The Dark Crystal is a visual feast for the eyes while also being a compelling and thrilling ride with countless creatures to keep your attention focused squarely on the screen. Sony ushers this terrific film into the world of 4K with a terrific restoration that looks and sounds better than ever. If you already owned the 2009 Blu-ray release, you're going to be impressed with the results. Highly Recommended.
"Another world, another time, in the age of wonder. A thousand years ago this land was green and good - until the crystal cracked."
As our own Aaron peck did an exceptional write-up about the 2009 Blu-ray release of The Dark Crystal, I encourage you to take a look at his review HERE.
As for myself, The Dark Crystal is a family staple. More or less, one could argue that I was born into this film as my parents took my sister to see this film when it originally arrived in theaters in the winter of 1982, and as an infant, I got to come along. Granted I have no actual memory of seeing this film in the theater, it maintained a lasting presence in our family's home video library for the last 35 years. Some of my earliest memories are of the creepy and evil Skeksis standing around the purple luminous crystal. Whenever my parents would go out on a date and our poor hapless babysitter was left in our charge, my sister and I would force her to endure repeated viewings of The Dark Crystal and/or Labyrinth.
Today, I'm thankful for the simple fact that the film holds up. It's an easily approachable story that isn't too complicated to toss yourself into and get lost in the mystical world of Thra. As we follow our Gelfling Jen and Kira and the adorably fuzzy dog-like Fizzgig on their quest to reunite the broken shard into the dark crystal and bring peace to the land of Thra, we're given a visual buffet of practical creature effects. The film is truly a feast for the eyes as every inch of every scene is so intricately designed and staged that it boggles the mind when one even begins to think of the logistics of pulling off some sequences.
Throughout the 80s and into the 90s, before the CGI revolution, intricate rod and cable operated creature effects were the norms to pull off any filmmaker's wild-eyed creature creation. But one must take stock of the simple fact that much of those terrific visual effects wouldn't exist without Jim Henson's Creature Shop and The Dark Crystal. Most of the vital techniques involved in creature creation and execution began with this film. Just watch the Skeksis and how they move about a room in full motion and then remember that at any given point there are anywhere from three to six puppeteers controlling each of these creepy creatures to give them their life-like presence and movements. Then you take the creature technologies invented for this film and apply them to their later efforts with Labyrinth and you start to have even more respect for the craft and care that went into these movies.
However, I will say that The Dark Crystal is pretty damned scary in places especially compared to where the market for kids movies is at today. Without climbing all the way onto a soapbox, I'll simply say that kids movies of today feel too safe. While some films do tackle real issues to a degree, there is a notable lack of fear. When the Skeksis and their crab monsters attack a Podling village, that is damned terrifying. It gives you the sense that your heroes may not make it. When you remove all sense of danger it becomes harder and harder to respect the journey the main characters travel through.
I've had a long love for The Dark Crystal. As a family favorite, it's one that I don't frequently pull off my self for the simple fact that I never want to get tired of it. Even though I've seen it hundreds of times, I'm afraid of the day that I put the film on and it doesn't wow me with the world-building spectacle of creatures and puppets. While I don't think I'll ever get tired of the film, I always want each viewing to be exciting so it's one that I only pull out every few years. With this new restoration, I'm thrilled that it remains available to me and in such terrific condition. Watching it again for this release I saw so many little details I'd never experienced before. Nothing that alters the story or anything, but simply enhances my appreciation of the production. When you can see every last detail of Lord Chamberlin or Aughra and her removable eye, it's easy to fall back into that remarkable sense of wonder. If you've never seen The Dark Crystal, there's no time like the present with this terrific release.
Vital Disc Stats: The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
The Dark Crystal makes its 4K Ultra HD debut courtesy of Sony Pictures in a two-disc 4K UHD + Blu-ray + Digital set. The discs are housed in a standard black two-disc snapper UHD case with identical slipcover artwork. The disc loads to a static image main menu with Sony's circular style navigation menu. All of the new and archival bonus features are found on the included Blu-ray disc.
Given a fresh new native 4K restoration, this 4K UHD Blu-ray release takes all of the great things from the SDR Blu-ray and dials everything up. Where the Blu-ray was an earned and respectable 4.5/5, this 2.39:1 2160p release earns full marks in my book. I've grown up with this movie my whole life and I've never seen it look this good. Where you already were getting some strong details in the Anniversary Edition Blu-ray, all of those fine features, the stitching, the lines in the Mystics' faces, the clothing, Aughra's wild and crazy cycloptic appearance all come through with vivid clarity. Thankfully the image maintains a strong film-like appearance as the grain structure hasn't been scrubbed away nor is it noisy or intrusive.
As on the Blu-ray, rough optical effects still look rough and the added resolution only highlights that point with harder edges between the mats. Combine with the HDR10 color grading and these rough effects shots stand out. However, the rest of the image's strengths more than makeup for any baked in shortfalls. The coloring gives an extra dimension to the intricate character designs of the Skeksis and the Mystics. The contrast and black level balance is stronger allowing for a notable sense of depth and dimension to any given scene. There are a few moments where the blacks can take on a grayish color during the siege on Aughra's little laboratory, but that is only a brief moment and doesn't really affect the rest of the show. The HDR10 was applied very carefully without looking too processed or pushing colors in a way that looks unnatural. All around I was very impressed by this restoration as it's quite clear that a lot of time and effort went into it. Fans of the film who are 4K ready should be very happy with this release.
While I was already impressed with the new DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix, this new Dolby Atmos mix for The Dark Crystal is a showstopper. That opening shot of the Skeksis' castle with the rumbling storm overhead and the whipping winds blowing over the desolate lands sets the tone for the rest of the movie. While the vertical presence may not always be felt, there is an organic quality to the rest of the track that is notable. As the DTS was a notable incremental improvement over the previous Dolby Digital track, so too is the Atmos mix over the DTS. It's the little, subtle intricacies that make this movie so enjoyable. Those LFE tones really kick now as well, that scene where the mystics call Jen home with their loud low moans was both unsettling and thrilling!
Again, the dialogue is clean and clear throughout without much of a detectable difference between the Atmos mix and the DTS track in that department. Sound effects are strong and pronounced with terrific spacing ensuring the surrounds are almost constantly active. Scoring by Trevor Jones is robust and adventurous punching up the mood and excitement of any given scene. The Landstrider sequence is particularly notable. Free of any age-related issues, this track really brings the land of Thra and The Dark Crystal to life.
The Dark Crystal arrives with all of the previously available bonus materials along with the new The Myth, Magic, and Henson Legacy bonus feature. While the new material may not be all that extensive, it does provide a terrific retrospective look at the making of the film and its enduring legacy.
None of the bonus features are available on the 4K UHD disc.
Audio Commentary Featuring concept artist and co-creator Brian Froud. This was a terrific commentary track so I'm glad that it was kept in the bonus features package for this release.
Storyboard Track This is the same previously available PIP image track as before.
NEW The Myth, Magic, and Henson Legacy (HD 10:27) This is a terrific interview with The Henson Company CEO and producer Lisa Henson and Toby Froud, son of artist Brian Froud. This feature offers up a short, but detailed look at the conceptualization of the film and its place in the world of creature effects.
The World of The Dark Crystal (SD 57:26)
Reflections of The Dark Crystal (SD 36:41)
Original Skeksis Language Test Scenes (SD 22:10)
Deleted Scene (SD 3:48)
Teaser Trailer (HD 00:37)
Theatrical Trailer (HD 1:19)
As I was hardly six months old when my parents took me to see The Dark Crystal in theaters, it isn't an understatement to say that I quite literally grew up watching this film. It's always been a part of my family's collection of movies and it has remained a favorite for 35 years. It's a terrific film that is a visual feast for the eyes while also being a compelling and thrilling ride with countless creatures to keep your attention focused squarely on the screen. It's a testament to creature films as well as the enduring legacy of Jim Henson. Sony ushers The Dark Crystal into the world of 4K with a terrific restoration that looks and sounds better than ever. This film is a visual and sonic delight and this 4K UHD Blu-ray disc gives fans a great new disc to cherish in their collection. If you already owned the 2009 Blu-ray release, you're going to be impressed with the results. It's an easy disc to call Highly Recommended.