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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Dark Crystal - Superbit
Dark Crystal - Superbit
Columbia/Tri-Star // PG // March 4, 2003
List Price: $26.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by David Blair | posted February 27, 2003 | E-mail the Author
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Highly Recommended
E - M A I L
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The Movie

In 1982, Jim Henson and Frank Oz set out to make a movie unlike anything anyone had ever seen. The concept was so creative and specific, that it could only work if the movie stared muppets, and muppets alone. Immense soundstages were built. Exotic creatures and vegetation puppets were created. Matte paintings and model miniatures were constructed. A risky endeavor no doubt. However what resulted from this crazy idea was an imaginative fantasy film that broke new ground in motion picture storytelling. They didn't just pull it off; they hit a home run.

The Dark Crystal takes us to another realm, at a time of change. In the story, it is said when the three celestial suns converge, a prophecy will be fulfilled. At that moment, either good will prevail, or evil will reign for eternity. Only 10 Mystics remain alive. They are peaceful, wise, and magical. They live far away from the castle they once resided in, a castle that is now run by the 10 remaining Skeksis. The Skeksis are vile, greedy, and fearful. They wish to live forever and will destroy all living creatures that threaten their quest for immortality. The fait of the world lands in the hands of one tiny Gelfling, named Jen. Jen is believed to be the last of his race - a race that was destroyed by the Skeksis because of their fear of the prophecy. Jen must find the missing shard that can heal the powerful Dark Crystal that gives the Skeksis their life, so that evil will not win the final battle.

The Dark Crystal is an inventive film that truly makes you believe you're witnessing another world. Every time I see this movie, I'm amazed at how quickly I forget I'm watching a bunch of puppets. Because in no time, I become immersed in this epic tale of good vs. evil and totally forget this is a movie composed entirely of latex actors and plastic surroundings. This is a special movie that has always had a sentimental place in my heart. As a child, its amazing creatures and heroic fictional tale mesmerized me, and as an adult, my feelings haven't changed. It's a movie I never hesitate to recommended and rave about, and is one of my all-time Top 10 favorite movies.

The Dark Crystal was originally released on DVD back in 1999 and was a fantastic DVD back then, and still is today. The video quality was exceptional, having just gone through a new digitally remastered transfer, restoring its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. And the spectacular supplemental features offered on the disc were what all true fans of the movie had been waiting for. So I suppose the real question on everyone's mind is, is this Superbit version worth the upgrade? Well for some, yes, but for most, absolutely not.

The major dilemma here is that we're making (in terms of this movie) a huge sacrifice by losing the spectacular special features offered on the original release. As most of you know, Superbit titles forgo the extra supplements to use the space for increasing the quality of the video and audio. So in theory, we usually end up with a much nicer looking and sounding movie, yet lose our precious extras. For true videophiles, this is not a big deal, because for them, picture and sound are everything. However for the mainstream buyer, this can be a tough decision. Well, for The Dark Crystal, it's my opinion that the loss of these wonderful special features is not worth the very slight increase in video performance. As is the case with many Superbit titles released, this movie did not get a newly remastered transfer; the bit rate was merely increased. So as a result, the picture quality did improve, but not enough for the average DVD viewer to notice. In fact, the people who will benefit the most from this Superbit title are those who regularly watch movies on a very large projection TV, or front projection system. However, an improvement is an improvement, so if you really love this movie, this Superbit version will nicely complement your collection, especially if you like to show it off to friends and family. But if you buy this Superbit release, please do not get rid of your original copy because the special features are one of the best attributes to that release.

Overall this movie looks great; though not hugely superior to the original. The audio is okay and isn't any better then the original release. So I'd recommend people who don't have either version, to buy the original release. And if you already own the original, I'd suggest buying this Superbit title only if a minor increase in video performance is very important to you. As for me, I'll take any improvement I can get. But then again, that's just me.


Video: The Dark Crystal is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The increase in bit rate has helped the picture here, just not as much as I would have liked. I was hoping that the "hotspotting" found in the original version would be eliminated, but alas, it's still present in this release. These hotspots look like faint red blobs that sit in the middle of the screen during certain shots. Thankfully they don't last long, but they are still very noticeable, and show quiet clearly that this movie is in dire need of a brand new film restoration and digital remastering. Also, not surprisingly the same streaks, spots, and blemishes are found on this release, just like the original. But despite these gripes, this movie still looks great considering its age and obvious condition of the source material. Edge enhancement is present, but is not overly distracting, and colors look good despite the grungy old-movie appearance of the picture. Overall it's a slight improvement, though not nearly the improvement I was hoping for.

Audio: Like all Superbit titles, we get a Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS audio track. Neither track has a clear advantage, as they sound nearly identical to each other. And disappointingly, neither track sounds like an improvement over the original release. The bass never gets down and dirty, and the upper sound range isn't as crystal clear as I would have liked. Also, a slight fuzzy static sound is present as a result from the audio compression. All of the surrounds are used, although it's nothing spectacular. The rear surrounds don't see much action, but do a decent job, such as with the storm sounds during the beginning intro. As far as I could tell, there was no improvement in sound quality over the original release, which is disappointing to say the least.

Extras: Superbit DVD's utilize all disc space for the sole purpose of video and audio at the cost of losing the space normally reserved for extra features. This ensures the highest possible quality for picture and sound currently available on the DVD format.

Final Thoughts
Despite only getting a slight increase in video performance, I would still have bought this release if I hadn't received it as a screener. But it should be known that I'm anal about video quality, and seeing as this is one of my favorite movies of all time, I'm willing to go to great lengths to consume any improvement I possibly can. However I truly feel the average buyer will be best suited to keeping, and being very happy, with their original copy. Those who don't own either should seriously consider buying the original release because of the fantastic collection of extra features and decent video transfer offered.

The Dark Crystal is a breathtaking achievement both in story and execution. If this movie doesn't already grace your DVD collection, you need to go and buy it right now. And hey, who says you can't have both? Highly Recommended

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