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The Dark Crystal"The 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 them off.

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 liner notes.

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 the time.

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 Dark Crystal."

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 "Crystal."

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 just puppets.

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


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Updated May 13, 2006