As an 80s child, The Dark Crystal is firmly one of my childhood favourites, that to this day I still love. Don’t get me wrong, there are aspects that made me cringe even as a child – most of the Gelfling dialogue and the bloody awful sounds Kira makes when talking to animals are just terrible. Nevertheless it is a beautiful and emotional movie – to quote Jim Henson, it’s more than just a movie, it’s a work of art. Here are my five favourites…
For a children’s movie, The Dark Crystal is pretty much as dark as they come, without being really blatant about it. For sure there are tear jerkers out there, the likes of the Land Before Time seem designed to make children face the concept of death and cry uncontrollably. But this is up there with the likes of Watership Down and that bit in NeverEnding Story where Artex dies, for movies likely to scar you for life.
The Dark Crystal plunges us into what is essentially a post-apocalyptic fantasy world which was once beautiful. Despite the pockets of goodness that survive in the innocent cultures of the Podlings and long since massacred Gelflings, the land itself has a hashness and an edge of evil. The darkness of the Skekses penetrates everything.
The darkness of the movie puts a larger expectation on the audience. The world itself is complex, it is ancient and full of stories that aren’t told in this movie – which can be a lot to take in and asks a level of understanding from children viewers than few movies do. On top of which the story itself is complex masquerading as something more simple. On the surface it is a quest movie, and perhaps a coming of age movie, but that quest and the reasons for it are quite intricate ideas which it doesn’t treat the audience as stupid by trying to over explain.
There are aspects of this movie that could be frightening, most especially the characters and moments that are supposed to be. Aughra interestingly transcends them. Described by her puppeteer Frank Oz as “so ugly she’s beautiful”, Aughra demonstrates that this world is more than the black and white of good and evil. Her appearance is not one you would traditionally associate with good, and yet her actions define her as such. Described as a watcher of the heavens and a keeper of secrets, she transcends good and evil and has seen time come and go. For me, she is by far the most interesting character of the movie.
For a group of baddies in a children’s movie each individual Skeksis is incredibly well fleshed out. As with everything in the movie there is a lot of depth in the surroundings, and in the case of the Skeksis, the clothing also, that gives a richer picture of the world we are seeing. In the almost empty palace, with a handful of Skeksis, their Garthim guards and Podling slaves, we see somewhere that once thrived, leaving only the garish garments and pomp of the Skeksis as its remnants.
The World of the Dark Crystal
Not technically part of the movie, but an amazing in-depth companion of a book, The World of the Dark Crystal is a fantastic look at and an expansion on the movie. Released 20 years after the movie, and featuring the art of Brian Froud, it is written from the perspective of Aughra and contains more information about each of the races in the movie and the history – expanding on the mythologies we didn’t get full glimpses of in the movie. It also features concept art, and intricate designs. For a fan of the movie it is definitely worth a look!