Tuesday, October 6, 2009
Off The Shelf: The Dark Crystal (1982)
Survival on Thra starts and ends with carrying a big-ass stick on your crystal-unifying expeditions.
"The screenplay by Mr. Henson, is without any narrative drive whatsoever. It's without charm as well as interest." – The Dark Crystal reviewed in a New York Times article by Vincent Canby from December 17th 1982
In the early eighties, film critics, a small and influential cabal of reviewers who were paid to regularly point the public in the wrong direction, inadvertently helped create cult followings for films.
Films like Dune (1984), Blade Runner (1984), and the Dark Crystal (1982) were the subjects of heavy scorn for opening up new vistas in film. When originally released, they were called flops by ham-handed critics and consequently lost massive amounts of money. These films eventually made their directors (David Lynch, Ridley Scott, Jim Henson) incredibly successful after the initial infamy of being labeled “failures” wore away. Eventually, these films were "rediscovered" by fans on laser disc, videotape and late night TV after being forced out of theaters.
Dune, the first (and last) mega-picture from David Lynch (credited as Alan Smithee) with music by Brian Eno enjoyed a very limited run in national theaters before being torn to pieces in favor of movies like Annie (1982), Footloose (1984), Grease 2 (1982), Rocky III (1982), and Tootsie (1982)! These movies made tens of millions of dollars and were adored while Dune and Blade Runner were relegated to an obscure, dusty corner of the local video store.
Jim Henson's Dark Crystal was reviewed much the same way. It wasn't even that far ahead of it's time but was still rejected by critics in favor of Tootsie released the same year, a “reluctant transvestite” Mrs. Doubtfire-esque comedy for the ages, which was widely celebrated as a "hit".
The Dark Crystal, unlike other "hits" of 1982 like Grease 2 and Rocky 3, was not a bubble-gum pop film. It dealt with the nature of good in the thrall of evil. Not a feel good groan-mantic comedy starring Adam Sandler, John Travolta, Drew Barrymore or Milton Berle in a sundress. Maybe the fact that the powerfull and timeless nature of the Dark Crystal's theme has something to do with the reason the film is continually celebrated each passing decade. It's one of those rare movies that was so carefully crafted that it leaves a mark deeply on you.
The foul, vicious Skeksis usually bent on gelficide take a free moment to exchange Garthim wrangling tips.
As an audience, movies like this so clearly belong in your life. These movies recognize something vital to you as a person. By exploring this kind of movie it renews your faith in the human qualities that Jim Henson embraced in his work: individuality and community rendered with strangely humorous warmth.
The Dark Crystal is one of these formative films. It celebrates the time-honored story-telling tradition of hapless good, however improbably, defeating overwhelming evil through sacrifice and hardship. The movie does this without big dance numbers, massive egos, overbearing actors or ridiculously bad screenplays. The films from the early eighties that we recognize as "classics" today succeeded based on nothing more than their own merits as a story.
Other films that were widely hated in print and trade journals by critics in the eighties, which also became definitive movies for generation after generation include: Purple Rain (1982), The Thing (1982), Pink Floyd The Wall (1982), Tron (1982), 2010 (1984), The Toxic Avenger (1984) and personal favorite C.H.U.D. (1984).
This should go to show that the average person must put the reviews down once and awhile (including the modern blog and city rag) and experience a movie or show based on their own perception - without allowing someone, who isn't that great at what they do for a living, to "think" for them.