Wednesday, June 20, 2012

"The Dark Crystal" (1982)

When Jim Henson and Frank Oz teamed up to make a fantasy masterpiece with puppetry, they achieved some amazing results. The set design, the characters, and the world building are all absolutely amazing. Watching “The Dark Crystal” today, thirty years later, one wishes that filmmakers would use more practical effects from time to time.

It is always a joy to see people use creativity and “outside the box” thinking the way the Muppet team always do. Here in “The Dark Crystal” they are outside their own box even. The world that they have created seems plausible and alien, not just fuzzy and cute. The designs of the Skeksis and Mystics in particular are examples of technical and artistic genius. Henson set out to take puppetry to a new level, where characters seemed real and not merely symbols. In that objective, they succeeded.

Where the film falls apart, however, is in the plot. Whereas the team excels artistically, they flop in the storytelling. What we get is the most generic and underdeveloped “hero’s journey” along with a dualism so basic that it exposes the inherent weaknesses of that worldview. No matter how you try to explain the problems away, it is simply illogical and unsatisfying. If Henson was trying to create alternate storytelling realities, he used them in this case to tell an unrealistic, story lacking in truth. A reality of balanced and equal good and evil feels false. Evil is not an equal of good, but rather its absence.

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