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In 1982 Jim Henson unleashed a mini masterpiece with his fantasy epic, The Dark Crystal. Five years in the making, Henson teamed with long time creative collaborator Frank Oz and illustrator Brian Froud to create a complex fantasy world on the scale of The Lord of the Rings. Henson had already achieved great success with The Muppet Show and the two Muppet movies, but he really wanted to create a fantasy movie that would entertain audiences for decades to come. While The Dark Crystal is a flawed film and was met with a lukewarm response when it was released, it has gone on to become a cult classic and one of the most amazing examples of the genius of Jim Henson.

Dark Crystal: Collector's Edition, The
Film
The world of The Dark Crystal is inhabited by two distinct races, one evil and one good. The evil Skeksis, who reside in a luxurious dark castle, possess the dark crystal and use its power to make themselves strong and indestructible. In contrast, the wise and noble race of mystics live in modest homes in a serene valley of the green world where they can detect, through their sand paintings, the slightest changes that will impact their world. And as The Dark Crystal begins, a change is coming. An unlikely hero, a gelfling named Jen (the supposed last of his kind) is sent on a quest by his dying mystic master to fulfil the prophecy that a gelfling will return the missing shard to the dark crystal and defeat the evil Skeksis before the convergence of the three suns. Admittedly, the plot is of the a standard good vs. evil variety and dialogue is cringe worthy at times, but the simple plot allows all the other elements of the film to shine, including the amazing creature creations and the elaborately designed environments.

The depth of the world that Henson creates is nothing short of mind-blowing. The puppets alone are something to marvel at; from the human like gelflings, the large and slow elephant like mystics and the grotesque vulture looking Skeksis, all are created with a degree of detail and characterisation that's impressive not just for a children's film, but any film. All these creatures were developed over a period of five years by different departments within Henson’s Creature workshop. But the enchanting and elaborate world that the characters inhabit is the real star of The Dark Crystal. For that, real credit must go to Henson’s design partner for the film, Brian Froud. His drawings influence every visual from the characters to the costumes, but the fictionalised world of film is where his imaginative visuals are really on display. The smallest details have been brought to life and every single frame of the film offers astonishing little creations such as plants, insects or cleverly designs ruins of the tormented world. While the current slew of family films are all about the latest animation, there is something sacred and special about The Dark Crystal and Henson's follow up film, Labyrinth. Some may consider the Muppets as Henson’s greatest achievement, or maybe even Fraggle Rock, but Henson regarded The Dark Crystal as the most difficult and rewarding project of his career and it'’s apparent that while this film has undoubtedly not aged very well, it's a film that has no equal.
Dark Crystal: Collector's Edition, The
My Mum took me to see The Dark Crystal in 1982 and I was completely mesmerised by everything about it. I actually became a little Dark Crystal obsessed and hounded my parents to purchase every Dark Crystal item imaginable. As geeky as it may sound, my Dark Crystal lunch box is on my desk as I write this review with some of my ‘to be reviewed’ discs inside. Judge if you must, but this film was a magical ride in the '80s and should definitely be shown to every Nemo loving, Incredibles obsessed kid of the '00s.

Video
The Dark Crystal is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and is 16x9 enhanced. First the bad news—there are major and constant problems with the video of the film, but these problems are never going to be solved by any DVD release of the film. Even the recent region one Superbit edition of the film could not solve the constant presence of film artefacts (and when I say constant, I mean constant). I don’t think there is any part of the entire film when a film artefact is not visible. As I said, no release of this film is likely to overcome this problem and while it's disappointing, the overall visual presentation of the film is still amazing. All other aspects of the video transfer are great. This is a relatively sharp and grain free transfer and shadow detail is quite good. There are occasional dark patches, but they don’t last long. The colour and details are wonderful and clean and there are no instances of colour bleeding. Having owned two previous editions of The Dark Crystal on DVD, I can safely say this is without doubt the best the film has ever looked on DVD.

Audio
The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround package is equally impressive with dialogue clear and audible, although the synchronisation of the dialogue with the puppets is sometimes slightly off. The Trevor Jones score is wonderfully clear, which is very important for this film because there are long periods without dialogue. Surround kicks in for sound effects, which creates an engulfing atmosphere with the subwoofer kicking in for many sound effects and the bass elements of the score. Overall, this is a wonderful audio package with no major issues.

Dark Crystal: Collector's Edition, The
Extras
The Collector’s Edition of The Dark Crystal offers a few quality extras. The first extra is a collection of text notes entitled ‘The Mithra Treatment’. These notes are essentially Jim Henson's various scribbles about the world he was creating. Almost everything included is out of context with the final film with the various creatures having different names. For example, the gelfing Jen is originally referred to as Brian, after Henson’s son. It is astounding to discover the depth and detail of thought that was put into the creation of the film. This feature only offers a small sample of Henson’s notes, but the information provided shows a glimmer of the man’s genius. A nice gallery of ‘Character Illustrations’ is the next extra, and these are truly wonderful to scroll through. As mentioned, Brian Froud was the conceptual designer for The Dark Crystal and this is a small collection of around ten of his illustrations, which were used by Henson’s Creature Workshop to build the various puppets. Next up is a small collection of ten original Storyboards from the film that are actually quite informative to look through.

The most substantial extra is the featurette ‘The World of The Dark Crystal’, which runs for approximately an hour. This is an original featurette shot in 1982, so the quality is quite poor, but Jim Henson, Brian Froud and Frank Oz all speak at length about The Dark Crystal production with members of the creature workshop also interviewed. This is a very comprehensive featurette with a lot of behind the scenes footage and great interviews. A decent collection of eight deleted scenes are included with both early versions of scenes and deleted scenes included. The scenes are as follows, ’Funeral Scene’, ‘Emperor’s Deathbed’, ‘The New Emperor’, ‘Aughra and Jen’, ‘Podling Village’, ‘Aughra and the Skeksis’, ‘Fountain of Youth’ and ‘Presenting Kira’. Although all the clips are presented in very poor quality, they are definitely still worth a look.

'Character Profiles and Illustrations' of the Ur-ru ( the original name for the Mystics) and the Skeksis. Again, these are notes and various Brian Froud illustrations that can be scrolled through. The theatrical trailer and a teaser trailer offer a little insight into how this film was marketed in the 1980s. Unfortunately, both trailers are presented with very poor sound and video quality. Lastly, there are talent profiles for the three men behind the film, Jim Henson, Brian Froud and Frank Oz.

Dark Crystal: Collector's Edition, The
Overall
I have to admit I am a huge fan of Jim Henson’s magical world.  No matter how old I get, watching The Muppet Show or Fraggle Rock instantly transports me back to the early 1980s when my life revolved around Muppets, Fraggles and Cabbage Patch Dolls.  And luckily, it is never disappointing taking a nostalgic trip with Mr Henson. The Dark Crystal does show its age, but it's still a wonderful film that can be enjoyed by anyone of any age.


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