The Dark Crystal

Once there was a man named Henson. Jim Henson. He brought puppets to life in a way no one ever had before. Henson made them more than retirement home entertainment, or mid-day babysitter substitutes. Jim Henson made puppets stars. So he called them Muppets. Henson's Muppets weren't some silly sock with eyes. They were alive. They were the ultimate performance art. They became people.

You see Jim Henson wasn't some dumb puppeteer. He was an artist. Like Picasso, or Michelangelo, each and every one of his creations... from Kermit to Jen was crafted, performed, and voiced with the same kind of loving care that DaVinci used when he painted the Mona Lisa. But Gonzo and Piggy weren't enough. Henson dreamed of a movie without actors. A totally new world of sight, sound, and creativity in which not a single human being would ever appear on screen. That dream was The Dark Crystal.

The Dark Crystal is a visual feast of impressive, alien landscapes and outlandish, brashly original creatures thrust into a fantasy world of Henson's imagining. The world of The Dark Crystal is inhabited by two races: The Skekses, a race of evil and corrupt birdlike creatures who wallow in luxury and gluttony hidden away in a dark castle where they keep the Dark Crystal and use it's awesome power to maintain their life-force over the centuries. The Mystics, a race of gentle, soft-spoken Wisemen who live close to the earth in simple homes in a valley. The Skekses have used their dark army of bug like soldiers to dominate the planet, wiping out lesser races entirely. One such race, the Gelflings, is survived by only one member, Jen, who has been raised since childhood by the Mystics. Now, as the planets begin to align, the all-knowing Mystics send Jen on an all-important quest to seek out "the shard"..., which alone can be used to heal the Dark Crystal and destroy the Skekses once and for all.

I'll be honest; the plot is thin. Truly it's a little hokey. The dialogue too is more than a little sketchy and convoluted. But that's not the point. The Dark Crystal's beauty is visual, a feast of muppetry, set design, and innovation. The Muppets of DC aren't Fozzy Bears or Kermit the Frogs. Rather they are realistic and painstakingly created beings performed by incredibly puppeteers so SKILLED that one quickly forgets they aren't even real. Each comes complete with it's own personality, mannerisms, background, and motivations.

There is no CGI. No animated beings floating about cracking jokes. Just art. And you FEEL that the way you simply cannot with computer animated effects work. This world, these PEOPLE have weight, life, and history. There is nothing simple, weightless, or false about this creation. There are other ways to make movies, ways that don't involve sticking people in front of a blue screen acting to a tennis ball. The Dark Crystal is a reminder that sometimes the easiest way isn't always the better way.

The story may be weak, but the Henson magic outshines any filmmaking flaw. A movie like this deserves a splendid DVD release. It didn't get it. Oh there's a DVD, but it's slim on features and weak on flair. Still, it delivers the most engrossing "making of" featurette I've ever delved into. If for no other reason else, buy this DVD. Watch as Henson, Oz, and their skilled teams of performers, artists, and filmmakers bring their shared dream to life. Combined with a beautifully cleaned, and polished picture and splendidly mastered sound, despite being a fairly empty single disc release, The Dark Crystal has launched itself into my heart as one of the wisest DVD purchases I've ever made.