In the 1980s people were sick of political and social unrest, so naturally they escaped into the zeitgeist of popular culture, which resulted in terrifically shallow yet entertaining films. Two genres in particular were given the spotlight: fantasy and science fiction. There were even some films, which transcended the stereotypes of the two genres. There were certain writers, directors, and producers who excelled in delivering films that were both technically and artistically exhilarating. George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and Jim Henson were among the forerunners of these talented filmmakers.
In Jim Henson's classic 1982 film, The Dark Crystal, he told a complex story that simultaneously followed in the footsteps of other fantasy stories, while seeking out a level of philosophical sophistication that was absent in fantasy films of the past. If that weren't enough, he essentially told the entire story utilizing highly advanced puppets to play as the characters. That's right, not a single human being, with the exception of those dressed as creatures, will be seen on the screen. That in itself makes the film daringly original.
The Dark Crystal - 1982 Jen, a young Gelfling on the planet Thra, is chosen to restore balance to his world before the Great Conjunction, when the three suns meet in the heavens. To do this he must reunite a crystal shard with the Dark Crystal, which was splintered thousands of years before resulting in the creation of two new races: the gentle Mystics (or urRu) and the cruel Skeksis. During his quest Jen encounters all sorts of strange creatures and characters including the prophet Aughra, Kira, the only other surviving Gelfling, Fizzgig her spastic pet, Garthim, which are fearsome crustacean-like creatures, and the ethereal Landstriders. Can Jen save his world or will Thra plunge into chaos?
After making The Dark Crystal, Jim Henson decided that he wanted to make another fantasy film, though this time around it would need to be lighter and more accessible to typical moviegoers. Hiring Monty Python writer/star Terry Jones to pen the screenplay, and reuniting with visionary conceptual designer Brian Froud, Henson created a film that was more commercially successful and possessed a broader audience appeal. Part of this appeal was due to the zany characters that were created for the film, but the main reason for Labyrinth's success was the fact that it featured pop-star David Bowie as Jareth, the Goblin King. Unlike The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth also featured clever pop songs that furthered the plot.
Labyrinth - 1986 When withdrawn and imaginative teenager Sarah, is left to baby-sit her infant brother, Toby, she halfheartedly asks the goblins of her favorite story to kidnap him. But when they turn out to be real, and they do take him to their master the Goblin-King, Jareth, Sarah must navigate her way through a challenging labyrinth in order to get him back. Along the way she befriends a cranky yet lovable dwarf named Hoggle, a furry behemoth named Ludo, and a talking dog, Sir Didymus, who has delusions of being a valiant knight. But even with such friends as these can she rescue Toby before it's too late?
After his tragic death in 1990, Jim Henson's company was passed onto his children Lisa and Brian. Acknowledging the success of their father's ventures into the realm of fantasy films, they decided to create a film that would capitalize on his previous successes, as well as boost their reputation in the film industry. The Jim Henson Company's greatest success had always been with puppets, but since CGI (Computer-Generated Imagery) revolutionized filmmaking in the early `90s, the company had been slowly losing momentum. However they had faith that with the right story and the right director, they might have a hit. After hearing of a project that acclaimed writer Neil Gaiman, and artist/writer/director Dave McKean were trying to get a film made, they quickly backed them financially. Unlike Henson's own films, MirrorMask didn't use much in the way of puppets. Instead they focused on computer effects, which resulted in a visually stunning but emotionally inert film.
MirrorMask - 2005 Disenchanted teenager, Helena grew up in a traveling circus with her mother and father. But she develops a dislike for performing and one night she has an intense argument with her mother. During the show that night, her mother collapses and is sent to the hospital. Her mother has cancer and Helena is filled with guilt and regret. She dreams herself into a surreal world where she is mistaken for the daughter the Dark Queen, whose own daughter has assumed Helena's identity in her own world. In order to save the dream world and return to her own, Helena must find the powerful MirrorMask. Joining her on her quest is the roguish jester, valentine.
Of these films, I am of the opinion that The Dark Crystal is the best for its originality of vision and complex yet understated philosophical subtext. Labyrinth is also a classic and features Oscar-winner Jennifer Connelly in the role of Sarah. While MirrorMask is visually powerful, the story feels underdeveloped, which makes it the weakest of these three films.
I had mixed feelings about The Dark Crystal. The puppet animation holds up surprisingly well even in the age of digital animation. Some of the scenes are beautiful, such as the heroes rowing on the lake with papyrus. The movements are generally smooth and not jerky. It shows Jim Henson's genius with puppets. My problem with the movie is with the human side - the script and voice acting. Sometimes, it seems the scriptwriters got lazy and just copied scenes from Star Wars, including characters suspiciously … more