It’s strange that the two lead puppets in Dark Crystal are so stiff. With all of their lavish surroundings, amazingly full and rich creations elsewhere, the two Geflings look completely out of place. They almost look like they belong in an episode of the quirky Thunderbirds series, an odd distinction in what becomes a technical masterpiece elsewhere.
Jim Henson’s talents were not just in puppeteering, but in imagination. These creatures, from the vulture-esque Skeksis to the friendly Mystics, are incredible creations. The Skeksis are not just mindless monsters. They dress in lavish clothing, adding another layer of complexity to the already arduous work of bringing these to life.
Dark Crystal is challenging material for kids, not just a simple story of good overcoming evil. There is a deeper layer to that, and the adventure is grandly scaled. Even with that, it remains an engaging piece of fantasy, brilliantly realized with the tangible, real effects that beyond the main characters, are utterly believable.
It’s not just the creatures related to the story either. The small touches from the little rats roaming the castle to the variety of fantastical critters near the water all bring this to life in every corner of the screen. It’s that level of detail which makes this not just something to look at, but convincing.
Jen’s quest, one of prophecy and fate, is enough to drive the simple narrative and give excuses for the inclusion of the wholly unique visual style. This has far more going on than any of the Muppet features, the level of complexity here truly staggering. Rarely does the film “cheat” either, using optical effects only when necessary, while saving the minimal suit work on Jen and Kira for long shots. A lesser director working with non-ambitious crew members would have found any number of ways to cheat this material. The effort here keeps Dark Crystal timeless.
Sony delivers an AVC encode for Dark Crystal, a disappointing, processed mess. DNR has been obviously applied to much of the film, readily apparent in any distance shot where definition is routinely poor. The Skeksis are barely identifiable at the dinner table at 39:18, lost to the digital tampering. The complex clothing of the Skeksis is also jarring, mashing together with no real clarity or delineation.
Close-ups of the puppets are merely adequate, making the larger details visible, but not any rich texture. In fact, only one close-up of Jen produces such detail, that at 35:04. The rest are inherently flat and lackluster. Hair is routinely clumpy, the Mystic leader at 5:16 showing no real resolution increase, merely digital tinkering at its worst.
Grain is evident, although rarely. Many of the shots of the Mystic’s trekking across the world hold a grain structure, however limited. Special effect shots, double printed of course, also hold some limited natural film grain. Indoors, inside castles especially, that grain is reduced to almost nothing, dropped to clumps of artifacting. Even some of the outdoor shots suffer significantly, the plants at 5:48 muddy and poorly resolved.
There are of course improvements over the previous DVDs. Colors are certainly richer, the latter sequence of plants showcasing some vivid green hues, and the garish color tones of the Skeksis are far more noticeable. Blacks also remain consistent, delivering nice depth to the image where the lack of high fidelity detail fails. On the plus side, the source is excellent shape, any damage quite minimal. The worst of it is saved for the ending after the crystal has been restored.
There were no plans initially to have dialogue for many of the creatures in the film, so maybe that’s the source of the trouble with this TrueHD track. Voice work is routinely scratchy, with a slight layer of static running under everything. While it remains understandable, it lacks the precision fidelity expected of uncompressed tracks. It’s not as simple as, “It’s old” either.
The musical score is reproduced cleanly, although flat on the high-end and generally lost to the action. During the finale, as the scramble for the crystal shard takes hold, the music seems to take a back seat. While this keeps the dialogue prominent, it lessens the impact of the film.
There is little going on in the surrounds beyond the opening shots, which hold a bit of thunder in the rears. The score splits the stereo channels slightly, a small bit of use in the fronts. Everything else remains planted in the center.
A pop-up storyboard is the first bonus feature listed, followed by a trivia challenge that runs with the film, but disables every possible function from pause to fast-forward. You can’t even access the menu. A commentary from costume designer Brian Froud is included, followed by seven scenes in the original language of the film. These run for 23-minutes.
A deleted funeral scene is next, followed by a vintage hour-long making-of that is fantastic. The footage from the set is wonderful. Reflections on Dark Crystal is a collection of two retrospectives, totaling around 37-minutes. Trailers and BD-Live access are left.