The Dark Crystal is a true 80s fantasy classic that has been given the proper Blu-ray treatment it's long deserved. As a celebration of practical visual effects, the film's traditional hero's journey storyline along with the intricate creature effects and impressive world building makes this film an essential viewing experience for kids (and adults) of all ages. A pioneer in puppet filmmaking, Jim Henson's The Dark Crystal looks and sounds better than ever making for an easy replacement of the 2009 release. With a host of new and archival bonus features to pick through this is an Anniversary Edition release that is well worth the double dip. Highly Recommended.
"Another world, another time, in the age of wonder. A thousand years ago this land was green and good - until the crystal cracked."
As our own Aaron peck did an exceptional write-up about the 2009 Blu-ray release of The Dark Crystal, I encourage you to take a look at his review HERE.
As for myself, The Dark Crystal is a family staple. More or less, one could argue that I was born into this film as my parents took my sister to see this film when it originally arrived in theaters in the winter of 1982, and as an infant, I got to come along. Granted I have no actual memory of seeing this film in the theater, it maintained a lasting presence in our family's home video library for the last 35 years. Some of my earliest memories are of the creepy and evil Skeksis standing around the purple luminous crystal. Whenever my parents would go out on a date and our poor hapless babysitter was left in our charge, my sister and I would force her to endure repeated viewings of The Dark Crystal and/or Labyrinth.
Today, I'm thankful for the simple fact that the film holds up. It's an easily approachable story that isn't too complicated to toss yourself into and get lost in the mystical world of Thra. As we follow our Gelfling Jen and Kira and the adorably fuzzy dog-like Fizzgig on their quest to reunite the broken shard into the dark crystal and bring peace to the land of Thra, we're given a visual buffet of practical creature effects. The film is truly a feast for the eyes as every inch of every scene is so intricately designed and staged that it boggles the mind when one even begins to think of the logistics of pulling off some sequences.
Throughout the 80s and into the 90s, before the CGI revolution, intricate rod and cable operated creature effects were the norms to pull off any filmmaker's wild-eyed creature creation. But one must take stock of the simple fact that much of those terrific visual effects wouldn't exist without Jim Henson's Creature Shop and The Dark Crystal. Most of the vital techniques involved in creature creation and execution began with this film. Just watch the Skeksis and how they move about a room in full motion and then remember that at any given point there are anywhere from three to six puppeteers controlling each of these creepy creatures to give them their life-like presence and movements. Then you take the creature technologies invented for this film and apply them to their later efforts with Labyrinth and you start to have even more respect for the craft and care that went into these movies.
However, I will say that The Dark Crystal is pretty damned scary in places especially compared to where the market for kids movies is at today. Without climbing all the way onto a soapbox, I'll simply say that kids movies of today feel too safe. While some films do tackle real issues to a degree, there is a notable lack of fear. When the Skeksis and their crab monsters attack a Podling village, that is damned terrifying. It gives you the sense that your heroes may not make it. When you remove all sense of danger it becomes harder and harder to respect the journey the main characters travel through.
I've had a long love for The Dark Crystal. As a family favorite, it's one that I don't frequently pull off my self for the simple fact that I never want to get tired of it. Even though I've seen it hundreds of times, I'm afraid of the day that I put the film on and it doesn't wow me with the world-building spectacle of creatures and puppets. While I don't think I'll ever get tired of the film, I always want each viewing to be exciting so it's one that I only pull out every few years. With this new restoration, I'm thrilled that it remains available to me and in such terrific condition. Watching it again for this release I saw so many little details I'd never experienced before. Nothing that alters the story or anything, but simply enhances my appreciation of the production. When you can see every last detail of Lord Chamberlin or Aughra and her removable eye, it's easy to fall back into that remarkable sense of wonder. If you've never seen The Dark Crystal, there's no time like the present with this terrific release.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
The Dark Crystal arrives again on Blu-ray courtesy of Sony Pictures in a single disc Blu-ray + Digital set. Pressed onto a BD-50 disc, the disc is housed in digibook packaging with artwork and design pictures as well as other information about the production (for this review we received only the standard two-disc 4K UHD + Blu-ray + Digital set in order to review the new Blu-ray release). The disc loads to an animated main menu with traditional navigation options. The included Digital Copy is redeemable through Movies Anywhere.
With a fresh new 4K restoration, The Dark Crystal looks better than ever on Blu-ray. The previous release was already pretty good, but by Blu-ray standards, the old encode hadn't aged well. It was top of the line in 2009, but by 2018 it started to look a little soft by comparison to something like the restoration provided a film like Labyrinth. I'm pleased to see the notable improvements in this release. Details are the first thing you're going to be wowed by. Given that this film is a creature feature of epic proportions, you're likely to want to pause it and just look at everything. The costuming, the details of the creatures, the intricate set design work - everything is simply gorgeous. Colors have also been enhanced a bit without pushing teals or oranges in any way. Where Kira looked to have blueish colored hair, there's more of a green highlight mixed in with the bright white color.
Primaries are healthy with plenty of pop. That purple crystal is particularly vivid while the lush green world of Thra enjoys terrific saturation. Contrast and black levels are also a notable improvement giving the image a terrific sense of depth. The films several rough-looking optical shots still are on the rough side, as they're cooked into the negative, there's no real well to fix those without scrapping the effect altogether and adding new effects like the Original Series of Star Trek. Fans of the film who have been eager for an upgrade will be very happy with this new anniversary edition on Blu-ray.
This release of The Dark Crystal comes with a new and improved English DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio mix. While the previous Dolby Digital 5.1 mix wasn't too bad, it did feel restrained and confined at times. So much of the film takes place in wild and interesting lands that there just didn't feel like there was any sense of space to some scenes. Now there is plenty of smaller intricate sounds that feel better balanced to give a more immersive surround presence. Dialogue remains clean and clear throughout. Sound effects get a little more punch to them, the ringing of the Dark Crystal is a little more shrill and dissonant. Lower registers also get an uptick in presence through the frequent rumblings of thunder or the moody and effective score by Trevor Jones. Free of any hiss, pops, or other age-related issues, this is a great audio mix.
The Dark Crystal arrives with all of the previously available bonus materials along with the new The Myth, Magic, and Henson Legacy bonus feature. While the new material may not be all that extensive, it does provide a terrific retrospective look at the making of the film and its enduring legacy.
Audio Commentary Featuring concept artist and co-creator Brian Froud. This was a terrific commentary track so I'm glad that it was kept in the bonus features package for this release.
Storyboard Track This is the same previously available PIP image track as before.
NEW The Myth, Magic, and Henson Legacy (HD 10:27) This is a terrific interview with The Henson Company CEO and producer Lisa Henson and Toby Froud, son of artist Brian Froud. This feature offers up a short, but detailed look at the conceptualization of the film and its place in the world of creature effects.
The World of The Dark Crystal (SD 57:26)
Reflections of The Dark Crystal (SD 36:41)
Original Skeksis Language Test Scenes (SD 22:10)
Deleted Scene (SD 3:48)
Teaser Trailer (HD 00:37)
Theatrical Trailer (HD 1:19)
As I was hardly six months old when my parents took me to see The Dark Crystal in theaters, it isn't an understatement to say that I quite literally grew up watching this film. It's always been a part of my family's collection of movies and it's remained a favorite for 35 years. This terrific film is a visual feast for the eyes while also being a compelling and thrilling ride with countless creatures to keep your attention focused squarely on the screen. It's a testament to creature films as well as the enduring legacy of Jim Henson. Sony has done a terrific job restoring this movie, breathing new life into its video and audio presentation. In addition to a new retrospective bonus feature, all of the previously available bonus features are included with this release. If you didn't already own the previous release or were on the fence about double dipping, rest assured this is an easy release to call Highly Recommended.