The Dark Crystal

The Dark Crystal (1982)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Extras: Commentayr Track, Featurettes, Documentary, Deleted Scenes, Trivia Track, Trivia Game, Language Introduction, Test Scenes

In 1982 a film appeared in theaters around the globe that was magical and 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 movie experience that was as unparalleled back then as it is today.

After a series of DVD releases Sony Pictures Home Entertainment is now presenting this gem in high definition for the first time, allowing Blu-Ray owners to watch a treatment of the picture that is adding new sparkle to the story.

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. The Skeksis 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 sound stages 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.

Presented in a 1080p high definition transfer, viewers will immediately be struck by the incredible amount of detail evident in this Blu-Ray version. Although presentations have gradually become better over the years, for the first time I see here the full magic of the theatrical screenings brought back to life. Every seam in the costumes, every single strand of hair in the puppets and every little detail in the backdrops is adding splendor to the screen, while the image, rich and awash in color takes Henson's And Oz's vision to new heights. Whether it's the lush colors of the swamp and its inhabitants, the otherworldly gloom of the Skeksis and their castle – and their decadently splendid costumes for that matter, or the sheen of the Dark Crystal itself, the vivid hues are what make this fantasy leap to new heights. The transfer meticulously restores the movie's 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio with a clean transfer that is also free of defects or blemishes. You may notice some of the shots in the film being noticeably soft, but I find it important to point out that these are issues that have been inherent in the film itself and stem from the focal length of the lenses used in conjunction with some of the small scale sets. Black levels are deep and solid, giving the image phenomenal depth, which further adds to the film's sensational look.

A Dolby Digital 5.1 TrueHD audio track is included in the release ensuring also that the sound presentation is as good as it can get. Given the film's age and production limitations in general, the audio is somewhat limited in frequency response and fully directional effects are rather restrained, but once again, these are limitations of the original film and not of this Blu-Ray release. Nonetheless, the sound presentation of "The Dark Crystal" is wonderfully complementing the film, bringing to life the magic world in which the story plays. As thunder rolls over the skies, footsteps are echoing through cavernous castle corridors and strange creatures flurry about in a swamp, this presentation makes sure they are all restores with all the clarity that you could wish for. Dialogues are perfectly integrated and always understandable while Trevor Jones' atmospheric score glues it all together with its own magic.

The release contains many of the bonus material found on the previous DVD versions, starting with the commentary track by Brian Froud, the long-time Henson collaborator and designer of the film's signature look and feel.

Also included is the 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 also, 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 deleted "Skeksis Funeral Scene" is also included, 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!

The 30-minute featurette "Reflections of the Dark Crystal" can also be found on the release, giving viewers another chance to look at the production in two parts. The first focuses on the production and creation process while the second one is mostly highlighting the puppets in the film.

Arriving in high definition for the first time, Sony has also created some new bonus materials to supplement this release. "The Book Of Thra" is an extended interactive trivia track that allows you to not only obtain background information as you watch the film, but to also place it into a book where you can then access it instantly at a later time.

Also included is a Trivia Game that is being played as the film runs. I am not much of a fan of such distracting bonus materials – either I want to play a game or I want to watch a movie but I rarely want to do both at the same time – but I can appreciate its appeal to some degree.

Much better, for my taste, is the picture-in-picture story board track that gives you the chance to study the original storyboard of the film while seeing simultaneously how they have been actually been executed in in the final film.

The disc is rounded out by a Skeksis language introduction by screenwriter David Odell.

"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.

Seeing the film again in high definition reminds me vividly of that first night I saw the movie in theaters in 1982. It was a magical experience and the Blu-Ray version somehow managed to revive that tingle in my stomach. "The Dark Crystal" will always remain one of my favorite movies and in this high definition incarnation I can only urge readers to get their copy as soon as possible.