The Dark Crystal

The Dark Crystal (1982)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Extras: Deleted Scenes, Work Prints, Isolated Music Score, Documentary, Trailers

In 1982 a film appeared in theaters around the globe that was completely different from anything we had ever seen on the silver screen. Jim Henson and Frank Oz, the inventors of numerous puppet TV specials, including the award-winning and highly popular "Sesame Street", had set their minds on a rather particular project. To create a feature length movie, set in a foreign world that is inhabited by odd-looking creatures, telling a mythical and fantastic story of Good and Evil. Their means to achieve a film like that was completely through puppeteering, an art both of them had brought to perfection over the years. The result was a dazzling film that was unparalleled back then, is it is today.
Columbia TriStar Home Video is now releasing "The Dark Crystal" on DVD as a special edition with plenty of bonus materials and, most importantly, a newly remastered <$PS,widescreen> transfer of this enchanting tale.

In a time and place far from here, a shiny crystal that served as the source of Balance and Truth was shattered and divided the world into two opposing factions. The Skeksis, reptilian-bird-like power-hungry and wicked creatures that worship the now Dark Crystal for their powers, and the Mystics, peaceful and knowledgeable beings, close to nature and its unique powers.

Jen, is a Gelfing boy, a race that has been eradicated by the Skeksis, and he lives a calm life among the Mystics who teach him everything about peace and love. One day the leader of the Mystics and Jen’s mentor is dying. Upon his deathbed he tells Jen the story of the Dark Crystal and asks him to heal it for a better world. "Find the shard", he tells Jen and sends him off into a world he knows nothing about.

Following the lead, Jen soon stumbles into Kira, another Gelfling, and the two share their thoughts and memories. On their quest together they find out that the Skeksis have killed all Gelfings a long time ago. A prophecy has foretold that a Gelfling would one day heal the Dark Crystal and bring back unity and balance to the world, thus destroying the Skeksis. And, the Skesis have already become alert of Jen and Kira and send out their army of Garthim’s, heavily-armored and agile creatures to hunt and kill the Gelflings for good. Jen and Kira have only one chance to survive. They have to heal the Crystal and bring back unity to the world.

While the story may be straight-forward, the way it is told is not. Exceptional in its narrative and its visual presentation "The Dark Crystal" is a film that has mesmerized me since the first time I saw in back in 1982. The technical perfection is unbelievable and to this date, it doesn’t fail to impress me, every time I get to watch this movie. There is not a single human being to be seen on the screen at any time during the film – apart from a double for Jen on a very limited number of shots. All the creatures are puppets of some kind, and practically all of the film has been shot on elaborate soundstages to conjure up the fantastic world we see. What impresses me the most about it is the fact that seconds within the movie, you will completely immerse yourself in the world of Jen and completely forget that you are watching puppets that are operated by men. The personalities, the subtle mannerisms, the flow of the story, and the technical excellence make the world seem real, breathing and alive. The diversity of creatures, from lovable to grotesque, its visionary flora and fauna gives the world a richness that is practically endless.

Columbia TriStar Home Video is now presenting Jim Henson’s and Frank Oz’ imaginative masterpiece in a digitally remastered transfer on this disc, that restores the film’s original 2.35:1 <$PS,widescreen> aspect ratio. The transfer is <$16x9,enhanced for 16x9> TVs and immediately when the film comes on you will notice how breathtakingly sharp and detailed it is, although it exhibits quite a bit of dust and speckles in selected scenes. Upon close examination it quickly becomes evident, that this is an excellent compression without the slightest flaw!

The same is true for the color balance and the film’s brightness. All video and Laserdisc presentations of the movie I had seen in the past were much too dark, rendering most of the elaborate production design invisible. This was not the case during the film’s theatrical presentations and I was extremely pleased to see that this new transfer from Columbia not only restores the original look and level of detail of the film, but also vividly presents the richness of colors the way I remembered seeing them in theaters. The color balance is perfect with well-saturated colors and powerful hues, dark blacks and carefully balanced highlights. This is a picture-perfect transfer and due to the level of detail exhibited on this disc, I have been able to notice very subtle things I had never seen before. If you are a fan of this film and were never happy with its video releases put on your seatbelts, because this DVD will shatter the way you remember this movie.

The same care has been taken of the sound tracks for this release. The disc contains the movie’s original <$DS,Dolby Surround> track and a <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> mix, as well as a Spanish language track in mono. Unfortunately the disc defaults to the Dolby Surround mix for some reason, which sounds good, but not nearly as spatial as the engrossing <$5.1,5.1 channel> track, which is livelier and much more transparent. On the fourth audio track of the DVD you will find Trevor Jones’ great orchestral score completely by itself in an isolated presentation. It is great to watch the effect the music alone has on the images without being sidetracked by dialogues and sound effects, and it makes you appreciate Jones’ work all the more.

A large number of special features complement the outstanding movie presentation on this DVD. First there is a one-hour documentary called "The World Of The Dark Crystal" that will take you behind the scenes of the film’s shoot and gives the viewer plenty of insight into the creative minds of Jim Henson and Frank Oz. But all other aspects of the production are covered here aswell, starting with Brian Froud’s involvement as the conceptual designer of the world and the characters, all the way to behind-the-scenes footage shot on the sets. Especially that footage goes a long way to show viewers how these elaborate puppets were operated during the shoot of the film and the nuances that made them appear so real. It also gives the viewer a much better understanding about the laborious 5-year development of this film, and it also saddens you very much about Jim Henson’s early passing. From the footage and explanations seen in this segment it makes you wonder what amazing films he could have given us, had he not passed away so abruptly in 1990.

The disc also contains the deleted "Skeksis Funeral Scene", an extensive and great 2-minute scene that never made it into the final film for some reason, as well as several original language work prints. All of that footage is of rather poor quality because it is taken from work prints with clearly visible defects and signs of wear. The language work prints are scenes from the film, fully orchestrated with music and sound effects, subtitled, but without dialogues. It’s a good chance for you to see how well you would fare as a voice-over talent when you start interpreting the dialogue shown as subtitles for yourself. Try it, it’s a lot of fun!

A huge still gallery with concept art of all the film’s creatures can also be found on this release, and it will amaze you how close the film’s final production came to Brian Froud’s initial designs. The film’s theatrical trailer, cast and crew biographies, and extensive production notes make this release a great special edition, and only the lack of a <$commentary,commentary track> is somewhat disappointing. On the other hand, I am sure there were valid reasons for that. "The Dark Crystal" is a masterpiece and even after my twenty-something-th viewing of this film, I am utterly mesmerized by its charm and quality. If there ever has been a true storyteller in the word’s most magical sense, the way we understood it as a child, it has to be Jim Henson. "The Dark Crystal" was the first fully-animatronic feature film and it established the Jim Henson Company as a key player in the field on modern puppeteering, a position they have not lost until today.

This is a stunning release there can be no doubt and Columbia TriStar Home Video is bringing us the best home video presentation of this incredible film ever. It is a tribute to the geniuses behind the movie, one that has been long overdue. The quality of the film itself, the reference quality of the film’s presentation on this DVD and the bonus materials supplied are phenomenal, giving this film finally the proper home video presentation it deserved after all this time. The phenomenal audio and video transfers on this release will let you experience "The Dark Crystal" like you have never seen it before!