The Dark Crystal

The Dark Crystal
The Dark Crystal

Theatrical release poster by Richard Amsel
Directed by Jim Henson
Frank Oz
Produced by Jim Henson
Gary Kurtz
David Lazer
Written by Jim Henson
David Odell
Narrated by Joseph O'Conor
Starring Stephen Garlick
Lisa Maxwell
Billie Whitelaw
Music by Trevor Jones
Cinematography Oswald Morris
Editing by Ralph Kemplen
Studio Jim Henson Productions
Distributed by Universal Pictures
ITC Entertainment
Release date(s) December 17, 1982 (1982-12-17)
Running time 93 minutes
Country United Kingdom
United States
Language English
Budget $15 million
Box office $40,577,001

The Dark Crystal is a 1982 British-American fantasy film directed by Jim Henson and Frank Oz. Although marketed as a family film, it was notably darker than previous material created by them. The animatronics used in the film were considered groundbreaking. The primary concept artist was the fantasy illustrator Brian Froud, famous for his distinctive faerie and dwarf designs. Froud also collaborated with Henson and Oz for their next project, the 1986 film Labyrinth, which was notably more light-hearted than The Dark Crystal. The film stars the voices of Stephen Garlick, Lisa Maxwell and Billie Whitelaw.

The Dark Crystal was produced by Gary Kurtz, whose list of credits includes American Graffiti, Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, Return to Oz, and Slipstream. The screenplay was written by David Odell, who had previously worked with Henson as a staff writer on The Muppet Show. Trevor Jones provided the film's atmospheric music. The film makes an attempt to study the nature of good and evil in terms of conscience, destiny, and the triune nature of harmony. The film was produced by ITC Entertainment, the British production company responsible for producing The Muppet Show.



Jen, the last of the elf-like race called the Gelflings, lives in the biodiverse planet of Thra. Jen is summoned by his dying master, who reveals that Jen's destiny is to "heal" a Dark Crystal – formerly called the Crystal of Truth before it was shattered 1,000 years ago by the UrSkeks; this caused the race to be split into urRu, hunchback beings also known as Mystics, and Skeksis, vulture-like tyrants – by finding the shard. skekSo, the Skeksis' emperor, dies along with Jen's master, leading to a confrontation between skekSil the Chamberlain and skekUng the General, master of the Garthim, who both desire to succeed him. skekUng becomes emperor and skekSil is exiled. The Skeksis eventually learns of Jen's existence.

Jen reaches Aughra, a scholar of an unknown race, and is taken to her observatory. There he discovers the crystal shard, which is hidden among others resembling it, by playing music on his flute to which it resonates. Jen also learns of the upcoming Great Conjunction, but learns little of its connection to the shard before the Garthim destroys the observatory. Jen flees, but Aughra is captured and taken to the Castle of the Crystal. Meanwhile, the Mystics hear the calls of the Crystal and leave their valley to travel to the Castle.

Jen eventually meets Kira, a Gelfling; and Fizzgig, a dog-like pet. They stay for a night with the Podlings who raised Kira after the death of her parents. Their respite is short-lived, as a Garthim raiding party attacks the village. Kira, Jen, and Fizzgig flee when skekSil prevents one of the Garthim from attacking them. Many Podlings are captured and enslaved. Blaming himself for the Garthim raid, Jen tries to throw away the crystal shard, but Kira reassures him that it was not his fault. Kira recovers the crystal shard.

The trio eventually discover a ruined Gelfling city, and Kira retrieves the shard. Jen and Kira eventually find a relief where Jen reads the prophecy of the Crystal. They learn that the shard is part of the Dark Crystal and must be reinserted to restore its integrity. SkekSil unsuccessfully attempts to convinces Jen and Kira that he wishes to help. Riding on Landstriders, the Gelflings arrive at the Castle of the Crystal, where they see the Garthim that attacked Kira's village. Kira and Jen unsuccessfully attempt to free the captured Podlings, and discover that Garthim have slain the Landstriders. Kira, Jen and Fizzgig jump off the cliff and infiltrate the lower parts of the Castle. skekSil confronts them again and tries to convince them to make peace; however, Kira is captured and Jen strikes skekSil on his hand using the crystal shard. urZah, one of the Mystics, suffers a spontaneous wound in the corresponding location. Enraged, skekSil seemingly kills Jen and takes Kira to the Castle. For his capture, skekUng restores skekSil to his former position. On the suggestion of the Skeksis scientist, skekTek, the General decides to regain his youth by draining Kira's life essence,[1] recalling that its potency allows a Skeksis emperor to maintain his youth for longer periods than that of the Podlings on whom they have been forced to rely since the Gelfling genocide. Kira maintains a telepathic connection with Jen, and calls out to the animals imprisoned in the laboratory. They break free from their cages and sends skekTek to his death. Kira, Jen, and Aughra flee, but they are separated from Fizzgig during a confrontation with the Garthim.

Thra's three suns begin to align as the two Gelflings reconvene in the Crystal chamber. The Skeksis arrive to prepare for the immortality that they will gain from the Conjunction if the Crystal is not restored. In the chaos, the High Priest skekZok kills Kira. Jen eventually inserts the shard in its appropriate place, unifying the Crystal just as the Mystics enter the chamber. The Mystics and Skeksis eventually merge back into the UrSkeks, the mystical amalgam of both races. The leader speaks to Jen of their history – and revives Kira – before departing, while Thra rejuvenates itself.



The film was shot at Elstree Studios, and exterior scenes were shot in the Scottish Highlands; Gordale Scar, North Yorkshire, England; and Twycross, Leicestershire, England.

All characters in the movie are elaborate puppets, and none are based on humans or any other specific Earth creature. At the time of the movie's release, it was billed as the first live-action film without any human beings on screen, and "a showcase for cutting-edge animatronics".[2]

Originally, Jim Henson wanted the Skeksis to speak their own constructed language with the dialogue subtitled in English. This idea was dropped after test screening audiences found the captions too distracting, but the original effect can be observed in selected scenes on the various DVD releases.

The hands and facial features of the groundbreaking animatronic puppets in the film were controlled with relatively primitive rods and cables, although radio control later took over many of the subtler movements.[3] Human performers inside the puppets supplied basic movement for the larger creatures, which in some cases was dangerous or exhausting; for example, the Garthim costumes were so heavy that the performers had to be hung up on a rack every few minutes to rest while still inside the costumes.[4]


Box office

The Dark Crystal made $40,577,001 in theaters,[5] with an estimated budget of $15 million.[citation needed] Its limited appeal at the time was partly due to parental concerns about its dark nature, and partly because it was overshadowed by E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, which was released the same year.[6]

Critical reception

The film was more of a success among critics, winning a Saturn Award for Best Fantasy Film and earning the grand prize at the Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival. The film was also nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation and a BAFTA Award for Best Special Visual Effects.[7] Some critics, however, panned the film as "watered down J.R.R. Tolkien... without charm as well as interest."[8] In both France and Japan, The Dark Crystal was the highest-grossing box office release for the year (1983)[citation needed] and outgrossed E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial as the most successful foreign film in Japan until Titanic took over the spot 14 years later. The film has gained a cult following over the years since its release.

In general, reviews were positive, with the film holding a 71% rating at Rotten Tomatoes.[9]

Home media release

The Dark Crystal was first released on DVD on October 5, 1999, and has had multiple re-releases since including a Collector's Edition on November 25, 2003, and a 25th Anniversary Edition on August 14, 2007. It was released on Blu-ray on September 29, 2009.

In other media

  • A tie-in novelization of the film was written by A.C.H. Smith.
  • A popular book titled The World of The Dark Crystal, written by concept artist, fantasy illustrator and chief creature designer for the film, Brian Froud, also released at the same time as the film. This book expanded greatly on the world of Thra, its conditions and history, and gives some of the story background.
  • An illustrated children's storybook version The Tale of the Dark Crystal, written by Donna Bass and illustrated by Bruce McNally.
  • In 1983, a video game based on the movie was released for the Apple II and Atari 8-bit in the format of a text adventure.
  • A board game called "The Dark Crystal Game" was also released in 1982 (see "List of Milton Bradley Company products").
  • A couple months after the film's release, in 1983, Marvel Comics printed a comic book adaptation.
  • An OEL manga comic book prequel, Legends of the Dark Crystal, was published by TokyoPop on November 13, 2007. The comic is written by Barbara Kesel with art by Heidi Arnhold and Max Kim. The story is set hundreds of years before the story in The Dark Crystal, after the first Great Conjunction which saw the splitting of the UrSkeks into the Mystics and the Skeksis, yet before the Great Extermination of the Gelflings.
  • Another prequel, The Origin of the Dark Crystal, is due in the form of two graphic novels in winter 2011 and fall 2012 from Archaia Comics.[10] A brief preview was released on Free Comic Book Day 2011.


During the development phase of The Dark Crystal, director Jim Henson and writer David Odell discussed ideas for a possible sequel. In the mid 2000s, Odell and his wife Annette Duffy used what Odell could remember from these discussions to write the script for The Power of the Dark Crystal.[11] Genndy Tartakovsky was then hired to direct and produce the film through The Orphanage's animation studios.[12] However, Tartakovsky was replaced by the Spierig brothers, and Craig Pearce rewrote Odell and Duffy's script. On May 4, 2010, it was announced that the Australian-based Omnilab Media would be partnering with The Jim Henson Company to produce the sequel. Brian Froud will return as conceptual designer. The film will be released in stereoscopic 3D. November, 2011 Cheryl Henson publicly states this sequel film is on 'hold' yet again. The Spierig Brothers have left the production. A permanent cancellation announcement is forthcoming.[13]


  1. ^ Henson Productions 2008; "The wicked Skeksis live off of the essence of others..."
  2. ^ Wright 2005.
  3. ^ Rickitt 2000. p. 225.
  4. ^ Bacon 1997, p. 24.
  5. ^ The Dark Crystal at Box Office Mojo.
  6. ^ Scheib 2010.
  7. ^ The Dark Crystal Awards at IMDb.
  8. ^ Canby 1982.
  9. ^ The Dark Crystal Reviews at Rotten Tomatoes.
  10. ^ Archaia Comics.
  11. ^ Carroll 2004.
  12. ^ Henson Media Relations 2006.
  13. ^ Henson Media Relations 2010.



External links

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