Sony Pictures Home Entertainment commemorates the 35th Anniversary of The Dark Crystal with a restored 4K UHD Blu-ray release which includes a new Dolby Atmos soundtrack.
Note: The following contains excerpts from my 2008 review of the original Blu-ray release.
In 1982, Jim Henson (with Muppets partner Frank Oz) directed what was at the time a groundbreaking film, a story told entirely through complex puppetry. As The Dark Crystal begins, we are told through narration that long ago the Crystal of Truth, which controls the forces of nature, was cracked, causing devastation throughout the land and splitting the race known as the urSkeks into two races, the evil lizard-like Skeksis and the good turtle-like Mystics. The Skeksis discover an ancient prophecy promising the restoration of the crystal by a Gelfling (the closest creature to a human) during the Great Conjunction (when the planet’s three suns are aligned), and exterminate all of the Gelflings, or so they believed.
As the Great Conjunction approaches, one of the last remaining Gelflings, Jen (performed by Jim Henson), is given the task of finding the missing shard and repairing the crystal by the Mystics, who raised and protected him. On his quest, he meets up with Aughra (performed by Frank Oz), an astrologer who happens to have the missing shard in her possession. With the shard in hand, Jen continues his quest to the Dark Crystal, and meets Kira, a female Gelfling. Meanwhile, the Mystics begin their agonizingly slow journey to the Dark Crystal. Eventually, Jen arrives to fulfill his destiny and restore both the Crystal and the land.
As a movie, The Dark Crystal is often more style than substance, a great feast for the eyes. What Henson and his creature shop were able to create are astonishing, even today. The storyline is rather dark and perhaps a bit too intellectual for a younger audience, and I was more appreciative of it when I first viewed the original Blu-ray release in 2008 and again 10 years later with this new 4k restoration. My only complaint, still, is the film’s pacing, which at times moves as slow as the Mystics themselves. When I first received this movie for review back in 2008, I thought the 93 minute running time was a misprint, as I remembered this film running closer to 2 ½ hours. But alas, my teenage memory had more to do with the pacing than the actual running time.
For those of you wondering, yes, the Universal logo at the beginning has been left intact.
Similar to the 30th Anniversary UHD release of Labyrinth in 2016, Sony has gone back to the 35mm camera negative and scanned it at 4K with additional cleanup and color grading using HDR10, all under the supervision of Jim Henson’s son, Brian. The results are simply breathtaking! From the very first frames colors are much more vibrant, with varying shades of deep purples in the crystal, lush green grasses, deep oranges in the sand paintings, yet never appearing artificially enhanced. Detail is also extraordinary, particularly in the textures of the skin on the Skeksis and individual grains of sand on the landscapes. Contrast also gets a nice boost, with deep blacks that maintain intricate shadow details even during the much darker sequences. To top it all off, film grain remains intact, fluctuating slightly during shots with optical effects (this was a product of the 1980s, way before digital compositing).
This new 4K UHD release also receives a new Dolby Atmos mix that is also quite breathtaking and very immersive (unfortunately, the Blu-ray only receives a DTS-HD MA 5.1 track). Heights are used to place sounds like thunder directly overhead (on the core TrueHD 7.1 and the Blu-ray’s DTS-HD MA 5.1 tracks, the thunder is directed more to the rears). It’s a nice improvement upon what was a very active track for its time, with intelligible dialogue that never gets drowned out by the rest of the mix.
There are no special features on the UHD disc (not even Sony’s usual “Moments” selection of sequences). These can all be found on the included Blu-ray, which also includes the new transfer in 1080p and without HDR and most of the special features ported over from the previous Blu-ray release.
The Myth, Magic and Henson Legacy (1080p; 10:27): The only new extra on the disc, Jim Henson’s daughter, Lisa, and Toby Froud (son of conceptual designer Brian Froud) reminisce about the film and their father’s work.
Commentary with Conceptual Designer Brian Froud: Froud discusses the early concepts of the movie, some of the mythological themes explored in the film, audience reactions to the film over the years, and memories of working with the late Jim Henson.
Storyboard Picture-in-Picture Track: Storyboards, pre-production sketches, and concept artwork are displayed in a window in the lower right corner as you watch the movie.
The World of The Dark Crystal (480i; 57:26): The original, hour-long featurette on the making of the film from 1982.
Reflections of The Dark Crystal (480i; 36:41): Presented in two parts (Light on the Path of Creation and Shard of Illusion), these two featurettes, originally produced for the 25th Anniversary DVD release, combines archival footage with more recent interviews with Brian Henson, Bran Froud, David Odell, Jane Gootnick, and David Goelz.
Deleted Scenes (480i; 3:48): The complete Emperor Funeral and Mystic Funeral scenes are presented, from the same analogue tape source as the Skeksis Language scenes.
Original Skeksis Language – Test Scenes (480i; 22:49): In an introduction by screenwriter David Odell, he explains that, originally, all of the creatures in the film, except the Gelflings, spoke their own language, using pantomime to convey what they were saying. After test screenings where younger audience members had a hard time understanding what the characters were saying, Odell had to write English dialogue to match the mouth movements from the puppeteers. Seven scenes are included with the originally intended language intact. The quality of these scenes are very poor, obviously from an analogue tape source, but it is nice to see these included to get a sense of what Jim Henson had originally envisioned.
Storyboards (1080p): A selection of ten small storyboard frames.
Photo Galleries (1080p): Three galleries of concept drawings – Character Illustrations, Character Drawings & Profiles: The Ur-ru and Character Drawings & Profiles: The Skeksies.
Teaser Trailer (1080p; 0:37)
Theatrical Trailer (1080p; 1:19)
Digital Copy: An insert contains a code to redeem a digital copy on Movies Anywhere. I redeemed my code thru Sony Pictures Store, which populated streaming copies (all in HD) on Vudu, Movies Anywhere, Google Play Movies, Amazon Video, iTunes, and FandangoNow.
Fans of The Dark Crystal will obviously be pleased with this release, and definitely worth the upgrade from the previous Blu-ray release.
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