- Nov 15, 2001
- Real Name
- Neil Middlemiss
Lisa Henson, CEO of The Jim Henson Company and daughter of the great Jim Henson, spoke with Home Theater Forum about The Dark Crystal, its upcoming 4K UHD release, and the planned Fathom event returning the film to the big screen. The Dark Crystal is the seminal 1982 live-action film featuring only puppet characters. Dark, adventurous, and deeply memorable, the film has remained an influence on other productions. Later this year, a prequel series for Netflix (The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance) is due, proving that the world of The Dark Crystal is something the world still hungers for.
The Dark Crystal will play in U.S. movie theaters on Sunday, February 25, Wednesday, February 28, and two new dates, Saturday March 3, and Tuesday March 6, at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. local time (each day). Tickets can be purchased online now at www.FathomEvents.com or at participating theater box offices.
The Dark Crystal debuts on 4K Ultra HD™ and returns to Blu-ray™ and digital on March 6 from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.
HTF: I first saw The Dark Crystal in the UK in '83 in the UK. It would have been just before my eighth birthday. It scared me to death, and I loved it. It has stuck with me through the years, but what is it about the film that has resonated and endured, do you think. What do you think are the mix of ingredients, or what is it that allows that film to stand out and still matter in today's world, where there's a 1,000 options for things to watch, but the world is still hungry for more Dark Crystal universe? What is it?
“The Skeksis are so compellingly and fascinatingly villainous, and the Gelfling are so lovely, and I don't want to say they're virtuous and heroic because it's better than that. They're so gentle and connected to nature in a way that's so charming...”
Lisa Henson: Well, gosh, I have so many things to say about that. But one thing is, there may be thousands of things to choose from, but there are not thousands of all-puppet spectaculars to choose from. So in a way, The Dark Crystal is still very unique. If your tastes run towards feature films with puppets, there aren't as many. And this and Team America [World Police], and well there are more technically. But let's say the only two broadly released feature films that are all puppets. So it's still a very unique. It was a unique proposition in its day, and it still really is because just having only puppets for the audience to connect to, rather than human actors and actresses, was risky, but it worked. And audiences responded to the movie even then. It's kind of a misconception that the film wasn't successful in the day. I think Labyrinth was such a spectacular flop that people think that both movies failed, but interestingly enough, Dark Crystal was pretty successful, and particularly internationally.
And it was because it was successful that Jim was able to raise the money with George Lucas for Labyrinth. So it did connect with audiences in its original release. And I think it was probably the very archetypal nature of the story. The Skeksis are so compellingly and fascinatingly villainous, and the Gelfling are so lovely, and I don't want to say they're virtuous and heroic because it's better than that. They're so gentle and connected to nature in a way that's so charming. The film had this kind of archetypal, mythical quality where you almost would feel like it was based on something famous, but it wasn't. They actually just really set their mind to trying to create something with a classic-feeling storyline.
HTF: And the film establishes that world and that mythology very quickly. You're drawn in very, very quickly. I know the narration at the beginning of the film helps, of course, but once you're there, you're there and absolutely want to see what the world is all about. I think part of that comes from the level of detail that went into it. There's no stone unturned in thinking through the creativity. One of my favorite sequences now is in the forest, there's a lot of panning shots and through those shots, we see strange creatures. We see a big rock that closes on another creature because it's not a big rock. There are all sorts of different life forms and different flora. It reminded me of James Cameron's Avatar, and how he let his imagination run down all the way to the ecosystem, and all the different creatures and plants, and they would behave in a certain way. And it struck me that there’s traceable line to what was happening in The Dark Crystal. Do you see those influences?
“There's something very wish-fulfilling about getting to step into that world. It's so beautiful, and the watercolor pallet that was used in these productions, it's almost like it's a better place to live....”
Lisa Henson: When I saw Avatar, I did make that connection myself, personally. I can't vouch for whether Dark Crystal was an influence on James Cameron but it seemed he was going through a similar kind of thought process in conceiving of his world. One thing I know that the two films have in common is that viewers sort of want to go and live in that world. We heard that so much at the height of Avatar's popularity that people wished they would live there. And similarly, there are so many fans of not just The Dark Crystal, but the whole Froud world, like what Brian and Wendy Froud have created through all the things that they have illustrated. There's something very wish-fulfilling about getting to step into that world. It's so beautiful, and the watercolor pallet that was used in these productions, it's almost like it's a better place to live. So you kind of want to go where the plants are sentient, and where everything has a spirit, and the Gelfling are in touch with nature in the way that they are. So it has an aspirational side to it.
HTF: The Dark Crystal sought to honor The Brothers Grimm approach: dark and scary stories that children can be scared and hide behind their covers when watching a little bit. Do you think we've lost a little bit of that? I know that even the time when The Dark Crystal was being made and came out, there wasn't a lot of that going on, and I don't know that there's been a lot of that since. Maybe Labyrinth in '86 was a little bit creepy at times, but not scary and dark and mysterious and shadowy in the way that The Dark Crystal was. And I just don't know that I can point to anything out there today. I have a five-year-old that I would want to show him in a couple of years time to give him the chills that I got when I was seven or eight. Do you think there's an opportunity to get back to that?
Lisa Henson: I don't necessarily want to say that that's the case. I think at Disney and at Pixar, in both of those animation houses, they believe that they are delivering movies that work on that level. When you hear their interviews, whether it's Up or Big Hero 6, there are films that have very dark storylines in them that are family movies [laughter]. So I could see that embracing of adult themes, of loss or sadness, in current movies today, but the sort of design aesthetic of being physically dark and physically creepy like The Dark Crystal was, I'm not sure anybody else is doing exactly that [laughter].
HTF: Well, let's talk about the 4K Ultra High-Def version of The Dark Crystal, which is getting ready to come out on March 6. Sony's been industry-leading in the quality of their catalog titles on that new format, and I think The Dark Crystal's a great candidate for that new medium. How did that come to be considered for release for one of their early catalog releases? And what can you tell us about the work that went into readying it?
“[T]here's some really, really beautiful shots of the crystal catching the light from the three suns and sort of giving off a kind of beautiful, crystalline light that we didn't see ever before”
Lisa Henson: Well, this is a follow-up to Labyrinth, which was done previously. So I think Sony wanted to see how it all went with Labyrinth. And we were really excited about that team at Sony. They worked so hard on the movie. I had not actually ever met people who did restoration before I met these guys, and it was amazing to see how they had lived with the movie for so long and they knew it better than anybody could know it, except for Jim and Frank, who directed the original. So it was exciting for me to get to meet them. My brother, Brian, worked with them much more closely. But it was interesting to see, as well, what the Sony team themselves were excited about. And I could point you, specifically, in the direction of the crystal itself because there's some really, really beautiful shots of the crystal catching the light from the three suns and sort of giving off a kind of beautiful, crystalline light that we didn't see ever before. So what they pointed out to me, I appreciated that thought, it was kind of amazing.
HTF: Oh, that's exciting. And it's going back on the big screen Sunday, February 25th, then again on Wednesday the 28th. I think there is a 2:00 PM and a 7:00 PM showing both days. How exciting is it for you to have this film back on the big screen for fans of the film to rediscover and families to discover?
“[T]he Sony product is primarily for home entertainment and it's probably the best of the best. But it's also fun to see it in a theatre as it was originally intended to be seen”
Lisa Henson: I think it's great to see it on the big screen because the sets that were built are unlike the kind of-- when you talked about things that have been lost, the art of building giant fantasy sets-- it's not completely lost, but it's not done very often anymore. And so for filmgoers to go to a movie and see these huge, detailed, beautiful sets where every single thing had to be built because it's not like you can rent a side table or a sofa for a Dark Crystal set. Everything had to be made for the movie. And so just going to see the level of handmade production on-screen-- seeing it on the bigger screen is even more exciting. Obviously, the Sony product is primarily for home entertainment and it's probably the best of the best. But it's also fun to see it in a theatre as it was originally intended to be seen. So I think both ways of watching the film are great.
HTF: And the puppetry still stands out to me today. It still astonishes me, what they were able to do through clever camera trickery. And by that, I mean where they placed the camera, how they did it, the cuts they did to keep the performers hidden, and the choreography of some of those shots.
Lisa Henson: Did you just watch the movie (laughter)? Because when we, as a group, watched it on the big screen most recently, it was kind of funny how many of us started following the “cowboy” shots that were done (on screen switch between actor and stunt performer). It was a whole team of us that came out of the movie going, "Did you catch that one?" And, "How about that one?" We love those shots because, of course, with puppetry you can have multiples of the same character, and so they can disappear in one part of the frame and come up in another part. And it was fun to watch them do that.
HTF: Very cleverly done. And I wonder, the level of detail in the costumes and each creature and all the sets, is that approach something that you will be ushering in with the prequel series if you're able to talk about that at all?
“[W]hen we first met with Netflix, they challenged us and said, "Can you do a series that looks like the movie?" And we took a big gulp and said, "Well, of course we can [laughter]."
Lisa Henson: Well, I can say something about that because when we first met with Netflix, they challenged us and said, "Can you do a series that looks like the movie?" And we took a big gulp and said, "Well, of course we can [laughter]." And the amazing thing is, we can. And it just means building sets that are as fantastic as the first sets and building puppets that are as detailed and expressive as the first puppets. And it's very exciting to be working to the same level of finish as the original feature film.
HTF: That's great. Finally, I'm a huge fan of film scores, and 10 years ago, La-La Land Records released a 25th-anniversary edition of Trevor Jones score for The Dark Crystal. It’s a marvelous score. Incredibly luscious, and wonderfully sort of textured score. What do you think about when you hear that score for this film?
“At the time, my father was really excited about Trevor's use of unconventional instrumentation and not making it just the typical array of instruments that would be in a symphonic score.”
Lisa Henson: We all love it. Everybody loves the Trevor Jones score and the theme was absolutely beautiful and memorable. At the time, my father was really excited about Trevor's use of unconventional instrumentation and not making it just the typical array of instruments that would be in a symphonic score. And I think a lot of that has been done since then, so when you hear it now it doesn't sound as different as it did in the day. But it was unusual to do that kind of instrumentation, and Trevor went on to do Last of the Mohicans [with Randy Edelman], which made a lot of sense because he was working, as I said, with different kinds of sounds. So yeah, I think the score is a classic and deserves to be listened to.
HTF: Well, thank you very much. Good luck with the Fathom event. I'm looking forward to seeing it on the 4K when it comes out, and the very best of luck to you in the future.
Lisa Henson: Thank you for writing about it. We appreciate that.