Jim Henson’s artistic masterpiece, The Dark Crystal, isn’t exactly known for it’s captivating storytelling. In fact, it’s best known for scaring the living Hell out of young children with creepy not-quite-Human-not-quite-muppet animatronic creatures.
But despite being discarded to the forgettable films bin by historians and nerds alike, The Dark Crystal is an important piece in the history of cinema. Here’s two reasons why it remains one of my favorites.
#1: It is the only one of its kind. In the early 1980s no one had ever created a world for the screen that was totally immersive. Before CGI, making a fantasy world that was completely self-contained without pollution from the real world was radical. Jim Henson and his incredibly competent team were the only ones to pull this off. Because the film wasn’t a big success, nobody would try again. Instead, Henson went on to make the reality-tinted Labyrinth with his pal George Lucas.
#2: Without The Dark Crystal, Yoda might not exist. Although The Empire Strikes Back came out in 1980, two years before The Dark Crystal would be released, much of the world building on Henson’s film had been in progress since 1978. Star Wars producer Gary Kurtz also produced Crystal and introduced Lucas to Henson. Lucas was influenced by the look of the imaginary places the newly formed Creature Shop was building and felt that if anyone could bring Yoda to life, it would be Henson’s team. Previously, Lucas had been considering animating the character with stop-motion or by using costumes and small actors.
Although we don’t think about it much anymore, The Dark Crystal is foundational to the movie culture we know today. It was a high concept fantasy pioneer, and none of the CGI masterpieces of the past decade could have existed without it.