The Dark Crystal is a 1982 American–British fantasy film directed by Jim Henson and Frank Oz. The plot revolves around Jen, an elflike ‘Gelfling’ on a quest to restore balance to his alien world by returning a lost shard to a powerful but broken gem. Although marketed as a family film, it was notably darker than the creators’ previous material. The animatronics used in the film were considered groundbreaking. The primary concept artist was the fantasy illustrator Brian Froud, famous for his distinctive faerie and dwarf designs. Froud also collaborated with Henson and Oz for their next project, the 1986 film Labyrinth, which was notably more light-hearted than The Dark Crystal. The film stars the voices of Stephen Garlick, Lisa Maxwell and Billie Whitelaw.
The Dark Crystal was produced by Gary Kurtz, whose list of credits includes American Graffiti, Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, Return to Oz, and Slipstream. The screenplay was written by David Odell, who had previously worked with Henson as a staff writer on The Muppet Show. The film’s score was composed by Trevor Jones. The film was produced by ITC Entertainment, the British production company responsible for producing The Muppet Show.
A thousand years ago on the planet Thra, a magical crystal cracked, and two new races appeared: the tyrannical, reptilian Skeksis, who use the power of the “Dark Crystal” to continually replenish themselves, and hunchbacked natural wizards called Mystics.
Jen, an elf-like Gelfling taken in by the Mystics after his clan was killed, is told by his Mystic master that he must find the crystal shard, and that it can be found in the home of Aughra. If he fails to do so before the three suns meet, the Skeksis will rule forever. The Skeksis’ emperor and Jen’s master die simultaneously. A duel ensues between the Skeksis Chamberlain and General, both of whom desire the throne. The General becomes emperor and the Chamberlain is exiled. Learning of Jen’s existence, the Skeksis send large crab-like creatures called Garthim to track him.
Jen reaches Aughra and is taken to her home, which contains an enormous orrery she uses to predict the motions of the heavens. Jen discovers the crystal shard by playing music on his flute to which it resonates. Aughra tells Jen of the upcoming Great Conjunction when the three suns will align, but he learns little of its connection to the shard. The Garthim destroy Aughra’s home and take her prisoner as Jen flees. Hearing the calls of the crystal, the Mystics leave their valley to travel to the Skeksis’ castle. Jen meets Kira, another surviving Gelfling who can communicate with animals, and her pet Fizzgig. They discover that they have a telepathic connection, which Kira calls “dreamfasting”. They stay for a night with the Podlings who raised Kira after the death of her parents. However, the Garthim attack the village and Kira, Jen, and Fizzgig flee when the Chamberlain prevents one of the Garthim from attacking them. Most of the Podlings are enslaved.
Jen and Kira discover a ruined Gelfling city. Finding a relief with prophetic writing, Jen discovers that the shard, a part of the Dark Crystal, must be reinserted to restore the Crystal’s integrity. The Chamberlain tells Jen and Kira that he wishes to bring them to the Skeksis to make peace, but they distrust him and refuse. Riding on Landstriders, the Gelflings arrive at the Castle of the Crystal, where they see the Garthim that attacked Kira’s village. Kira and Jen unsuccessfully attempt to free the captured Podlings. Kira, Jen and Fizzgig infiltrate the lower parts of the Castle. The Chamberlain confronts them again and tries to convince them to make peace; however, the Chamberlain wounds Jen and takes Kira to the Castle. The General restores the Chamberlain to his former position. On the suggestion of the Skeksis’ resident scientist, the General decides to regain his youth by draining Kira’s life essence, recalling that its potency allows a Skeksis emperor to maintain his youth for longer periods than that of the Podlings on whom they have been forced to rely since the Gelfling genocide. Aughra tells Kira to call out to the animals imprisoned in the laboratory. They break free from their cages and the Skeksis scientist falls to his death, upon which his Mystic counterpart simultaneously vanishes.
The three suns begin to align as the two Gelflings reconvene in the Crystal chamber. The Skeksis arrive to prepare for the immortality that they will gain from the Conjunction if the Crystal is not restored. Jen is discovered and drops the shard, but Kira throws it back to him and is stabbed to death by the Skeksis’ high priest. Jen inserts the shard into the Crystal, unifying it as the Mystics enter the chamber. As Aughra, Jen and Fizzgig watch, the Mystics and Skeksis merge into tall glowing beings, one of whom says “we are again one”, speaks to Jen of their history, and revives Kira. After leaving the Crystal for the two Gelflings to “make [their] world in its light,” the beings depart, and the land is shown rejuvenated and the Castle transformed into a palace of crystal.
Learn more about the concepts, principles and symbolism behind the subliminals found in this film: