| CHARACTERS • HOME VIDEO|
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|Released||Dec. 17, 1982|
|Director||Jim Henson, Frank Oz|
|Written by||Jim Henson (story), David Odell (screenplay)|
|Studio||Universal Pictures / ITC|
The Dark Crystal is the first cinematic feature directed by Jim Henson to not feature The Muppets. The film was followed by a Netflix series called The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance in 2019 and several other spin-offs.
“Another World, Another Time... In the Age of Wonder. A thousand years ago, this land was green and good, until the Crystal cracked. For a single piece was lost; a shard of the Crystal. Then strife began, and two new races appeared: the cruel Skeksis... the gentle Mystics.”
1,000 years ago the crystal cracked, and the spirits of the UrSkek were divided into the peaceful Mystics and the evil Skeksis. A prophecy was written that stated if a Gelfling healed the crystal, the world would be renewed and the UrSkek would be reunited. Due to the prophecy, the Skeksis hunted down and killed all the Gelflings.
The last Gelfling left on Thra, a male named Jen, was saved and raised by the Mystics. Jen is sent by his dying master on a journey to heal the Dark Crystal. If Jen succeeds, the world will be saved; but if Jen fails, the Skeksis will rule the land forever. On his quest to The Castle of the Crystal, Jen meets Kira, another Gelfling. The two must battle the evil Skeksis and save Thra.
When Jim Henson began work on The Dark Crystal in 1977, he had no story, just a sense of the kind of fantasy world he wanted to create. Henson was beginning to visualize the creatures that would inhabit this world of good and evil when he discovered The Land of Froud, a collection of drawings by Brian Froud. Henson immediately contacted Froud, who agreed to act as the project's conceptual designer.
“(Henson) was, I think, looking for something different to the style he had been working in and it's interesting to discover how different it was. Whereas the Muppets are very simple bold shapes, what I designed was very complex and complicated. I was responsible for the conception of an entire world, a world that had never been seen before. I had to design everything. Not only the general look of the world - from skies to the landscapes - but down to the smallest details which included things like knives and forks, pots and pans, the everyday minutiae details of the creatures of that lived in this world.”
Once Henson and Froud had developed their ideas into a storyline, David Odell was commissioned to write the screenplay. In July 1979, Henson moved the project's pre-production planning from New York to London, where he could simultaneously supervise production of the fourth season of The Muppet Show. It was here that creative supervisor Sherry Amott assembled the 60-member animatronic fabrication group who sculpted, molded, sewed and cared for the project's elaborate puppet cast.
The Dark Crystal was filmed at the EMI Elstree Studios near London. While the puppeteers who operated the main characters were drawn from the ranks of the Muppeteers, the Mystics and many of the other creatures were brought to life by a specially recruited group of mimes, actors, dancers, acrobats and clowns. All of these artists performed their craft on sets that, although scaled to the puppet's size, were built up off the floor to allow them enough clearance to operate their characters unhindered. (The puppets were controlled through a variety of radio, mechanical, electrical and hydraulic systems.)
In addition to the state-of-the-art puppets, special visual effects also played a crucial role in bringing the world of The Dark Crystal to life.
“We started with special effects very early on. We knew we would have to have some miniatures, some matte paintings, a lot of optical composite work and some blue screen work. We decided to build the Dark Crystal Castle in two miniature sizes, one about 10th scale and one about 25th scale so that we could build a fairly large landscape with mountains and terrain and put the castle in the middle. In addition to the matte paintings, we did several key miniatures which were matched in with live-action foregrounds and with cloud tank skies. We also did some composite work, which was very unique in that we did some superimpose of creatures that were matched into positions with some special holdout mattes that gave us a slightly ethereal feeling.”
—Gary Kurtz, producer
The test screenings of The Dark Crystal had the Skeksis speaking a language based on ancient Greek and Egyptian, specially created for them by linguist Alan Garner. Jim Henson stated, "My whole approach to this film is visual. I wanted as little dialogue as possible because I believe the story is stronger that way. Dialogue becomes a crutch. If you have all these alien-looking creatures, why should they be talking in English? An early concept was to have the Skeksis just making noises, but in a way you knew what they were saying." Gary Kurtz responded to the non-English version stating, "The audience thought that they were missing something. Actually, they didn't need to understand the Skeksis' dialogue at those points. The translation of what was being said is really quite banal. The strength of those scenes was instinctively knowing what's going on...But the Skeksis scenes were quite long. You had to concentrate. The audience wasn't prepared to do that." The response of the test audiences led to the replacement of the Skeksis language with English dialogue.
The Dark Crystal made over $40.5-million during its initial 63-day theatrical run, with an estimated production cost of $15-million, making it a modest financial success. Its limited appeal at the time was partly due to parental concerns about its dark nature, and partly because it was soon overshadowed by E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, which was released the same year. It was more of a critical success, winning a Saturn Award for Best Fantasy Film and earning the grand prize at the Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival. The film was also nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation and a BAFTA Award for Best Special Visual Effects.
In both France and Japan, The Dark Crystal was the highest-grossing box office release for the year (1983) and won the 1983 Seiun Award media prize. The Dark Crystal is the third-highest grossing puppet film of all time (behind The Muppets and The Muppet Movie), and the third-highest grossing Henson/Muppet-related film to date. The film remains a fan favorite that has remained consistently strong with worldwide home video and DVD sales.
“The Dark Crystal, besides being a technological and artistic achievement by a band of talented artists and performers, presents a dark side of "Muppet" creators Jim Henson and Frank Oz that could teach a lesson in morality to youngsters at the same it is entertaining their parents.”
—Robe., Variety. December 17, 1982.
“As drama, The Dark Crystal comes fully alive only at its rousing climax, and it's hampered by the Ken Doll blandness of our hero. As a bestiary, however, it is bountiful- a prodigious and amusing parade of things that do much more than bump in the night.”
—David Ansen. Newsweek. December 27, 1982.
“The invention is impressive, but there is little indication of the Henson-Oz trademark: a sense of giddy fun. Audiences nourished on the sophisticated child's play of Sesame Street and The Muppet Show may not be ready to relinquish pleasure for awe as they enter The Dark Crystal's palatial cavern. And they may not be alone. Miss Piggy would take one look at the place and order pink satin drapes.”
—Richard Corliss. TIME, January 3, 1983.
- Jim Henson, Kathryn Mullen, Frank Oz, Dave Goelz, Steve Whitmire, Louise Gold, Brian Muehl, Bob Payne, Mike Quinn, Tim Rose, Jean-Pierre Amiel, Hugh Spight, Robbie Barnett, Swee Lim, Simon Williamson, Toby Philpott, Dave Greenaway, Richard Slaughter
- Kiran Shah (also stunts), Mike Edmonds, Malcolm Dixon, Sadie Corre, Deep Roy, Gerald Stadden, Mike Cottrell, Abbie Jones, Natasha Knight, Lisa Esson, Peter Burroughs, Jack Purvis, John Ghavan
- Stephen Garlick as Jen
- Lisa Maxwell as Kira
- Billie Whitelaw as Aughra
- Percy Edwards as Fizzgig
- Barry Dennen as Chamberlain/Podlings
- Michael Kilgarriff as General
- Jerry Nelson as High Priest and Dying Emperor
- Steve Whitmire as Scientist
- Thick Wilson as Gourmand
- Brian Muehl as Ornamentalist, Dying Mystic Master
- David Buck as Slavemaster
- Charles Collingwood as Treasurer
- John Baddeley as Scroll Keeper
- Sean Barrett as urZah
- Miki Iveria, Patrick Monckton, Sue Westerby as Podlings
- Joseph O'Conor as urSkeks and Narrator
- Executive Producer: David Lazer
- Produced by: Jim Henson, Gary Kurtz
- Conceptual Designer: Brian Froud
- Director of Photography: Oswald Morris, B.S.C.
- Film Editor: Ralph Kemplen
- Production Designer: Harry Lange
- Art Directors: Terry Ackland-Snow, Malcolm Stone, Brian Ackland-Snow
- Sketch Artists: Mike Ploog, Bill Stallion, Denis Rich, Roy Carnon
- Creature and Costume Design: Brian Froud
- Creative Supervisor: Sherry Amott
- Creature Design and Fabrication Supervisors: Wendy Midener (Gelfling), Lyle Conway (Skeksis, Aughra and UrSkeks), Sarah Bradpiece (Skeksis), Sherry Amott (Mystics, Pod People and Slaves), Tim Clarke (Mystics), Fred Nihda (Garthim), Valerie Charlton (Landstriders), Tim Miller, John Coppinger (Environmental Creatures), Rollin Krewson (Fizzgig)
- Associate Costume Designers: Sarah Bradpiece, Steven Gregory (Skeksis), Shirley Denny, Diana Mosley (Mystics), Polly Smith, Barbara Davis, Ellis Duncan (Gelfling, Pod People)
- Costumers: Val Jones, Lesia Liber
- Wigs and Hair: Stuart Artingstall
- Special Mechanical Design: Leigh Donaldson, Tad Krzanowski, John Stephenson, Bob Baldwin
- Radio Control Design: Faz Fazakas
- The names of many characters, races and places not mentioned in the film do appear in the novelization, and have since become canon.
- Fathom Events presented a series of theatrical screenings of the film on February 25 and 28, 2018. The film was given a 4K restoration, sourced from the original camera negative, which was released on 4K Blu-ray on March 6.
- Dark Crystal Category
- The Dark Crystal (video)
- The Dark Crystal (soundtrack)
- The World of the Dark Crystal making-of documentary
- Power of the Dark Crystal
- "Legends of the Dark Crystal"
- Dark Crystal TV show
- The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance