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THE DARK CRYSTAL [1982 / 2009] [Blu-ray]
on 10 December 2016
THE DARK CRYSTAL [1982 / 2009] [Blu-ray] Another World, Another Time . . . In the Age of Wonder! An Elaborate Fantasy Where Everything Seems Possible and Nothing is as it Seems!
Enjoy incredible footage from the Jim Henson archives in ‘THE DARK CRYSTAL.’ Travel back in time to the faraway planet of Thra. Cheer on the Mystics as they fight to overthrow the evil Skeksis and take back control of their planet! When Jen, a member of the Gelfling tribe, sets out to find the crystal's missing shard, his dangerous journey brings him face to face with monsters at every turn. Determined to restore peace to their planet, Jen will not back down! But will young Jen’s courage be any match for the unknown dangers that await him? From the brilliant imagination of Jim Henson, this masterpiece of animation recounts the timeless tale of good vs. evil and has become a cult favourite of children and grown-ups alike! Narrated by Joseph O’Conor.
FILM FACT No1: Awards and Nominations: 1983 Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films: Win: Best Fantasy Film. Nominated: Best Special Effects for Brian Smithies and Roy Field. Nominated: Best Poster Art. 1983 Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival: Win: Jim Henson and Frank Oz. 1983 Hugo Awards: Nominated: Best Dramatic Presentation for Jim Henson (story/director), Frank Oz (director), Gary Kurtz (director) and David Odell (screenplay). 1984 BAFTA® Awards: Nominated: Best Special Visual Effects for Brian Smithies, Ian Wingrove and Roy Field. 2008 Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films: Nominated: Best DVD Classic Film Release.
FILM FACT No2: The film's soundtrack was composed by Trevor Jones, who became involved before shooting had started. Trevor Jones initially wanted to compose a score which reflected the settings' oddness by using acoustical instruments, electronics and building structures. This was scrapped in favour of an orchestral score once Gary Kurtz became involved, as it was felt that an unusual score would alienate audiences. The main theme of the film is a composite of the Skeksis' and Mystic's themes. Trevor Jones wrote the baby Landstrider theme in honour of his newly born daughter.
Voice Cast: Jim Henson, Kathryn Mullen, Frank Oz, Dave Goelz, Steve Whitmire, Louise Gold, Brian Muehl, Bob Payne, Mike Quinn, Tim Rose, Jean-Pierre Amiel, Hugh Spight, Robbie Barnett, Swee Lim, Simon J. Williamson, Hus Levant, Toby Philpott, David Greenaway, Richard Slaughter, Kiran Shah, Mike Edmonds, Peter Burroughs, Malcolm Dixon, Sadie Corre, Deep Roy, Jack Purvis, Gerald Staddon, Mike Cottrell, John Ghavan, Annie Jones, Natasha Knight, Lisa Esson, Stephen Garlick, Lisa Maxwell, Billie Whitelaw, Percy Edwards, Barry Dennen, Michael Kilgarriff, Jerry Nelson, Thick Wilson, John Baddeley, David Buck, Charles Collingwood, Sean Barrett, Miki Iveria, Patrick Monckton, Susan Westerby, Joseph O'Conor (Narrator/voice), Michael Earl (uncredited) and Grant Olding (uncredited)
Directors: Jim Henson and Frank Oz
Producers: Jim Henson, Gary Kurtz, Bruce Sharman, David Lazer and Duncan Kenworthy
Screenplay: David Odell (screenplay) and Jim Henson (story)
Composer: Trevor Jones
Cinematography: Oswald Morris
Video Resolution: 1080p
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 [Panavision]
Audio: English: 5.1 Dolby TrueHD Master Audio, English: 2.0 Dolby Digital Stereo, French: 5.1 Dolby TrueHD Surround and German: 5.1 Dolby TrueHD Surround
Subtitles: English, English SDH, German, French, Arabic, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Hindi, Norwegian, Swedish and Turkish
Running Time: 93 minutes
Region: All Regions
Number of discs: 1
Studio: Universal Pictures / Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Andrew’s Blu-ray Review: The Jim Henson Company presents you the amazing ‘THE DARK CRYSTAL’ and to a modern audience today will not realise that when this film was released comes from a time when the term CGI didn’t exist yet, and most of the special effects that you see in this fantasy film were actually made by hand, using amazing professional skills and lots of hard work via Jim Henson and his behind-the-scene professional crew. Most importantly, all effects employed are actual physical things that occupied actual three-dimensional space in front of the camera lens.
In 1982, Jim Henson created this feature length fantasy film ‘THE DARK CRYSTAL’ and when it was released I eagerly went along to the cinema to view this film, anticipating the further adventures of the muppets as they pursued the mysterious sounding precious stone, but of course I was in for a wonderful and amazing surprise. After the cinema lights were dimmed, the orchestral film score music began, especially heavy on the horns and drums, and the screen was filled with a dimly-lit image of a castle in a barren plain land. It was clearly nightfall, and it was here that I learned the power and magic of cinema to set a mood by various means had begun to appear before me.
Within the world of ‘THE DARK CRYSTAL,’ we find out that over one thousand years ago, the magic crystal cracked, and two races appeared, the wise and gentle Mystics, and the cruel evil Skekses. Since that time, the world was plunged into war and ruin, as the Skekses pillaged the land for their benefit. After millennia, the triple suns of the world were to come together in the Great Conjunction, which the Skekses would harness to achieve immortality, and lock the planet into a twisted empire that would never be renewed. It is up to Jen the Gelfling, last of his race, to stop this from happening. So, basically the usual good guys and bad guys struggle that will end when the good guys win, the bad guys get their comeuppance, and the credits roll. At least, that’s what I thought. Those of you familiar with this classic fantasy film are well aware that all expectations were defied.
‘THE DARK CRYSTAL’ is an overwhelming work of supreme Jim Henson imagination. That’s where the Muppets comparison ends. The audience is immersed in an alien world. There are no humans here, just plants and creatures that are wholly unrecognizable. There are no digital effects; just amazing extraordinary sets and costumes that form entire ecosystems. In one astonishing shot, you see plants that fly, trees that walk down to the river for a drink, and a doglike creature that is eaten by a hillside. For these and many other reasons ‘THE DARK CRYSTAL’ is an excellent fantasy film for all generations and especially it can give a child inspired by these wonderful images, but the action is also a great deal more mature and darker than most children’s entertainment.
‘THE DARK CRYSTAL’ places us in a rather familiar world, yet a unique one. A fantastical realm governed by a magic crystal that shattered a thousand-year ago. This event spawned two very different races of creatures, the Skeksis and the Mystics. The Skeksis quickly took control after the event, using the remaining crystal to keep themselves alive, employing some highly immoral methods in the process, as we learn later in the film, while the gentle Mystics were exiled.
The story picks up after this thousand-year time-span when Jen, the last of a species of creatures called Gelflings, is tasked with repairing the crystal and saving the world from imminent destruction. Jen receives this mission from his master, The Wisest of the Mystics, who on his deathbed tells him of this history and gives him his mission. It turns out that the Mystics saved Jen when the Skeksis culled his entire race of people from the world. Why did it happen? Well, there’s this prophecy you see, which says that only a Gelfling can repair the Crystal and since the Skeksis aren’t the nicest creatures in fantasy writing, they’re not too keen on this happening.
The story borrows concepts and ideas from all manner of places and times, and if that would’ve been all, then The Dark Crystal would’ve been lost to history amidst the multitude of sub-mediocre movies, without any of us ever hearing from it again. But the story isn’t what stands out when it comes to ‘THE DARK CRYSTAL’ and the focus of the movie is the world that the film takes place in and most importantly, the execution of the fantasy film.
It’s pretty clear that even though the fantasy film was meant for children, but obviously not in reality, as there is a lot of death in the film, whether it’s implied, talked about or actually on-screen, not to mentioned. Undoubtedly ‘THE DARK CRYSTAL,’ as the name implies, is pretty dark, especially for younger kids, who might be frightened even by the general appearance of the movie’s villains the Skeksis. These are a weird hybrid of vultures and reptiles, wrapped in an amalgam of cloths and jewellery.
The interesting thing is, this seems to have been Jim Henson’s intention from the start. According to the movie’s co-director, Frank Oz, Henson’s intention was to make a story that harkened back to the original Brothers Grimm stories and considered that it’s not good for children if they are not frightened from time to time, and I have to say, if that was indeed his true intention, he accomplished it. Setting aside the tone and the atmosphere for a bit, I cannot overlook the technical accomplishments that made this movie possible because this is what makes the movie truly fascinating.
‘THE DARK CRYSTAL’ was the first live-action fantasy film to not feature any people on-screen, absolutely everything that we see are practical effects and animatronics, and the result is nothing short of extraordinary. The sheer amount of work, thoroughness, attention and dedication required for this fantasy film to exist, elicits nothing but my utmost admiration for those who made it possible.
‘THE DARK CRYSTAL’ should not really be seen by young children on their own, however, those about a certain age might find it quite interesting if not downright fascinating thanks to the special effects and the minimum age suggestion would be between 10 to 12 age group, it’s up to the parents to decide if they think their young offspring can handle it. To sum everything up, even though the story is not original, but the Jim Henson world is something you won’t see examples of better animatronics in other film, except maybe ‘Labyrinth’ or ‘The Thing.’ But all in all this fantasy film is a really wonderful enjoyable experience for all generations.
Blu-ray Video Quality – Sony Pictures Home Entertainment brings you the ‘THE DARK CRYSTAL’ fantasy film that is well over 30 years of age, and gives us a very pleasant 1080p encoded image and the 2.35:1 Panavision aspect ratio simply dazzles the visual experience, and easily making the Blu-ray disc the best home entertainment film that you will ever enjoy, especially with the crystal clear images, that enhances the Jim Henson’s imagination, bringing out the finer points of the frame, even introducing me to enthralling new details. The image is crisp without losing the film-like qualities of the original elements, allowing the Blu-ray disc to retain a comfortable theatrical appearance, with splendid, deep colours and secure black levels that allow for further frame inspection. There is little in way of Blu-ray colour explosion here, leaving the presentation more about safeguarding the richness and hyper-nuance of the cinematography and overall design work.
Blu-ray Audio Quality – Sony Pictures Home Entertainment brings us a brilliant audio presentation of 5.1 Dolby TrueHD Master Audio mix that is not a forceful creation that will rattle your sound system, it’s more of a cathedral style of ambiance, building all the elements into a stout presentation of the film music scoring of composer Trevor Jones hits a grand slam with the music, dialogue, and peculiar sound effects. Most sequences maintain appropriate surround atmospherics, with castle interiors offering a pleasing echo effect to underline the ornate architecture. Garthim attack scenes inject some nice verve mix, but most of the energy here is frontal, which feels more natural to the storytelling aesthetics at hand.
Blu-ray Special Features and Extras:
Audio Commentary by Brian Froud: This feature-length audio commentary with conceptual designer and all-around fairy geek Brian Froud for the film ‘THE DARK CRYSTAL’ and welcomes us to his audio commentary and informs us that it was wonderful to hear the composed film music in the background, and it has been years since he last heard since he last time he viewed the film, and to also separated his emotions towards the film because of his last time he was heavily involved in the film over a five year period. Brian says a lot of people didn’t understand the concept of the film, especially asking what they were viewing, as they had never seen puppets on a big screen, which personally I get very angry with such naïve comments and suspect it is American teenagers who are the ones in this category, as most of them want the whole thing spelt out for them line by line. Brian also informs us that the film is about a “myth,” especially in an unfamiliar world that Brian helped to create and bring to the screen. Brian also talks about when Jim Henson came to visit him in Devon near Dartmoor to explain his scenario about crocodiles living in a castle or palace and wanted a juxtaposition of reptiles dressed elaborately in a beautiful setting, but when Brian did all the designs, the concept of the film changed dramatically, especially the Skeksis were more like fish originally in design, but of course over time the designs dramatically to what you now view in the film, to be a cross between a bird and a dinosaur. When you see the lettering ‘THE DARK CRYSTAL’ appears at the start of the film, which of course was designed by Brian Froud and couldn’t believe they were keen to use the design, and obviously Jim Henson was very impressed in wanting to use Brian’s designed lettering. When you first see the male Gelflin playing his pipes and if you look closely he is completely naked and Jim Henson wanted the public to see this, especially his private parts, but of course the censors at the time would not allow this and again had to be hidden discretely. Brian talks about the Cinematographer Oswald Morris, who he felt was an absolute genius and he had worked with the director John Huston and also worked on the films ‘Moulin Rouge’  and ‘Moby Dick’  and wanted Brian’s conceptions to really stand out via Oswald Morris and use the system called “Light Flex.” When Jim Henson came over to England to visit Brian Froud, Jim Henson really loved the countryside where Brian lived and wanted the same type of scenery created in his film, especially all the rocks, the moss, the trees and the rivers. When Brian saw the film in Italian and thought it was totally hysterical and especially when he saw the Skeskis ranting in Italian and it was like a demented Vatican priest, and of course the clothing was very Jacobian. Brian talks about how sound is very important in a film, as well as the songs, plus he points out how the puppets do hardly anything and when one of the male Gelfling walks into the bush and out comes the other side a midget dressed as a Gelflin, all in one shot. Brian was very encourage by Jim Henson and Frank Oz to create the Skeskis to look really gross, especially when they grossed out eating their food, as Jim Henson and Frank Oz really love their monsters. When everyone escapes from the dungeon and the old hag Aughra tells the Gelflin to hurry up as the conjunction of the suns, well Brian mentions that the voice of Aughra was done by the actress Billie Whitelaw. As the credits roll up the screen, brian says that he feels everyone did a fantastic job on the film, and is amazed how it all started out with just nine people in new York, and then of course over time grew even bigger amount of people involved in the film at the Elstree Studios, which in fact was 360 people working on this wonderful joyous film and Brian felt very privilege working with Jim Henson, who was a very generous man in his creativity, and feels that all of people involved in the film were also very creative with astonishing film for generations to come and I second this, and I feel Brian did a fantastic and fascinating audio commentary that should not be missed.
Special Feature: Storyboard Track: Picture-in-Picture: Here we are welcomed to ‘THE DARK CRYSTAL’ Storyboard and Concept Art track. As early as 1977, Jim Henson began meeting with British Fantasy artist Brian Froud to help him imagine an elaborate visual world that would eventually become ‘THE DARK CRYSTAL.’ In January, 1978, Brian Froud came to New York and started designing characters, creatures, and environments, before a story or plot had even been written. The Concept Art presented to us, provides you with a glimpse into the creative process and evolution world of ‘THE DARK CRYSTAL.’ Most of the art you will see was created by Brian Froud, with contributions from storyboard artist Bill Stallion, set designer Harry Lange, production painter Roy Carnon, and sketch artists Mike Ploog and Denis Rich. You also get to view a few storyboard sequences, which reveal how some shots in the film were carefully planned in pre-production, changed and evolved by the time the camera rolled. Unfortunately, a complete set of storyboards for the film no longer exists. They have attempted to re-construct the sequences with what was available at the time. So what you actually get to see is now and again a panel appears at the bottom right hand of the screen informing you that you are either viewing the CONCEPT ART or the STORYBOARD and under these heading is the wording describing what the art or storyboard drawing is that you are viewing that is relating to the scene you are viewing with the film.
Special Feature: The Book of Thra: Dark Crystal Collector: Here they welcome you to “The Book of Thra.” This feature is designed to enhance your knowledge of “The World of The Dark Crystal” by allowing you to gather information on various subjects during the course of the film. When an entry is available for “The Book of Thra,” its icon will appear in the upper Right-Hand of your screen. Click on the Blue Crystal with your remote control to collect that entry. You can also use the colour buttons on your remote control. To view what you have collected so far, click the Red Crystal with your remote control to open “The Book of Thra.” Click again on one of the icons in “The Book of Thra” to read its contents and to close “The Book of Thra” by clicking on the Red Crystal again. To end “The Book of Thra” activity, but to resume watching the film, click on the Green Crystal with your remote control to close it. To exit the Yellow Crystal with your remote control if you want to go home. You may also access “The Book of Thra” outside the feature in the menus. From there you will be able to clear the contents of “The Book of Thra” by clicking on “CLEAR.” So now begin and happy hunting.
Special Feature: Original Skeksis Language: Test Scenes  [480i] [1.37:1] [22:56] Here you have a selection of Eight separate viewings of Test Scene selection and they are as follows: Introduction by Screenwriter David Odell; Emperor’s Deathbed; The New Emperor; Aughra & The Skeksis; Fountain of Youth and Presenting Kira. As usual you can view each item separately or Play All. Unfortunately the quality of what you view is totally atrocious and looks like it was copied from a well-worn VHS tape copy from a work print.
Special Feature: Deleted Funeral Scene  [480i] [1.37:1] [3:50] Here you get to view a single deleted scene, concerning a funeral for the Skeksis leader. The scene appears courtesy of a well-worn VHS tape copy from a work print.
Special Feature: The World of ‘THE DARK CRYSTAL’ [Making of Documentary]  [480i] [1.33:1] [57:26] The World of the Dark Crystal is a documentary on the making of ‘THE DARK CRYSTAL.’ The documentary originally aired on PBS in the United States on January 9, 1983. This just short of an hour documentary details the technological innovations in the field of animatronics, art design, film making, and Jim Henson magic. Requiring over two years of pre-production, ‘THE DARK CRYSTAL’ was inspired by the imagination of artist Brian Froud and conceived by scores of talented designers, builders, technicians, and performers. The World of the Dark Crystal shows how Jim Henson’s Jim Henson’s Creature Shop in London and the Muppet Workshop in New York brought Brian Froud’s art and Jim Henson’s vision to life. This is the definitive take on the making of the film. Made for network TV in 1982, The World of ‘THE DARK CRYSTAL’ gives the viewer an exhaustive peek at the odds Jim Henson and Frank Oz faced during the difficult production process. We also get to view lots of Brian Froud’s brilliant illustrations. This is truly a remarkable document of the film and a treasure worthy of repeated viewings. Contributors include Jim Henson [Producer/Director], Brian Froud [Conceptual Designer], Wendy Widener Froud [Gelfling Supervisor], Gary Kurtz [Producer], Frank Oz [Director], Lyle Conway [Skeksis Co-Supervisor], Fred Nihda [Garthim Supervisor] and Kathryn Mullen [Performer].
Special Feature: Reflections of THE DARK CRYSTAL: This special feature is split into two separate features and they are as follows:
Special Feature: Light on the Path of Creation  [1080p] [1.78:1] [20:25] Light on the Path of Creation is behind-the-scenes retrospective documentary about ‘THE DARK CRYSTAL.’ The feature focuses on the films themes and interpretations plus the real-life design influences. The creators and performers talk about the story behind how ‘THE DARK CRYSTAL was created, and the designs of the characters that populated the world. The featurette contains never before seen test footage from the Jim Henson archives. Here is a closer look at the mystical intentions of the film, and how Jim Henson’s limitless imagination led the production to glory, along with that all-important test footage. Primarily short snippets of video-recorded backyard brainstorming, this nugget of ‘THE DARK CRYSTAL’ history will surely have fans drooling. My favourite moment has to be the reveal of Jen’s early incarnation: a blue Gelfling topped off with a lush mound of Farrah hair. Thank heaven for the merciless creative process. Contributors include Brian Froud [Conceptual Designer], Brian Henson/Son [The Jim Henson Company, David Odell [Screenwriter], David Goelz [Puppeteer/Performer], Kathryn Mullen [“Kira” Performer] and Jane Gootnick [Puppet Designer/Builder].
Special Feature: Shard of Illusion  [1080p] [1.78:1] [16:18] Shard of Illusion is a follow up behind-the-scenes retrospective documentary about ‘THE DARK CRYSTAL.’ The feature focuses on delving more into production stories and how the creatures came to life with the help of creative puppeteers. Again, more of the test footage is layered into this featurette, but it isn’t as much as expected. Of specific interest is David Odell [Screenplay]) discussing Hollywood’s boomerang reaction to ‘THE DARK CRYSTAL’ and the disastrous test process the film suffered throughout. Brian Froud [Conceptual Designer], David Goelz [Puppeteer/Performer], Brian Henson/Son [The Jim Henson Company], David Odell [Screenwriter], Jane Gootnick [Puppet Designer/Builder] and Kathryn Mullen [“Kira” Performer].
Special Feature: BD-Live: BD Live is a feature that allows the user to connect to the Internet and download extra features and even copies of the film for their PSP.
Finally, ‘THE DARK CRYSTAL’ is an immaculate creation, and as new generations grow to understand its exquisiteness, the more precious an experience the motion picture has become. I could watch the film quite a times and still discover new visual treats that I have never noticed before, or small sly performance quirks that register differently now than they did when I first viewed this enchanting film. The picture is a brilliant creation of pure imagination and remains Jim Henson’s professional crown jewel. Decades later, the film hasn’t lost a step as a crucial fantasy touchstone, and in a wonderful twist of fate, continues to amaze people of all ages to this day. Highly Recommended!
Andrew C. Miller – Your Ultimate No.1 Film Aficionado
Le Cinema Paradiso