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THE DARK CRYSTAL
25th Anniversary Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Voices:  Stephen Garlick, Lisa Maxwell, Barry Dennen, Billie Whitelaw
Directors:  Jim Henson, Frank Oz
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio:  Sony
Features:  See Review                  
Length:  94 Minutes
Release Date:  August 14, 2007

Film **

The Dark Crystal is a visual triumph.  Every shot of every scene is filled to the brim, even overflowing, with rich and imaginative detail.  It simply blows the mind to consider just how much effort went into the design, production, and filming of this movie, from the wondrous looking creatures to the beautiful and lively landscapes…all completely fabricated from the mind of Jim Henson and his creative staff of puppeteers and effects artists.

The problem is, there's just not much of a story to go along with it, and what little there is, often gets lost or brushed aside because directors Henson and Frank Oz seem to fall so much in love with their imaginary world and its inhabitants that they spend more time photographing and lingering over them than furthering the story that accompanies.

When I first saw the film as a child, it completely confused me, and I walked away feeling dissatisfied.  Seeing it again as an adult, I realized my puzzlement came not because the story was hard to follow, but because the picture goes off track way too many times.  For a kid with a short attention span, they may be likely to point at Jen somewhere near the end of the film and say, “Now WHO is that again?”

Jen is the rather bland, flat hero of the picture.  He is believed to be the last of the Gelflings, a race of tiny people from whom one is destined to fulfill an ancient prophecy.  The dark crystal of the title, turns out, had long been a source of balance and power in this world, until it was broken, creating chaos and mayhem in all of the lands.  Two races of beings were created by the fracturing of the crystal:  the wise yet ineffectual Mystics, and the evil, haggard Skeksis (who look like giant buzzards).  It turns out if the broken shard is not replaced, and by a Gelfling, before a certain configuration of suns appear in the sky, the Skeksis will become immortal, and darkness will rule the land forever.

And that's the story, which is not necessarily bad in and of itself.  The problem, as mentioned, is that Henson and Oz are so fascinated by their own creation that they continually throw in overly long segments that have nothing to do with the story.  The Skeksis at dinner, for one, or their battle to determine the next emperor.  The maddening Aughra, who has way too much screen time and speaks in ridiculous gibberish, like some Lewis Carroll character.  Cut out some of this indulgence, and the film would fit nicely into a television hour, complete with commercials.

Then Henson loses sight of his unique vision toward the end by falling into an old familiar cinematic cliché.  Jen is told that time is just about up, yet it takes forever for him to get the shard back into the crystal, complete with everything you'd expect, including him dropping the thing at one point and having to recover it.  As slow as the picture seemed up to that point, it didn't need any additional artificial suspense techniques to slow it down further.

The Dark Crystal is a beautiful, visual delight, though…make no mistake about that.  I liken it to a big, beautiful package festively wrapped with gorgeous paper and ribbons.  It's just too bad you have to open it and find there's actually nothing inside.

Video ***1/2

For an older film, The Dark Crystal holds up well.  There are occasional bits of noticeable nicks and scars, but overall, for a film that's visual to the exclusion of all else, Sony did a remarkable job.  Many scenes are pure eye candy, with as vast an array of colorful images carefully cultivated as any you could hope to see, and thankfully, they all look perfect.  Only in a few darker scenes is a bit of image breakup noticeable, along with a handful of grainy sequences.  But overall, many scenes are beautiful enough to freeze frame and make a screensaver out of. 

Audio ***

The newly mastered 5.1 soundtrack is quite good, and very clean, with good dynamic range and effects and music that make use of the front and rear stage in an effective way.

Features ****

This two disc anniversary edition starts with a new commentary track by Brian Froud.  The remaining features are on the second disc, and they include:  Original making of documentary "The World of the Dark Crystal", deleted scenes, work print scenes, character drawings, reflection piaces "Light on the Path of Creation" and "Shard of Illusion", two all-new behind the scenes documentaries that include rediscovered footage from the Henson archives and newly-recorded interviews with the people who created the film.

Oh, and the new box cover?  One of the best I've seen!

Summary:

The Dark Crystal is visual filmmaking at its finest and most imaginative, and storytelling at its weakest.  Given that the images are the most important aspect of the movie, kudos to Sony for delivering a quality transfer, so those who view the disc can appreciate the gorgeous look of the picture to the somewhat necessary exclusion of all else.

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