Jim Henson's fantasy epic The Dark Crystal
doesn't take place a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, but like Star Wars
it takes the audience to a place that exists only in the imagination and, for an hour and a half, on the screen. Recalling the worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien, Henson tells the story of a race of grotesque birdlike lizards called the Skeksis, gnomish dragons who rule their fantastic planet with an iron claw. A prophecy tells of a Gelfling (a small elfin being) who will topple their empire, so in their reign of terror they have exterminated the race, or so they think. The orphan Jen, raised in solitude by a race of peace-loving wizards called the Mystics, embarks on a quest to find the missing shard of the Dark Crystal (which gives the Skeksis their power) and restore the balance of the universe. Henson and codirector Frank Oz have pushed puppetry into a new direction: traditional puppets, marionettes, giant bodysuits, and mechanical constructions are mixed seamlessly in a fantasy world of towering castles, simple huts, dank caves, a giant clockwork observatory, and a magnificent landscape that seem to have leaped off the pages of a storybook. Muppet fans will recognize many of the voice actors--a few characters sound awfully close to familiar comic creations--but otherwise it's a completely alien world made familiar by a mythic quest that resonates through stories over the ages.
The DVD features the 50-minute documentary The World of the Dark Crystal, with interviews and illuminating behind-the-scenes glimpses. The VHS edition includes a shortened 15-minute version of the documentary. --Sean Axmaker
The greater definition and richer colors of the Dark Crystal
Superbit DVD make it much more pleasant to watch than the Special Edition DVD. The print, however, is the same, with several scratches on the film still showing. The new DTS track is good, but the original Dolby Digital 5.1 was good as well. As with most Superbits, the higher bit rate and DTS track mean the disc doesn't have enough storage capacity for extra features, and in this case the loss is significant: the Special Edition has an hourlong making-of documentary, deleted scenes, artwork, and an isolated music score. So aficionados might want to upgrade to the Superbit edition for the film while holding on to the original for the features, although the picture quality of the documentary and deleted scenes is so poor that watching it after getting used to the Superbit picture might make one's eyes water. --David Horiuchi