Dark Crystal" and "Labyrinth" on DVD
The Muppets Meet
Tolkien & Lucas
Epic in scope and
conception, "The Dark Crystal" is a live action heroic fantasy
peopled (well, maybe not "peopled") with creatures from the
Jim Henson universe. It's a marvelous attempt - and a wonderfully special
DVD - and it succeeds in many ways.
But overall, it leaves
one wishing they'd have waited until they could exploit the range of computer
graphics available now that weren't available then.
That's because, while
the "all Muppet" cast is remarkable, they still end up coming
across as puppets incapable of expressing subtle emotions - as opposed
to the likes of Jar Jar Binks and the other computerized creatures of
"Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace" or Buzz Lightyear
and Woody from "Toy Story."
Still, you have to
give Henson and Associates a lot of credit for even trying - and for achieving
as much as they did.
Henson and fellow
traveler Frank Oz (who also brought Yoda to life) directed this tale of
Jen, one of the last surviving Gelfling, and his quest to repair the Dark
Crystal and therefore reunite the evil Skeksis and the good Mystics into
the single entity they should in reality be.
The movie looks terrific
(as does the DVD), with beautiful matte painted landscapes and a dizzying
array of exotic sets and mythical creatures. The Gelflings are the closest
thing to human to be found in this universe and some of the creatures
will leave you scratching your head in wonder at how they managed to pull
But in the end, a
puppet is a puppet (even Yoda can't move his mouth completely convincingly,
though on the whole he's more believable than the Gelflings) and the movie
tends to take itself so seriously that it ends up being a mite ponderous.
The DVD is in widescreen
only, with Dolby Digital audio and plenty of extras. The goodies include
"The World of the Dark Crystal," a "making of" documentary
that's quite fascinating. There are also deleted scenes, artwork and character
profiles, an audio track that features the musical score only, production
notes, talent files, trailers, and more. There's also a decent set of
In all, "The
Dark Crystal" deserves to be seen, if for no other reason than as
a snapshot of the transition period from live action to digital movie
making. If it were to be made today, it would probably come from someone
like Pixar, and would probably be a better movie technically.
But Henson, Oz, et
al did it first and pushed the envelope about as far as it would go at
Good for them!
The Dark Crystal,
from Columbia Tristar Home Video
approx. 94 min. Widescreen (2.35:1), Dolby Digital
Produced by Jim Henson and Gary Kurtz, Story by Jim Henson, Screenplay
by David Odell
Directed by Jim Henson and Frank Oz
Labyrinth, which teams
Jim Henson with George Lucas, is a more satisfying fantasy than "The
Not only is it just
as ambitious, but this time around it manages to include some welcome
humor, something that was unfortunately missing from the very serious
Labyrinth also features
some real, human actors (and David Bowie, too), which gives the movie
a more realistic grounding in reality - thereby making the fantasy even
more believable, since you have some people you can root for instead of
The story follows
Sarah (Jennifer Connelly), an imaginative teenager stuck at home baby-sitting
her baby brother when she'd rather be doing just about anything else.
In frustration, she calls out to the Goblins to take little Toby away
- then is stunned to find it really happens and she has to enter the fantasy
world of the Labyrinth on a quest to get him back.
Enter the fantasy
part of the film, which is populated with all kinds of weird and wonderful
creatures, some of whom are friends of Sarah and some of whom are hell
bent to prevent her from saving the kid from the Goblin King (Bowie).
The production as
a whole, from the sets to the special effects, creatures and performances,
is quite spectacular - with the exception of Bowie, whose Jareth the bad
guy is very laid back and restrained. Labyrinth needed a larger than life
villain, like Margaret Hamilton's Wicked Witch of the West, but instead
it got a rock star. Too bad.
The script is by Terry
Jones, of Monty Python fame, which may explain the much lighter touch
on the word processor than was exhibited in "Dark Crystal."
But there's still enough action and betrayal to keep fantasy fans happy.
The widescreen DVD
is in Dolby Digital (though it's really 2 channel Dolby Surround, without
much surround sound) and on the whole looks and sounds great. Liner notes
are more extensive than usual and you also get a "Inside the Labyrinth"
documentary on the making of the film, and it's well worth your time if
you're curious about how they pulled off such a production. Other extras
include the usual chapter stops, trailers, and talent files.
So while both of these
epic, heroic fantasies are well worth seeing - and are terrific examples
of how Henson and Lucas push the state of the art, "Labyrinth"
is the more satisfying of the two.
Labyrinth, from Columbia
Tristar Home Video
approx. 102 min. Widescreen (2.35:1), Dolby Digital
Executive Producer George Lucas, Produced by Eric Rattray, Story by Dennis
Lee and Jim Henson, Screenplay by Terry Jones
Directed by Jim Henson
Tell us at TechnoFile what YOU think