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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
"When single shines the triple sun what was sundered and undone shall be whole. The two made one by Gelfling hand or else by none."
DVD ReviewAs I've touched upon in other reviews I've written, I believe there was once a time when true visionaries in cinema worked on children's films designed to be more serious, stimulating, and potentially exciting than the average fare. Like many children from different generations, I grew up on the work of Jim Henson and his groundbreaking shows like Sesame Street and The Muppet Show which, even today, are loads of fun to watch even as an adult. The Dark Crystal marked a movement by Henson to make a film for younger audiences, but those slightly more advanced than may have attended the Muppet films and such; something dealing with dark fantasy, mysticism and magic. The end result is one of the greatest fantasy films of the 1980s, and truly a wondrous kids movie to boot. Done entirely with either hand-operated puppets or full-size costume puppets on scaled sets, the film was a radical vision of a strange, new place that kept its reality all to itself thanks to skilled use of these special effects.
The Dark Crystal is set in a world where the two central races are that of the Skeksis and the Mystics. The Mystics are devoted to peaceful Earth magic and harmony with nature while the cruel, reptile-like Skeksis are interested only in power and domination over the land as they rule from their cold castle. At one time, the two races were one (the Urskeks), but when their great crystal of power was cracked, these "old ones" split into two halves and the Dark Crystal powered the Skeksis. Once there was a prophecy that a small Gelfling (one of the races in this fantasy realm) would eventually cause the downfall of the Skeksis and a re-birth of the Urskeks, so the Skeksis had all Gelflings killed off...or so they thought. As the film opens, we meet young Jen, the last Gelfling in the world who has been raised by the Mystics and taught their ways and their magic. As the leaders of both the Skeksis and Mystics are dying (their fates are interrelated as they are still one in a spiritual sense), Jen is told that he must go forth and locate the broken piece of the Dark Crystal in order to heal it and restore order to the world. It's a huge burden laid on his shoulders but he bears it well. So, he sets out on a quest to bring about the destruction of the Skeksis, but the problem is, they know what's going on. These evil, power-mad creatures now use their Garthim (giant, roving beetles) to hunt him down and kill him, thus ending the propehcy.
None of this would be believable at all if it weren't for the amazing artistry of Jim Henson, Frank Oz, and the rest of the crew putting together this amazing story. From the smallest details on a costume or set, to the most majestic matte-paintings and special effects, the film is oozing with atmosphere and detail, thanks in part to the work of artist Brian Froud, who contributed to the overall look and design of the film. The photography also adds a lot to the film, allowing the puppets and marionettes to seem very much a real and comfortable part of this environment. Because of this "otherworldly-ness," the minor flaws in the film are totally forgettable. If anything, the story is a little simplistic, but then, it has to be a bit shortened in order to run a reasonable length of time for your average "kids" film, which is usually 90 minutes. That said, this is also a relatively dark film; not particularly for small children in the way, for example, a Pixar film would be. It is this interrelation between darkness and light, however, that drives the simply beauty of the film, which is all about that root element of pure storytelling.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B+
Image Transfer Review: I hate to say it, but unless I'm missing something, I really detect no major difference between this disc and the original Dark Crystal release. While the source print could have used some more cleaning up here-and-there (it can get quite dirty and grainy in some places), it looks about as good as the original disc with no real upgrade in quality. Some of the aliasing is lessened, probably as a result of the lower compression and new approach to the DVD. Differences in version aside, fans should be pleased with wonderfully rich colors, nice black level detail (it is a rather dark film), and adherence to the original 2:35:1 aspect ratio, which allows long-time fans to finally enjoy the real composition.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: Both the Dolby 5.1 and DTS mixes are based, I presume, on the 5.1 track done for the original DVD. The track is actually the original Dolby Surround with a newly remastered and remixed 5.1 musical score. Again, I really didn't discern any major differences between the 5.1 here and the 5.1 on the original disc, although any fan of the film will notice the upgrade to the musical score (by Trevor Jones), which comes beautifully out of the entire soundstage to surround the viewer. The two tracks sound pretty much the same, with the DTS version coming across slightly more "airy" and in need of some more bass (you'll want to turn up the bass a little on your system, or up the subwoofer). While there is little directionality or pure surround effects, the soundtrack is still quite clean and clear. It is a great piece of mastering work that adds new life into the old film by just making a few subtle touches.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in Englishk, French, Spanish with remote access
Extras Review: Being a Superbit disc, there are no additional features to take up room on the disc. The menus are slightly based on the original disc, only now using the metallic, Superbit imagery as it's basis.
Extras Grade: D-
Final CommentsThe Superbit version of Dark Crystal makes a nice entry into the series, but to be honest, nothing here really screams "must buy!" when compared to the original DVD, which had the original Worlds of Dark Crystal "making-of" program, as well as deleted footage and alternate scenes when the script was still using subtitling for the Skeksis so they had their own language.
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