The Dark Crystal finds another healing shard on Blu-ray.
The Production: 3.5/5
The Dark Crystal is a unique film, an original dark fantasy acted out completely by puppets. Created from the ideas of Jim Henson and images of Brian Froud, the movie tells the story of how two young gelflings on a distant planet journey to restore the shattered crystal of their world. There are hints of Lord of the Rings and other fantasy stories, but I don’t think any of those ideas was ever staged with the notion of playing them as puppets. I remember seeing this film when it originally came out near Christmas of 1982 and being struck by the simplicity of the story and the depth of the creative imagery. I also remember being struck by the fact that this fairly dark story (which includes images of death and destruction) was coming from the same man who was the ringleader of The Muppet Show for years in the latter 70s and early 80s. Looking at the movie for this review, it makes more sense that Jim Henson and Frank Oz would have wanted a purely creative outlet apart from Kermit and Miss Piggy. And it’s fascinating to know that Gary Kurtz made this his first production after leaving the employ of George Lucas – he went from one kind of fantasy to another without missing a beat.
I can’t really spoil this story, as its elements are so simple. But I can say that the puppetry is exquisite and the visual design of the movie is something that will stay with you for some time after you see it. I again must put the warning here that the PG rating is earned – this is NOT a puppet movie I would show to small children. But I do think a child of at least 10 would likely have a good time here, as likely will the rest of the family. The Dark Crystal has repeatedly been issued on DVD and then Blu-ray over the past 15 years or more. (I should know, having picked up at least three prior editions.) This latest release on Blu-ray is actually part of the 4K edition – but since my system is 1080p, I’m delighted to be able to review the regular Blu-ray included in the packaging.
The new Blu-ray edition of The Dark Crystal comes with a brand-new AVC transfer and a new 10 minute featurette on the making of the film. (The 4K Blu-ray also includes a Dolby Atmos mix for those who have that capability in their home theaters – The regular Blu-ray just has a DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix, although I found it quite sufficient.) Nearly all the special features from the earlier Blu-ray edition have been carried over, with the exception of a couple of interactive games. I noted that the menus are actually the same on both Blu-ray editions. The movie’s incredible images continue to resonate well on Blu-ray, and I’m sure they look even better in 4K. This is an easy title to Recommend for purchase even for non-4K viewers, provided you have not already purchased the earlier Blu-ray. If you have the earlier Blu-ray, I’d suggest renting this to see what you think of the new transfer, as that’s the real difference.
3D Rating: NA
The Dark Crystal is presented in a 2:39:1 1080p AVC transfer (@ an average of 24 mbps) that is noticeably different from the prior release on Blu-ray. This one is darker, richer, and a bit more noticeably grainy. I tried going back and forth between the two transfers and noted that the earlier one was brighter, but this one felt more natural. If anything, I preferred this image, which is a shade softer, which to my eye helps keep the puppets from really jumping out as fabric creations rather than living creatures.
The Dark Crystal is presented in an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 track (@ an average 2.1 mbps, going up to 2.7 mbps during the big climactic moments). This is a great track, with a lot of specific atmosphere and sound generated to build up the reality of the puppet world we’re seeing. The sound mix provides a lot of clarity for the various effects and for the rich voice performances that help bring the characters to life. There’s also a French DTS-HD MA 5.1 track, and a Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 track.
Special Features: 5/5
The Dark Crystal comes packed with bonus features, including nearly everything from the prior Blu-ray and adding in a new featurette. There’s also some additional gallery material and a reintroduction of the movie’s trailers, which I believe were on the 2007 Special Edition DVD.
Commentary with Brian Froud – (FROM THE 2007 DVD) – Brian Froud’s scene-specific commentary is carried forward from the 2007 DVD and the earlier Blu-ray. It’s a great track, filled with information about the story and the designs shown on screen. Froud throws in all kinds of details, including how the lightning beneath the crystal castle at the beginning of the movie is actually showing how the Skeksis creatures are literally draining the planet of life energy. Near the end of the film, Froud discusses his original conception for the urSkeks, which were intended to have all kinds of rotating and glowing parts past the simpler image that wound up being presented. This is one of those commentary tracks where I find myself grateful that someone with this amount of knowledge of the production was able to put something down as a permanent record about it, married to the film.
Storyboard Track – (FROM THE 2009 BLU-RAY) – This bit of PIP functionality, carried over from the earlier Blu-ray edition, allows the viewer to see a continuing gallery of artwork alongside the relevant scenes from the movie. I note that the other in-movie function of the prior Blu-ray, the “Book of Thra – Dark Crystal Collector” has not been included here.
The Myth, Magic and The Henson Legacy – (10:27, 1080p) (NEW FOR THIS RELEASE) – This featurette, mostly focused on an interview with Lisa Henson, is the one new special feature generated for the new edition. It’s a nice interview that pretty much goes over the same ground already to be found elsewhere on the disc from the earlier materials. I note that Lisa Henson is involved with the new prequel series for The Dark Crystal that will be appearing on Netflix.
The World of the Dark Crystal – (57:26, 4×3, 480p) (FROM THE LASERDISC) – This hourlong documentary was originally presented on PBS shortly after the movie was released. It’s loaded with on-set footage and interviews with everyone involved. And it’s an example of the foresight of Jim Henson, in that there’s enough material here to really have a good look at how they produced the movie.
Reflections of the Dark Crystal – (36:41 Total, 480p) (FROM THE 2007 DVD) – Here’s a pair of featurettes produced for the 2007 DVD. The first is “Light on the Path of Creation” and the second is “Shard of Illusion”. These featurettes are actually a bit more substantial than the norm for DVDs – these contain additional material found in the Henson archives, including test footage that had not been presented before the 2007 edition.
Deleted Scene – (3:48, 480p, non-anamorphic) (FROM THE 1999 DVD) – This is a standard definition presentation of a deleted funeral sequence – actually, a pair of them. One is for the Skeksis emperor and the other is for the mystic who dies at the same time. It’s presented in widescreen but not with anamorphic encoding, so the image is in a box within the widescreen environment.
Original Skeksis Language Scenes (22:49, 480p) (FROM THE 1999 DVD, INTRO FROM THE 2009 BLU-RAY) – This is a compilation of scenes from the workprint of the movie, at a time when the Skeksis were intended to have their own guttural language apart from English. When this idea didn’t test well, the creatures were revoiced in English. Among the oddities to be heard here is a scene where Frank Oz actually provides the voice of Augra in her confrontation with the Skeksis. In addition to the workprint material, there’s also an HD introduction by screenwriter David Odell that runs about 2 minutes. This introduction was part of the added material that was put on the 2009 Blu-ray edition.
Storyboards – (1080p) (POSSIBLY NEW) – This is a gallery of several storyboard illustrations – I’m not certain looking at it whether this material is also found in the Storyboard track.
Photo Galleries – (1080p) (POSSIBLY FROM THE 2007 DVD) – This is a series of images, of “Character Illustrations” and “Character Drawings and Profiles”. This looks to me to be the same gallery of Brian Froud illustrations that was on the 2007 DVD, only presented here in high definition. There are a series of illustrations of the specific Mystic and Skeksis characters, including their personality descriptions and ideas about the work they do in their respective groups.
Trailers – (0:37 and 1:19, 1080p) (POSSIBLY FROM THE 1999 DVD) – The original teaser trailer and theatrical trailer for the movie are presented here in high definition. I may be wrong on this, but I believe these were previously offered on the 1999 DVD. They may have been offered on the Collector’s Edition Laserdisc, but I honestly don’t know.
Digital Copy – Included in the packaging is an insert with instructions on how to download a digital copy of the movie.
The movie is subtitled in English, French, Portuguese, Spanish, Arabic, Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech, Dutch, Greek, Hungarian, Icelandic, Indonesian, Korean, Polish, Skeksis, Slovak, Thai and Turkish. The usual pop-up menus are present.
The Dark Crystal continues to hold up as a wildly imaginative film, and the newest Blu-ray edition is a great way to experience it. This isn’t 4K, but it’s certainly a great HD presentation of the movie, along with a generous collection of bonus materials. As I noted before, I Recommend this for purchase – provided that you haven’t already purchased the 2009 Blu-ray. If you have that edition, then I recommend a rental here so you can compare the picture quality for yourself.