DirectorJim Henson, Frank Oz
Release Date(s)1982 (March 6, 2018)
Studio(s)Henson Associates/ITC Entertainment/Universal Pictures (Sony Pictures)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A+
- Extras Grade: B-
[Editor’s Note: If you’re a fan of this film, be sure to check out Michael Coate’s excellent anniversary retrospective feature on The Dark Crystal here at The Bits at this link.]
On another world, in another time, a powerful crystal has cracked in two, sending a previously green and healthy land into ruin. Two races emerged from this schism, the evil Skeksis, who have dominated, and the gentle Mystics. Rescued by the Mystics when his clan was killed as a child, a Gelfling named Jen (voiced by Stephen Garlick) learns that his destiny is to find the missing shard that will restore the crystal and heal the world. Helping Jen to fulfill this task is another Gelfling, Kira (voiced by Lisa Maxwell), as well as the astronomer Aughra (Billie Whitelaw). But the Skeksis will stop at nothing to prevent Jen from succeeding. And if the crystal isn’t healed by the time of the great Conjunction, which is fast approaching, Jen’s world will remain in ruins for eternity.
Directed by Jim Henson, co-directed by Frank Oz, and produced by Gary Kurtz (Star Wars), The Dark Crystal is a fascinating 1980s fantasy adventure film. It was written by David Odell, a former staff writer on The Muppet Show. The film is populated entirely by “muppet” characters created by the Henson team, performed using virtually every trick of puppetry they had developed to date. It was inspired by Grimm fairy tales, and the notion that everyone has the capacity for both good and evil. (No doubt it was also a product of the 1970s environmental movement.) But what makes the film interesting is the incredibly detailed setting that was created for this world, which is known as Thra. The closest analog might be James Cameron’s Pandora from Avatar, with the difference being that everything you see in The Dark Crystal was created practically; plants, insects, small animals, talking characters, and the like. The film is also dark thematically, with some genuinely creepy moments. Its primary audience might have been children of the day, but this film did not talk down to them or underestimate their intelligence. And though the vocal performances here (especially the lead) are a little “hippy-dippy” or cartoonish on occasion, this film has much to recommend it.
The Dark Crystal was shot on 35mm photochemical film using Panavision cameras and anamorphic lenses. It’s been scanned in full native 4K from the original camera negative and given an HDR10 color grade. The film is presented here in 4K Ultra HD in the proper 2.39:1 theatrical aspect ratio. The resulting image is very impressive indeed. Detail and fine texturing are superb, crisp without looking edgy or artificial. It should be noted that there is very light film grain visible in this image, as there should be – it’s not been cleaned away – and it’s a bit stronger in optical shots. Contrast is strong, with inky blacks, bold highlights, and richly saturated hues. Take a look at the detail and the marvelous color nuances in the Skeksis’ elaborate outfits! Amazing.
As good as the image is, however, the sound on this 4K release is straight-up reference quality. Primary audio on the 4K disc is included in an English Dolby Atmos (Dolby TrueHD compatible) mix that’s wonderfully full-bodied and substantial, with terrific clarity, robust bass, and an extraordinary sense of spaciousness in its staging. The height channels extend and complete the soundstage overhead nicely. Panning is smooth at all times. The Atmos mix is just really impressive. Additional audio options include Czech, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Polish, Portuguese, Castilian, and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, with optional subtitles available in English, English SDH, Traditional and Simplified Chinese, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Icelandic, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese (Brazilian), Portuguese, Slovak, Slovenian, Castilian, Spanish, Swedish, Thai, and Turkish.
There are no extras on the 4K disc itself, but the package contains the film in 1080p on Blu-ray, a disc that includes the following bonus features:
- Audio Commentary with Conceptual Designer Brian Froud
- Storyboard Track Viewing Option
- The Myth, Magic and Henson Legacy (HD – 10:27)
- The World of The Dark Crystal (SD – 57:26)
- Reflections of The Dark Crystal (SD – 2 parts – 36:41 in all)
- Deleted Scenes (SD – 3:48)
- Original Skeksis Language – Test Scenes (SD – 8 scenes – 22:49 in all)
- Storyboards (11 images)
- Photo Galleries (3 galleries – 45 images)
- Teaser Trailer (HD – :37)
- Theatrical Trailer (HD – 1:19)
It’s worth noting that The Myth, Magic, and Henson Legacy feature is brand new for this release. The remainder of the extras are carried over from previous DVD editions. They’re good and it’s pleasing to see that they’re here, though one can’t help wishing for a little more new content in higher resolution. A Movies Anywhere digital code has been included in the packaging on a paper insert. You also get a second insert with a note from Lisa Henson, daughter of the director and the current CEO and President of The Jim Henson Company.
If you’re already a fan of The Dark Crystal, you’ll almost certainly be thrilled with this Ultra HD release. If you’re unfamiliar with the film, you really owe it to yourself to give it a try. Sony’s 4K edition more than does justice to this 1980s fantasy classic. This film has quite simply never looked and sounded better than it does here. Recommended.
- Bill Hunt