Many of us romanticize our youth. Those trips to the lake in the summer. The wonder and joy of air travel. But then you return to the lake twenty years later and see that it’s only a pond, with an algae problem to boot. Flying is no longer fun but an uncomfortable, anxiety-producing experience.

Directed by: Jim Henson, Frank Oz
Written by: Jim Henson and David Odell
Starring: Jim Henson, Kathryn Mullen and Frank Oz

The same thing can happen with movies from our youth. We cherish the memory of the thing, but as an adult there’s simply no luster. I put this kind of romanticism to the test recently when I happened upon The Dark Crystal in my local video store (yes, I still use these on occasion).

It’s a funny coincidence that I stumbled upon this movie the same week the new Muppet Movie hit theaters, for The Dark Crystal is a Jim Henson production, but in this story Kermit and Miss Piggy wouldn’t last two seconds. The Dark Crystal tells the tale of a foreign world where Jen, a “gelfling,” must find an ancient crystal shard and reinsert it into the “dark crystal” to make his world whole and peaceful again.

The Dark Crystal was filed in the ‘family’ section, which seemed to make sense as I would have been nine when it was released in 1982, but the movie was surprisingly macabre and scary and I’m not sure most contemporary parents would let youngsters watch this.

Regardless, The Dark Crystal does manage to withhold adult scrutiny…somewhat. I say somewhat because there are a few plot elements that are hard to believe from an adult’s perspective, but if audiences can look past the things that don’t make sense in Avatar –one of the most successful movies ever—then the lapses in The Dark Crystal are hardly worth pondering.

Though I don’t know for sure, I imagine Jim Henson and company must have been influenced by Tolkien. There are too many parallels between The Dark Crystal and The Lord of the Rings to ignore, and it’s impossible to ignore that JK Rowling may have in turn been influenced by The Dark Crystal and other similar tales. Jen is an elf-like orphan whose family was destroyed by an evil force which he must confront. Jen must travel from his safe and tranquil village through dangerous lands and take a sacred object into the heart of darkness. Sound familiar?

Though some of the elements in the movie might only be scary to a child’s eye and mind, the evil creatures in The Dark Crystal, ‘the Skekses, a vulturish-loooking race, are beyond creepy no matter what your age.

And the truly amazing thing about this movie, something you cannot appreciate when you are young, is the artistry behind the special effects. Today, CGI makes it easy to create a fantasy or sci-fi world, but no such technology was available in 1982. The Dark Crystal’s use of puppetry is simply incredible.

Some say that CGI makes possible filmmaking few could have dreamed of decades ago (and this may be true), but it can also be argued that storytelling has suffered due to computer graphics. It’s as if filmmaking, in certain instances, has so come to rely on CGI that the effect or the visual has supplanted the story. You have to marvel at what went in to making The Dark Crystal, but there is a real harmony between the technology and the story.

Nevertheless, I have to admit the memory I have of this movie and the feelings that arise when I think of it were not sustained upon re-viewing. I liked it, and I can see why kids would enjoy it, but it’s hardly an original story line and the characters are not hugely compelling. Only the bizarre and repellent Skekses stay with me, as opposed to the hero and protagonist of the movie (Jen).

I thought of sharing The Dark Crystal with my nieces to see if they would react to it the way I did when I was a preteen, but then I realized their mother would probably not allow it. It’s funny what our parents would permit, which we will not in 2011. But maybe I’m just being overly romantic.

About The Author

Randy Steinberg is a Blast Film Critic. He has a Master's Degree in Film/Screenwriting from Boston University. He taught screenwriting at BU from 1999-2010 and continues to write screenplays and other fiction. Randy can be contacted at [email protected]

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