My favorite movie since I was five years old is The Empire Strikes Back. When I saw the re-release in theaters in 1997, I was an absolutely giddy eight/nine year old. Mom’s VHS tapes (starting to wear out after so many viewings) and the occasional airing on Fox during the matinee spots were nice, but seeing the action, the magic, and Yoda (my favorite character) on the big screen? Incredible. Astonishing. Life altering. That’s not an exaggeration.
Around the time of the Star Wars re-releases, I was wandering around the local Family Video and I found a Jim Henson Company film that I had never seen. I was a well-established Muppet/Sesame Street/Labyrinth fan at this point, so I knew Jim Henson’s work very well. I had Labyrinth memorized, songs and all. I also recognized the co-director, Frank Oz, as the voice of both Yoda and Fozzie Bear, so there was a sense of unity between Star Wars and Muppets. I had to see this movie, The Dark Crystal, so I did.
And I loved it. It quickly ranked near The Empire Strikes Back and Labyrinth as one of the all time greats, and I borrowed it from Family Video a large number of times before finally finding a copy of my own. My VHS tape died somewhere in the early 2000s, and was replaced ASAP by a DVD copy. I have since progressed to a Blu-ray, but I never had a chance to see it on the big screen; I came along too late for that.
Fast forward to the present. Well, yesterday, actually. Last year, The Dark Crystal celebrated its thirty-fifth anniversary, and it was announced on social media that Fathom Events would be screening the film in select theaters around the country. Extremely limited run.
The Jim Henson fangirl, the Dark Crystal fangirl within me squealed in a most happy way. One of the theaters near where my roommate An Evil Genius and I live was going to show it. He declared that we would be there Sunday, February 25th, at 2:00p.m. Tickets were purchased, pre-order, no questions. I don’t think I breathed for quite awhile from the giddiness.
There is something truly magical about seeing a film that shaped a large part of your childhood on the big screen. Now, twenty years later, the wonder that filled me upon seeing The Empire Strikes Back in its full glory returned in spades for The Dark Crystal. I was so happy to be there, I cried. It was an amazing experience, that’s for sure.
Set in the magical world of Thra, The Dark Crystal tells the story of two powerful races, the evil Skekses and the kind Mystics, and the Gelflings Jen and Kira who are caught up in a thousand-year-old prophecy.
In the beginning of the film, Jen thinks he is the only Gelfling left alive after the Skekses ordered them all hunted down and exterminated. He is given a quest by his dying Master to retrieve a crystal shard from the ancient, wise, and wickedly sharp-tongued Aughra, in order to save the world. After the Skekses send their soldiers, the giant, crab-beetle looking Garthim, to track down Jen, he retreats into a nearby swamp. Here is where he meets Kira, the only other living Gelfling, and sets out to discover the purpose of the crystal shard and complete his Master’s quest.
The Dark Crystal is a fantastical film populated entirely by non-human characters. Plants can move, animals can be rooted to the ground, and every corner of Thra teems with pulsing, vibrant life. The sweeping score by Trevor Jones adds to the mystery, mayhem, and magic of the masterfully constructed world.
That doesn’t mean that the film doesn’t have its flaws. Glass-matte painting and computer edited images, revolutionary for the time, have not stood up to today’s technology, so there are scenes where the rose-colored glasses come off just enough for you to see the seams. There are a few parts, generally those featuring the Garthim, that may frighten younger audiences, and there are places where there is a lull in the action that some may find jarring in comparison to the scenes of action. They may even find those parts of it *gasp* *gulp* boring.
In spite of it all, the story is an original one, a hero’s journey unlike any other. Perhaps my favorite scene in the whole film comes at the end, with a poignant message I truly believe the world needs now more than ever. I won’t spoil it for you. Go check the film out. You just might be glad you did.