Pulp Consumption: The Dark Crystal


This is the DVD cover for the version I own.

A race of godlike beings is shattered into two separate, disparate species when a crystal is broken. As each of the creatures ages and dies, its counterpart in the other species also ages and dies, leaving a power vacuum. The gentler Mystics pass over power by singing their lamentations. The more malevolent Skeskis engage in ritual combat to establish control. In an effort to keep themselves from aging, the Skeksis also capture creatures and drain their life essences, including the clan of the main character, a male Gelfling named Jen. Jen is an orphan being raised by the Mystics, and as his Master dies, he is told he must find the broken piece of the crystal and reunite it before a cosmic congregation or else the two races will continue to degrade, leaving the Skeksis in control of the world.

If you haven’t seen The Dark Crystal, based on that description you might assume it was made for an adult audience based on an existing book property, but you’d be wrong on both counts. The original story was written by Jim Henson…yes, the guy who created the Muppets.[1] If Wikipedia is to be believed, Henson wanted to bring some of the darkness of the Grimm fairy tales back into children’s entertainment. If that’s true, I think he succeeded. It certainly worked for me, being one of the foundational films I watched in my childhood.

Henson brought on artist Brian Froud to help design the world through concept art. Froud was already well-established in the art world, but his partnership with Henson raised his profile a bit, and they ended up working together again on Labyrinth.[2]


Kira (left) and Jen (right) are firmly in the uncanny valley, but not as unsettling as 1990s/early 2000s CGI creations (I’m looking at you, George Lucas!)

The Dark Crystal is more high fantasy in concept than it is swords and sorcery, but it has both of the latter in some measure. The Mystics are wizards, and the Skeksis use swords. The quest that Jen goes on is closer to Frodo and the One Ring than it is to Conan and the Tower of the Elephant, but there is still action and adventure in the story of an alien world and its inhabitants. Jen has to run from the Skeksis henchmen, giant crustaceans called Garthim; meet the astronomer and junk hoarder Aughra; make friends with another Gelfling, a female named Kira; ride on the backs of swift, stilt-legged Landstriders; fight the Skeksis; and, of course, adopt a little doglike creature called Fizzgig.

While discussions about a sequel took place for years, they never came to fruition. There have been novelizations, comic book interpretations, and some prequel books. There’s also an in-production prequel series that is supposed to be hitting Netflix sometime in the near future. There’s no release date yet, and just a small teaser trailer available now, but I’m looking forward to it.

The film was a box office success, but it didn’t do gangbusters. That’s partly because it was released in the Christmas season, but mostly because a dark fantasy with puppets is hard to market. The movie itself can even be pretty divisive. Critics were split on it at the time, and modern critics consider its status as a cult classic to be more about the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia than the actual quality of the movie. I think they’re wrong, but then I often find myself at odds with critics. After all, I co-run a pulp fiction magazine, and critics are frequently none-too-kind to the pulps.

[1] Interestingly, despite what some people now might think based on current marketing, The Muppet Show was initially a nighttime show aimed at adults.

[2] It’s relatively widely known that Froud’s son Toby played the baby boy who Jennifer Connelly accidentally magicked away to the Goblin King.

This entry was posted in Pulp Consumption and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Pulp Consumption: The Dark Crystal

  1. Reblogged this on Dark Perceptions and commented:

    Cameron talks about “The Dark Crystal,” which I would be lying if I said it hadn’t left an indelible mark on my psyche.


  2. Reblogged this on Mangled Latin and commented:

    This week I touch upon The Dark Crystal, a movie I love.


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