“Now, ask what the Great Conjunction is, what’s the Great Conjunction?” says Aughra to Jen. Jen responds, “What’s the Great Conjunction? You tell me!” “The Great Conjunction is the end of the world! Or the beginning. Hmm!”
In 1982, co-directors Jim Henson and Frank Oz made cinematic history when they gave the world The Dark Crystal. It was the very first live action feature film to feature no human characters at all; all of the characters (including the Gelflings, the Skeksis, the Mystics, Aughra, the Podlings, the Garthim, and the Landstriders) and some of the environments (swamps, forests) were brought to life by extremely talented puppeteers (or rather Muppeteers) using groundbreaking animatronics. Henson and conceptual designer Brian Froud created such a rich, alien world. Landscapes (shot on location in the UK) in wide shots were complemented by detailed matte paintings. Whatever wasn’t captured on set practically was achieved optically (this was back in a pre-CGI era). The special effects teams, headed by Roy Field and Brian Smithies, were up to the challenge in bringing Jim Henson’s vision to fruition.
Brian Froud (a man I’ve had the honor to meet in person) created so many wonderful conceptual designs for the film. Production designer Harry Lange had the incredible challenge of bringing them all to life in order to fulfill Jim Henson’s vision. The home of the Mystics, the castle of the dark crystal, Aughra’s observatory, the various environments, etc. were all great technical challenges that were fully realized. My favorite set was Aughra’s observatory (I loved how Henson shot its reveal, and it works beautifully when it’s combined with Trevor Jones’ music). Froud was also credited as costume designer since it was also his responsibility to bring to life the various characters’ costumes. There were the costumes he designed for the Mystics, the Gelflings, the Skeksis, Aughra, the Pod people, and the UrSkeks. The costumes were other-worldly and yet felt familiar as they suited the characters they clothed.
David Odell’s terrific script worked off a story created by Henson. On another world in the distant past, a Gelfling sets out to find a missing crystal shard so that he may restore balance and order to his world before it’s too late. Along the way, he has to deal with many surprises and challenges, including the menacing Skeksis, who fear the fulfillment of a prophecy that might destroy them. The story itself isn’t very complex, but its execution is very solid (not to mention the technical challenges in bringing it to life). Trevor Jones wrote such a rich score, filled with various motifs to represent the Gelflings, the Skeksis, and the world of the dark crystal. Jones composed a tender love theme for the romance that develops between the two surviving Gelflings, menacing yet mysterious music for the Skeksis, and the pod party music is just so enjoyable. This is probably the most important element of the film that needed to succeed more than all the others. Luckily, Jones rose to the challenge, delivering one of cinema’s greatest scores. Although Jim Henson left us too soon, he has left behind an impressive legacy, including this wonderful film.