The Dark Crystal returns to US cinemas for a special re-release this month, and now we’re excited to announce that Jim Henson’s fantasy epic will also be available to international audiences in a new 4K digital print.
Often viewed in tandem with Labyrinth, Henson’s other foray into fantasy filmmaking in the 1980s, The Dark Crystal has perhaps aged into more of a cult proposition than its successor, despite its stronger initial success. While David Bowie’s high-camp vamping as Jareth the Goblin King has carved a nostalgic niche for Labyrinth in the hearts of 80s kids, The Dark Crystal forgoes all human characters and the warm n’ fuzzy stylings of Henson's earlier creations in favour of a cast of puppets and an imagined universe that are strongly influenced by more adult fantasy works.
Set on the planet Thra, the world of The Dark Crystal was created over the course of five years, with Henson assembling a crack crew that included celebrated fantasy illustrator Brian Froud, Star Wars producer Gary Kurtz, as well as two of the puppeteers behind that franchise’s beloved Yoda - co-director Frank Oz and sculptor Wendy Midener. As well as an extensive production design and development stage, realising the team’s immersive vision of Thra required the creation of large sets at Elstree Studios and the perfecting of puppetry and animatronic techniques that would allow its inhabitants to come to life seemingly of their own accord.
The resulting world of Thra marked a significant departure, aesthetically and narratively, from Henson’s previous brand of family-friendly, puppet-powered fun. There’s elements of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth in both Thra’s composition and its defining crisis, while the realm's philosophical backbone is couched in the New Age movement then in the ascendency. This is a place divided between forces of light and darkness, where a young, innocent being must find a magical artefact in order to restore balance and harmony to a ravaged world.
The creatures that populate this wasteland are a suitably nightmarish concoction too; a grotesque aberration of the Henson house style clearly under the influence of Froud's otherworldly artwork. The fearsome Skeksis and Garthim - our primary antagonists - would be well at home in a considerably darker tale, and certainly provide some of the most striking, sinister images in Henson's filmography.
And it seems that Henson's weird wonderland might hold even more dark secrets than we first imagined. An upcoming Netflix series promises to revisit and expand the filmmaker's groundbreaking vision, diving into the history of Thra many years before the events of The Dark Crystal.
As we prepare for more revelations of Thra's mythology and the planet's three suns seem to align once again, there's never been a better time to revisit the moment where The Dark Crystal's fantastical universe first burst into being on the big screen.