Nostalgia gets a talking to–The Dark Crystal review

(written by Fae Awareness Month team member, Mark S. Deniz)

the-dark-crystal

Coming back to a loved childhood film always leads to an interesting dilemma in terms of reviewing. This is due to a question of comparing quality versus nostalgia. However, this is not an issue if the film itself holds the standard we remember from our youth, which we can only tell if we take that step back from our emotional attachment to it.

The Dark Crystal is a film that demands the step back from nostalgia…

The film itself is standard epic fantasy fare, in that there is a prophecy that an unwilling hero must achieve to save the world from destruction, there are clear examples of good and evil and there are impossible obstacles to overcome on the road. The Dark Crystal also has several little interesting elements that keep it interesting enough for those tired of the same old, same old.

An element that cannot be escaped is the fact that all the characters we are watching are muppets, lacking in facial expressions and unable to allow us to empathise with them, in fact the worst of these are the two Geflings, the ones that really need us to feel for them, which makes it hard for us to fully engage with the story.

I mean, we are watching muppets here.

In fact Henson gets carried away on more than one occasion, concerning himself with his creativity, giving us several scenes where there is absolutely no plot at all, just masses of strange creatures wandering around in the land. It can be argued that this is to give us a sense of just how alien the world is but I disagree. The whole speech (read info dump) in the beginning tells us enough so that we don’t really need to see creatures aplenty.

There are several aspects of the film that make me wish there was actually a dreaded remake on the cards, as I think The Dark Crystal has an interesting enough promise and with ‘live’ actors could be made that much more than it proves to be.[1]

Take Jen for example and imagine his character being played by a budding young star (much as Haley Joel Osment was in The Sixth Sense) and then realize how much we would be able to feel for his strife, his doubts, his quest.

Granted the Skeksis and the Mystics would need to be CGI but give them commanding voices and you could be looking at a whole other monster/creature. In truth the Skeksis and the Mystics were actually passable in the film, it was the characters around them that made the suspension of disbelief a hard hard task. I mean Aughra, the Podlings and the Landstriders, as well as the aforementioned Gelflings are so obviously muppets and muppets do not a serious film make.

Going back to those tropes,I found them a little hard to swallow in terms of the clarity of good and evil, the absolute black and white of it – the Mystic leader dies whilst imparting knowledge to Jen, a peaceful talk followed by a peaceful slumber. The Skeksis leader dies in a typical snarling rebuke to those wishing to take his place, snatching his staff from those ready to take over before he has taken his last breath. This is followed by the rest of the Skeksis (who are dwindling in number) fighting it out for the right to be the next emperor. Again there is an argument that due to the Skeksis and the Mystics being two halves of a same being, that it is easier to see the Mystics as absolute good and the Skeksis as absolute evil. This is somewhat contradicted when the two beings come together as one again and they seem almost as benign and righteous as the Mystics were on their own, thus eradicating the Skeksis from existence.

I want to like The Dark Crystal much more than I do, I want to like it more because I loved it when I saw it at the cinema all those years ago, because I liked the idea of every time one of the Mystics died its corresponding Skeksis died (and vice versa, for the reasons already mentioned), because I like my epic fantasy – I mean who is not in love with George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series at present? There is much nostalgia in the film but I have many more films from my youth that hold that nostalgia and quality balance better. Fantasy was always a tough ask for those in the film industry and it has pretty much suffered and limped along until Peter Jackson decided to film Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings epic, thus showing what a fantasy film could actually look like.

So forget your Ladyhawke, forget your Hawk the Slayer, forget your Krull and ultimately forget your The Dark Crystal, as nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake is a tough ask.

[1] (My editor informed me that a sequel, rather than a remake is to be made)

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. kvtaylor
    Jun 07, 2011 @ 12:17:38

    I have to admit that I’ve never been able to do what you just did: look at this movie on its own merits. The story IS overly simplistic, and the Gelflings… gosh. It’s so true. There’s NO argument there!

    I still like the movie, but I think most of that is the magic of the awesome puppets, which still freak me out a little, in particular the Skeksis, and the childhood memories attached to it.

    I wonder if kids these days are impressed. But let’s not experiment on them, the poor dears.

    Reply

  2. Trackback: Fae Awareness: The End and Index « Fae Awareness Month

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