Revisiting the beloved films of childhood is always a risky proposition. What if they’re too dated, too too twee, or kinda racist? But The Dark Crystal (1982) remains one of the Astor’s all-time most requested movies, and now it finally returns, remastered, to the big screen.
The Dark Crystal checks all the usual fantasy boxes – magical prophecies, chosen ones, et cetera – and it has its share of clumsy infobombs to introduce the serene, kindly Mystics; the decaying aristocracy of the Skeksis; and Jen, the sheltered Gelfing destined to save the world.
Soon, though, none of this matters. As directed by Muppeteers Jim Henson and Frank Oz, with jaw-dropping design work from Brian Froud, The Dark Crystal’s non-human world remains an astonishing achievement. Every creature, animal, and plant tells a story. Even if you haven’t seen them since childhood, you might be amazed at how much of this potent imagery has been buried in your memory, just waiting to be recalled.
And though the film’s theatrical release was made less dark and less strange than Henson originally intended, it’s still pretty damn frightening. Lobsterlike soldiers tear villages apart, adorable Podlings are tortured for their ‘essence’, and echoes of Yoda in the voice of Frank Oz’s scheming Skeksis Chamberlain only make him more disquieting.
The New York Times dismissed The Dark Crystal as just a “watered down J. R. R. Tolkien” back in ’82. But now Peter Jackson has transformed Tolkien into movies resembling epic ads for their own Xbox games, The Dark Crystal’s handcrafted world seems more truly fantastical than ever.