The Dark Crystal: Collector's Edition (1982)
Dolby Digital Trailer
Notes-The Mithra Treatment
Featurette-Making Of-The World Of "The Dark Crystal"
Notes-Character Drawings And Profiles
|Year Of Production||1982|
|RSDL / Flipper||Dual Layered||Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||2,4,5||Directed By||
Sony Pictures Home Entertain
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||None||English Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)|
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||2.35:1|
|Video Format||576i (PAL)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||2.35:1||Miscellaneous|
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
With his second feature Muppet movie a box-office success, Jim Henson started looking to produce a magnum opus. A legacy work. Something produced on a huge scale, and that could be recognised as uniquely his. A piece of pure fantasy that, he felt, would stand the test of time.
Sitting down to write, Henson started to build a world rather than to write a story. Creatures to populate the world were first to come, then their history. Finally a mythology was overlaid, and a story began to emerge. Long-time collaborator Frank Oz, illustrator Brian Froud and Henson’s Creature Workshop set to designing the world’s ecology and filling in the pieces that were necessary for the work to look like more than a British sound stage, and finally the film of The Dark Crystal started to emerge.
Although the movie itself is made for children, and does pander to them – the story itself is very linear, you can tell who the good guys are and who the bad guys are by looking at them and there’s little time wasted on character development – The Dark Crystal has become a minor cult movie due to the development of one of the most complex fantasy movie worlds to predate the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
As previously mentioned, the story is straightforward. Long ago, the aggressive, cruel skeksis (lizard creatures who look like diseased vultures, but who are actually quite snappy dressers) unseated the mystics (a shamanic race of slow-moving, four-armed creatures that resemble nothing so much as aging hippies) from their post as guardians of the Dark Crystal. The skeksis’ stewardship has overseen the decline of the world, which is growing increasingly desolate, and both they and the mystics are dying out.
With this much of the back story established, we are introduced to Jen, a gelfling who lives in the charge of the mystics. The mystics’ leader, as he lays dying, sets Jen a task – to retrieve a shard of the Dark Crystal from a creature known as Aughra, then to bring it to the skeksis’ castle and repair the crystal there at the conjunction of the world’s three suns.
From here the quest proceeds along relatively standard lines for a movie of this genre, but this really isn’t what draws audiences back to the film. Be warned that this movie is self-consciously grandiose, and moments of comedy relief are few and far between, but this was Henson’s big stage to create a fantasy reality that an audience could believe might exist, and the fact that he manages to achieve this task means that quibbles about the simplicity of plot or dialogue are little more than churlish as they fail to grasp the essence of the movie. Given the state of special effects at the time, puppetry was as good a method as any in bringing the world to life while retaining a level of artificiality that prevents the viewer from dismissing it as unrealistic and imbues the piece with a timelessness that effects-laden pieces produced as little as four or five years ago have already lost.
The greatest problem with the video of The Dark Crystal has been, and remains, the fact that the film produced is actually pretty shocking. That said, it's not going to be sufficient to drive your kids running from the disc, but the artefacts are quite noticeable. The DVD transfer is quite good, but there's not much to work with unless the print is remastered, and perhaps manually cleaned.
This disc is presented in its original 2.35:1 ratio, and is 16x9 enhanced.
The disc is relatively sharp and grain-free. Although there are few blacks, there is a substantial amount of gloom and the shadows are murky rather than showing any detail. Although there are few pure blacks in the movie, those that exist show a small amount of low-level noise.
While the movie is generally excellently coloured with good contrast, a substantial issue exists in the greys; namely that the film appears to have degraded into sepia tones. In sections of the movie where stone walls take up much of the picture, such as the entry to Aughra's home at 23:57, large sections of the centre-left of the picture have become brown.
Film artefacts, both black and white, abound throughout the film, from the Universal pre-credit onwards. These are substantially more common than one would expect, and it is hard to find a full second of the movie that doesn't have some form of visible film artefact. There are occasional, but repeated, analogue tracking errors and where special effects are used, such as 82:07, where an effect is made by overlaying films, telecine wobble between the two is particularly bad.
The English subtitle track does an excellent job of transliterating the English spoken throughout the movie and captures every word except when more than one person is speaking, but does not make reference to any of the noises in the movie, and words spoken in other languages are not acknowledged at all.
There is no RDSL change in the feature.
The sole audio track is actually quite excellent, especially given the age of the source material
There is a single Dolby Digital 5.1 track, encoded at 384 Kb/s. There is no commentary track, despite the disclaimer before the feature stating that opinions in the commentary are not held by the studio.
Dialogue is clearly presented and free of clicks and pops, but even for a Muppet film the synchronisation of audio to speaking actions is relatively poor.
The background score is unfortunately muffled, which is exacerbated by the amount of time spent without dialogue.
The surround channels are used for effects, and certainly add to the atmosphere, but background music is kept to the front speakers.
The subwoofer is used for sound effects and the lower end of the score, but sounds duller than it could be.
|Surround Channel Use|
Before the feature, a short piece reminds you of the existence of Dolby Digital sound. Fortunately, this can be skipped through.
Hitchcock coined the term 'maguffin' for bits and pieces in a movie that are important to the characters, but pointless to the audience - unrelated to the goings-on at hand, but important for giving a sense that a reality exists outside the ninety minutes that are shown. This treatment, Jim Henson's notes in creating the world in which the film is set, don't necessarily mesh with the final film, but is a fascinating insight into the level of thought that Henson put into creating his world, very little of which would ever make it to the screen.
Sketches made for the Creature Workshop to build to. Cute, but not particularly informative
A handful of individual storyboards from the movie
An almost hour-long promotional documentary, which doesn't give particular insight into the process, but goes a long way to showing the passion that Henson had for this movie.
A series of both deleted scenes and early versions of scenes that remain within the movie. Highlights include original versions of scenes where skeksis speak in a non-English language and scenes where Frank Oz voices the character of Aughra, leading a friend of mine to comment that Aughra resembled nothing more than "Yoda in a bad frock". Some of these come from work prints and are of relatively poor quality.
Sketches and character notes detailing each of the individual mystics and skeksis. Again, little if any of the notes translated to actions or dialogue, but were used to create individualised puppets that further round out the reality of Henson's world.
A teaser and a regular trailer, both in quite poor quality.
Brief biographies of Henson, Oz and Brian Froud, the conceptual designer behind the movie.
NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.
There are several versions available. The Region 2 version is the same as this, except that it includes a German stereo audio track and a French and Spanish dual mono audio track, but includes only English, German, French, Spanish and Dutch subtitles rather than the large number of subtitles in Region 4.
There are three separate versions available in Region 1. A Superbit edition that is extra-free, but has an English DTS 5.1 audio track and English and Spanish (only) subtitle track. The "Special Edition" includes the extras featured above, as well as the European trailer and trailers for Labyrinth and Jim Henson's Storyteller, but is missing the storyboard gallery and the character illustrations. In addition to the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track, this version has a Dolby Digital Pro Logic 2.0 track, the original 2.0 dual mono track and an isolated score soundtrack. Its subtitles are in English and Spanish only. Finally, the Region 1 "Collector's Edition" is the same as ours, except it is shown in NTSC format (all Region 1 versions of this disc are NTSC), includes the European, Labyrinth and Jim Henson's Storyteller trailers, English and Spanish (only) subtitles, the Pro Logic 2.0 and Dual Mono audio tracks, includes a senitype film cell and a physical reproduction of Jim Henson's original notebook. Note: although I understand that something similar to the notebook reproduction is included with the Region 4 version, none was provided for review, so I'm detailing the differences I know about.
From this, unless you require subtitles in one of the languages catered for on the Region 4 disc other than English, I would have to recommend one of the three Region 1 versions.
Although let down by the original video master, this is an entrancing film for anyone who's a fan of the fantasy genre, well-transferred and packed with a number of extras that provide actual insight into the making of the movie.
|DVD||Pioneer DV-535, using S-Video output|
|Display||Panasonic TX-86PW300A. This display device is 16x9 capable.|
|Audio Decoder||Pioneer VSX-512.|
|Speakers||Wharfedale Diamond 8.3 fronts, Wharfedale Diamond 8.2 rears, Wharfedale Diamond 8 centre, Wharfedale 12" sub|