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Dark Crystal (Collector's Edition Boxed Set), The

Columbia/Tri-Star // PG // November 25, 2003
List Price: $49.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Holly E. Ordway | posted December 4, 2003 | E-mail the Author
The movie



Watching The Dark Crystal
again was a nostalgia trip: it really impressed me as an eight-year-old back in
1982, so much so that pretty much the entire story and all the key images of
the film were still fresh in my memory 21 years later. Who can forget those
terrifying chittering Garthim, bursting through walls to snatch up helpless
Gelflings, or the Skeksis in all their decaying elegance? I certainly didn't!
It's not quite as magical watching it again with adult eyes, but all in all, The
Dark Crystal
holds up remarkably well, a tribute to the imaginative power
of its creator, Jim Henson.



The great strength of The
Dark Crystal
is its truly fresh and imaginative world. This is not Earth;
there are no humans or any other animals or even plants that we would
recognize. Instead, there is a fantastic array of creatures, both animal and
vegetable (and everything in between), inhabiting the landscape, giving it a
truly alien feel. Jim Henson's attention to detail shows up throughout the
film; in addition to the spectacular set-pieces like the Castle of the Dark
Crystal or Aughra's laboratory with its celestial model, countless tiny
creative touches appear in the scenes, like the rodent-like aliens that scurry
about in the castle.



In 1982, Henson didn't have the
powerful tool of computer graphics to help him create this completely new
world; the characters are all mechanical puppets, moving through full-sized
sets and using real props. But while you might think that this would be a blow
against the film in this era of CGI, it's not: visually, The Dark Crystal
still looks polished. There are a few instances in which the film's effects
look a little dated (particularly some of the shots with the "crystal
bats") but as a whole, the world of The Dark Crystal is just as
believable as in its original release. The inhabitants of this strange, alien
world are exquisitely detailed (the Skeksis and the Mystics in particular) and
have a solidity to them that perhaps adds to the feeling that this is a real
place.



Like traditional fairy tales, a
good children's film can evoke the dark visions of childhood as well as the
bright ones, and The Dark Crystal hits the right notes of delightful
horribleness with the Garthim and the vulture-like Skeksis. Certainly there
were some parts that creeped me out as an eight-year-old watching it,
particularly the scenes with the beetle-like Garthim pursuing Jen, or the
Podlings being drained of their life energy. The overall tone is kept from
being too dark, however, by the frequent light and humorous touches. These are
handled very well indeed, making the viewer laugh while knowing exactly where
to stop before making the scene too broadly comic. The main "comic
relief" element is Fizgig, and for a non-speaking character, this charming
little furball is amazingly full of personality, and lights up every scene he's
in.



The narrative itself is taken
straight out of myth and folklore: the young hero must leave the safety and
security of home, go on a journey, and take on a dangerous task to save the
world, receiving help from unlikely sources along the way. In a more
"conventional" fantasy setting, this could have made the story feel
tired, but in the fantastic world of the Dark Crystal, it feels new again.



The DVD



The Dark Crystal: Collector's
Edition
is packaged in a handsome box with a lid that lifts to open. It's
very distinctive and eye-catching, and is robustly made. The only potential
drawback to the packaging is its size: at 8 inches tall, it's about half an
inch taller than the typical keepcase and 3/4 of an inch wider, which may make
for a tight fit in some DVD storage units (it didn't fit the shelves in my DVD
case, for instance).



Video



The Dark Crystal appears
in its original 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio, and has been anamorphically
enhanced (don't be alarmed at the non-anamorphic menu screen). Colors are
bright, rich, and vibrant throughout the film, and contrast is handled
extremely well; scenes in the shadowy Skeksis castle look just as good as the
light-filled valley of the Mystics. Edge enhancement is present, but it's only
visible in a few scenes, and isn't too obtrusive. Overall, the level of detail
in the image is quite good. The print is not as clean as I'd like to have seen,
considering how good the rest of the transfer is; there are small flaws that
appear throughout the image, though most heavily at the beginning of the film.
There are also a few instances of the image having a slight brownish tint,
although this is always brief. When you look at the murky, dark, blurry print
that is used in the trailers for the film, it's very evident that The Dark
Crystal
was cleaned up considerably for its DVD release.



Audio



The film's original Dolby 2.0
soundtrack is the default; a remastered Dolby 5.1 track is the second choice.
The 5.1 is marginally the better option; both the 2.0 and the 5.1 have a clean
sound with clear dialogue and a nice balance of music, sound effects, and
speech. The Dolby 5.1 has a bit more depth to it; there's not a whole lot of
surround activity here, but the added channels do allow for some spatial
separation of the different sounds, making for a more attractive overall audio
presentation. A Spanish Dolby 2.0 track is also provided, along with English
and Spanish subtitles.



Extras



The bonus materials in the
Collector's Edition start before you even get to the DVD itself. Inside the
case is an introductory letter from Cheryl Henson, Jim Henson's daughter,
describing the circumstances of The Dark Crystal's origins. Next, we get
a "limited edition Senitype": it's a sturdy cardboard insert printed
with an image from the film, with an actual 35mm frame of that image inserted
into the middle of the insert. Finally, we get what's probably the most
creative "bonus feature" I've seen: a miniature reproduction of one of
Jim Henson's original notebooks with ideas and sketches for the film. It's
reproduced as an actual notepad and offers an intriguing glimpse into the
creative process behind The Dark Crystal.



Moving to the DVD itself, there
are a number of supplements to be seen. First in line is a text-only piece,
"The Mithra Treatment," which consists of Henson's original
description of the world and plot of the film that would become The Dark
Crystal
. It's interesting to see just how different the original ideas
were, but the usability of this feature is reduced by the fact that a very
small amount of text is presented on each screen, thus requiring a lot of
clicking to get through it.



The highlight of the special
features is a 57-minute behind-the-scenes documentary called "The World of
The Dark Crystal." It was clearly made before the release of the
film, and so in some ways it's promotional in nature, and it does rely more
heavily than I'd like on clips from the movie. However, it also offers an
intriguing glimpse at the making of the film, and it has interesting and
reasonably substantial interviews with Jim Henson, co-director Frank Oz,
conceptual designer Brian Froud, and other people involved with the making of
the film.



The next major section is one
of "extra scenes." One actual deleted scene is included: the funeral
of the Skeksis emperor. The other seven scenes are "original language
workprint scenes." Although no explanation is provided of what they mean
by "original language," I eventually figured it out: apparently a
draft of the film had all the non-Gelfling characters speaking in their own
languages (and presumably subtitled, although subtitles are optional when
watching the workprint scenes). This certainly would have given even more
authenticity to the world of the film, but evidently Henson decided to go a
more moderate route; in the final version of the film, only the Podlings speak
in a different language (which I felt was a very nice touch that added to the
texture of the film). In any case, in these seven scenes we can hear what the
Skeksis and Aughra would have sounded like without being translated. In the
scene with the Skeksis and Aughra, some of the dialogue is in
"Gelfling" (English), which lets us see that some of the dialogue was
revised for the final cut as well.



Rounding out the special
features are a set of character illustrations, storyboards, character profiles,
and "talent files" on Henson, Frank Oz, and Brian Froud. Three
different trailers for The Dark Crystal are also included (the U.S.
version, the European version, and the teaser trailer) and a trailer for Labyrinth.



Final thoughts



With a simple, mythic story set
in a truly alien world, The Dark Crystal offers a very entertaining hour
and a half's worth of entertainment. Fans of the film will of course want to
jump on this loaded collector's edition with its excellent transfer; for
viewers in general this film warrants a strong "recommended." If
there are kids in the family, make that an even stronger recommendation: this is
a really solid movie that will particularly appeal to kids but entertain the
adults as well.

Buy from Amazon.com

C O N T E N T

V I D E O

A U D I O

E X T R A S

R E P L A Y

A D V I C E
Highly Recommended

E - M A I L
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