To save Thra the last Gelflings, Jen and Kira, go on a quest to find a shard of the UrSkek Crystal which will fulfil a prophesy that links the fate of two races, the cruel Skeksis and the gentle Mystics.
Jim Henson with his talented artists and performers create an unparalleled, eerie, oppressive atmosphere. The Dark Crystal is a technological and artistic achievement and still holds up pretty well today. As well featuring real locations there’s great set and creature design, puppetry, miniatures, matte paintings, optical composite work and some blue screen. Trevor Jones’ score is powerful and Joseph O’Conor’s Orson Welles-like narration sets the scene. The voice tones of the leads are sombre, whispery and slow, adding to its hazy dreamlike quality in contrast to the harshness of Aughra and the various Skeksis characters.
As a fantasy film Henson creates a compelling world with its array of creatures. As the Gelflings go on their quest they encounter friendly monsters, Landstriders, Nebrie and (Fraggle Rock-esque) Podlings to name a few. But over all its dark in nature from ceremonial imagery, right down to the Garthim a crustacean-like creatures employed by the Skeksis to capture the Gelflings. Memorable is the exiled SkekSil the Chamberlain notably performed by Frank Oz and voiced by Barry Dennen.
Refreshingly pre-CGI, Dark Crystal is impressive, but the pace is questionable and there is little of the Henson-Oz trademark a sense of fun which he injected into his Muppet works and later Labyrinth. That’s not to take anything away from his 1982 offering. As story it can teach a lesson in morality to children but the visuals and tone appear for the most part geared for entertaining adults.
Overall, its infectious, mysterious, romantic Gothic atmosphere can leave you in a groggy dream-like state. Whether that’s a good thing or not is debatable, but not many fantasy films can boast such an affect or lasting visual impact.