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The Dark Crystal (1982)

Sometimes you feel like you’re watching a bunch of stuffed animals.
Our Rating

Genre(s): Animation, Adventure, Family

Director: Jim Henson

Actors: Stephen Garlick, Lisa Maxwell, Billie Whitelaw

Year: 1982

MPAA Rating: PG

Country: USA / UK

Like many little fans of The Muppet Show, I could not wait to see The Dark Crystal when it came out… and then I did. And it messed me up. Halloween and A Nightmare on Elm Street were child’s play compared to The Dark Crystal. Child’s Play was child’s play compared to The Dark Crystal, and yet I watched it again and again in some sort of weird pattern of attraction and revulsion. I’ve talked to many people from my generation who did the same thing, so I decided to watch the DVD and get to the bottom of this.

The premise of The Dark Crystal is simple enough, I guess. At the last “conjunction” or aligning of the three suns, the world divided into two dominant races: the evil Skekses (who look like decaying, burned rat-bird carcasses), and the mellow Mystics who look like bipedal geoduck. To prevent the Skekses from taking over, Jen (a Gelfling raised by the Mystics) must journey to the Skekses’ fortress and return the missing shard to the fractured Dark Crystal. All of this must be done before the next conjunction.

I remember thinking two movies were Really long when I was little—Mary Poppins and The Dark Crystal. Funnily enough, when I watched Mary Poppins as an adult, I realized that it really is long and contains far more depth than I ever realized. The Dark Crystal on the other hand is a measly 95 minutes, and has a lot less substance than I imagined. Really, I think the whole story could have been conveyed in 30-45 minutes.

Jen only meets two really important characters on his journey—Aughra, an odd, buxom “woman” with horns and a removable eye. She’s pretty attractive, and gives Jen the missing piece of the crystal. Then the Skekses attack. Later Jen meets Kira, another Gelfling who looks like a Muppet version of Scarlett Johansson. She has a cute pet named Fizzgig, who has two rows of teeth. She takes Jen to meet the pod people who raised her (and look like potatoes), and they all have a party. Then the Skekses attack.

The pacing is so slow that these 95 minutes feel like at least three hours. As an added disadvantage, everything that happens in the movie is upsetting. The Gelflings are the closest thing to normal, and they have the alarming ability to read each other’s minds when they hold hands. This caused me to develop a childhood phobia of holding hands that haunts me to this day. Then there’s the terrifying process of strapping poor Kira to a chair and draining her of her “life essence”. How’s that for cruel and unusual punishment?

I kept trying to wrap my brain around Jim Henson and his posse showing up every morning to work on this thing. Can you imagine the exchanges that must have taken place? “Oh, hey, let’s say the little Gelfling girl gets stabbed in the end… What do you think, three long chin hairs or four on this Skekses? Hey, let’s add another ribcage to this guy, but put it on his back. No, outside the skin. More vestigial body parts all around!”

I find that adults generally over-estimate what will frighten a child for the rest of his or her natural born life, but I think somebody undershot this one a little. Admittedly it is kind of cheesy. It borrows heavily from The Lord of the Rings (books) and Star Wars, and would have made great material for an episode of Mystery Science Theater. Sometimes you feel like you’re watching a bunch of stuffed animals. Even so, I am convinced this film belongs in the horror section. Today I looked fear in the eye, and still wanted to run away kicking and screaming.

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