When you think of the name Jim Henson you think of puppets, muppets, and really odd things all around. This is very much the case with The Dark Crystal. The Dark Crystal was a 1982 project directed, produced, and starring in many of the roles Jim Henson himself and was co-produced by Gary Kurtz (who also produced The Empire Strikes Back). According to co-director Frank Oz (most famous as the puppeteer and voice behind Star War’s Yoda), Henson’s intention was to “get back to the darkness of the original Grimms’ Fairy Tales”, as he believed that it was unhealthy for children to never be afraid. Before I go any further i must warn whoever’s reading that I am recapping the entire plot and putting in my own input. Without any further ado here it goes.
A thousand years ago on the planet Thra, a magical crystal cracked, and two new races appeared: the malevolent Skeksis, who use the power of the “Dark Crystal” to continually replenish themselves, and kind wizards called Mystics. Now this is an original concept at least for this writer and for the most part its very aspect (which I’ll get to shortly). The sets are also really impressive and I applaud that everything was built and operated by hand.
Jen, an elf-like Gelfling taken in by the Mystics after his clan was killed, is told by his Mystic master that he must heal the Crystal, a shard of which is held by the astronomer, Aughra. If he fails to do so before the planet’s three suns align, then the Skeksis will rule forever. Now Jen is something or in this case someone I didn’t like at all. Mostly because he’s a boring character that doesn’t say much and even when he does its just stating the obvious. Another weird thing is sometimes he narrates and sometimes he doesn’t, the mouth also doesn’t even attempt to match the words.
Anyway the Skeksis’ emperor and Jen’s master die simultaneously. A duel ensues between the Skeksis Chamberlain and General, both of whom desire the throne. The General wins, taking power and exiling the Chamberlain. Learning of Jen’s existence, the Skeksis send large crab-like creatures called Garthim to track him. At this point I know as a kid the Skeksis would’ve permanently scarred me as a child especially The Chamberlain with his “mHmm!”.
Jen reaches Aughra and is taken to her home, which contains an enormous orrery she uses to predict the motions of the heavens, honestly its really an awesome looking tower I wish we could’ve spent more time in. She has a box full of shards, from which Jen selects the correct one by playing music on his flute to cause it to resonate. Aughra tells Jen of the upcoming Great Conjunction, the alignment of the three suns, but he learns little of its connection to the shard. Suddenly, the Garthim appear and destroy Aughra’s home, taking her prisoner as Jen flees.
Hearing the call of the Crystal, the Mystics leave their valley to travel to the Skeksis’ castle. Jen meets Kira, another surviving Gelfling who can communicate with animals, and her pet Fizzgig. These two pretty much saved the movie for me as both are infinitely better then Jen. They discover that they have a telepathic connection, which Kira calls “dreamfasting”, and share memories of being forced from their homes. They stay for a night with the Podlings, a race of people who raised Kira after the death of her parents. The scene with Kira and the Podlings celebrating is probably my favorite scene in the movie simply for the fact that its one of the very rare lighthearted moments in an otherwise dark and twisted tale (not that I didn’t enjoy many of the dark stuff). There’s another weird thing that happens when sometimes they just tell us things and other times especially when Kira has visions, they show it. I’d rather they picked one but i enjoyed learning more about the character either way. The Garthim then raid the village, capturing most of the Podlings, but the two Gelflings and Fizzgig flee when the Chamberlain stops the Garthim from attacking them, intent on winning their trust.
Jen and Kira discover a ruined Gelfling city with ancient writing describing a prophecy: the shard Jen carries must be reinserted into the Dark Crystal to restore its integrity. They are interrupted by the Chamberlain, who claims that the Skeksis want to make peace and wants the Gelflings to return to the castle with him, but they mistrust him and refuse. Riding on Landstriders, the Gelflings arrive at the Skeksis’ castle and intercept the Garthim that attacked Kira’s village. While trying to free the captured Podlings, Kira, Jen, and Fizzgig descend to the bottom of the castle’s dry moat and use a lower-level entrance to gain access. They are followed by the Chamberlain, who repeats his peace offer; when the Gelflings refuse again, he buries Jen in a cave-in and takes Kira to the castle pretty much confirming that yes he is a conniving piece of shit.
The General reinstates him to his former position, and the Skeksis’ Scientist tries to drain Kira’s life essence for the General to drink so that he can regain his youth. A scene I probably found the most disturbing. Aughra, imprisoned in the Scientist’s laboratory, tells Kira to call for help from the animals held captive (an ability that we saw really early on); they break free in response, releasing Kira and causing the Scientist to fall to his death. His Mystic counterpart simultaneously vanishes. Aughra later escapes, saving Fizzgig in the process.
The three suns begin to align as the Gelflings reach the Crystal’s chamber and the Skeksis gather for the ritual that will grant them immortality. Jen leaps onto the Crystal, dropping the shard, but Kira throws it back to him before being killed by the Skeksis’ high priest. Jen inserts the shard into the Crystal, unifying it as the Mystics enter the chamber and the castle’s dark walls crumble away to reveal a structure of bright crystal. Before Jen’s eyes, the Mystics and Skeksis merge into tall glowing beings, known as urSkeks. The leader of the urSkeks explains that they had mistakenly shattered the Crystal long ago, splitting them into two races and decimating Thra, but Jen, in fulfilling the prophecy, has restored them. The urSkeks revive Kira in gratitude for Jen’s heroism, and then ascend to a higher level of existence, leaving the Crystal to the Gelflings on the now-rejuvenated Thra.
Overall this world is twisted and extremely dark for a kid’s film and certainly is very dark. The biggest problem I had was Jen who honestly by the end is just tolerable. The character designs are disturbingly cool and the sets are very creative especially the Skeksis proving Jim Henson was the best at his craft. I enjoyed the story and liked some of it’s twists. I’d give it a watch but if your kids watch it then you should definitely watch with them. mHmmmmmmmmmmmm!