I thought this ‘review’ of The Dark Crystal was terrible. I remember listening to your discussion on criticism and how you’ve evolved as a movie critic dynamic. Well, I think with this one you’ve taken a major step backwards.
First I’ll give a brief explanation of why I think The Dark Crystal is an artistic masterpiece and then I’ll give my critique of your...criticisms, such as they are.
When I first watched The Dark Crystal as a child my initial reaction mirrored that of when I first saw Star Wars: I was blown away by the incredibly detailed and fantastical world and the brilliant music. I fell in love with the characters, its endless and intricate designs. From its every exotic plant to its every alien bug buzzing around, the film weaves a unique world which feels so very real and alive, yet is completely fabricated. I’ve loved this film ever since.
Yet, it’s the little things, the revealed sensitivity when a Gelfing holds the hand of another, when Kira quivers in fear of the evil Skepsis walking nearby or the way that Jen holds Kira in his arms (believing her to be dead) while tears slip down his cheeks, which really make me believe in this world. There is a genuine surrealism in this film which couldn’t be equaled with the impressive CGI of Inception, a wonder which couldn’t be equaled in Pan’s Labyrinth and a fantasy world believability which couldn’t be equaled in The Lord of the Rings trilogy (of which I am also a fan.)
This was the kind of story which inspired me to be a fantasy writer and of which I strive to capture as one; not the detail-rich backstory of Middle-earth, but the deep, powerful feelings which it evokes in me. Any real artist would tell you that what they want most from their work is not money or fame, it’s to wake people up inside (to spark alive a spirit which easily dies in our materialistic, monotonous and yet over-complicated world.) Real art is mysterious by its very nature because it is inspired; it comes from some place deep inside and desires to speak, whether it be through a pen or a camera.
Real art impacts you and changes you in some way, like this film has done for me.
And now, my critique of your criticism:
Bear in mind, I am a fan of films which I would quickly admit to being “guilty pleasures,” but this is not one of them. Not only do I stand behind my view, both as a writer and as a visual artist, that The Dark Crystal is an artistic masterpiece, but I found a great deal of fault in nearly all of your criticisms against it. I’ll try to keep this brief.
You guys are usually quick to point out to people who don’t work in your industry why things can’t always turn out ideally in a film, often due to budget and time restraints. Yet here you hammer on about how the Gelflings could have been better built, while admitting it would have greatly increased the time and expense of filming them. The creators actually developed them with great care and I always loved how they look. Do they look like puppets? Yes. But then, Ray Harryhausen’s creations look like stop-motion animation and the well-accomplished Gollum looks like CGI. Live action also has its restrains and actors don’t always project perfectly and convey properly to the audience. No film is without such shortcomings.
As for it resembling The Lord of the Rings novel (a point which was mentioned but not hammered,) I know films which resemble them a lot more closely: The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Sorry to sound like a smartass here, but seriously, many works are based on previous ones. Even Shakespeare only wrote one original story: The Tempest. I would still argue that The Dark Crystal brings us a fantasy world which feels more enchanting, rich and mystical than Middle-earth of The Lord of Rings film trilogy.
The Garthom are “obviously” just men moving around inside them, are they? The thought had actually never occurred to me until I watched the behind-the-scenes feature a year ago. They look pretty damn heavy and powerful to me. Remember, most people are not puppeteers and it isn’t so obvious to us, especially if we’re engaged in the movie.
Your skepticism, if it can be called such, of the Skepsis is rather short-sighted. They basically represent evil businessmen, royals and politicians. They all have titles because men of this greedy, narcissistic sort enjoy prestigious titles and attire to feel important. It is also for this reason that they like having slaves and controlling everything around them which they possibly can. The Skepsis don’t fight each other with swords because in real life this sociopathic type don’t either. Look to Medieval war; their soldiers would slaughter their fellow kings’ underlings but they rarely laid a hand on one-another. The Chamberlain is only disrobed and exiled when he fails, for daring to rival the true emperor. This is not much different than when a politician fails in his campaign; one moment he's like a god and the next, his political 'friends' and allies no longer know him.
It seems silly of you to criticize a metaphor-rich film if you have no appreciation of metaphors. Many of us sensitive, artistic types feel that there is something terribly wrong with this world and many mythologies have been written to explore this. Henson and Oz researched religion and mythology before writing the story. They took the angle of there being a kind of schizophrenic split in the nature of those running the world; that although they could be quite human and wise, they could also be very selfish and downright psychotic. The levitating Dark Crystal itself is a metaphor without a specific meaning, as with the One Ring. No one knows precisely what evil is or how it can undone, but both stories take the philosophical view that evil could only be destroyed at the source of its creation.
Jen finding the right shard by playing his flute is a simple metaphor for finding the truth by following your heart. It doesn’t need to be elaborate and I found this to be a touching moment.
As for carrying on about The Muppets, that was downright childish and off-subject. Not that I’d deny you your natural, instinctive fun as human beings, but if you were reviewing a Jim Carrey drama would you keep parodying Ace Ventura?
One of you mentioned Star Wars near the end I sure took notice because this was exactly my thought for the second half of your review: the semblance between the two films and how your criticisms of The Dark Crystal would therefore also apply to Star Wars. Your comment about The Chosen One being “bullshit” would apply equally to Luke Skywalker. Only he could destroy his father and The Emperor and therefore restore balance to the universe, remember? If one is “bullshit” then so is the other. Why not pick fun of Star Wars for resembling old Sci-Fi serials and point out how it essentially ripped off the works of Frank Hebert and Edgar Rice Burroughs? Star Wars was also born of a big imagination and has various mistakes even in its theatrical release, but most would agree that it’s still an artistic masterpiece due to its scope and execution.
I am not a puppeteer but I can notice shortcomings with the puppetry in both The Dark Crystal and in the original Star Wars films. I never cared, because every film has mistakes. To me, both titles exhibit superb talent and have resonated in my heart for many years since I first saw them.
Which brings me to my final point. I agree with you about one thing: the Mystics not informing Jen about the prophecy until the very end was a very silly thing for the wise Mystics to do. It is what is known as a plot hole, and again, Star Wars is no different. Why did Obi-Wan not inform Luke Skywalker that he was the last hope for the universe and would need to learn the ways of The Force until he became a young man and suddenly his help was needed, requiring Luke to learn all the secrets in a short amount of time? It’s a plot hole but it conveniently makes for good drama. All stories have plot holes or minor problems of some kind. If we like the story enough, we overlook it.
These are my opinions. Feel free to agree or disagree.
I also want to say that I've enjoyed listening to most of your reviews, to hear the perspective of the craftsmen who work in film.