The Dark Crystal (PG)
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So... this is from 1982, when I would've been seven years old. I have no idea when I first saw it, though. I suppose I must have been pretty young, though it may have been a few years later, at least. In any event... the movie holds great nostalgic value for me. And looking at it again now, in 2012, I feel like the level of world-building that went into it makes it something of a precursor to Avatar. In fact, I'd probably say it's better than that movie, if not as beautiful.
Anyway, it begins with narration about how a thousand years ago, the Dark Crystal (which apparently was a great power source or something) cracked, and a shard was lost. And two new races appeared: the evil Skeksis and the peaceful Mystics. (I should mention that there's a lot of detail about this world that isn't in the movie, but which was revealed in like books or something, none of which I've ever read. So apparently the Mystics are also called urRu, which is a word I never heard in the movie. I should also say that while watching the movie this time, it seemed to me that "Skeksis" was both plural and singular, whereas before I always thought the singular was "Skeksi.") Anyway, the world is not as nice as it once was, since the Skeksis seized power. They live in the castle where the Dark Crystal is, but it seems like they've spent the last millennium depleting the world's resources, I guess. Btw, it doesn't seem like these two races ever did any reproducing; in fact I don't think they even have genders, unless they're all male. But they're very long-lived. But, not immortal, since now both races are down to their last ten members. The emperor of the Skeksis is dying, as is the wisest of the Mystics. (We soon find that when a member of one race dies, a member of the other race dies almost simultaneously.)
The narrator also introduces us to a Gelfling named Jen. He is apparently the last of his race, since the Skeksis had killed off all the Gelflings because of a prophecy about one of them destroying the Skeksis. And Jen had been raised by the Mystics, particularly the wisest of them, who now tells Jen that he must search for the shard, which is in the possession of someone named Aughra. Jen must use the shard to save their world, before the planet's three suns converge. And after Jen's master dies, he sets of to fulfill his destiny. Meanwhile, after the emperor dies, there's a power struggle among the Skeksis. I never heard anyone, either Skeksis or Mystic, called by name in the movie, but there was one Skeksis who was referred to as "Chamberlain" (who has an unforgettable whimpering sound he's constantly making). He wanted to be the new emperor, but lost in a "trial by stone" ritual against another Skeksis (who hated Chamberlain's whimper). So the Chamberlain was banished.
Then the Skeksis see a vision of Jen in the Crystal, so they send out these big, scary, buglike/crablike things called Garthim, to attack. (I mean seriously, when I was a kid, I found the Garthim terrifying... and hell, if I ran across a bunch of them even now, I'm sure I'd be pretty scared.) Anyway, Jen finds Aughra pretty quickly. She's like this crazy old astronomer or whatever, and she can take her one remaining eye out of her head. And she prattles on about the Great Conjunction which happened 1000 years ago (which apparently caused the Crystal to crack), and says there's another Great Conjunction coming up soon. She dumps out a box of crystal shards, and Jen has to figure out which one is the one he needs. Just as he does so, the Garthim attack, and destroy Aughra's home. So, Jen has to escape before Aughra can tell him what to actually do with the shard.
The next day, the Mystics apparently sense the Dark Crystal calling them, so they begin a slow march to the castle of the Skeksis. Meanwhile, Jen finds himself in a strange swamplike jungle or whatever, where he soon encounters an amusingly ferocious but cute little critter named Fizzgig, who is like the pet of someone named Kira... a female Gelfling (who's actually surprisingly pretty, for an elflike alien puppet). They're both surprised to meet each other, each having thought they were the last of their kind. When their hands touch, they experience a memory-sharing phenomenon called "dreamfasting." So they (and we) get to learn a bit about their lives up to that point. After their families were killed by Garthim when they were very young, Jen was taken in by the Mystics, while Kira was taken in by a race called Podlings (who are still sometimes captured by Garthim). Kira takes Jen back to the village of the Podlings, who have like a party or something (Jen doesn't understand their language, but Kira does, of course). The Podlings seem very fun-loving and musical; they rather put me in mind of Fraggles, after a fashion. But the party is soon crashed by Garthim. Jen and Kira might have been captured, but Chamberlain shows up and stops the Garthim from taking the Gelflings, who run away.
Jen and Kira come to the ruins of a Gelfling settlement or something, where Jen reads a prophecy that gives him a slightly better idea of what he's supposed to do. Chamberlain again shows up, begging them to come to the castle to make peace, but they refuse, and Kira summons creatures called landstriders to carry her, Jen, and Fizzgig to the castle, to try to fulfill the prophecy. Meanwhile, we see what the Skeksis do with the Podlings they capture, and it ain't pretty. And... well, I kinda feel like I've given away a bit too much of the plot, but I also feel like I've left out a lot of details, and I don't want to really say anything more about where the story goes from this point on. But the end is, uh... interesting. It makes sense, given the things we'd learned, but still kinda weird.
Anyway... the whole world that was created, including the various creatures and races and plants and such, it's all pretty amazing. And the score is awesome. The story... is interesting. I might appreciate that more if I read some other things that give more of a sense of history and everything, but the movie itself... felt a little bit simple to me, in terms of the action and... what actually happens. It's clear that there's a lot of complex stuff going on behind the story we actually get to see, though. A lot of backstory. Meanwhile, I do rather like the characters. Both the Mystics and Skeksis seem to have intriguing societies, of which we don't get to see much. (I think anthropologists could have a field day.) Jen and Kira are decent characters, and I always loved Chamberlain, as a villain. And Fizzgig is funny. And so is Aughra. And I feel like I'm forgetting stuff I wanted to say....
In 2019, a prequel series debuted on Netflix, but I don't know when I might get a chance to see that.