Saturday, 8 November 2014

Animation Saturday: The Dark Crystal (1982)

Welcome to an all new weekly segment where I review animation every Saturday. This little venture is a nod to the old days of Saturday morning cartoons, which provided me with many great stories and characters and fantasies that will live on in my all time favourites forever. Though I will not be reviewing just movies and TV from childhood, I will review anything I remember or have watched recently.

And this first episode falls into the latter, for I only just watched this classic Jim Henson flick yesterday. Ladies and Gentlemen and Third Gender, I give you The Dark Crystal.

I’ll start off by saying the story is incredibly simple and you have a good idea how things might pan out at the very beginning. I do know this film was meant to be for kids but its dark overtones and atmosphere and music certainly made it suitable for the whole family. 

Our hero is Jen, the last remaining Gelfling, an elf-like being whose race was destroyed by the evil Skeksis, who now rule his planet. Jen was rescued from the carnage brought by the Skeksis and was raised by the Mystics, a gentle race of beings who devote all their time to knowledge, philosophy and wisdom. The Skeksis and Mystics appeared on Jen’s homeworld after the eponymous Dark Crystal split and the two races were born out of the imbalance of peace and chaos.

The Mystics and Skeksis are now dying out and it falls to the chosen one to find the missing shard of the Dark Crystal. An ancient prophecy tells of a Gelfling being the one who will bring order to the world – hence the Skeksis’s mission to wipe the race out.

Jen eventually learns of his destiny from his master and sets off to find the missing shard. On the way he questions why he is doing this and eventually discovers the shard in the house of Aughra, a wise old being who observes the planets and universe in her dwelling. 

Jen then escapes a Skeksis attack and then meets with another Glefling called Kira, who also survived the genocide and was raised by the Podling race. This race of small beings gave Kira the ability to communicate with nature and animals, which provides the resources to get to the crystal before the three suns align and bring the end of the world.

Eventually the two Gelflings get to the Crystal after being captured and tortured by the Skeksis and Jen manages to restore the crystal before the apocalypse occurs.

As I said at the start, this is one very simple story but told like an epic, with some of the most detailed and beautiful animation I’ve seen from the Henson universe. The concept of Jen being the chosen one reminded me of the Eternal Champion stories by Michael Moorcock, my all time favourite fantasist. Jen being the one to atone his race and carry the shard of the Dark Crystal made me think of Elric of Melnibone whose life being bound to the runeblade Stormbringer certainly mirrors how one last being might destroy themself in the hope of bringing order to the impending doom.

But what I enjoyed most about this film was the fairly ambiguous ending. We see Jen restoring the crystal and the spirits of the Skeksis and Mystics, together as one, tell of a new world of peace before the film ends on a shot of a new and healthy world.

You could say there is some Adam and Eve symbolism of Jen and Kira and you would assume they went forth and repopulated the world with a new race of Gelflings, but I felt Henson decided this was a story where you can make up the epilogue for yourself.

As a children’s film, I will praise the ambiguous ending for teaching kids to think for themselves on how stories are told and that they don’t always need to be informed about what happens next. I think we have a strong encouragement of creativity with the ending. 

I have read that there is a sequel in the works and a Manga series was released in 2007 – something I would recommend for all you Manga buffs out there.

Overall I was very impressed and my heart was truly touched by this movie. Though to criticise something very small, I did feel a little let down by Kira being damseled at the climax of the movie. Even though she learnt how to use her powers over nature to free herself, I felt having her stabbed in the ending scene was a little too cliché, as it made me think of Jen only carrying out his duties to save her, which is another trope I’m getting sick of. A hero only doing his duty to please his love interest.

However, referring back to the ambiguous ending, we may never know if Jen and Kira fell in love, so who knows what may come if said sequel is made.

And last of all, Fizzgig has to be the cutest sidekick I’ve seen in a long time. He also scared me in his entrance to the movie, and that just goes to show how Henson and Frank Oz were able to make animation that is both heart warming and frightening – something for all in the animation spectrum.

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