THE DARK CRYSTAL, 1982
Directed by Jim Henson and Frank Oz
I decided to buy this movie (one of my faves when I was a kid) and watch it with my eleven and thirteen year old daughters. They were probably not as impressed with it as I was at age ten, but it was fun to revisit this classic good vs. evil, end-of-the-world story that combines puppetry with live actors and special visual effects. At the time, the animatronics were considered groundbreaking and I still love watching it all these years later.
One thousand years before the movie begins, a race of beings shattered a giant crystal, losing a single shard and splitting themselves into the gentle, wizardlike Mystics and the ugly, dinosaur-like Skeksis. The evil Skeksis take over the castle where the crystal hangs over a pit of fire, and they rule their world for a thousand years, turning it into a wasteland. Now, the Great Conjunction is about to take place. The planet’s three suns will converge into one and as long as the crystal remains broken, the Skeksis will live forever and continue their reign of fear over the land.
The Skeksis are awaiting the death of their emperor. There is tension as they argue amongst themselves who should take up the throne, but it comes down to the whimpering Chamberlain and the gruff General. At the same time, the oldest of the Mystics is about to die as well. Because the two creatures are part of a whole, when one dies, its counterpart dies as well. The Mystics have raised a young Gelfling lad by the name of Jen; he is the last of a race of elflike people who were slaughtered by the Skeksis years ago. He is summoned to his master’s deathbed, where he is told that he must find the crystal shard at the home of Aughra…a journey he must make alone. Before the Mystic can tell Jen exactly what he will have to do with the shard, he passes away, just as the Skeksis emperor crumbles into dirt on his own deathbed. Jen is heartbroken and confused, but determined to go on his quest.
Back at the castle, the Chamberlain makes a grab for the dead emperor’s scepter, only to be confronted by the General. They decide to pick a successor through the “trial by stone.” At first, it looks like they’re going to duke it out mano-a-mano with giant, curved swords, but instead, they take turns whacking a vertical black stone that sparks when it’s struck. The General wins when he hits the stone so hard that the top half breaks off and shatters on the floor. The losing Chamberlain, according to their law, is stripped of his garments and banished from the castle. Before he leaves, the crystal “calls” to the Skeksis and shows them an image of Jen climbing the steep cliffs around Aughra’s home. They are horrified that a Gelfling is still alive, and call on the giant, beetle-like Garthim soldiers to go out and find Jen. The Chamberlain sneaks off, sensing an opportunity…
As Jen draws closer to Aughra’s, he encounters some strange plants and creepy critters. He is grabbed by some vines that hoist him up into the air. As he struggles to get free, a hand with an eyeball clutched inside it pops up, sees him and we get our first glimpse of Aughra…an ugly, pissy old lady with spiral horns and one removable eye. She is reluctant to reveal who she is, or answer Jen’s questions, but she eventually orders the vines to release him and he follows her into her home…a giant glass dome with a large, moving model of the universe in the middle. Aughra says that the model has warned her of the Great Conjunction, which she calls “the end of the world…or the beginning?” She produces a box of crystal shards and dumps the contents at Jen’s feet, but neither of them knows which one he needs. After narrowing it down to three choices, he uses his flute to produce a sound made by the Mystics and the real shard glows purple.
The dome is attacked by the Garthim, who start destroying everything in their path as they pursue Jen. He jumps onto the moving model to escape, clutching the shard and throws himself through a window, rolling down the cliffs into a swampland. When he looks back up at the dome, the entire thing is on fire. Jen fears that Aughra is dead.
Jen makes his way through the swamp, finding more strange creatures. When he hears something scuttling around, he follows it to a hole. As he draws closer, a doglike little monster pops out of the hole, startling Jen and making him fall into a mud pit. A cloaked figure approaches and when she removes her hood, Jen sees that she is a Gelfling just like him (and a pretty attractive one to boot). She reaches out to help him, but when their hands touch, they start “dreamfasting” and sharing the memories of their past through some sort of mental connection. Her name is Kira; her parents were killed by the Garthim and she was adopted by the Podlings (who look a lot like those troll dolls with the spikey hair). Kira is able to communicate with animals. Shecalls on a large creature living in the mud to help push Jen out and she takes him to her village.
The Skeksis are enjoying a huge feast (and showing very poor table manners) when the Garthim return with the captured and very much alive Aughra. She has no qualms about giving everyone a piece of her mind, furious about the assault on her home when she would have gladly told the Skeksis about Jen and the shard if they had just asked. The General (now the Emperor) orders crystal bats to fly in search of the Gelfling; whatever the bats see is transmitted back to the castle. While Jen and Kira are canoeing down a river, Kira sees one of the bats flying overhead and hits it with a stone. It falls into the water, but is still alive and sends the Skeksis their location.
Later that night, at the Podling village, the Garthim attack in the middle of a celebration, capturing Podlings to take back to the castle to use as slaves. Jen and Kira run outside and are spotted by the Garthim, who approach but are stopped by the Chamberlain. He holds up his hand, keeping the Garthim at bay and allowing Jen and Kira to escape. When they are finally safe, a tearful Jen blames himself for both attacks on innocent people and angrily throws the shard into the bushes.
The next morning, Jen awakes in Kira’s arms and they explore the Gelfling ruins around them. Kira finds the shard and Jen is able to translate the writings that spell out the prophecy…that a Gelfling alone is able to heal the shattered Dark Crystal. They are suddenly confronted by the Chamberlain, who claims he wants to make peace, and offers to take them to the castle. Jen and Kira run away, and Kira calls Landstriders to take them instead. When Kira demands that Fizzgig stay behind, he has a bit of a, um, temper tantrum, so he joins her on the Landstrider. Even though Jen reminds Kira that she doesn’t have to go with him, they go on together.
On the way, they encounter the Garthim with the newly captured Podlings. The Landstriders start beating the crap out of the giant beetles, but Kira is knocked off and Jen dismounts so they can free the Podlings. The Garthim kill both Landstriders, but Jen and Kira jump to safety by gliding down the cliff on her wings. (After which Kira informs Jen that only girl Gelflings have wings…he seems a bit jealous, but oh well…girl power!)
The Mystics start making their own journey to the castle for the Great Conjunction (they have to leave early because, well, they walk reeeeeaaaallly slowly). Jen and Kira enter the castle through an underground opening, where they encounter the Chamberlain again. He grabs them, and Jen stabs his hand with the shard. A corresponding Mystic also receives the wound. The Chamberlain pulls part of the ceiling down on Jen; he is crushed under the rubble. Kira is pulled away while Fizzgig stays behind, hoping for the best.
As soon as Kira is presented to the other Skeksis, they reinstate him, and Kira is taken to a lab where she is going to be drained of her essence through the crystal. Aughra is being held prisoner there as well. Jen emerges from the rubble and tells Kira to fight the crystal; because they are connected, she can hear him and uses her animal communication to free every animal in the lab. They kill the Skeksis Scientist and a corresponding Mystic bursts into flames and disappears. Kira is freed and runs off to the crystal chamber
Jen ends up in the lab shortly after; he also runs to the chamber as the Skeksis arrive for the final ceremony. He sees Kira across the way from him and they keep silent until Fizzgig arrives and reveals their location. When the Garthim are summoned, Jen leaps onto the crystal, but drops the shard. Kira glides down to retrieve it; Jen insists he will let the Skeksis have it if they don’t hurt her. Instead, she tells him to heal the crystal, and throws the shard up to him.
A lot happens in the next few minutes: Kira is stabbed by the General and dies. The three suns converge and Jen places the shard into the crystal, which turns white and blows him onto the floor with its force. The castle’s shell crumbles, revealing beautiful clear walls underneath. While the Skeksis panic, the Mystics arrive, and the two, good and bad, become whole once again. It’s the dawning of a new era, no longer ruled by darkness, but Jen is distraught over losing Kira and holds her lifeless body while the walls crumble around him.
Once the Mystics and Skeksis are united in body and spirit, they explain to Jen that his sacrifice has helped to create a new, balanced world. They tell him to hold Kira close, because she is part of him, as they are all “part of each other.” She stirs and comes back to life, and the strange new beings tell them to “make their world in (the crystal’s) light.” Although that might be hard in the long term, since, you know, they’re the only male and female Gelflings left..but oh well! The story has a happy ending.
The movie as a whole might be too dark and scary for young kids, but it has a timeless lesson about good versus evil…although the triumph in the end is not of one over the other, but of the two converging to create a race that is not perfect, but a mix of the good and bad, just like human beings. In light of the supposed “apocalypse” coming on December 21 of this year, it’s a message of hope, of a new world beginning instead of the entire planet being destroyed. I had not seen this movie in many, many years, so this was a great reminder of how powerful, timeless, and technically advanced it was for its time. We recommend everyone take the time to revisit this movie. Or, if you haven’t seen it, now is the time!
Do you have memories about seeing The Dark Crystal that you would like to share? Hit the Comments!