Unsurprisingly, NetFlix is currently streaming 1982's The Dark Crystal ahead of their release of a prequel series to that movie in August: The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance. It’d been several years since I watched the original film so I thought I’d take the opportunity to refresh my memory. I’d never seen it in high definition and it looks beautiful on NetFlix.
I was born in 1979 so my childhood memories are filled with 80s movies but The Dark Crystal wasn’t one of them. I saw Labyrinth several times but it wasn’t until after I was 20 that I finally saw The Dark Crystal on a cheap DVD. My general opinion now is much the same as it was last time I watched it—everything about the movie works except for the protagonists. Which, to be sure, is crucial.
They’re just so dull, particularly the male Gelfling, Jen, whose puppet was operated by Jim Henson but was voiced by Stephen Garlick. If Henson himself had voiced Jen, I think things would’ve been drastically different. Even when Kermit isn’t being especially exuberant, there are shades of personality in Henson’s performance that just aren’t there in Garlick’s. Kira, the Gefling voiced by Lisa Maxwell, isn’t much better, hardly seeming to care when the Podling town is raided.
Those Podlings, though, wow. I love me some Podlings. They’re a prime example of that eerie borderland of cute and creepy the film’s best qualities operate in. Their party is somehow alarming and their capture horrible in the same way as the Chamberlain (Frank Oz) being stripped is. It all feels very Lynchian and I wonder if it’s a coincidence the Podlings look so much like the Gauze Baby from Eraserhead.
The scene where a Podling’s life is drained from him is the strongest in the film. I feel bad for the little guy but mostly I feel as though I’m watching some vulnerable part of the human heart I never guessed existed, the alienness of something also so familiar having a deeply alarming quality. Like realising there’s a baby under your mattress and you have no idea how it got there.
The movie wisely spends a lot of time with the Skeksis and their backstabbing court manoeuvrings. Much like the Lannisters were always more interesting than the Starks, there’s twenty times more energy onscreen with the Skeksis than the Gelflings.
Mainly what I love about the film, though, is the sense of a complete world realised. The incredible work behind bringing Brian Froud’s beautiful designs to life—the seemingly endless examples of new puppets in the forests and mountains, things that look kind of like anemones or kind of like hydra, but nothing is really like anything but itself. This upcoming prequel series has a lot to live up to.