Friday, March 22, 2024

The Heroine's Labyrinth Virtual Launch w/Douglas A. Burton

Sunday, September 17, 2023

VIY 1967 - Movie Review with Spoilers - Hidden Gem!

From the far reaches of the Milky Way Galaxy, It's Retro Nerd Girl with a film review for you.

Today I'll be reviewing the movie VIY released in 1967.
Please forgive me in advance for any horrible mispronunciations I may make in the video.

Leonid Kuravlyov, Natalya Varley, Aleksey Glazyrin

Directed by:
Konstantin Ershov and Georgiy Kropachyov

Drama, Fantasy, Horror

Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) Rating:
Not Rated

50000 Soviet Ruble
(Approx. 639.43 US Dollars)

Current IMDb Rating When Reviewed:

The Synopsis is:
A seminary student beats a cursed woman to death and is forced to pray over her dead body for three nights withstanding many horrors.

Viy, otherwise known as Spirit of Evil, is a novel by Ukrainian born author, Nikolai Gogol, based on the summoning of an evil demon that settles a score between a witch and a seminary student.  It was first published in volume 1 of his collection of tales, Mirgorod in 1835.

Gogol said that the story was based on folklore and he tells the story as it was told to him.  However, it is generally agreed that no one had ever heard of the story until he told it.

This movie is an adaptation of Gogol’s story directed by Konstantin Yershov and Georgi Kropachyov. Based on a screenplay written by the two directors along with Aleksandr Ptushko. Some people have claimed that Aleksandr was the true director of this film and is really the one responsible for its visuals.  He was often called the Soviet version of Ray Harryhausen.  It was distributed by Mosfilm, and was the first Soviet-era horror film to be officially released in Russia.

The story is pretty simple and very mysterious.  Part of the mystery exists because the film is more visual than explicative.  You have to really keep your eyes glued to the screen to get what’s all happening.  The version of the film I watched was in Russian, so part of paying super attention was to watch the closed captioning.  I do have to say that this version helps you to appreciate the acting more, so if you do find this kind of film interesting then I would recommend watching it this way.

At an hour and 17 minutes, it’s short and sweet, but you get the idea that the story could have been trimmed even more.  What you do get is so great though.  Wow!  This movie really impressed me.  I was actually tipped off about this movie from a tweet a few weeks ago and have been obsessed with it ever since.

Let me set up the story for you.  As a class of seminary students are sent home for vacation they all terrors on the town they are in, stealing, raping and drinking. This is horrible.  But they don’t show you the details of it.  It is more implied what happens.

I started laughing immediately because I got the message.  It may have been a statement that Nickolai Gogol wanted to stress in the story about the irony that we have students who are learning about moral piety and are not applying any of it in the real world where it counts. 

I knew I was in for a treat and boy was I ever.

One of the worst of the hypocrites of the bunch is Khoma Brutus nicknamed the philosopher played wonderfully by Leonid Kuravlyov who gets lost with two other students.  As luck would have it, Vedma, an old witch, clearly played by a man, actor Nikolay Kutuzov, agrees to let them sleep in separate areas of her property. Khoma was set to sleep in her barn overnight. During the night he thought that she was trying to seduce him, but she put him in a trance so that she could climb his back and fly through the night sky until the morning.  

Yep, this is weird and the way it  is shot, it’s actually a serene moment that Vedma is clearly enjoying.

When they land and Khoma discovers what was happening, it enraged him to beat Vedma nearly to death with a stick.  Vedma transformed into Pannochka, a young unmarried woman, played by Natalya Varley who had been fatally wounded during the beating.  

Now to be honest, his rage is understandable because Vedma did violate his body for her own use.  Although he lost control of his anger, he could have been absolved of his mistake if he took responsibility for his actions.  He doesn't.  He runs as fast as he could away without even trying to get help for the dying girl. He demonstrates no remorse, avoiding his responsibility in the matter completely.   

Khoma made it back to the seminary early, thinking that he got away with murder.  The headmaster told him that a dying girl in a nearby Cossack village requested Khoma by name to pray over her for three nights.  Immediately he knew something was wrong and made several comedic attempts to get out of it, but to no avail.

When he gets to the village, he realizes that the girl is the same Pannochka he nearly killed. It turns out that she is the daughter of Sotnik played by Aleksey Glazyrin, a very wealthy man shrouded in his own mystery, but you get the grieving countenance in his performance.  He has his suspicions about Khoma, but doesn’t really know what happened to his daughter.  His sincerity in honoring his daughter's last wish, to have Khoma perform these nightly ceremonies is palpable.  But he is not a nice guy. At one point he threatens Khoma with 1,000 lashes if he doesn’t do as he’s told.  If he does it he will get 1,000 coins.

For the three nights Khoma prays over the girl in a locked decrepit chapel, and each night the threat grows more and more until she finally “gets” him.

The background to the story is that we do get a scene where two villagers are talking and reveal that they feel some remorse for the girl and say that she was cursed.  At the end, she turns into the Vedma as her final form before laying to rest.  Was she always the old woman all along or is her appearance the result of her dark arts? At first I doubted that she was really Sotnik’s daughter.  But by Aleksey Glazyrin’s performance, of concern and anger, I would say, he really is her father.

I always wondered if Sotnik and the town may be under a curse too.  Who knows, and I love the fact that we are left in the dark about that.  I could use a few answers, but it doesn’t kill the story that there isn't any explanation.  We are left to our own imaginations.

The Cossacks also told him about a huntsman who fell in love with Pannochka.  Well it’s easy because she is gorgeous.  He was into some wild stuff and asked if she could ride his back like a horse, which is a lot like what Vedma did to Khoma. Was she choosing Khoma as her boyfriend at the barn?  It’s so interesting and wild and unusual. This could all be a metaphor for something that Nikolai Gogol couldn’t talk about out right in 1835. Wink, Wink!

From the book, the huntsman died from exhaustion.  Another man had his infant child's blood sucked from the throat, and his wife was killed as Pannochka growled like a dog.  There is a possibility that she’s been terrorizing the entire town and this was eiher their way of getting out of this mess or… maybe this is just a thing that they continue to do over and over again. They find some morally inept jerk and feed him to the witch haunting the town.

During the nights, it is only when he prays that she awakens.  It seems she can not see, but she can hear.  

One little detail, I did notice was when the town announces that Pannochka is dead, they all tell each other to be quiet.  I think that they say that because she’ll come to terrorize them if she can hear them.  Khoma could have spent his nights perfectly quiet and possibly survived… maybe.  That’s just a theory.

Khoma’s first night events occur at about the 40 minute mark and it just gets bonkers from there.  Once Khoma begins to recite his prayers, Pannochka awakens. In order to protect himself, Khoma draws a protective circle, which she cannot penetrate. This is a very important part of the plot because, much of the time Pannochka is trying to break the barrier of the circle.  Natalya Varley skillfully portrays the physical miming as if there was an invisible wall so well. 

Pannochka, as beautiful as she is, has a wild intensity in her eyes that is unwavering.  There is something so scary about her persistence at trying to get at Khoma.  The thrills of music, the spinning camera work  and visual effects are impeccably at work here with wondrous simplicity. At one point she is flying around the room on a coffin and it’s grand.  These effects are not easy to pull off but they are effects that are eye-catching and ones you will always remember.

VIY, the titular character, was saved for the last night of prayers, wherein Pannochka calls upon all of the creatures of darkness to help her take her revenge on Khoma.  Boy was it a showstopper where all of the monsters literally came out of the woodwork. 

The monster VIY is actually the king of the gnomes or some kind of boss level demon that has extra long eyelids.  They are so long that he needs other lesser demons to lift them.  His vision allows the other demons to find Khoma and penetrate his protective circle. 

It’s also a black comedy in the way that Khoma is a bit dopey.  Even Though the topic is pretty serious, Leonid Kuravlyov plays the character as lovable as he can so the audience isn’t exactly cheering for Pannochka to get him.  But he is a terrible person.  He lacks a moral center, so the whole time all of this is happening he is calling Pannochka every name he can think of and praying to God that he’d be saved, but not one time did he ever apologize for committing murder.  Not once did he ever show remorse.

It has a deeper meaning as you think about the value of character and what that means to each of us.  It’s a classic lesson: Be a good person or you’re doomed.  

The cool part of the film is the very end, showing Khoma's two friends that were traveling with him in the beginning of the film working as painters at the seminary.  They are barely any better than Khoma, drinking and lying.  They hold up a drink in honor of their friend and they offer two really cool ideas.  One idea is that perhaps if Khoma had more faith, he would have survived.  The other theory is that perhaps Khoma was still alive because we only see him lying on the floor at the end.  There is no indication he’s actually dead.  

That is so cool!  I love that uncertainty.  It gives the film so much more afterlife, excuse the pun, but it’s true. I am still thinking about this film weeks later.

Wow, what a joy it was to see this movie.  It is something you must see at least once.  

You will be able to see so many influences in this.  I see lots of influences from silent films; the simplicity of it feels that way and the color palate of this deep pale green, while Khoma and Ponnochka remained in vibrant colors.  I see echoes of films like The Exorcist 1973, Life Force 1985, The Gate 1987, The Fearless Vampire Killers released in the same year in 1967 and many, many Hammer Films from the 1970’s.  Directors like David Lynch and Guillermo del Toro come to mind when watching this as well.

The cinematic purity of the film makes it irresistibly rewatchable!

This is a true retro movie lover’s treat!

My Rating:

That sums up my review.  I hope you liked it. If you did, I’ve got over 100 of these videos, so go on and browse the channel to see more reviews from me like this.  Subscribe if you haven’t done so already and hit the bell icon to be the first to be notified of my next video.  

I want to take this moment to recognise my AMAZING, WONDERFUL, INCREDIBLY AWESOME Patreon supporters who are responsible for helping me produce this video.  Many thanks to these incredible movie lovers for their support.  You too can be on this list by heading over to Patreon and get a bit of behind the scenes stuff you don’t get on YouTube from me.

This is Retro Nerd Girl signing off!  Take care movie lovers!  I'm off to the next review!

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Tuesday, July 11, 2023

The Dark Crystal 1982 - Jim Henson's Legacy Deep Dive - Movie Review wit...

From the far reaches of the Milky Way Galaxy, It's Retro Nerd Girl with a film review for you.

Today I'll be reviewing the movie The Dark Crystal released in 1982.

Jim Henson, Kathryn Mullen, Frank Oz

Directed by:
Jim Henson and Frank Oz

Adventure, Family, Fantasy

Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) Rating:

$15,000,000 (estimated)

Current IMDb Rating When Reviewed:

The Synopsis is:
On the planet Thra, a young Gelfling embarks on a quest to heal the planet’s Crystal, and vanquish evil.

This is one of the magical movies brought to us by American puppeteer, animator, cartoonist, actor, inventor, and filmmaker Jim Henson.   His love for puppetry began in high school and he went on to create shows while he was a student at the University of Maryland where he met his wife Jane. In 1958, he co-founded Muppets, Inc. with his wife.  When he moved to New York City in 1963, he hired puppet performer Frank Oz to replace his wife at the company while she raised their children. 

His relationship with Frank grew as the two collaborated on character development and comedic content featuring his puppets.

The Children's Television Workshop was impressed by Jim’s work and requested him at the children's educational television program Sesame Street in 1969 and many of his “Muppet” characters thrived to the point that are still incredibly popular to this day.  Jim pitched a weekly show to serve a more mature audience The Muppet Show and landed the British channel ATV for five seasons, from 1976 to 1981 at ATV Elstree Studios, England. 

He then changed Muppets, Inc. to Henson Associates, Inc.  Around the same time frame in 1976, Jim saw Brian Froud’s art in a book of British Illustrators called Once Upon A Time and was instantly interested in collaborating with Froud.  He loved the idea of Brian’s creatures being vastly different from his Muppets, but he could also imagine them in a puppet form.  His idea was a call back to the dark tone of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales.  In 1978 they made an official deal to work on a film together.

Jim gave Brian Froud a few notes about what he wanted through conversation and Brian came up with some concept drawings before there was even a finished script. However, there was a fundamental misunderstanding of what Jim wanted.  Froud thought Jim said he wanted to call the movie, The Dark Crystal, but he actually said "The Dark Chrysalis".  It was an unusual title that was actually referring to the oppressed fantasy world where all of this was to take place.   Luckily Henson was so impressed with what he saw that decided to include the crystal into the storyline.  Then forth, the title became The Dark Crystal.

On February 6 1978, Jim Henson and his daughter Chery were stuck at an airport hotel during a snowstorm where they came up with story ideas on stacks of hotel note paper.  Only a few days later, they had a typed outline available.  The rest of the year was spent nurturing the creatures for the story to see what actions the puppets could and could not perform.

In mid 1979 the screenplay for The Dark Crystal was finally completed by David Odell and Jim Henson.

Because of the success of The Muppet Movie in that year, it helped Jim’s pitch to Paramount Pictures and the rest is history.

What we got was a sweet magical tale detailing the last two survivors of a species trying to save their world from oppression and suffering in an exciting adventure and a race against time.   The lore is so vastly deep, it needed a narrator in the beginning who just barely scraped the surface of the story.  The film is also brilliantly told visually showing us a beautiful alien world filled with unique alien creatures.  Not one human being in sight.

At 1 hour 33 minutes this film is short, but it feels bigger and longer than what it is.  It may be a little unevenly paced for some, but I personally enjoyed it and in fact, I wanted more.

The challenge in the story is clearly stated in the posters and the trailer featuring bird-like looking creatures or more specifically, buzzard looking creatures called the Skeksis.  However, that only scratches the surface of who they really are and their motivations that were revealed in the film and franchise.

So that is why I got a little nerdy with the research to fill in all of these details for you.  Ok so the story started on a planet born of crystal "far beyond the farthest star" from the furthest reaches of the Uni-Verse with an ancient race called the urSkeks. They were tall, glowing and possessed psychic abilities that made their society more of a collective.  

There was a small group of eighteen urSkeks known as the Fallen, that were unhappy with their society and yearned to “start the Age of Harmony'' by dividing their light and dark selves which was considered heresy in their society.

The Fallen were banished from their home world to a similar world also created from crystals called Thra by way through the Great Crystal, during the planet's first Great Conjunction of three suns. They were only allowed to return home when they proved that they could master their darker sides. At first they tried to reform themselves when they arrived by helping the indigenous creatures, and sought to return home during the second Great Conjunction.  They weren’t quite masters of the darkness within yet so the crystal was cracked which led the urSkeks to split into two separate beings, the Skekis and the urRu.
The Skeksis were greedy, selfish, mean spirited and for all accounts evil, oppressive, violent, destroyed many parts of the landscape and downright disrespectful and genocidal to the indigenous. The urRu were extremely kind, gentle, spiritual, in touch with nature, preferred pacifism but did nothing to help the planet of Thra against the Skeksis.  One deterrent that prevented the urRus and Skeksis from fighting each other was that if one was wounded, or died, the counterpart befell the same fate because they were only halves of a whole.

After the split one of the biggest supporters to the Skeksis were the Gefings, a society of small human-like creatures.  After the Skeksis’ many atrocities and deceitful manipulation, the Gelfing turned against their overlords when it was discovered that the Skesis began harvesting Gelflings to steal their life’s essence which would temporarily preserve a youthful appearance and vitality.  The Gelflings went to war and won, and found the missing shard from the crystal.

The Skeksis was desperate and created the Garthim soldiers that look like giant black sea crabs.  The Garthim were not organic creatures and were nearly indestructible.  They turned the tables on the war against the Gelfling.  The Gelfling sought an answer to win the war and used the ceremonial flames of prophecy and etched the solution on the Wall of Destiny.  It says that only a Gelfling would have to heal the Dark Crystal with the Shard, which would unite the Skeksis and the urRu back together again at the next Great Conjunction. The prophecy states: "When single shines the triple sun, what was sundered and undone shall be whole, the two made one by Gelfling hand or else by none."

The one thing that the Skeksis wanted to avoid like the plague was to be reunited with the urRus.  They deployed the Garthim to wipe out every living Gelfling.

The selfish temporary joy of extracting Gelfling essence was not worth the risk of being reunited with the urRus.  That tells you a lot about the Skeksis’ priorities right there.

The story starts at a place where the next conjunction is almost at hand with only 10 Skeksis and urRu left alive. Upon finding out that there are two living Gelflings alive, they go all out to try to capture or kill them.

What I love about this film is how they portray the Skeksis in the beginning of the film, showing that they are the Elite on the planet but within their ranks. They have a tier system and it's pretty interesting to see that each one of the Skeksis all have different  meaningful responsibilities within the inner sanctum.

The Skeksis' Emperor, skekSo dies and so does his urRu counterpart, urSo.  skekSo was so selfish to the last moment of life that he never named a successor. However, the Chamberlain, skekSil, was chief secretary of state and technically next in line to become Emperor of the Skeksis.  However he was challenged by the powerful Garthim Master, skekUng, and lost the epic  "Trial by Stone" for power.  

Other interesting Skeksis are skekZok the Ritual-Master, skekTek the Scientist, skekAyuk the Gourmand, skekEkt the Ornamentalist, skekNa the Slave-Master, skekShod the Treasurer, and skekOk
Also known as the Scroll-Keeper.

The Skeksis are the challenge as a group but Chamberlain stands out as a character because as a result of losing the contest of strength to determine the next ruler, he was banished and stripped of his garbs.  In order to reestablish his rank he has to do something to prove himself to the new emperor.  He spends some time just snooping around as the spies of the skies, crystal bats have spotted a gelfling.  Bingo! This is his chance to get his position back and becomes the most dangerous of all the Skeksis, fully motivated to capture the gelfling.

Chamberlain also has a way of making strange noises that are even annoying to the other Skeksis.  It's a whimpering sound that sounds like he is constantly scheming all the time.  It's a very unique character trait and it makes his character so much fun to see on screen.  Even though he's a bad guy there's a light-heartedness to him to the point where when I first saw this movie my mom and I would just make those noises and say, “Skeksis want peace yes.”  It displays his dedication to use any means of deception to get what he wants.  In a way, I think his methods are truly scary.

During the gelfling’s interaction with Chamberlain at the Wall of Prophecy, it is quite possible that the Skeksis have a powerful ability to persuade other species.  While he is talking to the gelflings that he stalks they are captivated by his words almost as if in a trance or falling into a trance.  That kind of power  gives the Seksis an incredible advantage over their victims, so this makes them a formidable challenge.  I was very afraid that the protagonists were not going to make it.

I love this challenge!

The empathy in this film for me begins with Jen, a young Gelfling being raised by the leader of the urRu, Master UrSu who is dying, just as the emperor of the Skeksis was dying.  David Odell said that Jen was Henson's way of projecting himself into the film. 

At this point in the story Jen believes he is the last of the Gelflings and he learns he has to leave the protection of his camp, bearing the grief of losing his father figure and fulfill the prophecy he had never heard before.  He is told  that he has to find the shard and heal the Great Crystal.  

It’s the hero's journey, because Jen doesn’t want to leave the urRus or to take on the prophecy at all.  He goes on the adventure mainly because Master UrSu tells him to, but he grows to understand that he has to save the world from the injustice of the Skeksis.

At first he meets Augra, who is a fascinating character that even the Skeksis have a bit of respect for.  Not a lot but some.  I could dedicate an entire hour talking about her character alone.  But I will try to condense her story in a few words, if I can.

Aughra is Thra personified, born from the Crystal, speaking on behalf of the planet and all of the creatures therein.  Originally her name was "Habeetabat", but it simplified her too much or “too much on the nose”.

When she was born she brought balance to the world, naming all the creatures of Thra and nurtured the Gelfling race into a society. When she began to obsess about the stars, she predicted the first Great Conjunction that brought the uRSkeks to Thra, who at first came bearing knowledge and built her an observatory charting the movements of the Uni-Verse.  After the mishap of the second Great Conjunction she lost much of her memory but regained over time.

Aughra kept the shards of the Crystal that were broken and hid in her observatory while the Garthim War nearly wiped out the Gelflings.  Up until the point he meets Jen, she believes they are all dead and you can see that she is visibly surprised to see Jen.   

Her personality is probably the most impressionable being nearly as old as the planet itself, she is feisty, yet wise giving one the feeling of watching a female Yoda perhaps.  It’s a strange mix, but she never fails to put a smile on my face.  Though she is a serious character, there is something endearing about her.

Next Jen meets Kira with her super cute pet Fizzgig. She is also Gelfling! Some posters give it away that there are more than one Gelfling in the story. But this is such a surprise to all of the characters and I love that thread throughout the film.

When they touch, we see and hear the narration for a short background story for both characters at once which was cleverly done.  It is a power they have called dreamfasting.  What a cool ability, though you might not want to do this unless you have control over what you dreamfast.

Kira is such a special character to me because she stole my heart when I first saw her on screen!  This adorable girl was raised by the Podlings and has such a kind, sweet and caring demeanor. She can communicate with animals and looks after Jen as soon as they connect even when he’s not aware of it.
She is so wonderful to him and I think part of that works because they are both the very last of their kind.  There is a certain connection to each other that they’ve probably not felt in any other beings.  

After Kira’s village is attacked by the Garthim looking for Jen, he wants to give up and throws the shard away.  He blames the shard for the destruction of Augra’s observatory and the Podling village, not the Skeksis who are truly responsible for the violence. Again, the hero is refusing the adventure.

Jen stumbles across the ruins of the Gelfling Wall of Destiny where he fully learns and understands his destiny.  In a moment of surprise, the Chamberlain tempts Jen into a trap, but Kira has a sense about these things and helps Jen snap out of his trance.

This is when Jen realizes that he must take the next steps toward the journey, but, maybe there is a little doubt that he can actually do it.

Even though Kira’s skilled in the wild haven been raised there and even having wings that allow her to float, the character is not impervious to danger.  She gets captured and needs help more than once even to the point she dies (at least temporarily).  It’s a wonderfully written character that supports the main character.  But Kira being in danger prompts Jen to silence his doubts and summon the courage he needs to try to stop the Skeksis from harming her.  There's a kind of love story brewing between them.  It’s so sweet.

The story is told very well, allowing Jen to reach his arc by stepping into his destiny working in tandem with Kira as a team.  It’s so wonderful.  This is why I adore these characters so much.

Jim Henson and his companies were very busy in 1979 working on the fourth season of The Muppet Show, releasing The Muppet Movie, working on The Great Muppet Caper that was eventually released in 1981.  The Dark Crystal technically went into production in 1979 as well.

One of the first things Jim did was put together the Jim Henson's Creature Shop in partnership with Brian Froud in Hampstead, London to work on the movie.  
It wasn't until 1981 that the first scenes of the film were shot, such as the gorgeous Mystic Valley, the dramatic death of Skeksis’ Emperor and the mysterious and foreboding Crystal Chamber.

The film has so many gorgeous locations used in the film for exterior shots such as the Scottish Highlands and England. Yorkshire was also a location that was used as well as Elstree Studios.

Jim Henson and Frank Oz co-directed the film with Brian Froud acting as the conceptual designer for the film creating the creatures, interiors, landscapes and even the font of the opening title. 

Before designing any of the characters, they concentrated on the look of the world of Thra and based it on the area where Brian Froud lived.  They took meticulous care making sure to design every rock, plant and creature that may appear on the planet.  This is why the world of Thra is a wonderful cacophony of imaginative exuberance that really
sells the fact that this is an alien environment that transported audiences right into the fantasy!  Each scene and establishing shot is filled with a kaleidoscope of gorgeous alien nature.

The main highlight of this film is definitely the fantastic creatures that were created for the story and the fact that there are no humans in the film at all.  All of the characters are played by puppets in the remarkable alien world.   This was a remarkable feat for its day and at the time 2D and stop motion animation were probably the best way to make a serious movie without human beings in it so this was quite groundbreaking.

Brian’s creature concept designs were dispersed among puppet designers who developed them and how the puppeteer would operate them.

It's so fascinating to know that most of the main characters like the Gelflings, the Skeksis, The UrRu and Aughra were operated by a standing or crouching puppeteer moving their bodies, moving the head with the right hand, and their left arm operated the left hand of the puppet.  They were followed by several crouching or sitting technicians that operated the right arm of the puppet and facial expression animatronics.  All the while all of the puppeteers and technicians were able to see what they were doing on a monitor.

The Gelflings are the most human-like of all the creatures of Thra and the most difficult to create.  Puppet designer Wendy Midener worked on the designs for YEARS going through several iterations before getting the thumbs up from Brian and Jim for the characters. Brian and Wendy Midener fell in love and eventually married in 1980 during the time they were working on the film together.

The struggles with the The Gelflings were not over.  It was difficult to perform their movements because they had to be as human-like as possible.  Specific techniques had to be tried and applied. They were mostly filmed from the waist up and if they were walking, the performer had to walk on their knees or take tiny steps to make it look convincing.  There were a lot of struggles with that.

Mike Edmonds, Deep Roy, Jack Purvis, Malcolm Dixon, and a few others were body doubles for the scenes showing Gelflings in full frame.

The UrRu were designed with geometric symbolism in mind to connect them to the Skeksis, simultaneously modeling them after a wise looking troll that Brian drew in his book "The Land of Froud '' published in 1977.  Henson liked the troll, but Froud had to design the UrRu’s with some distinction away from the troll to keep the license separated, so he designed them to have four visible arms. 

The UrRus were performed with puppeteers walking in a crouched position, operating the left arm for one of the creature’s four arms and the right arm was used to hold up and manipulate the heavy head of the creature.  While watching them on screen you have to admire the muscle control they had and the direction of coordination in the movement of these slow moving characters.  What an incredible job.

Their garb was also very much representative of their peaceful nature, with more browns and naturalistic fabrics and details.  One could imagine a complete story based in their tiny camp.  The details of their dwelling was so immersive. 

The Skeksis were initially designed to look like “crocodiles living in a castle”.  To me they look like vultures.  Like the urRu, the Skeksis also have four arms, the second set was hidden beneath their ornate robes. 

When Aughra was in the early stages of development and still called "Habeetabat" she was a male and looked like an ogre.  Then the name changed to "Ogra", then "Aughra" and decided to make the character female to appeal to that audience base.   Aughra was wonderfully sculpted by Lyle Conway based on a Stygian witch from Greek mythology.  In the movie Clash of the Titans 1981 the witches use an external eye to see with much like Aughra does.  What a unique design.

Her excessive wrinkles actually helped her to have a lot more mobility than the average puppet.  She was puppeteered by Frank Oz while technicians operating her facial expression animatronics crouched while following him around.  He also read her lines before her voice was dubbed into the final cut with the incredible voice talents of Billie Whitelaw.

Full body shots were also played by body double actors.

The Garthim’s large costumes were inspired from crustaceans with claws and an impenetrable outer shell.  They were very difficult for performers to get in and out of.  Not only that, they were heavy.  The suits had to be hung on a rack with the performers still in them during breaks.  They also needed to take breaks every five minutes to rest because they were so burdensome. I thought that the design was intimidating yet staying within the aesthetic framework of the film.  They were also wisely not speaking humanoids, an easier direction that other productions would have chosen.

The Podlings are the next human-like creatures to the Gelfligs and I love the spirit of their culture drenched in the arts, music, socializing and just fun!  I think that it is hilarious that Froud was inspired by potatoes when designing them. Their puppetry was simple because many of them had fixed facial expressions with the puppeteer operating them like the standard puppet, using a monitor to see how the puppet appeared on screen. A few of them had more animatronics applied, such as the podling that had its essence drained.

Those fluffy balls that roll across the floor like vermin and the live food that the Skeksis eat were wind-up bots.  It’s a low tech detail that adds so much umph to the scene, livening up the realism.  You can actually imagine things like sounds and smells in the castle.

It was rumored that approximately 9 tons of rubber was used to create all of the creatures in the world of the Dark Crystal.

The sound was wonderfully immersive and it was all put in post production.

The composer, Trevor Jones, became involved with the project in late 1980 before shooting had started.  At first he considered making the score using unconventional methods to seem more alien.  However, an orchestral score was decided on and he recorded the score with the London Symphony Orchestra in January 1982.   

It was wonderful, giving us a magnificently mystical theme that also had soaring moments of grandeur and mystery.  
The Landstrider theme was composed in honor of his newly born daughter.

The film ends dramatically with the Gelflings and the Skeksis in the Crystal Chamber facing off.  Unfortunately Kira gives her life to save Jen and give him the shard.  Jen heals the Dark Crystal as the UrRu walk in the room lining up to their Skeksis counterpart and “the two made one, what was sundered is undone”.

The castle and the land around it transforms, the UrSkeks bring Kira back to life, the Garthim disintegrate, the Podlings regain their essence, and then the Urskeks return to their world.

It was a wonderful happy ending and it really felt like the story was complete.

After a series of trouble test screenings Jim worked feverishly on changes for The Dark Crystal to remove some of the invented language for the characters to simplify the plot. He trimmed twenty about minutes from this movie and re-dubbed specific dialogue.  That improved the film according to many people who were able to see early screenings of the modified film.

Then the movie was released in December 1982.  It performed well at the box office, coming in at the sixteenth highest grossing movie in North America but was an even bigger hit on VHS video cassettes.

It also won the Saturn Award for Best Fantasy Film and the Grand Prize Winner at the Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival. 

My mom took me and my brother who was a baby at the time to see this in the theater.  We absolutely loved this movie!  For hours we’d be saying, “Skeksis want peace”!  We had so many hours of watching this movie and having so much fun!

Over many years the cult following for this property exploded and there have been many novels and comics that explored the story further over the years. All this time I had no idea that there was more to the story that was in the film so this is all extremely fascinating to me. 

In 2019 Netflix produced a prequel series The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, set several hundred years before the original film which Brian and Wendy’s son,Toby Froud went on to work on as a designer 37 years later.  It had low viewership and was canceled after the first season.  

In concussion, I love this kind of epic fantasy storytelling and the tactile creation of this alien world full of mystery, detail and beauty.  It’s insanely creative dealing with heavy drama, but also keeping the energy light and whimsical.  That is a delicate balance to achieve.  

This is a classic.

My Rating:

That sums up my review.  I hope you liked it. 

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