The Meandering Hexagon

Top 2 Reasons The Dark Crystal is Worth Watching

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.

Ben's Demo Reel

Sometimes I create things... For friends, for work or for myself. Here's a little combination of all those things. And yes, there are puppets.

In Defense of Too Old Too Rock 'N' Roll

Ok, so it's not exactly a fan favorite or a critical darling, but I've always had a soft spot for Tull's 1976 outing. Too Old to Rock 'n' Roll: Too Young to Die was the 9th album in the Jethro Tull catalog and it follows the immensely strong Minstrel in the Gallery release of 1975, which, in my opinion, is something of a renaissance for the band after they wandered into slightly more abstract territory with War Child and the preceding Passion Play.

Some fans don't like this record. Critic George Starostin's review is pretty 'meh' as are the various reviews on Rolling Stone and Allmusic. Longtime Tull antagonist Chris Welch claims "there are no outstanding songs to speak of" with the exception of track 5. But what true fan gives a rip about Melody Maker any way?

Too Old is, like a lot of Ian Anderson's work, widely misinterpreted. It is not in any way autobiographical (as the songwriter frequently insists) and it was intended to tie in with some other form of media– a stage musical along the lines of Bye Bye Birdie or West Side Story some say.

One might imagine from the accompanying cartoon that it was supposed to be a marriage of rock and comics.

The truth is, it is a bit quirky. And not traditional Jethro Tull quirky either. The eccentric Britishness the band was known for is a bit more muted by American themes here, although the story seems to be set in Britain based on the references to the A1. It's a bit of a hodge podge of the Tull soundscape with Jimmy Dean inspired lyricism.

But it's really good.

Quizz Kid opens the album with a reference to the title track, that seems operatic. The song proper has a kicking riff and a flamboyant acoustic bridge that's totally Tull. The game show theme is very much in keeping with Anderson's ongoing critique of consumerism and post-war culture.

Crazed Institution is one of my favorite Tull tunes of all time. As the high hat kicks in around the second verse, I can't help but get really excited. Ian winks at the audience as he welcomes them to the Universe... a bizarre place full of platinum crucifixes, rosy crowns, and platform soles. This is Jethro Tull at it's finest. Anthemic rock laced with a sense of irony and wit. As causticly irreverent as it is bombastic.

The dual acoustic guitar of Salamander is equally iconic and timeless. When the lyrics swoop in, the tune changes for the worse I feel, but it's still a good number.

Tax Grab is another seminal piece. It's decidedly a hard rocker in the spirit of New York City, and unlike anything else Tull ever recorded. Martin Barre really shines on slide guitar here and the addition of harmonica makes the whole thing pop. I've heard this suggested as a must-hear for new fans. It's easy to understand why.

The aforementioned From a Dead Beat to an Old Greaser is one of the most popular songs on here. It's a touching ballad about times gone by. Tull was never completely of their time anyway, and this nostalgic glance at the past suits them very well.

Bad Eyed and Loveless has always been my least favorite, along with the Chequered Flag, but both have grown on me over the years. They are slower paced, but they have a lot to say.

The other songs that round out the record are a highlight for me. Big Dipper is a carnival-esque tune soaked in pirouetting flute riffs and doused in gallons of humor. Anderson's cheekily offers: "If you're 39 or over, I'll make love to you next Thursday..."

The titular track is an unusual ballad to be sure. It's theatrical even by Jethro Tull standards and the melodramatic chorus somehow reminds me of Fiddler on the Roof.

But I have to admit, this song is absolutely captivating. The lyrics about the aging rocker are haunting. Slowly but surely, all fashions and art movements fade with the passage of time and those who don't evolve get left behind by society quick as a wink. It's a strange ecclesiastical curse on mankind that it's not enough to simply find happiness and joy– one has to hang on to it or else keep searching for the moments over and over again. I often feel like Ray Lomas– as though no one understands just how beautiful yesterday was and how things can never be quite the same again. Like Ray, I want to throw up the finger and drive my bike off a motorway into the sunset rather than face the oblivion of mindless "drinks on a Sunday– work on Monday."

But in Pied Piper, Anderson comes full circle. What was once cool becomes cool again and Ray is back in style. Keeping up the theme of Ecclesiastes– "there is nothing new under the sun."

Really, it's a powerful record. Full of some of Tull's most powerful rock tunes and some philosophical musings on the aging of a medium that was expected to quickly die out. Remember, this was 1976. Pop stars came and went and home video was in it's infancy. The idea of such popular art having a lasting legacy was pretty new too.

And the legacy of this album should last for years to come.

Return of the Jedi Sucks

Return of the Jedi sucks.

There. I said it.

Before you pick your jaw up off the floor and begin to scream at me, at least permit me to make my case.

When it opened in 1983, Return of the Jedi could easily be thought of as one of the most anticipated films of all time. The films that preceded it in the saga are breathtaking achievements in the genre, and in filmmaking in general. They broke all kinds of box office records, won countless awards, and changed the way that nearly everyone thinks about movies. But with ROTJ, things were different.

George Lucas had been embroiled in skirmish with the Writer's and Director's Guild over his film's lack of opening title credits, which at the time was a violation of union rules. Frustrated with the bureaucracy, Lucas threw up his hands and disconnected himself from the Hollywood system. But was this the right thing to do?

Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back had powerful influences on them driving the story in the right direction. Brian De Palma, Bill Huyck, Gloria Katz, and Leigh Brackett to name a few. These influences are basically gone during the production of ROTJ.

Sound familiar?

When the prequels began their onslaught upon us in 1999, everyone was stunned. How could he possibly have screwed up this bad? The answer, it was collectively decided, was that Lucas cut out outside influence, surrounded himself with yes-men flunkies who wouldn't dissent his opinions, and made a movie the way he wanted to– in complete isolation.

If you've ever tried to be creative, you may have noticed that complete isolation doesn't bring the best results most of the time. Creativity is the process of remixing old ideas in a new way. Without a source of outside ideas our creative output will be kind of monotonous and stale.

Lucas paved the road to Hell with his desire for artistic autonomy.

However, fans forget that the path starts with ROTJ.

Don't get me wrong, there's plenty of cool stuff in ROTJ. But there's also a lot of really poor storytelling choices. Boba Fett, supposedly the baddest bounty hunter of them all, is accidentally tossed to the Sarlac in a moment that fuels detractors to this day. The Ewoks, although cute, are discount Wookiees and they feel silly and out of place in an epic space opera. Yes, they represent the triumph of personhood over technology, but surely there's a better way.

Most glaringly of all, the climatic sequence, the destruction of the Death Star, is the same climax from the original movie with a face lift. At the time, the giant space battle was the most elaborate optical printing scene ever, but the results are all dedicated to a conclusion that's foregone.

And let's not forget the uninspired performances. Star Wars has never been known for quality acting, but have you seen Harrison Ford in this movie? It's one of his all time worst performances. His banter with 3PO is cringe worthy.

Dramatically, it would have been better just to kill him off. It would make the whole conclusion to the trilogy feel much more intense. The stakes would be raised exponentially. There would be no need to delve into Jabba's palace and we could've just gotten into a much stronger conflict.

Of course, there's lots of folks that worship this movie as part of the sacred Original Trilogy. Some even call it their favorite.

My theory is that the Special Edition nonsense and the ridiculous Prequel Trilogy have resulted in this sad state of affairs. We've seen so much silliness, that going back to something old sounds really nice. We forget, because the prequels are so bad, that this movie isn't the best either.

Still, who can resist that moment when Vader has to chose between his son and the Emperor? It's pretty powerful.

If you still doubt my case, consider the video below. I think it'll help you see the light.