Unlike so many children over the years since the early 80s, I did not grow up with this classic adventure. When a friend of mine heard I hadn’t seen The Dark Crystal she ordered me to watch it with her; in all honesty, I’ve never been too interested in viewing this feature. When I was a child I was put off by the look of the puppet that plays the hero, Jen (as shown below); these days, I found myself to be disinterested purely due to lack of knowledge of what was held within this classic. But I’m open to watch anything these days and held no fuss to spend an afternoon experiencing what I’d missed.
Honestly, I didn’t enjoy the film all that much. For anyone reading who grew up with this film and loves it, please put your pitch forks away for a few minutes while I explain my reasoning. There was a lot to it that I actually quite enjoyed, and had some things been done differently, I may have enjoyed it a lot more.
Let’s start with one of the main things that make this film so impressive: the set and puppet work. There’s no denying that each of the puppets and the entire set is truly beautiful. I wish more modern films would use practical effects, rather than solely relying on CGI. While some films before the 00s will be dated with some of their effect, practical or otherwise, there’s no denying that there is still a lot that films such as The Dark Crystal, The NeverEnding Story (1985), and Labyrinth (1986) can offer that many other don’t. Sure, for the first 10-20 minutes you won’t be able to think about much but how unrealistic some of the puppets and costumes were, but there are many that are still extremely impressive to view, and even the obvious ones eventually aren’t as important as you’re sucked into the story of each feature. This film is even more impressive as there are no actors at all, which also made it the first movie to have no actors throughout its entire run time. While I have never like how the protagonist looks, his female counterpart (also a Gelfling – a species from their planet) looks just fine to me, so it’s more a matter of opinion, really.
The other main thing I really enjoyed about this movie is its lore. I find the back story of how the prophesy of Gelflings overtaking the Skeksis causes the Skeksis to eat almost their entire species, just to ensure they can continue to rule the planet really interesting! I love that (spoiler) the Skeksis end up being one half of a celestial being, along with the Mystics – really working on the whole yin and yang reality of how there is good and bad to every creature, even godly beings. Though there is not much to it, the lore is my favourite part of this creation.
What really ruined it for me was the lack of story telling. I feel as though they could have made so much more with this feature, but just left it very bland. The plot is simply that Jen is told that he needs to find a gem shard and return it to the dark crystal; along the way he finds that he is not that last Gelfling, as he’d grown up believing; they team up (basically meaning she gets him out of trouble numerous times, as he clearly would have died too soon if they hadn’t met); eventually they get to the Skeksis castle and put the gem shard into the crystal, allowing the Mystics to reform with the Skeksis. It’s very simple, which isn’t the problem – I am disappointed with the lack of excitement they could have added to this. If we compare this to Labyrinth, another classic which follows a similar simplistic plot, we can see a clearer picture as to what The Dark Crystal missed out on; what makes Labyrinth enjoyable for all ages is that you are never sure what’s waiting around the corner for the protagonist, and there’s often more bad than good for her to find, giving us more reason to anticipate what fate awaits her next – it really draws the audience in. The flaw in Dark Crystal is that we’re given little reason to root for Jen, other than the fact we know (*cough* from the colour scheme) that the Skeksis are bad. We know so little about him, we are led to root for someone who’s name and species is all we know about. While Labyrinth shows Sarah as a selfish teen who’s reasonably stupid, we at least know that she does care about the fate of her brother when he’s put in actual danger, and we see her genuinely try her best to beat the Goblin King. Jen is not only depicted as stupid (and likely gullible) when on his own, but is never in much danger. Sure, there are a couple scenes where the Skeksis’ minions almost capture him, and one Skeksis almost convinces to follow him to their castle (where they would have drained his life energy), but these scenes are shortly over and are always followed by Kira getting him safely closer to the castle. There’s never any true danger for the audience to believe in and it’s soon clear that (besides the Universal rating) the hero has nothing to worry about, and thus the audience doesn’t either.
Besides the story telling, I have no real issues with the film, as there’s not much else going for it. Besides the beauty of the practical effects, it’s a very simplistic movie, which leaves little else to even talk about.
I wouldn’t say it was a bad film in any way, and I would consider re-watching it in the future if some friends wanted to, but I wouldn’t be able to give my full attention. If you haven’t yet seen it, then it’s definitely worth checking out, and a good one for young children.