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Logline: On another planet in the distant past, a Gelfling embarks on a quest to find the missing shard of a magical crystal in order to restore order to his world.

Review: Before CGI became commonplace, filmmakers utilized practical visual and special effects in a variety of ways, including animatronics, prosthetic makeup, puppetry, miniatures, mechanical effects, matte paintings, and optical effects.  Since the 1990s, CGI has slowly superseded practical effects as the norm.  In the 1980s, effects achieved without the use of a computer were done out of necessity.  Directed by Jim Henson and Frank Oz, The Dark Crystal is one of the greatest technical achievements of that decade.  It is a live-action film that features no human actors.  A film like this would never be made today.  All of the characters and creatures onscreen are achieved through puppetry or suitmation, in which an actor is placed inside a creature suit.  Despite a weak story, The Dark Crystal is an amazing technical achievement that is worth seeing for the visuals alone.

Admittedly, some shots look better than others.  However, the majority of the film looks incredible.  Henson and his team created another world.  It is a shame that the story does not quite match the visuals.  I have often stated that the story is not the most important part of a film but I found The Dark Crystal to be somewhat hollow and it was difficult for me to make an emotional connection.

The Dark Crystal was aimed primarily at children even though it has many dark elements.  It is a quest film that concerns two different groups: the evil Skeksis and the good Mystics.  The Skeksis are grotesque, reptilian, bird-like creatures who live in a palace, are materialistic, hold slaves, and cheat death.  The Mystics are wise, old looking creatures who live close to nature in peace.  Jen, one of the only surviving Gelflings, must fulfill the prophecy and restore order to the world before a great convergence, in which the three suns will meet, happens.  The story is nothing original.  It is a classic tale of good vs. evil.  The thing that sets The Dark Crystal apart is its visuals and production design.  The film also features an excellent score composed by Trevor Jones.  There has been talk of a sequel to The Dark Crystal for decades but nothing concrete has been confirmed.

Unlike Henson’s other fantasy film Labyrinth (1986), The Dark Crystal is not a movie I grew up with and I certainly feel I need to see it again.  The Dark Crystal is a visual marvel and there is no other film quite like it.  A tremendous amount of work went into creating the world of the film.  One must remember first and foremost that it is a children’s fantasy film that must be approached with an open mind.

Rating (out of ****): ***

 

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