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5 Reasons Jim Henson's The Dark Crystal Is an Enduring Classic

In honor of Netflix's Dark Crystal prequel series, we're celebrating one of the greatest dark fantasy films ever made. 

When The Dark Crystal came out way back in 1982, there was nothing quite like it. More than 35 years later, that's still the case—though perhaps not for long. Netflix is hoping to capture the magic of The Dark Crystal in a new original prequel series called The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, due out on the streaming service Friday, August 30th. The new series has a fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes as of now, so it seems Netflix has successfully retained the magic that bewitched audiences in the '80s fantasy.

Netflix’s new series has us thinking about the original film and everything that we loved (and still love) about it. Jim Henson's The Dark Crystal is bizarre, beautiful, and infinitely memorable. More than that, it's a classic! Why? We’re so glad you asked. Here are a few (though by no means all) of the reasons that The Dark Crystal is still powerful, 37 years after it was first released. 

its Production Design Is Totally Unique

dark crystal
  • Photo Credit: Jim Henson Productions

The Dark Crystal is a dead-serious dark fantasy story told with puppets. That's a pretty weird thing for a movie to be! It's so weird, in fact, that it probably should have been impossible to pull off. But Jim Henson, Frank Oz, and their team did it, and they accomplished this movie magic through nearly flawless production design.

The world of The Dark Crystal is made of huge and specular sets and populated by a diverse array of incredibly detailed puppets. The choreography, the skill of the puppeteers, and the brilliance of the character design and scenery come together to make the movie unforgettable. We could list all of the different things that The Dark Crystal gets right in its set design, puppet concepts, and other key parts of the film’s visual appeal, but let’s keep it simple: the overall production design is impeccable.

If there’s one reason to watch The Dark Crystal (again), it’s this. The stunning visuals are the reason this film is a classic, and that's all thanks to the production design and the sweeping vision that the film's creators turned into a reality.

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It's Dark, But Also a Family Film

There are some great dark fantasy films out there, and there are certainly a ton of beloved family films. But The Dark Crystal is memorable in part because it manages to be both: it’s designed to be a family film, but it’s also serious, scary (for kids, anyway), and even sometimes violent.

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You can thank Jim Henson for that. The legendary puppeteer behind the friendly Muppets who populate Sesame Street wanted to take things in a different direction for The Dark Crystal, and he drew on the darkness of traditional fairy tales. Old-school fairy tales have plenty of violence and scary bits in them, and Henson saw those parts as useful—according to Frank Oz, Henson “didn’t think it was healthy for children to always feel safe.”

I’m not going to get into Henson’s takes on child psychology here, but I will say this: The Dark Crystal’s dark, spooky, and violent bits help it stand out as a uniquely serious work of puppetry. The tension between the dark aspects and the film’s family-friendly parts—including its relatively simple plot, its impressive visuals, and, of course, the fact that it is full of puppets—make it much more memorable than it would have been if it had stuck to relatively familiar family-film formulas.

RELATED: What Fairy Tales and Horror Movies Have in Common 

Fizzgig

Dark Crystal Jim Henson
  • Photo Credit: Jim Henson Productions

Fizzgig rules.

They Don't Make 'Em Like That Anymore 

dark crystal
  • Photo Credit: Jim Henson Productions

The Dark Crystal is, above all else, a puppet show. It's the greatest example of Hollywood puppeteering in history, but it didn't exist in isolation. Released in 1982, The Dark Crystal came out three years after The Muppet Movie and two years after Frank Oz brought Yoda to life in The Empire Strikes Back. Steven Spielberg’s E.T. came out the same year as The Dark Crystal; a year later, Return of the Jedi included ambitious puppet sequences, too.

These days, puppeteering isn't nearly as popular. Even Return of the Jedi is now relatively puppet-less—George Lucas' special editions have slapped CGI over some of the puppets' finest moments. That’s a sad thing for puppet fans who aren’t the right age for Sesame Street, and it’s one of the reasons that The Dark Crystal feels like a historical touchstone as well as a really great film. Great film classics feel old in all of the right ways, and watching The Dark Crystal’s puppeteering feels like watching old footage of Babe Ruth or listening to a great symphony. They just don’t make movies like that anymore!

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Its Mythology Continues to Inspire and Evolve

Puppet films may be out of vogue, but that hasn’t kept The Dark Crystal out of our popular culture. The great ones never really go away, right? And while The Dark Crystal has been off the big screen for more than 35 years, it has retained and grown its cult following.

A 2000s The Dark Crystal 2 sequel died in development, but fans have enjoyed everything from picture books to role-playing games over the years. And now, of course, we're about to get the biggest Dark Crystal event since the original film: Netflix's prequel series.  

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The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance will follow the story of three Gelflings who rebel against the Skeksis. The new series will take place prior to the events of the original film. Like the original, The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance will feature detailed puppets and spectacular sets. So, if you want proof that The Dark Crystal is an enduring classic, look no further than the fact that there is still demand for an entire prequel series more than 35 years after the original film debuted!

Featured still from "The Dark Crystal" via Jim Henson Productions

Published on 28 Aug 2019

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