The Dark Crystal - 1982
Directors - Jim Henson & Frank Oz
Plot summary / review:
Set on a distant planet with three Suns called Thra, the inhabitants are ruled by a cruel race of Vulture looking creatures called the Skekris. They use the power of a dark crystal in their castle to suck the energy out of the planets life forms and prolong their life.
A Thousand years prior, when the planets suns last aligned, the Crystal was split by a race called the ukSkeks, separating them into the aforementioned evil Skekris and a peaceful race called the Mystics. It was prophesied that the Crystal will be fused together by a Gelfling, an Elf looking race. Determined to keep their power and the world in darkness, the Skekris hunt down and eradicate all of the Gelflings. The Mystics raise an orphaned Gelfling called Jen, believed to be the last of his kind.
When Jen's master dies, he sets off on a mission to find the missing shard of Crystal and return the planet to peace. Jen finds the missing piece at the laboratory of a wise scientist called Augha who is subsequently captured by the Garthim, a race of robotic type creatures at the command of the Skeksis. Jen then meets Kira, a Gelfling girl raised by the Podlings, creatures who are constantly persecuted by the Skekris and the Garthim. Jen and Kira set off to the castle with the crystal shard, meanwhile the Mystics slowly converge as the suns begin to align.
The movie climaxes in the castle with Kira being struck down by the Skeksis overlord as Jen reunites the Crystal. The race of Mystics and Skeksis combine back into the ukSkeks and the Crystal reverts to it's original, clear state and is once again used for good and apparently heals the World. One of the mystical ukSkeks gives Kira back her life and they leave the world.
The film is a remarkable achievement in terms of vision, set designs and the scale of characters, all of which are puppets. Every aspect of the film, from the dreary castle of the Skeksis to the lush, lifeful forest has been conceptualised and built from the ground up to the minutest detail. The character designs are equally impressive, ranging from man sized animals, right down to figure and hand puppets more akin to Jim Henson and Frank Oz's previous creations "The muppets".
New York Times review 17th December 1982
"A lot of obvious effort has gone into this solemn fairy tale, but all of it has been devoted to the complicated technical problems involved in making a film mostly with animated puppets. The screenplay by David Odell, based on a story by Mr. Henson, is without any narrative drive whatever. It's without charm as well as interest."
Timeout London review 26th January 2006
"Henson, creator of the Muppets, has put all his energies into creating a spectacular range of live-action creatures who prance and gobble their way across the screen with an unprecedented conviction. Given this enormous advantage, it is therefore disappointing that this $26 million film should restrict itself to a very basic pulp fantasy plot - the hero's quest to free his world from the ravages of an evil race - when there are superior models available in any bookshop."
The film is let down by it's weak script and storyline. The film is full of clichés and familiar story arcs and plays out as watered down version of the Lord of the Rings or Chronicles of Narnia. Jim Henson and Frank Oz were looking to break away from their Muppets background and crack a new audience. In doing so they created a film to scary for little children and not enjoyable enough for adults. That said, the film is a visual treat and technically brilliant, if the story doesn't send you to sleep.
BBC review 1st May 2002
"Henson and Oz were, of course, the two leading creators of the Muppets and this was their first attempt to turn their skills and those of their colleagues (principally Dave Goelz, Steve Whitmire, and Louise Gold) to dramatic rather than comedic ends. And, simply judged in terms of its technical achievement, the film is stunning."