The Dark Crystal (1982)
Another World, Another Time... In the Age of Wonder.
I like to mention the fact that I love some practical effects. It's that love of practical effects (and certainly some distant memories floating around in my scattered brain) that leads me to movies such as The Dark Crystal. Most people (at least in my age bracket) will recognize the name Jim Henson - and too some, his work has had a profound impact on their lives. Granted, it takes more than just some well made effects and puppetry to make a good movie, so can this crystal shine with the radiance of a true gem, or will you anxiously await getting out of the dark and doing something else?
Our story here opens with a lot of exposition. We learn that three suns aligned, a crystal broke, and this horrible race of bird creatures started their reign of terror on the lands. As the planets come once again into alignment, the bird-beasts begin their excitement for incoming immortality, while also anxiously awaiting the passing of their current leader so that one of them may take it's place. Elsewhere, a pack of mystics also await the coming of the alignment, and with it the foretold prophecy that the crystal will be healed and two will become one. Their leader is also on his deathbed, and is sad that he won't be able to pass on all he wants to his apprentice before he is gone. His apprentice is also tied to the alignment of the suns, as told by prophecy that it must be by the hands of his race (of which he is the last) that the crystal shall become healed. This, you might notice, is roughly the same story told to us three times, and the redundancy of it can be a bit annoying.
And so, before passing the Master of the mystics passes onto his apprentice a quest to seek out an old creature in the direction of the sun, so that he may collect the crystal and do what he must. He then passes on, leaving a very confused apprentice to his quest. Along the way, the evil bird-like creatures discover one of his kind is still alive, and send out some terrifying crab creatures to kill him, as to prevent their immortality from being ruined. Our hero meets the old woman he was sent to see, finding the crystal and learning he must heal the Dark Crystal, but not how or much else for that matter. Before he can learn anything else, the crabs break into the house, causing him to fall out a window and the house burnt to the ground.
It's here we get introduced to another of his race - a girl who likewise thought she was the last of their kind. Having a very different upbringing, she seems to have the ability to talk to animals or command them in some way or form, and along with a furry dog-like companion decides to join the hero on his quest - which is probably the best thing for his own health. The town they return to ends up being attacked during the party they are holding by none-other than the crabs, and when morning breaks on the ruins they took shelter in to hide they end up finding old pictures and writing that describes our hero's task of healing the crystal (and yet not in a much more complex way than he's already figured out). Things start getting more complicated as they run into an exiled member of the bird creatures, and although they get away from him they encounter each other again in the tower that the Dark Crystal is kept in. He doesn't take kindly to being told no a second time, and after getting stabbed in the hand by our hero collapses a ceiling on him, taking his female counterpart to trade to his exilers as a way back in. Does the hero survive his encounter with the ceiling, will the dog-creature save the day, or will the evil bird creatures leave the world in perpetual nightmares?
The details on the puppets and costumes in this thing are just absolutely insane. So wonderfully detailed and elaborate are these things that although the film is rated PG, parents might want to put thought into if their child can handle the appearance of menacing crab beasts or the terrifying vulture-like toothed and vicious bird creatures without having nightmares afterwards. The variety in these things are also great, having giant four armed lizard-camel looking creatures, little fraggle looking villagers, a goat-like sagely old woman, and then of course the much more spritely humanoid "last of their race" heroes. Even the sets have had some nice thought put into them, and it verily comes off as a more practical-heavy version of Avatar from the early 80s at times. Granted, the downside to this is that at times it leads to being rather slow as we pan over these creative environments populated by flora and fauna that although imaginative and unique also can lead to a waning of interest.
The largest flaw of this thing, and I don't recall it so much from the last time I watched it, since i was probably more stricken by the visuals at the time, is that the plot delivery is incredibly redundant. It hammers you over the head with what it has for a plot numerous times, at moments almost word for word just through different characters, even after it has already been told to you through narrator exposition. Just when you think things will continue on, a new character will pop up and say the same thing all over again! It can be very frustrating, as once again it causes a lot of the movie to feel repetitive and slow. It feels certainly oriented towards kids in that regard, but the generally scary and dark visuals provided can seem a bit off for the kiddy audience.
That being said, audio is pretty well done. Some of the lines are delivered flatly, and you will no doubt want to punch someone the next time you hear "Hmmmmm" again, but it very much feels like a living world. Music can be lively or beautiful as it sees fit, and in scenes where it focuses on panning around the local nature scene things seem very much as though someone put thought into how they can help make it feel more alive, including the sound design. Some of the characters are likeable (the dog-like creature's complaint of "Waaaaaaaah!" changing the heart of it's owner), some are creepy (them bird creatures), but mostly all are very creative.
Verdict on this one kind of depends on who you are. If you are the kind of person who wants to watch something really creative and visually detailed, you'll probably make it past the annoyances that crop up in this movie. If you are a heavy plot styled person, or want something upbeat and instantly gratifying, then this one is probably gonna be a pass. That being said, I feel like it's a classic and wouldn't mind coming back to it and watching it again in another year or so, but I do so because it reminds me of how impressive puppetry can be and how creative the human mind can be.