stop motion or claymation, there’s just a certain lifelike effect that is achieved. The puppets that Jim Henson and his team engineered for this movie are some of the most creative creatures I have ever seen portrayed on screen. They're what give the movie its charm. They create a world that's unlike anything seen before or since. The same things that freaked me out as a child amaze me today. The endless imagination of Jim Henson and his team are what make this movie such a classic when thinking back on great films of the 1980s.
‘The Dark Crystal’ is intended to suck you in with its visuals and on that note it succeeds. It doesn’t matter much that the story is similar to ones we’ve heard time and again, it’s the scenery and display of imagination that we came for, and in that department ‘The Dark Crystal’ never disappoints
“I never knew Jen had blue streaks in his hair,” is what my wife (a longtime fan of the movie) exclaimed when we first popped in the disc. This 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer is a surprise considering the age of its source. It’s no contest when it comes to comparing this with the standard DVD. Just watch some of the standard definition features on the disc, and you’ll realize, really fast, just what an upgrade this HD presentation offers.
At times the transfer does take on a sort of softness, rather than sharp clarity, and dirt specks and noise pop up somewhat regularly. Fine detail is much improved over the DVD version, but still lacks a little when compared to other Blu-rays. Yet taking into account the film's 1982 origins, along with the improved detail and image clarity, this is still a wholly spectacular transfer. Colors for the most part are bright and vibrant; blacks have been especially improved from previous versions, but still blend together making delineation a problem in a few instances. Overall, this transfer of ‘The Dark Crystal’ has a few minor hang-ups, which can mostly be attributed to age. For people revisiting the film, this transfer encompasses an entirely new viewing experience. ‘The Dark Crystal’ has never looked this good.
‘The Dark Crystal’ features a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track that provides the movie with an adequate, but somewhat limited sound presentation. This isn’t the most amazing surround sound experience you’re going to hear on a Blu-ray, but once again taking into account the source material, this is a solid presentation. Like the video presentation, all you need to do is watch the DVD again, and you’ll realize how big an upgrade the Blu-ray provides. This soundtrack features some impressively clear dialogue, even though Jen speaks barely above a whisper all the time. Some of his dialogue does tend to become muted, just barely, when a lot of action is happening on screen. There is a panning shot that introduces us to the wide variety of life in a forest Jen visits. This shot contains a lot of the surround sound found in the film. Whoops and chirps can be heard all around, like one has just been engulfed in a fantastical jungle. LFE becomes more muscular during the last quarter of the film, where much of the action is presented, but it’s never overpowering. This is a sturdy audio track, but it isn’t without its flaws that definitely come from its age.
‘The Dark Crystal’ still retains its charm after all these years. Sure the puppets look a little dated and their mouths don’t move fully to the dialogue being spoken, but they still have that creative essence of Jim Henson. This is one of those films that can be watched over and over. It has garnered cult status for a reason. It’s fun, inventive, and full of heart. Considering its age, the movie looks and sounds fantastic in HD. It has a plethora of special features, and some well thought out Blu-ray exclusives. Highly recommended for any collection.