Thursday, June 11, 2009

Film Review: THE DARK CRYSTAL (1982, Jim Henson & Frank Oz)

Stars: 5 of 5.
Running Time: 93 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Kathryn Mullen (MUPPET SHOW regular, Mokey Fraggle on FRAGGLE ROCK), Dave Goelz (Gonzo on THE MUPPET SHOW), music by Trevor Jones (EXCALIBUR, LABYRINTH, RUNAWAY TRAIN), design by Brian Froud (LABYRINTH).
Tag-lines: "Another World, Another Time... In the Age of Wonder. "

True creativity, for me, is and has always been the ability to build something out of nothing- with your hands. THE DARK CRYSTAL is the apex of Jim Henson and designer Brian Froud's interminable artistry (they also collaborated on LABYRINTH), and here, they've built a timeless universe of breathtaking spectacle, exotic unfamiliarity, fanciful magic, ancient mysticism, exacting detail, and uncompromising depth. They are so confident (and deservedly so!) in their vision, that they've chosen to dispense with humans altogether, relegating them to puppeteering and vocal duties. There's no CGI here, no poorly rendered computer animations fabricated by some lazy skeeze at his PC. Everything's been rigorously fashioned and laboriously crafted from the ground up.

While it's been designed for children to grasp, this is by no means merely a children's film. Using the familiar framework of the "quest" mythos, there's still philosophical complexity, palpable trauma, and visceral evil.

Certain images possess a real potency, and stand out from the others: the dying Skeksis Emperor literally crumbling away in mid-screech as his vile, potential successors circle like vultures; the charming, faithful, lovable Fizzgig and his impossibly gaping maw;

the genius matte paintings and meticulously sculpted forests that spare no detail from the tiniest of insects to the largest of trees to creatures I cannot even begin to describe. There is a certain REALness to the entirety of the proceedings because the screen is full of objects, animals, and characters that ARE real- someone could hold and manipulate them by hand or by string or by lever, and this is what gives them the breath of life. And with that breath, this film exhales upon the viewer the vivacity, exuberance, and sincerity that were poured into it by its creators. So eff you, CGI. You can toss my motherlovin' salad. Five stars.

-Sean Gill

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