The Dark Crystal

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The Dark Crystal was the first live action film to feature no human actors onscreen, an amazing feat in 1982, when everything was achieved practically, without the use of CGI. This is made even more impressive when you consider just how sprawling and well-realised the world of the film is.

With an overly simplistic plot that borrows heavily from The Lord of the Rings, and leaves many facets of the story unexplained and unexplored, The Dark Crystal is rife with flaws. A fantasy from the minds of Muppets creator, Jim Henson and conceptual fantasy artist, Brian Froud, The Dark Crystal takes place in a world that has fallen into ruin.

After a piece of the titular crystal—which holds the balance between light and dark in the land—is broken off, an evil race known as The Skeksis, hunched and grotesque figures, appear and lay claim over the realm. Their design is a little stomach-churning, a cross between a dinosaur skeleton and a diseased parrot, and the world is a miserable place.

The Mystics, another race, also appear at this time. They are gentler, more contemplative and thoughtful. Clearly they’re the good guys, but it is a mystery as to what connection they have to The Skeksis. The arguable protagonist of the film is Jen, a Gelfling—basically an elf—who was taken in by The Mystics when his parents were killed during a Skeksis raid.

Jen is the last of his kind, or so he thinks, and as his Mystic master lays dying, he tells Jen of a prophecy about a Gelfling that will end the darkness of the Skeksis rule over the land. Jen must find the missing crystal shard and return it to its rightful place, making the crystal whole again. Without any doubt or want of more information, Jen sets out to achieve this end. On his journey he meets Kira, another orphaned Gelfling who helps him on his quest.

But Jen is a hero who never really does anything heroic, he runs from danger at every opportunity and doesn’t ever seem to learn or adapt or, you know, do stuff. Kira on the other hand is the one with the most at stake and shows her mettle because of it. One might argue that because it is a film aimed at children it need not be any more complex, but Henson has made an exceptionally dark film that perhaps isn’t aimed at young children.

The real enjoyment to be had is the production side of it. What it lacks in a satisfying or coherent narrative, The Dark Crystal makes up for by creating such an immersive world to view. Some of the puppets are immense, and the world that the characters inhabit feels real (or as real as anything else shot on a sound-stage) and without boundaries.

While you never fully forget that there are probably a few dozen puppeteers just out of frame manipulating the characters (a shame really, as the characters don’t ever come to life in the same way Henson’s Muppets or the characters in Labyrinth do), you have to admit to yourself that technically it is quite a magnificent achievement.

The Dark Crystal is playing for a week at The Astor Theatre from Sunday, 13 April. To buy tickets or check out more info visit www.astortheatre.net.au

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