(MINOR SPOILERS) I have probably seen 'The Dark Crystal' four or five times, and I recently saw it less than a week ago. I do have some discrepancies with the film as an adult, but I'll get to that later! Since last week, I probably hadn't seen 'The Dark Crystal' since I was ten, but I remember that it was a childhood favourite of mine! I always dug The Chamberlain, with his whimper, as the main nemesis (if you could call him that). He was the real antagonist of the film. Forget about The General- he was just a bloated drooling mess, The Chamberlain was cooler! 'The Dark Crystal' was a lot more magical and enchanting when I was younger, and it really drew me into its world.
If you haven't seen 'The Dark Crystal', then basically the story is set on an alternate universe where peace was shattered one thousand years ago by the fragmentation of a white crystal. It created two races from a pure one; the good gentle Mystics, and the evil reptile-like Skeksis! Only ten of each race exists presently, and each one has a corresponding other in the opposing race! This world has a prophecy, where a small elf human-like creature called the Gelf-ling will mend the now Dark Crystal! The Skeksis wipe out all the Gelf-ling, except one called Jen, who is protected by the Mystics. Anyway, Jen is our hero, and he must go on a quest to find the lost shard, and repair the crystals before the three sons eclipse. Along the way there is a few surprises, as Jen find out more about his race and himself, as well as the Skeksis's attempts to thwart him.
You get the general idea.
When I was younger, I guess I was so wowed by the world that was created; I really didn't pay attention to how simplistic the story really is. In my recent viewing, I was very aware of the contrived nature of the story and script. Jen was really going through the motions, and everything does seem to fall easily into place (i.e. Kira's wings, the calling of the Land Striders), and it seems to go to too fast. 'The Dark Crystal' really doesn't seem epic enough, and you'd think Jen would have been better prepared for the endeavour, from day one by his Master. But no, his Master tells at the very last minute before he bites the big one. Jen's thoughts are used as the narrative, and for the most part, that works, especially during a clever sequence that displays Jen's and Kira's histories through mind melding! Convenient but cleverly done, and even now, I liked that moment a lot. However, to me, 'The Dark Crystal' seems to really lack a good nemesis, as The Chamberlain's motives are simply to get into the Skeksis's favour, and The General is more concerned about eating than doing any major evil acts!
I remember The Slave Master draining the Podling of its essence, and finding that scene quite scary when I was younger. Now, I was more aware of how the Podlings closely resembled Jim Henson's Muppets (especially during their first appearance). Also, now, I noticed the stilts for the Land Striders! I don't know if I noticed the technical presence of the Land Strider in earlier viewings, but it seemed obvious now how they did it (and that was before I watched the making-of too!). Still, I did think the incest bug creatures were awesomely effective even by today's standards, and they certainly sent shivers down my spine on my first viewing! Regardless, of the issues I have with the story now, or with being able to see some of the techniques in how it was done easier, I still can't get past the sheer genius of Jim Henson and Frank Oz. The puppets are simply superb creations for its time and the art direction brings the viewer into another world. While a film like 'Lord of the Rings' uses its "world" as a backdrop to the complexities of the story and characters, 'The Dark Crystal' draws you into its universe by showing you what its "world" is made up of- a perfect example of this, is the dissolves shots of the very alive jungle before Jen meets Kira! Things are happening in that Jungle that gives the viewer an idea of the creatures that inhabit that world- even if they aren't relevant to the story! 'The Dark Crystal' works as simple fantasy and escapist fare, and while the story and characters may not be as complex as 'Star Wars' or 'Lord of the Rings', it must be noted that this entirely puppet orientated film is smaller in narrative scope and not as epic considering its only one film, and not three films. 'The Dark Crystal's' scope belongs in the world we see on screen, and the creatures that inhabit it! For a stand-alone film, I think 'The Dark Crystal' holds up even now, if not for the sheer effort into creating these puppets and bringing them into life convincingly.
Personally, 'The Dark Crystal' will always hold a special place for me, considering I thought highly of it when I was younger. Don't get me wrong, I still preferred 'Star Wars' as the pinnacle back then, but 'The Dark Crystal' was always unique in my mind, both visually, and in its creature f/x! One thing is certain, Jim Henson and Frank Oz had created a memorable film with a sense of aura about it. As well as 'Labyrinth' and many of the famous Muppets that have become icons, 'The Dark Crystal' will always be one of the unique and treasured film contributions from Jim Henson's legacy! And for my two cents, 'The Dark Crystal' is a great film for the kids and adults alike! **** out of *****!