Project RPO - The Dark Crystal


Our small band of Gunters here in the /G-f universe are reviewing every film mentioned in Ernest Cline's Ready Player One. This week Susan Omand gets a bit philosophical about The Dark Crystal...

I've come to the conclusion that some children’s films are wasted on kids. They watch films for the surface story, the action, the scary bits and the happy endings as good triumphs over evil. And that’s great when you’re, say, ten or eleven and don’t want to get all deep and meaningful about things. But revisiting kids’ films as an adult can go one of three ways: a) you get all wrapped up in the fluffiness of nostalgia of remembering watching the film as a kid and overlook how rubbish the film itself was, b) you watch the film from a cold-hearted, cynical, objectively “growedy uppy” viewpoint and actually discover how rubbish the film itself was or c) you do what I’ve just done with The Dark Crystal and discover a whole part of your sub conscious has been unlocked that you weren’t previously aware of. 

I was about fifteen when I last watched the film and that, I must say, was more than a few years ago now. I remembered about the film of course, the basic plot and some of the characters, particularly how terrifying the Skeksis were but, when I got a chance to re-watch it this week, it occurred to me how much detail and subtlety I had either forgotten or never picked up on when I first watched it all those years ago.

The story is truly insightful if you think about it. It is explained in hauntingly echoing, rumbling tones by the narrator at the start of the film, in a way that every saga does that has been passed down the generations through word of mouth...

Another world, another time, in the age of wonder. A thousand years ago, this land was green and good - until the Crystal cracked. For a single piece was lost; a shard of the Crystal. Then strife began, and two new races appeared: the cruel Skeksis, the gentle Mystics. Here in the castle of the Crystal, the Skeksis took control. Now the Skeksis gather in the sacred chamber, where the Crystal hangs above a shaft of air and fire. The Skeksis with their hard and twisted bodies, their harsh and twisted wills. For a thousand years they have ruled, yet now there are only ten. A dying race, ruled by a dying emperor, imprisoned within themselves in a dying land. Today, once more, they gather at the Crystal as the first sun climbs to its peak. For this is the way of the Skeksis. As they ravaged the land, so too they learned to draw new life from the sun. Today, once more, they will replenish themselves, cheat death again, through the power of their source, their treasure, their fate - the Dark Crystal... 

But today, the ceremony of the sun gives no comfort. Today, an emperor lies dying. Today, a new emperor must seize the throne.

A thousand years ago, the Crystal cracked. And here, far from the castle, the race of Mystics came to live in a dream of peace. Their ways were the gentle ways of natural wizards. Yet now there are only ten. A dying race, numbly rehearsing the ancient ways in a blur of forgetfulness. But today, the ritual gives no comfort. Today, the wisest of the Mystics lies dying. Today, they summon the one who must save them...


Just read that quote again – THAT is the heart of the story for me. It’s not about the Gelfling’s adventures to heal the crystal and save the world, it’s about the evolution up to that point of the Skeksis and the Mystics, their separation and their coming together. Two races exactly mirroring one another and yet taking different paths, dark and light, pain and healing, two sides of the same coin. This mirroring is made more evident as the film goes on, with injuries and deaths being explainable by looking at the other side. And both sides are beautifully characterised by the Jim Henson Creature Workshop, managing to take the same look for both Skeksis and Mystic but change them enough so that you can still recognise they are from a similar root but have grown up into completely different races. Seriously profound (and still terrifying.)

That level of care and personal attentiveness to detail is evident throughout the whole film. The sets are beautiful, highly detailed and incredibly intricate and the many incidental characters, there’s always something scuttling through undergrowth or along the edge of the cave walls, adds a level of believability that is missing in a lot of the non-Henson fantasy films of the time. And I would challenge anyone that says it looks dated - yes I know there’s no CGI, motion capture or fancy special effects but it’s a better film because of that. Using real locations as well as indoor sets, and having the fluid movement of separate performers for each of the puppets adds a feeling of realism, which is amplified by there being no human interaction onscreen, allowing you to totally immerse yourself in the belief that this mythical story, this land and these creatures are real.

As with all “cult” films though, there have been so many rumours of a sequel or a reboot for a long time and, after watching it again, I would have been horror-struck if that had happened as planned, allowing such a subtle, carefully balanced film to become a CGI nightmare or, even worse, a Lord of the Rings rip off. However, news from a couple of weeks ago has completely allayed my fears. Yes it seems they ARE doing a sequel BUT the already existing screenplay for the unmade film has been adapted by Si Spurrier into a set of comic books called Power of The Dark Crystal and that idea interests me quite a lot.

Image - IMDb