The Dark Crystal is a 1982 fantasy film directed by Jim Henson and Frank Oz. The epic film which was set on the alien planet Thra, was billed at the time of its release as the first live-action film without any human beings on screen. The story follows Jen, a young Gelfling, as he sets out on a quest to heal the dark crystal and save his planet from the rule of evil Skeksis.
The film grossed over $40.5-million during its initial 63-day theatrical run, with an estimated production cost of $15-million, making it a modest financial success and Henson's second highest grossing film of all time. The Dark Crystal was a critical success, winning a Saturn Award for Best Fantasy Film and earning the grand prize at the Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival. The film was also nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation and a BAFTA Award for Best Special Visual Effects.
Jen believes he is the last of the Gelflings. After his parents were killed by the Garthim, he was raised in the valley in which the Mystics reside. When his master urSu is on his deathbed, he calls Jen to his side and reveals that his destiny is to "heal" the crystal by finding the lost shard.
Meanwhile in The Castle of the Crystal, the emperor SkekSo, lies dying. When the Skeksis ruler dies, the Chamberlain SkekSil and the General SkekUng battle over the throne. Deciding to settle their argument with "Trial by Stone", SkekUng becomes emperor and SkekSil is exiled from the castle in rags.
Jen, out on his quest, soon reaches the observatory where he meets Aughra, a wisewoman character of unknown species. There he find the crystal shard and learns of the the upcoming Great Conjunction. Soon the Garthim warriors of the Skeksis (who have been alerted to Jen's existence) arrive and destroy the observatory before Jen can learn importance of of the shard. The Garthim capture Aughra while Jen narrowly escapes.
Jen spends the night in the swamp and Aughra carried off to the castle. Meanwhile, the Mystic UrZah, hearing the calls of the Crystal, gathers his kind so they can begin their trek back to the castle.
The next day, Jen meets another Gelfling, Kira, and her furry companion, Fizzgig. The two Gelflings are shocked, as each thought they were the last of their kind. Kira takes Jen to spend the night amongst the Podlings who raised her, however their time in the Pod Village is cut short by another Garthim raid. Kira, Jen, and Fizzgig escape the attack, but many Podlings are captured by the Garthim and taken back to the castle as slaves.
In the morning, as they awaken, Kira and Jen discover The Wall of Destiny within the the ruins of an old Gelfling city. Jen discovers the prophecy of the Crystal and finally learns what must be done. Jen and Kira are then confronted by the disgraced SkekSil, who attempts to trick them in believing he could help them, but they refuse and escape. Riding on furry, long-legged Landstriders, the Gelflings quickly arrive at the Castle of the Crystal, just in time to see the Garthim that attacked Kira's village approaching. Kira, followed by Jen, ride to attack the Garthim and try to free the captured Podlings.
The Gelflings fail to rescue the Podlings and find the Garthim, who have slain the Landstriders, closing in on them at the edge of the deep, rocky cliff that encircles the castle. Sweeping Jen and Fizzgig into her arms, Kira jumps off the cliff, revealing to Jen that female Gelflings have wings. They float to safety and enter the castle via the Teeth of the Skreesh, an undefended sewer entrance to the lower parts of the castle. SkekSil approaches them again and attempts to reconvince them to offer peace to the Skeksis. Fearing for Kira's safety, Jen strikes SkekSil, using the crystal shard as a dagger and wounding SkekSil's arm. Concurrently, the urRu chanter urSol suffers a spontaneous wound on his arm in the corresponding location. Enraged, SkekSil forces Jen into a wall, causing a cave-in. SkekSil then takes Kira prisoner, believing Jen to be dead.
For capturing Kira, SkekSil is restored to his position as Chamberlain. On the suggestion of the scientist, SkekTek, SkekUng decides to regain his youth by draining Kira's life essence. Only a few drops of the "everlasting essence" are drawn from Kira before she, urged by the captured Aughra, calls out to the animals imprisoned in the laboratory, who break free and attack SkekTek. SkekTek falls into the shaft of the castle, resulting in the mystic Alchemist UrTih disintegrating into flames.
The two Gelfings meet at the central interior chamber where the crystal is housed just as the three suns begin to align. The Skeksis arrive to prepare for their moment of glory until they notice the Gelfings. Jen alights upon the Crystal, but the shard falls from his hands with Kira forced to grab it while being surrounded by the Skeksis. Leaving herself open, she throws the shard back to Jen as the Ritual Master SkekZok stabs and kills her. Once the Conjunction begins, a enraged Jen places the shard in its appropriate place, unifying the crystal as the Mystics arrive. The castle begins to crumble, and the Mystics and Skeksis reunite into their original urSkek incarnations. The urSkek leader, UngIm, speaks to Jen of their history and choose to leave the world to the Gelflings. But before departing, the urSkeks restore life to Kira. Outside, the castle the devastated world has been restored to its former beauty and harmony.
Conception and developmentEdit
When Jim Henson began work on The Dark Crystal in 1977, he had no story, just a sense of the kind of fantasy world he wanted to create. Henson was beginning to visualize the creatures that would inhabit this world of good and evil when he discovered The Land of Froud, a collection of drawings by Brian Froud. Henson immediately contacted Froud, who agreed to act as the project's conceptual designer.
(Henson) was, I think, looking for something different to the style he had been working in and it's interesting to discover how different it was. Whereas the Muppets are very simple bold shapes, what I designed was very complex and complicated. I was responsible for the conception of an entire world, a world that had never been seen before. I had to design everything. Not only the general look of the world - from skies to the landscapes - but down to the smallest details which included things like knives and forks, pots and pans, the everyday minutiae details of the creatures of that lived in this world.
Once Henson and Froud had developed their ideas into a storyline. David Odell was commissioned to write the screenplay. In July 1979, Henson moved the project's pre-production planning from New York to London, where he could simultaneously supervise production of the fourth season of The Muppet Show. It was here that creative supervisor Sherry Amott assembled the 60-member animatronic fabrication group who sculpted, molded, sewed and cared for the project's elaborate puppet cast.
The Dark Crystal was filmed at the EMI Elstree Studios near London. While the puppeteers who operated the main characters were drawn from the ranks of the Muppeteers, the Mystics and many of the other creatures were brought to life by a specially recruited group of mimes, actors, dancers, acrobats and clowns. All of these artists performed their craft on sets that, although scaled to the puppet's size, were built up off the floor to allow them enough clearance to operate their characters unhindered. (The puppets were controlled through a variety of radio, mechanical, electrical and hydraulic systems.)
In addition to the state-of-the-art puppets, special visual effects also played a crucial role in bringing the world of The Dark Crystal to life.
We started with special effects very early on. We knew we would have to have some miniatures, some matte paintings, a lot of optical composite work and some blue screen work. We decided to build the Dark Crystal Castle in two miniature sizes, one about 10th scale and one about 25th scale so that we could build a fairly large landscape with mountains and terrain and put the castle in the middle. In addition to the matte paintings, we did several key miniatures which were matched in with live-action foregrounds and with cloud tank skies. We also did some composite work, which was very unique in that we did some superimpose of creatures that were matched into positions with some special holdout mattes that gave us a slightly ethereal feeling.
Original Skeksis languageEdit
The test screenings of The Dark Crystal had the Skeksis speaking a language based on ancient Greek and Egyptian, specially created for them by linguist Alan Garner. Jim Henson stated, "My whole approach to this film is visual. I wanted as little dialogue as possible because I believe the story is stronger that way. Dialogue becomes a crutch. If you have all these alien-looking creatures, why should they be talking in English? An early concept was to have the Skeksis just making noises, but in a way you knew what they were saying."
Gary Kurtz responded to the non-English version stating, "The audience thought that they were missing something. Actually, they didn't need to understand the Skeksis' dialogue at those points. The translation of what was being said is really quite banal. The strength of those scenes was instinctively knowing what's going on...But the Skeksis scenes were quite long. You had to concentrate. The audience wasn't prepared to do that."
The response of the test audiences led to the replacement of the Skeksis language with English dialogue.
Release and receptionEdit
The Dark Crystal was released on December 17, 1982 and over $40.5-million during its initial 63-day theatrical run. Its limited appeal at the time was partly due to parental concerns about its dark nature, and partly because it was soon overshadowed by E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, which was released the same year. The film was more of a critical success, winning a Saturn Award for Best Fantasy Film and earning the grand prize at the Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival. The film was also nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation and a BAFTA Award for Best Special Visual Effects.
In both France and Japan, The Dark Crystal was the highest-grossing box office release for the year (1983). The Dark Crystal is the second highest grossing puppet film of all time (just behind The Muppet Movie), and thus it is the second highest grossing Henson film. The film remains a fan favorite that has remained consistently strong with worldwide home video and DVD sales.
Despite its modest theatrical success, it wasn't until decades later that it was discovered that the movie ranked high in video and DVD rental and sales, and had also garnered a cult following among fantasy and muppet fans. This was the impetus that encouraged Henson's children to go ahead with a sequel.
The story of The Dark Crystal in other mediaEdit
- "The Dark Crystal" - A novelization of the film by A.C.H. Smith.
- "The Tale of the Dark Crystal" - An illustrated storybook of the film by Donna Bass.
- "The Dark Crystal" - A read-along book and audio set of the story by Ted Kryczko and Jymn Magon.
- "The Dark Crystal" - A comic adaptation of the film produced by Marvel Comics.
- "The Dark Crystal" - A story-based video game based on the film.
- "Gelfling Adventure" - Another story-based video game based on the film.