Monday, 10 December 2012

The Dark Crystal (1982)

I am here to shit all over your childhood by stating what should be obvious to anyone not blinded by nostalgia goggles: The Dark Crystal (Jim Henson and Frank Oz, 1982) is a terrible movie.

"WHAT DID SHE SAY??????!!1"
Jen (Jim Henson) is a "Gelfing", an innocent doe-eyed creature ("last of his kind", except not) cared for by the sagely "Mystics" (bald, wizened llamas) and reviled by the wicked "Skeksis" (desiccated ostrich corpses). Jen is sent on a quest to find the Dark Crystal. He finds it. That is all the synopsis I can even be bothered to write. I am not going to delve into the minute details of this stupid movie.

I guess that it is good that I finally watched The Dark Crystal. I was getting nervous that I'd seen so many B-pictures that I'd lost the ability to know whether a movie was bad. Now I know that I can still tell if a movie is bad. This movie is bad.

Before you start sharpening your pitchforks, I'll sum up the reasons why (in three "P"s, no less).

1) The puppets.

The blonde one does look sort of like Taylor Swift.
Enjoy your stay in the uncanny valley. The Skeksis and Mystic puppets are serviceably outlandish, but the Gelflings look like human children with pointy ears. In addition to being utterly fucking creepy, their expressionless faces belie every moment of emotion and high drama in the film. What's that, Jen? Your best friend, the only other living member of your race, has been stabbed to death? Have you considered feeling an emotion about that?

I simply don't understand the choice to use what were basically toddler puppets for the Gelflings. Why not either cast real kids, or make the Gelfings fantastical creatures, in line with the Skeksis and Mystics? As it is, they combine the worst of both worlds. Jim Henson's later, better, puppet extravaganza Labyrinth (1986) gave in and featured a live-action human heroine in a Muppet world, so at least we know he learned from his mistakes.

2) The plot. The Dark Crystal has one, but I can't follow it, and I'm damn sure most kids can't follow it (who knows, maybe the average 8-year-old is smarter than me, but realistically, I doubt it, because what is my liberal arts degree good for if not overanalyzing literature). This might be acceptable if The Dark Crystal's story was in any way unique or novel, but it is Hero With a Thousand Faces bullshit on autopilot. Virtually every attempt to add interesting complications to the story results in a plot hole, and and an asinine twist ending unravels more loose ends than it ties up.

3) The pacing. This movie moves at an utter crawl. It is slow to an extent that is barely comprehensible. I have a theory that over-indulged puppeteers basically turn into doting parents: so thrilled by their creations that they can't understand why no one else cares that their baby can walk and talk. To an extent, this is understandable, but listen, Dark Crystal moviemakers: when you're putting your climax on hold to feature an interminable puppet dinnertime scene, you're doing it wrong.

The Dark Crystal is what would happen if you took Labyrinth and sucked out all the things that made it good, leaving an empty celluloid husk. The Dark Crystal is capable of making people physically ill. Please, if there is a child (or an adult) you are thinking of exposing to The Dark Crystal, don't. Just don't. Every genius misfires at least once, and this was Jim Henson's turn.

Did I stutter?
SCENE STEALER: There is no scene stealer. This movie sucks.


  1. You are SO DAMN RIGHT. And I actually saw it when I was 8 and I thought it sucked for precisely these reasons.

  2. I understand your comments about the pacing. Unfortunately, this movie suffered the most in the editing room. The film was originally in several different languages and subtitled, but was ordered to be changed to English after filming was finished, so a lot of the translated dialogue is confusing and the pacing was destroyed.

    As for not being able to follow the plot, I saw this when I was a kid and thought overall the story was pretty simplistic, so I can't really agree with you there. I also never had any problems with the puppets emoting... but I grew up on Fraggle Rock, so maybe I'm just used to it.