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Laramie Movie Scope:
The Dark Crystal

Imagination to the max

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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April 11, 2003 -- "The Dark Crystal" is one of the most imaginative films I've ever seen, a fitting tribute to the brilliant career of the late master puppeteer, Jim Henson (creator of the Muppets). The degree of visual imagination in this film has seldom been equalled, perhaps never equalled in any other live action film.

This is a film in which no human being ever appears on the screen, and in which we see a world very different from our own. There are three suns in the sky and strange creatures in the air, in the water and on the ground. The story is your standard fantasy quest. A gelfling (sort of like a human) is called by prophecy to embark on a quest to find a crystal shard. The shard is a missing piece of the great dark crystal, which provides power for the ruling class of evil skeksis (who look like a cross between a lizard and a vulture). If he fails to repair the dark crystal before the triple conjunction of the suns, the world will be ruled by evil forever. Meanwhile, a group of mystics (creatures like large, multi-limbed, hairy lizards also called urRu) are headed for a fateful meeting with the skeksis and the dark crystal in the skeksis' castle.

Jen is the gelfling who must find the missing crystal shard. Along the way, he meets another gelfling, Kira, the only other gelfling left in the world. Because the prophecy, the skeksis tried to wipe out all the gelflings. Jen also meets Aughra, a sort of ogre astronomer who can see through her one good eye, even when it is not attached to her body. She is more than one thousand years old, is not attractive, and has a combative personality. They also meet other creatures, crystal bats, who can transmit television-like images to the skeksis, garthim (giant beetle-like creatures) who have tremendous strength and destructive power and who obey only the skeksis. They also meet landstriders (creatures with legs over six feet long, who can cover great distances quickly), pod people (small human-like creatures who live inside plants). There are also plants that can fly, some plants that can trap people with tentacles, and a creature like a combination frog and hippopotamus. There is also a cute little furry creature that rolls around like a furry ball, but acts like a dog. In addition, all of the scenery has a distinctly otherworldly look about it.

The basic story is pretty standard, and since it rests on a specific prophecy, there are no real surprises. There are some good characters, mainly Aughra and the Chamberlain, who is one of the skeksis. Master puppeteer and actor Frank Oz provides the movements for both of these puppets, while Billie Whitelaw provides the voice for Aughra and Barry Dennen provides the very distinctive voice for the Chamberlain. Unfortunately, Jen, the main character in the story, is rather bland, as is Kira (voices by Stephen Garlick and Lisa Maxwell, respectively). Of the two, Kira is the more interesting character. A stronger main character was needed to make a compelling story. However, the film is effective because it does transport the viewer to a truly unique world where many fascinating sights are seen. This film rates a B.

I saw this film years ago in a theater, but I saw it again recently on DVD. This was a special edition DVD from Jim Henson Studios. The video transfer is first-rate and there are a lot of extras, like a very full-featured hour-long documentary on the making of the film. The documentary details the incredible amount of work that went into the making of this film (a project which took five years to finish). The DVD also includes original language workprint scenes, character drawings and profiles, production notes, an isolated music score by Trevor Jones, two deleted scenes and more stuff. The video is in widescreen anamorphic format with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. This dual-layer DVD has several available audio tracks, including English Dolby Digital (TM) 5.1 and English and Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround. There are also English and Spanish subtitles. This DVD rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy this movie in video and/or DVD format, the soundtrack, books, even used videos, games and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2003 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)