PSA: The Dark Crystal (1982), or The Hero In The Puppet Case

29 05 2009

As I said, I’m a sucker for the fantasy picture. But did you also know that I’m a sucker for puppets, as well? That’s right; ever since Thunderbirds came hurtling onto my TV screen in my youth, I was always interested in puppetry of both the marionette and hand variety, and the creation of an entire movie with them. Good thing I wasn’t the only one (otherwise, I would have had to shoot my own puppet movies in the basement), because a man named Jim Henson stepped out of the ether and saved the world with his puppet mastery in the 70s and 80s. With wunderkind protegee Frank Oz in tow, he created characters, places, and entirely new dimensions with his love of the medium. In the beginning of his career, it was all about comedy, and the different ways puppets could make us laugh. But Henson had other plans for puppets, who had always taken on the role of the comedians and the fools. Henson envisioned in his lifetime dreamscapes where his puppetry and his uncanny knack for creature creation collided to make simple stories about morality epic adventures of fantastic proportions. Today’s film, The Dark Crystal, was the start of a new era for Henson, an era where puppets would not only make us laugh, but they would also make us think, make us feel, make us dream.

The world of The Dark Crystal is vast, and encompasses the thousand year history of the world of Thra. It is a diverse world full of strange creatures and wondrous environments. Our hero, the enigmatic Jen, must save his village, and eventually the world, from the power of the hideous Skeksies, a cruel race set on bending the world of Thra to their unjust will. To stop the Skeksies from destroying the place, Jen is sent on a mission to restore the Crystal of Truth, a crystal placed on Thra to balance the world and ensure the health of all lifeforms. But long ago, the Crystal was cracked, and has since become the Dark Crystal. Now order has slowly spiraled into chaos, and Jen must venture off into the heart of the Skeksies’ territory with the missing shard in hand to restore balance. What future lies in store for the imperiled world of Thra and all of its inhabitants?

This one brought a tear to my eye. It’s really quite wonderful in its simplicity. It’s about a quest to save the world from evil, and who doesn’t want to do that? You know, anyone can make a fantasy story involving a quest, but only Jim Henson could immerse one in the world enough to make one genuinely care about it. I actually fear for the world of Thra. It’s so beautiful, that I would not be unmoved to see it disappear. From the magic of the High Hill Observatory, to the majesty of the Castle of The Crystal, it has to be seen to be fully appreciated.

And the characters, completely created out of puppetry techniques, are simply amazing for 1982. The motions and fluidity achieved by using puppets is sheer magic. It gets me every time. Everybody has their favorite race or favorite puppet in the series. What’s yours? Mine are the Landstriders. I love their faces; they look so sympathetic to me, like I just lost a $20 bill and he knows exactly how I feel. But everyone has this mystical, timeless look to them in The Dark Crystal. It could have been made in 2182 as far as my eyes are concerned, because these puppets are awesome, these effects are astonishing, and I really enjoy this vision of the endless struggle betwixt good and evil.

It’s something deep within me that enjoys watching the virtuous hero flirt with the deadly and the dangerous, only to come out more fervent than ever before. Perhaps it’s the perpetual boy in me who always thinks that good and evil is black and white, and there are no gray areas in the world. But Jim Henson was a boy once, too, and he felt that same rush of watching someone come out of a hive of villainy unscathed and chaste. It’ll always get me in the end, and considering how good this movie is, can you really blame me for getting so into it? I like this film a lot, and I think that you will too. I give The Dark Crystal 9 Skeksies out of 10! Go watch it!!!

Tomorrow I watch a surprise movie. Why is it a surprise? Because I don’t know what I’m gonna watch yet!!! Give me a day, and I’ll get back to ya!